Tag Archives: Richmond CA

Pittsburg CA: Critics blast proposed oil terminal, even without Bakken crude trains

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor:  Significant quote: “WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.”  – RS]

Pittsburg: Critics blast proposed oil terminal, even without Bakken crude trains

By Sam Richards, 04/07/2015 12:31:04 PM PDT

PITTSBURG — Train loads of Bakken crude oil are no longer in the plans for a proposed oil storage terminal near the waterfront, but that does not mean the project is being welcomed to town with open arms.

The City Council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve amending the environmental report for WesPac Midstream LLC’s proposed Pittsburg Terminal Project, which would renovate and modernize a long-dormant PG&E tank farm between West 10th Street and the Sacramento River waterfront.

The key change is that the five previously planned 104-car trains of domestic oil, mostly the volatile Bakken crude, are no longer part of the project. The new EIR will reflect that.

Councilman Sal Evola stressed that the vote reflected the council’s desire for “the process” to play out and fully vet the proposal.

“Every project at least deserves its fair process,” Evola said. “I’m all for preserving our industrial base, but we have to do it safely, and fair process is needed.”

Others were less interested in process, saying the WesPac proposal to bring an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily from ships and from pipelines, and stored in 16 tanks on 125 acres, is a problem for various reasons.

Speakers told the council that vapors from the storage tanks, the possibility of spills into the Sacramento Delta and the danger of the tanks exploding — all near hundreds of downtown homes — are potential issues, and that the project should simply be rejected.

“The only way you can mitigate this project is not do it,” said Willie Mims, representing the NAACP and the Black Political Association.

And though some at the meeting Monday night are grateful that WesPac that no longer plans to bring crude oil to the terminal by rail, others told the council that leaving out rail shipments doesn’t come close to salvaging the project. Some 30 people holding up “No WesPac” signs or wearing similar T-shirts crowded the council meeting.

Without the trains, the Pittsburg Terminal Project would now take oil from ships and a pipeline from the Central Valley and store it for later processing by refineries in Martinez, Benicia, Rodeo and Richmond.

Pamela Aranz of Antioch, representing the group Global Community Monitor, was one of several speakers who criticized the WesPac proposal as a dinosaur — old-fashioned, with increasingly outmoded technology. Others said the oil terminal would be at cross purposes with a nicely developing downtown area. Developing wind and/or solar power on that land, Aranz and others said, would make better sense.

Plans for the Pittsburg Terminal Project, first proposed in 2011, had been dormant for the past year, after local groups like Pittsburg Defense Council had protested the prospect of trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil rolling in to the city. Communities across the United States — including Pittsburg, Richmond and Berkeley — have come out in opposed to crude by rail shipments through their cities after several high-profile derailments, including one in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed part of that city.

The new environmental report, to be paid for by WesPac, will replace an earlier one that was criticized in 2014 by the state Attorney General’s office because it did not suitably analyze air pollution impacts, address the risks of accidents involving storing and moving oil, consider the project’s climate change impacts, and consider a “reasonable range of alternatives” that could reduce impacts. WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.

If the needed approvals come at a typical pace, renovation work at the old PG&E tanks could begin in early 2016, and likely would take between 18 and 24 months.

Representatives from several area labor union locals supported moving ahead with the environmental study. Some said Monday night they wanted the jobs, both to rebuild the terminal and to operate it. Others said they favored the environmental process determining whether the terminal would be a safe place for union workers to be.

That, Evola said, is one benefit of continuing the process. “We want to be overly transparent,” he said.

That is fine with Lisa Graham and other members of Pittsburg Defense Council.

“We’ll be shining a bright spotlight on the project in the coming months,” she said.

Richmond councilman: Don’t let industry dominate debate – Residents should demand clean air

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

Richmond councilman: Don’t let industry dominate debate

Residents should demand clean air

By Eduardo Martinez, Open Forum, March 26, 2015

As host to one of the biggest petroleum refineries in California, Richmond needs its residents to remain vigilant. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is considering new refinery regulations that would require Chevron to disclose and measure the toxic emissions of its Richmond refinery and reduce them if they rise above stipulated limits, as has often occurred in the past. The air district held public workshops last week in Richmond, Martinez, Benicia and San Francisco. I urge concerned citizens to submit additional comments to the district before its March 27 deadline.

We need citizens to stand up because Big Oil doesn’t give up. The oil industry is spending tens of millions of dollars to derail our state’s landmark climate-change law, AB32. And it’s using some of the same sneaky tactics that Chevron deployed against me when I ran for Richmond City Council. Telling the truth is too risky, I guess: The vast majority of Californians want clean air and a livable climate.

Chevron, the oil giant that ranks by assets as the 18th biggest company in the world according to Forbes, spent some $3 million on advertising against me and other candidates when we ran in November’s election.

Despite being outspent by 20 to 1, my team and I fought back with a grassroots campaign that showed how people power still can triumph over big money. And I can tell you, standing up to a bully feels good, especially when you win.

The industry’s battle plan was revealed in a slide deck prepared by its lobbying arm, the Western States Petroleum Association, which was leaked to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Instead of engaging in open public debate about clean energy and climate progress, the association has created and funded front groups that appear to consist of ordinary people — who just happen to share the industry’s point of view.

Oil companies also invoked the bogeyman of higher taxes. “Stop the Hidden Gas Tax” proclaimed countless billboards, TV and radio ads for weeks before Jan. 1, 2015, the day transportation fuels came under the AB32 emissions cap.

There was no hidden tax. Nor has the industry’s broader claim — that AB32 would weaken California’s economy and drive away businesses — proved true. In fact, California’s economy has grown since AB32 began. We have the largest advanced energy industry in the United States, employing more than 430,000 workers, and the Golden State’s manufacturing sector leads the nation in total output. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that California vaulted over Texas as the state with the largest job growth during the past year. All this growth — and our per capita carbon emissions have dropped 17 percent since 1990.

To be sure, this increased prosperity still hasn’t reached all Californians. But the solution is not to gut our clean air laws; it is to accelerate our development of renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency — labor-intensive activities that employ more people than drilling for oil and gas.

We need to keep shining a light on the activities of opponents to clean energy.

As a resident and public official in Richmond, I care about petroleum use for another reason as well. In 2012, an explosion at Chevron’s Richmond refinery led some 15,000 people to seek hospital treatment. The refinery’s typical emissions also take a terrible toll, as I witnessed during my 18 years as an elementary school teacher. So many students were afflicted with asthma that our school founded an Asthma Club to help kids, teachers and parents cope. That should not be.

Californians deserve clean air, a stable climate and public policy that prioritizes those goals. We should strengthen, not weaken, AB32. Tell the air district that.

Eduardo Martinez serves on the Richmond City Council.

Future Blast Zones? How Crude-By-Rail Puts U.S. Communities At Risk

Repost from teleSUR

Future Blast Zones? How Crude-By-Rail Puts U.S. Communities At Risk

By Steve Early, March 23, 2015
Smoke rises from derailed train cars in western Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013.
Smoke rises from derailed train cars in western Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013. | Photo: Reuters

The transport of petroleum via rail is now a well-known and unwelcome sight in many other U.S. communities. Its long distance rail transport has resulted in five major train fires and explosions in the last 16 months alone.

Richmond, California began life more than a century ago as a sleepy little railroad town. It was the second place on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay where a transcontinental rail line connected with ferries, to transport freight and passengers to San Francisco. Now a diverse industrial city of 100,000, Richmond is still crisscrossed with tracks, both main lines and shorter ones, serving its deep-water port, huge Chevron oil refinery, and other local businesses.

Trains just arriving or being readied for their next trip, move in and out of a sprawling Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail yard located right next to the oldest part of town. Some train formations are more than 100 cars long. The traffic stalls they create on nearby streets and related use of loud horns, both day and night, have long been a source of neighborhood complaints. Persistent city hall pressure has succeeded in cutting horn blasts by about 1,000 a day, through the creation of several dozen much appreciated “quiet zones.” No other municipality in California has established so many, but only after many years of wrestling with the industry.

Despite progress on the noise front, many trackside residents continue to experience “quality of life” problems related to the air they breath. Some of their complaints arise from Richmond’s role as a transfer point for coal and petroleum coke (aka “pet coke”) being exported to Asia. As one Richmond official explained at a community meeting in March, these “climate wrecking materials” wend their way through the city in open cars—leaving, in their wake, houses, backyards, and even parked cars covered with a thick film of grimy, coal dust. Coal train fall-out has become so noisome in Richmond that its seven-member city council—now dominated by environmental activists— wants the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to mandate the use of enclosed cars.

This would seem to be a no-brainer, public health-wise.  But the track record of this particular governmental agency—in any area related to public health and safety—has not been confidence inspiring lately. The BAAQMD is already complicit with the creation of Richmond’s most troubling new fossil fuel hazard in recent memory. For the last year, that threat has been on display, as far as the eye can see, at BNSF, which is owned by Nebraska billionaire Warren Buffett. Buffett’s rail yard has been filled with hundreds of black, tubular metal tank cars containing a particularly volatile form of crude oil that’s come all the way to Richmond from the new energy boomtowns of North Dakota.

Buffett’s Bomb Trains

The arrival of this highly volatile petroleum product is now a well-known and unwelcome sight in many other U.S. communities. Its long distance rail transport has resulted in five major train fires and explosions in the last 16 months alone. In addition to these spectacular non-fatal accidents, mostly occurring in uninhabited areas, North America’s most infamous crude-by-rail disaster took the lives of 47 people in July, 2013. That’s when a runaway train—improperly braked by its single-man crew—barreled into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, leveling all of its downtown.

Despite this alarming safety record, the BAAQMD has allowed Kinder Morgan, a major energy firm, to store up to 72,000 barrels per day at a Richmond facility leased from the BNSF; from there, it’s loaded tank trucks bound for the Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery in Martinez, CA., (which has been shutdown recently due to a nationwide strike by the United Steel Workers).  Before issuing the necessary permit for bringing Bakken crude into Richmond, the BAAQMD gave no prior notice, held no public hearings, and conducted no review of any possible environmental or health impacts.

Aided and abetted by regulatory lapses at multiple levels of government, this stealth approach has served the oil industry well. The precipitous drop in petroleum prices has recently made rail transport of Bakken crude less cost effective (leading to a curtailment of Bay Area shipments). But, prior to that temporary reprieve, the number of rail cars commandeered nationally for this purpose jumped from 9,500 six years ago to 500,000 last year. As labor and environmental critics have pointed out, the Achilles Heel of crude-by-rail everywhere is the aging condition and structural weakness of most tank cars, designed and used, in the past, for hauling less hazardous rail cargo.

Even newer, supposedly safer tank cars have failed to protect the public from the consequences of oil train collisions, rollovers, tank car ruptures, and spills. The total amount of oil spilled in 2013, due to derailments, was greater in volume than all the spills occurring in the U.S. during the previous forty years. On February 17, a major accident in West Virginia triggered a fire that burned for five days, forced the evacuation of two nearby towns, and seriously threatened local water supplies.

Trackside communities like Richmond lack sufficient legal tools to avert such disasters in the future, because rail safety enforcement rests with the federal government. Among its other foot-dragging, the U.S. Department of Transportation has failed to mandate tank car modernization and upgrading in timely fashion. As for the BAAQMD, according to Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) organizer Andres Soto, that agency may be “legally responsible for protecting Bay Area air quality but it really just acts as a tool of industry.”

A Contested Permit

CBE, the Sierra Club, and Asian Pacific Environmental Network filed suit last year to block Kinder-Morgan’s operation in Richmond. A superior court judge in San Francisco ruled that their challenge to the BAAQMD’s permit-granting authority wasn’t timely, a decision still under appeal. The Richmond City Council supported the permit revocation and urged Congress to halt all Bakken crude transportation by rail until tougher federal safety rules were developed and implemented

In the meantime, concerned citizens of Contra Costa County began fighting back, first by educating themselves about the dangers of crude by rail and then mobilizing their friends and neighbors to attend informational meetings and protests. Last March, Richmond’s then mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, a California Green, hosted a community forum that featured Marilaine Savard from the Citizens Committee of Lac-Megantic, and Antonia Juhasz, a leading writer and researcher about oil-related hazards. “The oil industry is far too powerful,” Savard told 150 people packed into the storefront headquarters of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. “The first duty of government should be to protect citizens, not shareholders.”

Since that event, CBE organizer Soto has been on the road, sounding the alarm before audiences throughout the county. In his power-point presentation, he highlights maps illustrating how big the “blast zones” would be in Richmond and other refinery towns if crude-by-rail triggered a fire and explosion on the scale of Lac-Megantic’s.  Last September, direct actionists from the Sunflower Alliance and other groups took the fight directly to Kinder Morgan’s front door. Eight activists locked themselves to a gate leading to the facility; along with other supporters, they succeeded in disrupting truck traffic for three hours. After negotiations between Richmond police and BNSF security personnel, the protestors were allowed to leave without being arrested for trespassing.

Rail Labor And Environmentalists Meet

In the wake of recent high-profile oil train wrecks in West Virginia and Illinois, Richmond played host last weekend to more than 100 railroad and refinery workers, other trade unionists, community organizers, and environmentalists.  They were attending the first of two regional strategy conferences sponsored by Railroad Workers United (RWU) and allied groups. RWU is national rank-and-file organization that seeks to build greater unity among rail industry craft unions long prone to bickering, back stabbing, and estrangement from potential non-labor allies.

“As railroaders,” the RWU declares, “we know that the safest means of transport is the railroad—far safer than roads and highways, inland waterways, and even pipelines. But the rail industry has taken advantage of a lax regulatory environment, conservative pro-business governments and weakened unions across North America to roll the dice on safety. It’s time for railroad workers, community, and environmental activists to come together and take a stand.”

One joint project discussed at the March 15 conference is the fight against single employee train crews. After Lac-Megantic was destroyed, the Canadian government banned one-person crews on trains hauling hazardous materials. In the U.S, carriers, big like BNSF continued to seek union approval for staffing reductions (while insisting that transport of crude oil, ethanol, or other flammable cargo would still require two person crews). To stop any further rail labor slide down this slippery slope, RWU rallied conductors to reject a deal their union negotiated with BNSF last year that would have permitted one-person crews.

Other safety concerns raised at the Richmond meeting included crew fatigue and railway attempts to cut labor costs by operating trains that are longer, heavier, and harder to stop in emergency situations. “Recent oil train derailments are directly linked to the length and weights of trains,” argued Jeff Kurtz, a railroad engineer from Iowa who spoke at the Richmond meeting. “The railroads know how dangerous it is to have 150-ton tank cars running on a 8,000 foot train.” Kurtz expressed confidence that “we can address these problems in a way that would improve the economy and the environment for everyone, “ if labor and climate change activists continue to find common ground.

RWU organizers are holding a second educational conference on March 21 in Olympia, Washington. According to Seattle switchman-conductor Jen Wallis, this kind of “blue-green” exchange, around rail safety issues, has never been attempted before in the Pacific Northwest. “Rail labor hasn’t worked with environmentalists to the degree that steelworkers and longshoreman and teamsters have, “ Wallis says. “It’s all very new.”

Steve Early is a former union organizer who lives in Richmond, California. He is the author, most recently, of Save Our Unions from Monthly Review Press. He is currently working on a new book about labor and environmental issues in Richmond.

REUTERS: California opposition to oil-by-rail mounts

Repost from Reuters

California opposition to oil-by-rail mounts

By Rory Carroll, Mar 19, 2015 3:03pm EDT

(Reuters) – A chorus of local governments across California opposed to crude oil trains grew louder this week in light of recent derailments, with a total of 14 cities and towns now trying to block the trains from running through their communities.

Five northern California cities – Berkeley, Richmond, Oakland, Martinez and Davis – have voiced their opposition to crude by rail in general. An additional nine communities specifically oppose a Phillips 66 project to enable its refinery in San Luis Obispo to unload crude-carrying trains.

Fiery derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario in recent weeks have brought the issue back into the national spotlight. The most devastating crude by rail disaster, a July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, is mentioned in many of the opposition measures.

San Luis Obispo County is weighing whether to approve the Phillips 66 project, which would use Union Pacific rail lines to bring five 80-car trains per week to the refinery, starting in 2016.

That has prompted concern from communities along the company’s rail network, including densely populated cities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The opposition is growing exponentially,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter.

On Monday the Bay Area city of San Leandro passed a resolution opposing the Phillips 66 project, noting that at least 20 schools are located in the “blast zone” along the projected route.

Paso Robles, a city in San Luis Obispo County, could be the next to take a stand against the dangerous cargo. Its city council is expected to debate the topic at an upcoming meeting.

While local governments lack the ability to stop the trains, which fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, they hope to put pressure on San Luis Obispo County officials.

“Every one of the tank cars on these trains carries more flammable crude oil than any municipal fire department can fight. That’s why California cities and towns are saying no,” said Matt Krogh of environmental group ForestEthics.

Phillips 66 said it has one of the most modern crude rail fleets in service and that every railcar used to transport crude oil in its fleet exceeds regulatory safety standards.

“The proposed rail project is designed with safety as the top priority and with safety measures embedded in the project,” said spokesman Dennis Nuss.

(Editing by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Matthew Lewis)