Tag Archives: Richmond

Sharp rise in West Coast oil trains, fears abound

Repost from the Salem, Oregon Statesman Journal
[Editor: See quotes from Benicia's Andrés Soto near end of this article.  - RS]

Sharp rise in West Coast oil trains, fears abound

Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press  |  May 26, 2014

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Residents along the scenic Columbia River are hoping to persuade regulators to reject plans for what would be the Pacific Northwest’s largest crude oil train terminal — the proposed destination for at least four trains a day, each more than a mile long.

The increasing numbers of trains, each carrying tens of thousands of barrels of potentially volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, have raised concerns around the country after nine accidents in the past year, including one last month in Virginia.

In Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia from Portland, Oregon, the oil companies say their proposed terminal will create at least 80 permanent jobs and will bring an economic windfall to the region. But area residents and others in nearby communities are worried about the risks to people, wildlife, businesses and to their way of life.

“We depend on the Columbia for moving freight, generating power, irrigating farms, fishing,” said Eric LaBrant, president of the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association, which represents about 2,000 residents who live next to the proposed site.

“Anywhere on the Columbia, an oil spill would cripple our economy,” he said.

The river is, in a way, the soul of the Pacific Northwest. It is cherished for its beauty, for its recreational offerings like wind surfing, and for the salmon and steelhead caught by sport fishermen, commercial fishermen and Native Americans.

The fight over the terminal underscores a new reality on the West Coast: The region is receiving unprecedented amounts of crude oil by rail shipments, mostly from the oil boom in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada.

More than a dozen oil-by-rail refining facilities and terminals have been built in California, Oregon and Washington in the past three years. As a result, long oil trains are already rolling through rural and urban areas alike — including along the iconic Columbia.

Another two dozen new projects or expansions are planned or in the works in those three states.

While traditionally most crude has moved to Gulf Coast and the East Coast terminals and refineries, experts say there’s a West Coast boom because of cheap rail transport prices and its proximity to Asian markets should Congress lift a ban on U.S. oil exports.

Oil by rail shipments through Oregon ballooned from about 1.6 million barrels of crude carried on 2,789 tank cars in 2009 to more than 11 million barrels on 19,065 tank cars in 2013, according to annual railroad company reports.

In California, the volume of crude imported by rail skyrocketed from 45,500 barrels carried on 63 tank cars in 2009 to more than 6 million barrels on 8,608 tank cars in 2013, according to data by the California Energy Commission.

The state estimates its oil-by-rail shipments will rise to 150 million barrels per year in 2016.

And in Washington state, crude oil shipments went from zero barrels in 2011 to 17 million barrels in 2013, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, though officials said those numbers are rough estimates.

The two main rail companies, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, say they work hard to prevent accidents by inspecting tracks and bridges, investing in trailers with fire-fighting foam and providing hazmat training to emergency responders.

Still, the spike in shipments has led to concerns among officials in the Pacific Northwest over rail safety and oil spill responsiveness — and to opponents lashing out at rail companies for not disclosing how much oil is being shipped and where. Railroad companies aren’t required to disclose such information.

In some cases, oil-by-rail transports on the West Coast started without the knowledge of local communities or emergency responders.

A terminal near Clatskanie, 62 miles northwest of Portland, was permitted to move oil two years ago by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality without a public process. This year, the state fined the facility for moving six times more crude than allowed.

The disclosure caused public protests, but the company, Global Partners, says it’s following the law.

In the San Francisco Bay area, where the local air district in February issued a permit to operate a crude-by-rail project in Richmond without notice to the public or an environmental review, residents and environmental groups filed a lawsuit.

They are seeking a preliminary injunction and a suspension of the air permit, pending a full environmental review.

“We feel that we were deliberately deceived by the permitting authority,” said Andres Soto, the Richmond organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental justice group that’s a plaintiff in the case.

“The delivery of this product right next to schools, to neighborhoods, where literally you can throw a rock and hit these rail cars, presents a clear danger to literally thousands of residents,” Soto said.

The fears are shared by many in Vancouver, where officials received more than 33,000 public comments about the project — detailing feared impacts to air quality, wildlife, recreation, tribal treaty rights, and home values, among others.

After a review, state officials will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say.

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SF Chronicle: Green groups sue Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Oil trains into Richmond spark lawsuit

By David R. Baker, April 5, 2014
A BNSF Railway train, above, hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. Photo: Matthew Brown, Associated Press

A BNSF Railway train, above, hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. Photo: Matthew Brown, Associated Press

Little noticed by neighbors, trains carrying crude oil from the Great Plains have been rumbling into a Richmond rail yard.

The cargo is the same kind of crude that fueled a deadly explosion last summer when a train carrying the oil derailed in a small Quebec town, killing 47. Now environmentalists are suing to prevent any more shipments to Richmond.

The suit, filed last week in state Superior Court in San Francisco, would revoke a permit issued by a regional agency in February that allows Kinder Morgan to unload oil trains in Richmond at a facility originally built to unload ethanol.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District granted the permit without studying how the switch from shipping ethanol to oil could affect the environment, said Kristen Boyles, staff attorney with Earthjustice, the group that filed the suit on behalf of four other environmental organizations.

A placard on a tank car in North Dakota, below, warns that it's carrying flammable crude oil. Trains like these are being used more frequently to deliver petroleum to California. Photo: Matthew Brown, Associated Press

A placard on a tank car in North Dakota, below, warns that it’s carrying flammable crude oil. Trains like these are being used more frequently to deliver petroleum to California. Photo: Matthew Brown, Associated Press

“These things are going in without a lot of thought to their safety, their impact on the environment and their possible health effects,” Boyles said. “That’s what’s really frustrating with this situation – how little we know until this is rolling through our backyards.”

Kinder Morgan declined comment.

Ralph Borrmann, an agency spokesman, said the change in fuels handled by Kinder Morgan’s rail-yard facility would not increase air pollution – his agency’s primary concern.

“There were no emissions consequences as a result of the permit, no net increase of emissions, which is what we look at,” Borrmann said.

Just a few years ago, California didn’t import oil by rail. But that’s changing fast.

In 2009, railways carried just 45,000 barrels of oil into the Golden State, according to the California Energy Commission. By last year, that number had soared to 6.2 million barrels. A barrel equals 42 gallons.

Petroleum glut

California’s refineries have turned to rail to access a glut of petroleum in the Great Plains. Oil production in the Bakken Shale formation that lies beneath North Dakota and Montana has surged so much, so quickly, that area’s pipelines lack the capacity to transport the fuel. As a result, the Bakken oil sells at a discount to other kinds of crude.

Oil by rail is “about discounted oil, delivered to your doorstep,” said Gordon Schremp, senior analyst with the Energy Commission.

The amount of oil carried by rail is rising nationwide. While most of those shipments reach their destination without incident, the United States and Canada have recently seen a series of oil-train accidents leading to explosions and fires, including last July’s derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. In January, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued an alert warning that Bakken crude, much lighter than many other grades of oil, may be more flammable as well.

Benicia refinery

The warning spurred opposition to a series of oil-by-rail projects in California. Valero’s refinery in Benicia is seeking approval to build a rail yard that could move 70,000 barrels of oil each day, replacing more than half of the petroleum the refinery now imports from abroad, via ship.

In Pittsburg, another project would bring in oil by ship, pipeline and rail. The $200 million proposal, by WesPac Energy, would refurbish an old Pacific Gas and Electric Co. facility to import, store and supply oil to Bay Area refineries.

Community groups have spent months fighting those proposals. But most Richmond residents knew nothing about Kinder Morgan’s Richmond rail facility until television station KPIX reported on the issue last month.

Kinder Morgan applied to convert its existing ethanol offloading facility last year, and won an operating permit from the air district in February. KPIX filmed trucks carrying oil from the facility to the Tesoro refinery in Martinez.

Tesoro’s comment

A Tesoro spokeswoman on Friday declined to confirm whether the refinery collaborates with Kinder Morgan’s Richmond facility. But she said the refinery uses about 5,000 to 10,000 barrels of oil per day taken from rail shipments, equal to between two and four train shipments per month.

Earthjustice and its partners in the suit – the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club – want Kinder Morgan’s operating permit in Richmond revoked until the company conducts a full environmental impact review.

“The risk of train accidents is huge with this kind of crude oil,” Boyles said.

A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. North Highlands is a suburb just outside the city limits of Sacramento, CA. (Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT) Photo: Randall Benton, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. North Highlands is a suburb just outside the city limits of Sacramento, CA. (Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT) Photo: Randall Benton, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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Martinez Gazette: Background on lawsuit against BAAQMD and Kinder Morgan

Repost from The Martinez Gazette

Environmental groups look to halt shipment of crude by rail

Rick Jones | April 1, 2014

Environmental groups filed suit Thursday against the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and energy company Kinder Morg­an to halt the shipment of highly explosive and toxic crude oil into Richmond.

Kinder Morgan receives crude oil by rail at its Richmond terminal, where it is transferred to trucks, under a Feb. 3 permit from the BAAQMD, of which Martinez City Councilman Mark Ross is a member.

A KPIX-CBS report found the oil is loaded onto trucks, some of which travel through Martinez to the Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery.

A spokeswoman for the Tesoro refinery confirmed to the Contra Costa Times its facility receives between 5,000 and 10,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude. That is about two to four trains per month, and is received through a third-party facility, the spokeswoman, Tina Barbee, told the Times.

The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday by Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, asks for a preliminary injunction against further crude oil operations at Kinder Morgan and suspension of the air district permit, pending a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

According the Earth First website, “the Air District (BAAQMD) issued Kinder Morgan a permit to operate its crude-by-rail project in early February, without any notice to the public or environmental and health review. The case asks the court to halt operations immediately while the project undergoes a full and transparent review under the CEQA.”

“If the BAAQMD board knew nothing about the permit, it should be embarrassed, and it should actually exercise its authority and hold its staff accountable to the community,” Communities for a Better Environment organizer Andres Soto told Earth First. “The BAAQMD’s hush-hush permitting process for the Kinder Morgan permit reinforces the high level of distrust that the community has towards the BAAQMD staff. They lied to us during the Chevron fire, and now we are seeing them make backroom deals with industry in their permitting.”

Bakken crude, a light, flammable variety named after oil fields in North Dakota and an adjacent part of Canada,  is extremely explosive and toxic. In January, the U.S. federal agency that regulates hazardous materials on the rails issued an alert, stating that Bakken crude may be more flammable than other types of crude. In both the U.S. and Canada, as the number of train cars carrying crude oil has quadrupled over the past six years, accidents, explosions and derailments have dramatically increased. Last July, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a town in Quebec, Canada, killing 47 local residents and destroying most of the downtown area.

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