Tag Archives: Richmond

Expert analysis: SoCal refinery plans for crude oil trains to pass over the Benicia railroad bridge

By Roger Straw, BenIndy Editor
With expert analysis by Dr. Phyllis Fox

martinezrailbridge350
Union Pacific Railroad bridge, the first bridge at this location, built between April 1929 and October 1930 by Southern Pacific. It is used by Union Pacific and BNSF (trackage rights) freight trains and 36 scheduled Amtrak passenger trains each weekday. Passenger trains include the long-distance trains California Zephyr and Coast Starlight and short-haul Capitol Corridor trains….It is the second-longest railway bridge in North America, and the longest railway bridge west of the Mississippi River. [Wikipedia]
On March 21, The Benicia Independent posted news that Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio would approach the Berkeley City Council with a resolution “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley.”  The resolution was passed unanimously on March 25, 2014.

In her background materials and in the resolution, Vice Mayor Maio made the extraordinary claim that Phillips 66 was seeking a permit to ship extreme crudes by rail from “Donner Pass, through Auburn, Rocklin, and Roseville, proceed along the Sacramento River through Sacramento and Davis to Benicia and along the San Francisco Bay through Martinez, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland.  From Oakland the trains would use the Coast Line via Hayward, Santa Clara, San José, Salinas and continue along the Pacific Coast into San Luis Obispo County.”

Railroads are notably secretive about routing of hazardous materials, so I asked Maio to clarify exactly how she determined that these crude oil trains would pass through Benicia and across the 85-year-old Benicia rail bridge (built in 1929) to Martinez, along the Carquinez Strait and down through the East Bay.

Vice Mayor Maio asked her “subject matter expert,” Dr. Phyllis Fox, to be in touch, and below is her detailed and I think rather conclusive explanation.  It looks like Benicians are facing not only the offloading of 100 train cars of crude each day, but another 100 cars passing through on tracks shared by Amtrak.The following is by Phyllis Fox, Ph.D, PE, BCEE, QEP, Environmental Management, Rockledge, Florida:

I’m the subject matter expert that ferreted out the route of the Santa Maria trains for the CBR Berkeley Resolution.

I reviewed the full DEIR for the Santa Maria Rail Spur Project for the Sierra Club. The DEIR (and my comments) are at: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/planning/environmental/EnvironmentalNotices/railproject.htm

The DEIR fails to disclose the route the trains will take from their entrance to California to San Jose, a fundamental flaw in the DEIR. However, there are important clues.

First, the DEIR on p. 4.12-7 suggests the Mulford line out of Oakland to Santa Clara would be used. The only way to get to Oakland is through Richmond and Berkeley.

Second, on p. 4.12-22, the DEIR notes “However, north of San Jose through the Bay area there are areas of multiple mainline tracks, and a large number of commuter trains. Therefore, it is unclear how much the crude oil unit train would overlap with the Coast Starlight. Given this uncertainty, the EIR has limited the analysis to the Coast Line.” (e.g., the DEIR only discusses the route from San Jose to Santa Maria, leaving the reader to guess which East Bay cities will be affected.) The implication is that any route with capacity is fair game.

Third, throughout the DEIR, interference between “commuter” trains and the crude unit trains is discussed. See, e.g., Sec. 4.12. The Union Pacific Coast Starlight line is apparently a key option. Figure 4.12-3 shows it passes through Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and down the East Bay.

Fourth, finding no clear statement in the DEIR as to the East Bay route, I did an exhaustive survey of railroad maps. This work indicates that rail lines go either: (1) down the Central Valley, roughly parallel to I-5, or through Benicia, Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and down the East Bay. There is no connection between these two routes except for the Altamont Corridor Express or ACE commuter line from Stockton, over the Altamont Pass into Livermore, Pleasanton, and Fremont. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altamont_Corridor_Express.  The ACE line would be an unlikely choice given the challenges posed by the Altamont Pass in handling unit trains with 80+ cars weighing up to 18,000 tons that are a mile long. The line has significant operating limitations including limited capacity, single track for much of the route, slow average operating speeds, and service limitations. Further, the line alarmingly, passes through the Niles Canyon, which also contains the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, carrying the water supply for San Francisco. The DEIR is silent on the ACE line. Thus, the only route that appears viable, coming from northern California, is through Sacramento (Roseville), the refinery towns and into Berkeley, Oakland etc. The most likely route is from the northern part of CA, as both Bakken crude and tar sands crude come from the far north and will most likely be sent first west into WA or OR into northern California or through Reno.

Finally, the DEIR suggests Union Pacific would be the carrier and it includes a map of the UP rail lines in CA. This map is on p. 4.12-7. It shows what I describe above in item #4, two parallel rail lines with the only connections leading into the East Bay through Benicia, or out of Stockton over the Altamont Pass. See also the UP Gross Weight Map: http://www.up.com/cs/groups/public/@uprr/documents/up_pdf_nativedocs/pdf_gross_weight_full_up_maps.pdf

There are no other connecting rail lines between the Central Valley route and the East Bay. Thus, by process of elimination, I (and others who did similar analyses) concluded the most likely route is through the East Bay.

Regardless, the DEIR does not restrict the route. Thus, any route can be used, so the East Bay cannot be eliminated.

Phyllis Fox, Ph.D., PE

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    East Bay Express: Richmond and Berkeley oppose oil by rail

    Repost from East Bay Express

    Richmond and Berkeley Oppose Fracked Oil and Tar Sands Rail Shipments

    Jean Tepperman —  Wed, Mar 26, 2014

    The city councils of both Berkeley and Richmond unanimously passed resolutions last night calling for tighter regulation of the shipping of crude oil by rail through the East Bay. The Berkeley resolution went further, committing Berkeley to oppose all shipment of crude oil by rail through the city until tighter regulations are in place.

    Information has recently come to light about crude-by-rail activity in both cities. In September, with no public announcement, the Kinder Morgan rail yard in Richmond quietly switched from handling ethanol to crude oil. And a new proposal calls for shipping crude oil to the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria on train tracks that run through the East Bay.

    Fracked oil from Bakken shale is highly explosive.
    USGS – Fracked oil from Bakken shale is highly explosive.

    At the Richmond City Council meeting, oil-industry expert Antonia Juhasz presented evidence from both the BNSF railroad and Kinder Morgan websites showing that the crude oil coming into the Richmond rail yard is fracked from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota. This Bakken crude has been responsible for several recent disastrous explosions when trains carrying it have derailed, with the worst accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed and the downtown destroyed.

    Juhasz added that there were more derailments and accidents involving crude by rail in 2013 than in the previous thirty years combined. More crude is being shipped by rail because of the huge increase in production of crude from North Dakota Bakken shale and Canadian tar sands, both far inland, and the need to get the fossil fuel to the coasts to refine and export.

    Juhasz also reported that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that emergency response planning along the rail routes is “practically nonexistent” and that current regulations are “no longer sufficient” — and that it’s not safe to carry crude oil in the type of car currently being used. Because of all this, the NTSB has recommended that trains carrying crude oil be rerouted “away from populated and other sensitive areas.”

    Several Richmond council members and community speakers expressed surprise that the switch to crude oil happened with no public notice. Andres Soto of Communities for a Better Environment said the “real culprit” was the staff of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which approved Kinder Morgan’s application to make this change without notifying the public or even the air district board members.

    City councilmembers wrestled with the fact that the city has no jurisdiction over railroads — only the federal government can regulate them. But Juhasz and McLaughlin said a resolution by the city was important as part of a demand from many cities and organizations for more regulation of crude by rail.

    The resolution called on federal legislators to move quickly to regulate the transportation of the new types of crude oil from Bakken shale and Canadian tar sands. Many speakers argued in favor of a moratorium on shipping crude by rail until adequate regulations were in place.

    Meanwhile in Berkeley, another oil-industry expert, environmental engineer Phyllis Fox, described the plan to ship crude oil through the East Bay to Santa Maria — probably through Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland — since these tracks are built to carry heavy trains. She projected a map showing that rail lines in California parallel rivers and go through the most populated areas, so accidents would be “disastrous.”

    Information released about the plan doesn’t reveal the source of the crude oil, but Fox said the two main kinds of crude oil being shipped by rail are from Bakken shale — oil that is highly volatile and prone to explosion — and Canadian tar sands — very heavy oil that is especially toxic and difficult to clean up. “One catastrophic event,” Fox said, “could cause irreversible harm.”

    Other sources have pointed out that the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County is geared to refining heavy crude oil, so it’s most likely that the crude headed to that plant would come from the Canadian tar sands.

    Many speakers in the public comment period supported the resolution, including residents of Crockett/Rodeo and Martinez, who are waging similar battles in their communities. Speakers pointed out a wide range of problems with shipping crude by rail in addition to the immediate danger. In a pre-meeting rally in support of the resolution, Mayor Tom Bates said the issues “go beyond the danger to our community to our whole carbon future. If we don’t get off fossil fuel we’re all doomed.”

    The resolution commits Berkeley to file comments opposing crude-by-rail projects in any draft permit-approval process, starting with the Santa Maria project; to file comments opposing new projects in the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo and the Valero refinery in Benicia; and to support the federal Department of Transportation in creating strict regulation of rail shipments of crude oil. In presenting the resolution, Maio also said Berkeley should form a coalition with other cities fighting crude-by-rail projects.

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      ThinkProgress report: East Bay cities opposing crude by rail

      Repost from ThinkProgress
      [Editor: Note huge transport related emissions numbers at end of this story.  – RS]

      Battle Begins Over Plan To Send Large Crude Oil Trains Through California Cities

      By Emily Atkin, March 26, 2014
      shutterstock_117462277
      CREDIT: Shutterstock

      A company’s plan to send massive trains of crude oil through about a dozen heavily populated California communities is starting to hit some roadblocks.

      On Tuesday, the City Council of Berkeley, California passed a resolution recommending strong action against Phillips 66, the company that recently filed a project proposal to bring 80-car trains of Canadian or North Dakotan oil to its refinery in Southern California. If approved, that project would have the capacity to transport trains carrying 2 million gallons of crude oil 250 times per year on tracks that are currently used for Amtrak commuter rail, traveling through communities in the Bay Area, Berkeley, and Oakland.

      It would be the first time crude oil could travel on trains through the Bay Area, the resolution said.

      “A crude train accident could occur anywhere along the transportation corridor,” the resolution states, citing the July derailment of a 72-car freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that resulted in a 1.5 million gallon oil spill and the deaths of forty-seven people.

      Phillips 66′s proposed project intends to expand its Santa Maria Refinery, which currently processes crude oil that arrives via underground pipe from locations throughout California. But due to the decline in California’s crude oil production, Phillips 66 says it needs to look elsewhere for competitively priced oil. “These could include fields as far away as the Bakken field in North Dakota or Canada,” the company’s project description states.

      The company says this would be done by building five sets of parallel tracks to accommodate the 80-car unit trains as often as 250 times per year. It would also build an above-ground pipeline to bring the oil from the trains to the refinery.

      The Berkeley City Council’s resolution states that it will file comments in opposition of the project, which is currently before the San Luis Obispo County planning board. The council said it would also work with the city attorney to file “friend of the court” briefs on any lawsuit that challenges the project, and will lobby Congressional representatives at the federal level.

      While railroads are generally subject to federal law, the City Council says they can also have an impact by denying land use and other permits if Phillips 66 refuses to mitigate harmful impacts its project might have.

      One of those potential harmful impacts is the risk that a train would derail. The National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] recently made recommendations that crude oil trains stay far away from urban population centers, citing the increasing rate of fiery accidents involving crude oil trains. Many of those accidents involved North Dakota’s Bakken Shale oil — the type Phillips 66 may decide to use — a type of oil which the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has warned could be especially flammable due to either particular properties of the oil or added chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract it.

      Another potential impact is the amount of greenhouse gases the project would emit, and how it would contribute to climate change. Phillips 66′s environmental impact statement says traveling from the Bakken oil fields to its refinery is a 2,500 mile one-way trip. Phillips 66 estimates that the project would emit 51,728 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2e) solely from transporting the crude by rail in states that are not California, and 8,646 MTCO2e solely from transporting the crude within California.

      Overall, the whole project would emit 65,908 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent, the company said.

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        Public forums – Feb 24, 26 & Mar 1

        Repost from Sunflower Alliance

        Forums on the New Dangers of Extreme Energy, from Canada to Contra Costa

        Tar sands strip mining in Alberta; oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic; drought in California; train derailment over Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

        Tar sands strip mining in Alberta; oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic; drought in California; train derailment over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

        The Sunflower Alliance is pleased to host a series of forums in northern Contra Costa County on the dangers of the fossil fuel industry’s turn to extreme energy in recent years. CoCoCo and Benicia are home to five refineries, specializing in the dirtiest and heaviest crude oils, and the industry has proposed five major projects to expand refineries and bring in crude oil by train.

        In Pittsburg, Martinez, and Richmond, we will have panel discussions with experts and community activists, featuring a special guest from Lac-Mégantic, Canada, which suffered a devastating oil train explosion last July that killed 47 people. They’ll educate us on Big Oil’s plans and the local, regional, and global effects.

        Learn about the consequences for your community, and learn how communities are organizing to fight back and protect our health and safety!

        The forums will be held on the following dates:

        Pittsburg: Monday, February 24th, 2014, from 7pm to 9pm at First Baptist at 204 Odessa Ave. Facebook event here.

        Martinez: Wednesday, February 26th, 2014, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Veterans Memorial Building at 930 Ward St. Facebook event here.

        Richmond: Saturday, March 1st, 2014, from 12pm to 2pm at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center at 1021 MacDonald Ave. Facebook event here.

        Speakers

        Each forum will have a slightly different set of panelists, tailored for the concerns of that area. However, every panel will feature:

        Look at the descriptions in the Facebook events for each location (see above) to find out more about each panel’s members.

        We look forward to seeing you at one of the panel discussions!

        Proposed Projects

        Proposed oil infrastructure projects (source: CBE).

        Partners

        These forums are sponsored by the Sunflower Alliance and 350 Bay Area, in partnership with the Sierra Club, Pittsburg Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, ForestEthics, the Good Neighbor Steering Committee, and the Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group.

        Many thanks to the First Baptist Church of Pittsburg, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and VFW Post 1351 for allowing us to use their spaces!

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