Supervisors Oppose Proposed Project That Would Bring Oil Trains Through Santa Clara County
By Robert Handa and Bay City News, Aug 24, 2015, 7:03 PM PDT
Santa Clara County leaders, including some fire chiefs, are looking to join the Bay Area fight to stop railroad cars filled with crude oil from traveling through neighborhoods.
The South Bay officials said they are worried a proposed plan in San Luis Obispo County could lead to a derailment, an environmental disaster and the loss of life.
A recent train derailment in San Jose made some Santa Clara County leaders suddenly very interested in blocking the Phillips 66 proposal to expand its Santa Maria oil refinery.
The plan to extend a Union Pacific rail line in San Obispo County would likely allow Phillips 66 to have up to five trains a week transporting millions of gallons of high sulfur crude oil around its Santa Maria refinery.
The route would run through 40 miles of the county in Milpitas, downtown San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy and unincorporated communities, according to Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.
The project would have an option to use Caltrain from San Francisco to downtown San Jose, Chavez said.
“A hundred years ago rail lines were going through prairies. Now they’re going through communities where people live, work, play and worship,” Chavez said.
With nearly 2 million residents, Santa Clara County is a more densely populated area than elsewhere on the route, Yeager said.
In addition to the human impact an oil train derailment would have, there would also be environmental consequences on air and soil quality and an already limited water supply, Yeager said.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a resolution against the proposal during its Tuesday meeting.
If the resolution is passed, the county plans to detail their opposition to the project in a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. [Editor: the resolution passed by unanimous vote. – RS]
The Santa Clara County Fire Chiefs’ Association has also written a letter to San Luis Obispo County officials for additional information, training and equipment to keep the county safe should the project move forward, Kehmna said.
Palo Alto fire Chief Eric Nickel, president of the fire chiefs’ association, said Phillips should provide the resources to train county fire personnel instead of billing taxpayers.
In an email Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss said, “We remain committed to safety and to our proposal. We understand that there may be opposition to the rail project, and we look forward to San Luis Obispo County providing responses to all issues that are raised and addressing them in compliance with CEQA.”
CONCORD — A mysterious earthquake fault slices under central Concord, its jagged, quarter-mile-wide seam running beneath a critical fuel-pumping facility, traversing the edge of a refinery processing 166,000 barrels of crude oil daily, and undercutting strip malls and homes.
While its big sisters, the San Andreas and Hayward fissures, grab the headlines, the Concord Fault — with its 11-mile-long fracture zone stretching from the Carquinez Strait to the Mount Diablo foothills — is also capable of producing a catastrophic earthquake, geologists say. And with critical infrastructure in its path, particularly refineries and a vulnerable railroad bridge not far away, a large seismic event could leave the entire northern half of the state without easy access to fuel — disrupting transportation and the transmission of electricity and water, according to a recent study.
The Concord fissure may be largely ignored by the general public. But not by geologists.
“The Concord Fault is significantly more active than the fault that caused the Napa earthquake,” said Chris Wills of the California Geological Survey, referring to the 6.0 wine country temblor last August that caused more than $400 million in damage. “Nobody would be surprised if a magnitude-6 earthquake happened on the Concord Fault tomorrow.”
Make no mistake, Concord’s contribution to the Bay Area’s geologic activity is significantly smaller than the San Andreas and Hayward zones. Updated U.S. Geological Survey estimates indicate a 3 to 4 percent probability of a magnitude-6.7 or higher earthquake over the next 30 years on the Concord or lower Green Valley Fault, a connected Solano County segment, compared with 6.4 percent for the San Andreas and 14.3 percent for the Hayward Fault.
The Concord Fault creeps a measly 4 to 5 millimeters annually, while the Hayward slips 9 millimeters and San Andreas 25 millimeters.
The last catastrophic temblor on the Contra Costa-Solano combo fault struck more than 400 years ago, but geologists still say it’s important to monitor.
“At some point in time that system has to fail — we just don’t know exactly when,” said David Schwartz with the USGS. Even if the Concord Fault only produces a 5.0 quake, it could cause significant damage, Schwartz said.
The great unknown
On Oct. 23, 1955, a 5.4 quake — the Concord Fault’s last major temblor — was felt from San Jose to Sacramento. It caused $1 million in damage ($8.7 million in today’s dollars) and one fatality, according to the USGS. Windows shattered, brick walls cracked and moved, chimneys shifted and wine bottles crashed from liquor store shelves.
What makes the Concord Fault particularly worrisome to regional planners, so much so that it was highlighted in a December study by the Association of Bay Area Governments, is its potential impact on regional and statewide fuel distribution. Without gasoline, every other crucial need, including water, electricity and transportation, will be affected.
In its report, ABAG studied three theoretical earthquakes — a 7.9 on the San Andreas, a 7.0 on the Hayward and 6.8 on the Concord.
“Originally, we were just going to explore the San Andreas and Hayward faults, but we realized that (there are) a lot of key infrastructure assets in (the Concord) region,” said study author Michael Germeraad, an ABAG resilience planner.
Five Bay Area refineries — all but two are within a couple miles of the fault — processed 235 million barrels of crude in 2012, about 40 percent of the state’s total, according to ABAG. In addition, Kinder Morgan operates a pumping station nearby that receives processed crude from all the refineries and pipes it out to terminals across Northern California and Nevada.
That pumping station, a critical piece of fuel infrastructure, lies directly above the Concord Fault.
Built in the 1950s, the station receives products from eight facilities and pumps the refined crude through pipelines. It can store about 1 million barrels, but normal inventory is half of that, said Melissa Ruiz, a Kinder Morgan spokeswoman. Its five outgoing pipelines serve Chico, Fresno, Reno, Sacramento, San Jose, Stockton and surrounding cities, in addition to seven military facilities and public airports.
The company has facilities and pipelines in active fault areas throughout California but has never lost a pipeline or tank to a quake and maintains its infrastructure to industry rules and regulations, Ruiz said.
In its report, ABAG said it had concerns because pipelines can fail due to soil liquefaction — where hard soil loses strength during strong ground shaking — and fault rupture. Knowing pipeline material, age, weld types and other factors would help scientists know where failures are “more likely,” but that information isn’t available.
“Damage to the Concord station would interrupt fuel transmission across the northern half of the state,” the report concluded.
The study also found that if one Bay Area refinery was damaged, they would all likely suffer damage because of their close proximity to each other, and because they are built on similar soils and have similar construction.
“A conservative restoration estimate of damaged refineries is months,” the study found for the Concord quake scenario.
The Tesoro Golden Eagle facility in Martinez sits on 2,206 acres just feet from the fault. Built in 1903, Golden Eagle employs about 650 workers and is the fourth-largest refinery in California.
Spokeswoman Patricia Deutsche said refinery officials are aware it sits next to the fault and a liquefaction zone, but she said the facility follows industry design standards. Piles are driven down hundreds of feet into bedrock, equipment has been retrofitted and the Avon Wharf, an oil terminal located on aging timber piles along the southern shore of Suisun Bay, just received environmental clearance for retrofit up to state quake standards, she said.
Seismic assessments of Bay Area refineries are done every five years, and the building code requirements consider the level of possible ground shaking from any nearby fault, said Gayle Johnson, senior engineer with Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, a national engineering firm.
Johnson, who has investigated the performance of industrial facilities in more than 20 earthquakes worldwide, said since the refinery retrofit programs began in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there has been a “ton of upgrade work done.”
While fuel infrastructure may be the top concern for the region, a large quake could disrupt other major lifelines. The Benicia-Martinez rail bridge, located between the two vehicle spans, is particularly vulnerable, according to ABAG, and could face “significant or complete damage.”
Liquefaction along the Carquinez Strait could cause dredged water channels to slough into the shipping pathways. Runways could rupture at Buchanan Field, which sits adjacent to the fault. Delta levees could breach, creating flooding and impacting drinking water quality, ABAG found.
Two-thirds of the power generated in the region is produced by natural gas facilities, many along the Carquinez Strait.
“In the event natural gas lines are damaged, these facilities will be unable to generate electricity,” the study found.
Still, Wills warns that what will happen during a significant quake on the Concord Fault is largely a mystery.
“How it releases is not that well known,” he said.
Contra Costa residents pushing for more information on crude by rail
By Karina Ioffee, Bay Area News Group, 03/27/2015 05:22:01 PM PDT
CROCKETT — With plans in the works to transport crude oil by rail through Contra Costa County cities to a Central California refinery, local residents say they want assurances that state and federal agencies are doing everything they can to keep them safe.
Less than 1 percent of crude that California refineries received in 2014 came by rail, but the negative perception of transporting oil by train has grown sharply because of highly publicized accidents. A derailment in Quebec in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed parts of a town; another in West Virginia contaminated local water sources and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
If the Phillips 66 plans are approved, an estimated five trains a week, each hauling 80 tank cars, could travel through Contra Costa cities, then Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose along the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, before arriving at the refinery in Santa Maria.
At a community meeting here Thursday, residents peppered a representative from the California Energy Commission about what kind of emergency plans were in place should a train derail and explode, what timelines the federal government had for new and improved tanker cars, and whether railroad companies have enough insurance in case of a catastrophic event.
Many came away unsatisfied with what they heard, saying they were terrified by the prospect of rail cars filled with Bakken crude from North Dakota, which is lighter and more combustible than most types of petroleum.
“The oil companies are getting all the benefits and the communities who live near them are taking all the risk,” said Nancy Rieser, who lives in Crockett and is a member of Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, a community organization.
Her group is pushing the railroad industry to release its risk-assessment information, required for insurance purposes, to better understand what kind of plans companies have in an event of an emergency and whether their insurance policies would cover a large incident. Railroad companies have so far declined to release the information.
“You need to have hospitals at the ready, you need to have first responders, so if you keep it a secret, it’s as if the plan didn’t exist,” Rieser said. “You can’t be coy with the communities.”
Regulations about rail safety are written and enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration, and the California Public Utilities Commission focuses on enforcement in the state, employing inspectors to make sure railroads comply with the law. There is also an alphabet soup of state agencies such as the Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM), California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).
But to what extent the agencies are working together to prepare for crude-by-rail transports and how they’re sharing information remains unclear. Last year, an Interagency Rail Safety Working Group, put together by Gov. Jerry Brown, produced a report recommending that additional inspectors be hired to evaluate tracks, rail cars and bridges; more training for local emergency responders; and real-time shipment information to local firefighters when a train is passing through a community. According to the report, incidents statewide involving oil by rail increased from three in 2011 to 25 in 2013.
Many at Thursday’s meeting said the only way to prevent future accidents was to ban the transport of crude by rail completely, until all rail cars and tracks had been inspected.
“These trains are really scary because we live so close to them and we feel the effects deeply through emissions and air pollution,” said Aimee Durfee, a Martinez resident. Statewide, Californians use more than 40 million gallons of gasoline each day, according to the California Energy Commission.
Bernard Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said railroad companies are already shifting to new cars — outfitted with heat shields, thicker tank material and pressure-relief devices — although the process is gradual because of the sheer volume of the fleet, estimated at more than 25,000. New rulings specifying tanker car standards and timelines about phasing in updated technology are also expected this May.
“No human activity is completely risk-free,” Weinstein said, adding that the spill rate for trains transporting crude was roughly four times higher than accidents involving pipelines.
“Communities are resistant to crude by rail and they are against pipelines, but they also want to go to the pump and be able to fill up their car.”
Repost from The Spartan Daily at San Jose State University [Quote: “Last Wednesday a Union Pacific train pulling empty gravel cars derailed near Taylor and Seventh streets in Japantown. There were no injuries, but stalled traffic forced public transit to reroute, according to a report by NBC Bay Area.” Editor: See also the NBC report. – RS]
Trains will bring oil through Downtown San Jose
By Jeremy Cummings Mar 18, 2015 2:36 am
Despite growing public opposition to transportation of crude oil by rail since serious accidents such as the Lac-Megantic crash in 2013 a proposal to the Santa Maria Planning Commission might bring a crude oil train directly through Downtown San Jose.
Jill and Jack Sardegna, two concerned San Jose natives who live close to the train tracks, worry about pollution and other risks the trains could bring.
“We didn’t think that this was a possibility here, and certainly not through a residential area,” Jill Sardegna said, “But here it is.”
San Jose State is in the potential impact zone of fires that could result from a derailment downtown, according to blast-zone.org, but the school’s administration is unprepared at this point to respond to such an event, according to SJSU Chief of Staff Stacy Gleixner at a press conference with student media last Wednesday.
“I don’t think we’ve given thought yet to what kind of precautions we might need to have in place,” Gleixner said.
The train, run by Union Pacific Railroad, will carry oil to the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County and was proposed in 2013.
According to a draft of the proposal’s environmental impact report on slocounty.ca.gov, up to five 80-car trains will run to the Mesa refinery a week.
The commission has the final say on whether or not the oil trains will run, a decision which will impact some citizens’ lives all throughout California, according to Council member Ash Kalra.
Safety risks of oil trains
Complete safety cannot be guaranteed when transporting oil by rail, according to Francisco J. Castillo, director of corporate relations and media at Union Pacific Railroad.
Castillo said although oil by rail arrives safely 99.99 percent of the time, there is a risk associated with this shipping method as there is with any other.
In July 2013 an oil train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, killing 47 and causing significant damage to the city.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada reported that this crash was a result of simple human error. A conductor failed to set the train’s brakes correctly, allowing it to run out of control into the town center.
Data from a report released by environmental watchdog Mesa Refinery Watch Group shows that approximately 462,000 gallons of crude oil are confirmed to have spilled in the United States alone since 2013.
Unconfirmed amounts of oil have been spilled in other derailments such as one that occurred in Aliceville, Alabama, in December 2013.
The most commonly used tank car by the Department of Transportation is the DOT-111.
According to data from dot111.org and 2014 North American Freight Railcar review, DOT-111s make up approximately 75 percent of the North American Rail Fleet.
These tank cars are a big concern to environmental groups such as the Mesa Refinery Watch Group, which say DOT-111s follow outdated safety standards and leak large quantities of hazardous materials during transit.
Carol Ziegler, a representative of Phillips 66, said all of the cars in its fleet meet the newest safety standards for oil transportation.
Last Wednesday a Union Pacific train pulling empty gravel cars derailed near Taylor and Seventh streets in Japantown.
There were no injuries, but stalled traffic forced public transit to reroute, according to a report by NBC Bay Area.
The Lac-Megantic accident shows the potential consequences of an oil train derailing in a populated area.
According to San Jose Fire Department Chief Curtis Jacobsen, San Jose Fire is not equipped to contain the fires that could result from a derailment.
The Sardegnas are worried by the lack of publicized information about this issue, and have contacted multiple news outlets including the Mercury News trying to get the word out.
“This is a big concern for us that students don’t even know this is happening,” Jill Sardegna said.
Councilmember Kalra said it’s important for SJSU students to educate themselves about this and other issues so they might make a difference going into the future.