Martinez Refinery Flare Prompts Brief Contra Costa Health Advisory
By Dan Brekke, December 15, 2015 UPDATED 2:10PM
A flaring incident at the Tesoro oil refinery in Martinez prompted Contra Costa County health officials to issue a health alert in several communities early Tuesday afternoon.
The Level 2 alert was issued for people in Martinez, Pacheco, North Concord and Clyde who have “respiratory sensitivities.”
The alert was canceled at about 1:30 p.m., after smoke produced by the flaring dissipated.
Maria Duazo, with the county Department of Health Services’ hazardous materials program, said the flaring occurred after a boiler in a unit of the refinery malfunctioned at around 12:15 p.m.
“As a result there was some black smoke that came off,” Duazo said. “It appears that some odors came off, so we have some air monitors downwind from the refinery.”
The Department of Health Services says the smoke, which was rapidly dispersed by brisk northerly winds, should not pose a hazard to most people in the area.
Just after 2 p.m., Tesoro issued a statement on the incident:
At approximately 11:47 PST this morning, Tesoro Martinez experienced a loss of our primary steam generation unit that caused upsets in several process units. These upsets resulted in flaring with visible smoke. A Community Warning System Level 2 was activated per procedure, due to the smoke drifting offsite.
There were no injuries as a result of this event. We do not expect any adverse health effects. We are working closely with Contra Costa County health personnel and other regulatory agencies.
At this time, the steam generation unit is back on-line, and the refinery is currently in stable condition at reduced rates. The refinery is no longer flaring.
Our main priority is to safely return the refinery to normal operations and to minimize the impact to the community and the environment.
As of 1400, the event has been downgraded to a CWS Level 0. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.
The hazardous materials program is expected to require Tesoro to provide a report on the incident within the next 72 hours.
For Immediate Release: Monday, July 6, 2015. 7:00AM
[Richmond, CA] Activists protesting the threat of oil trains were detained this morning as they attempted to hang a 60-foot banner in front of the Benicia-Martinez railroad bridge. The banner reads “Stop Oil Trains Now: Are You in the Blast-Zone.org.” The railroad bridge, which runs between the RT680 bridges, crosses the Carquinez Strait near refineries operated by Valero, Tesoro, Shell and Chevron. The Benicia-Martinez bridge is identified by the rail industry and on the blast-zone.org map as the route for oil trains moving through the Bay Area.
This action coincides with the second anniversary of the fatal oil train fire in Lac Megantic, Quebec, and the Stop Oil Trains week of action with more than 80 planned events opposing oil trains across the US and Canada. Climbers, who are risking arrest to drop the banner, are representing three groups: Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, and ForestEthics. Baykeeper also provided support for the action.
The groups cite the threat of fatal accidents, increased air pollution near railways and refineries, and carbon pollution from the high-carbon crude oil carried by oil trains. Oil trains have derailed and exploded five times in 2015, including high-profile events in West Virginia, Illinois, North Dakota and Canada.
“Richmond has been my home my entire life. My family, friends, and neighbors are here, and we refuse to live in fear of these bomb trains blowing up our neighborhoods, and we’re tired of living in the shadow of the Chevron Refinery and the oil industry,” said Laiseng Saechao, APEN Member and Summer of Our Power Fellow. “That’s why I’m speaking up, not just to revoke Kinder Morgan’s permit to bring oil trains into Richmond, but also to build community-led alternatives to dirty oil through the Summer of Our Power Campaign.”
“We are facing a triple threat. Oil trains dangerously roll though to burn filthy crude in refineries from Richmond to LA and Wilmington, all contributing to toxic pollution and global climate catastrophe,” says Jasmin Vargas, CBE, associate director. “Communities for a Better Environment is working in communities challenging the worst cases of environmental racism in CA.”
“I am risking arrest today because crude oil trains are too dangerous for the rails,” says Ethan Buckner, ForestEthics, California campaigner. “We don’t need this dirty crude oil and we can’t wait for the next oil train catastrophe to act. Our railways will play a huge part in our new, just clean energy economy, but oil trains have no part in that future.”
APEN advances environmental justice campaigns and policy with the leadership of low-income Asian Pacific American families in Richmond, Oakland, and across California. www.apen4ej.org
CBE works to build people’s power in California’s communities of color and low-income communities to achieve environmental health and justice by preventing and reducing pollution and building green, healthy and sustainable communities and environments. www.cbecal.org
ForestEthics demands environmental responsibility from government and the biggest companies in the world. Visit Blast-Zone.org to see if you are one of the 25 million Americans who live in the dangerous one-mile oil train evacuation zone. www.ForestEthics.org
California’s gasoline prices jumped 31 cents in the last week, pushed higher by rising crude oil costs and problems at several state refineries.
It’s the second time this year that California drivers have faced such a steep price spike. And it has some oil company critics livid at a state gasoline market they say is designed to fail.
“This is a problem that only benefits them, to the expense of California consumers,” said Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who has pushed to raise the oil industry’s taxes in the state. “When you look at an oligopoly, is there anyone there with an incentive to solve this problem? I would say no.”
The average cost of a gallon of regular in California hit $ 3.71 on Monday, according to GasBuddy.com. Less than a month ago, in mid- April, regular was selling for less than $ 3.10.
And while gas prices have been moving higher nationwide, California has by far the nation’s priciest fuel. Even Hawaii currently pays less, with an average of $ 3.20. The national average stands at $ 2.63, according to GasBuddy.com.
Part of the problem lies in crude oil prices, which have risen 34 percent since mid-March. But California’s sudden price surge also reflects unique aspects of the state’s gasoline market that have frustrated drivers for more than a decade.
California uses its own pollution-fighting fuel blends not found in other states. As a result, most of California’s gasoline is made by 14 refineries located within the state’s borders. The state also has some of the country’s highest gasoline taxes — almost 66 cents per gallon. And starting in January, California’s cap-and-trade system for reining in greenhouse gas emissions added 10 cents to the overall cost, according to estimates.
Since only a limited number of refineries make California grade gasoline, any hiccup in production can move prices. In February, Tesoro temporarily shut down its Martinez refinery in response to a labor strike, and an explosion hobbled Exxon Mobil’s refinery in Torrance ( Los Angeles County). Prices soared for four weeks.
Analysts blame the current spike on production glitches at the Tesoro refinery in Martinez and the Chevron refinery in Richmond, which suffered a flaring incident on April 21.
In addition, the Oil Price Information Service reported last week that Chevron took down a key unit at its El Segundo ( Los Angeles County) refinery for maintenance, prompting the company to buy up extra gasoline supplies on the wholesale “spot” market to fulfill its contracts to fuel distributors. A Chevron spokesman declined to comment on the El Segundo refinery.
The price spike may be easing, with the statewide average rising just 1 cent overnight from Sunday to Monday. Wholesale prices are already started to fall.
Consumer advocates have long argued that the oil companies benefit from keeping gasoline supplies tight in California, with too little fuel held in storage for when the next refinery breakdown strikes.
A new report from the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog argues that refinery profit margins in the state rise during price spikes — even when a company has to buy extra wholesale gasoline to make up for refinery downtime. Soaring retail prices more than make up for the added expense of buying extra supplies, said Jamie Court, the group’s president.
“The oil companies know that even if it’s their refinery that’s knocked out, the higher prices will more than compensate them,” he said.
Court wants the state to require oil companies to maintain a specific amount of fuel in storage, to prevent or at least lessen future price spikes.
The U. S. Department of Energy is studying the idea of a fuel “reserve” on the West Coast — similar to the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve — but has framed it as a way to prevent supply disruptions after natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunamis. Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said California officials have considered the idea before — and rejected it as unworkable.
“Intuitively, setting aside large volumes of fuel from the market is not going to help,” Hull said.
The falling price of oil has made Bay Area railways and highways a little more safe for the time being.
Kinder Morgan has halted shipments of volatile Bakken crude to its oil transfer station in Richmond. Kinder Morgan had been receiving shipments of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota several times a month on 100-car trains. One such train travels through Martinez along Highway 4. Trucks would then send that Bakken crude to Tesoro.
However, last November those shipments stopped as the freefall drop in the price of a barrel of oil made transporting Bakken crude by rail economically unviable.
“There is a cost of transporting crude. When demand is reduced and price will be reduced, it becomes not economically viable to ship (by rail),” said Martinez Councilmember Mark Ross.
Ross, a member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said the cost of transporting the light Bakken crude is approximately $12 a barrel.
“We have to find a way to reduce demand for oil,” Ross said. “And when we do that, other good things happen. Cleaner air, less dangerous trains coming through our communities.”
The last train carrying Bakken crude oil passed through the Bay Area on Nov. 22. The oil was transported via rail from Stockton to Richmond.
A train carrying more than 3 million gallons of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale derailed in a snowstorm in an unincorporated area near Mount Carbon, West Virginia, on Feb. 16, shooting flames into the sky and evacuating hundreds of nearby residents from their homes.
The train, which was carrying crude to an oil depot in Yorktown, Virginia, derailed in a small town 33 miles southeast of Charleston, causing 20 tank cars to catch fire. All the oil tank cars on the 109-car train were CPC 1232 models, CSX Corp. said.
The CPC 1232 is the newer, supposedly tougher version of the DOT-111 car manufactured before 2011, which was faulted by regulators and operators for a number of years. U.S. and Canadian authorities, under pressure to address a spate of fiery accidents, are seeking to phase out the older models. The U.S. Transportation Department has recommended that even these later models be updated with improved braking systems and thicker hulls.
The fires, which destroyed one house and resulted in the evacuation of two nearby towns, were left to burn out, CSX said in a statement. No serious injuries were reported.