In the Northwest, the number of trains carrying oil along the Columbia River could dramatically increase, and that’s sharpened a debate over oil train safety in Washington state and Oregon. There’s a plan to ship more oil from the Bakken region to a proposed oil terminal in Washington. As Conrad Wilson of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, a recent derailment has shown the potential danger the area faces.
CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: On a Friday in early June, more than 40,000 gallons of Bakken crude spilled in a fiery oil train derailment that burned for 14 hours.
EMILY REED: It is an incredibly scary thing to have something like this happen so – and within our city limits, so close to our school.
WILSON: Emily Reed is the city council president in Mosier, Ore., the town where the derailment took place. About 500 people live in Mosier, and 100 of them were forced to evacuate when the oil train derailed. Reed points out the town’s deep in the Columbia River Gorge, a canyon with steep cliffs, where winds can reach 40 miles per hour during the summer.
REED: If the wind had been as it is today or more, we would have had a fire going up more than four of those cars, all the way through town and wiping out our town.
WILSON: Union Pacific was to blame for the derailment that caused the oil spill, according to a preliminary report by the Federal Railroad Administration. It says Union Pacific didn’t maintain its tracks properly. However, an inspector certified by that same federal agency checked the tracks and gave them the OK a little more than a month before the derailment.
JERRY OLIVER: It was unfortunate for the community.
WILSON: Jerry Oliver is a port commissioner in Vancouver, Wash., and a vocal supporter of what would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country, known as the Vancouver Energy Project.
OLIVER: It’s also unfortunate because it gives a tremendous black eye to anything related to fossil fuels.
WILSON: If built, the terminal would more than double the number of mile-long oil trains traveling along the Columbia River, to about 46 trains per week. Serena Larkin is with the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that opposes the oil terminal. She says until Mosier, oil train derailments were the kind of thing that happened somewhere else.
SERENA LARKIN: Mosier proved that we’re not any different. We are just as vulnerable. We are facing the exact same risks from oil trains that everyone else in North America is facing right now.
WILSON: Despite low oil prices, proponents of the project say the terminal is needed to reduce foreign imports and move domestic oil. For now, it’s relying on oil trains because there aren’t enough pipelines to move oil from North Dakota to the West Coast. Larkin says Mosier’s a turning point in the debate surrounding the Vancouver oil terminal and one that will weigh heavily on whether the project gets permitted.
LARKIN: It showed what the Vancouver oil terminal is really asking Northwest communities to shoulder in risk.
DAN RILEY: I strongly believe that all accidents are preventable.
WILSON: Dan Riley is vice president of government affairs for Tesoro, an oil company behind the project. Since the derailment in Mosier, he says there has been more scrutiny.
RILEY: I think that the criticism is not of the project, but of the rail system.
WILSON: Reilly says Tesoro has also pledged to only allow tank cars with thicker shells and other safety features designed to withstand a derailment into the Vancouver facility. But that’s done little to ease the safety concerns of firefighters and environmental groups. Ultimately, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has the final say on whether the project gets approved. That decision could come later this year. Inslee’s acknowledged the risk oil trains pose. He says the Mosier derailment is among the things he’ll consider when determining whether or not he’ll permit the oil terminal. For NPR News, I’m Conrad Wilson in Vancouver, Wash.
By Catherine Ngai and Liz Hampton | NEW YORK/HOUSTON, Aug 12, 2016 12:46pm EDT
It may seem odd that the opening of one pipeline crossing through four U.S. Midwest states could upend the movement of oil throughout the country, but the Dakota Access line may do just that.
At the moment, crude oil moving out of North Dakota’s prolific Bakken shale to “refinery row” in the U.S. Gulf must travel a circuitous route through the Rocky Mountains or the Midwest and into Oklahoma, before heading south to the Gulf of Mexico.
The 450,000 barrel-per-day Dakota Access line, when it opens in the fourth quarter, will change that by providing U.S. Gulf refiners another option for crude supply.
Gulf Coast refiners and North Dakota oil producers will reap the benefits. Losers will include the struggling oil-by-rail industry which now brings crude to the coasts.
The pipeline also will create headaches for East and West Coast refiners, which serve the most heavily populated parts of the United States and consume a combined 4.1 million barrels of crude daily. They will have to rely more on foreign imports.
The pipeline, currently under construction, will connect western North Dakota to the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline Project (ETCOP) in Patoka, Illinois. From there, it will connect to the Nederland and Port Arthur, Texas, area, where refiners including Valero Energy, Total and Motiva Enterprises operate some of the largest U.S. refining facilities.
“That’s a better and cheaper path than going out West and down through the Rockies,” said Bernadette Johnson, managing partner at Ponderosa Advisors LLC, an energy advisory based in Denver.
CHEAPER THAN RAIL
Moving crude by pipeline is generally cheaper than using railcars. The flagging U.S. crude-by-rail industry already is moving only half as much oil as it did two years ago: volumes peaked at 944,000 bpd in October 2014, but were around just 400,000 bpd in May, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
Rail transport has become less economical for East and West Coast refiners when compared with importing Brent crude, the foreign benchmark, because declining supply out of North Dakota made that grade of oil less affordable.
“If you look at the Brent to Bakken arb, it’s tight,” said Afolabi Ogunnaike, a senior refining analyst at Wood Mackenzie in Houston. “If you look at the spot rate, it’s uneconomical to move crude by rail right now.”
Ponderosa Advisors estimated that the start-up of the pipeline could reroute an additional 150,000 to 200,000 bpd currently carried by rail to the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast.
Crude imports into the East Coast are now on the rise, averaging 788,000 bpd this year, with nearly 960,000 bpd in July, the highest level in three years, according to Thomson Reuters data.
On the West Coast, refiners like Shell, Tesoro and BP may have to commit to some railed volumes for longer because of shipping constraints, although it will largely depend on rail economics. They also face declining output from California and Alaska.
Tesoro’s top executive Gregory Goff told analysts and investors last week he expects rail costs to drop as much as 40 percent from the current $9-to-$10 barrel cost to compete with pipelines, in order to move Bakken to its Anacortes, Washington, refinery.
Rail companies have been trying to adapt. CSX Corp, which runs a network of lines in the eastern part of the country, said it was evaluating potential impacts of the pipeline. BNSF Railway declined to discuss future freight movements, but said that at its peak, it transported as many as 12 trains daily filled with crude, primarily from the Bakken. Today, it is moving less than half of that.
In a recent earnings call, midstream player Crestwood Equity Partners said it was working to capitalize on the pipeline and not be dependent on loading crude barrels onto trains. That includes building an interconnection to its 160,000 barrel-per-day COLT crude rail facility in North Dakota.
As refiners bring in more barrels from overseas, Brent’s premium over U.S. crude will eventually widen. On Thursday, December Brent futures settled at a 97-cent premium to U.S. crude, one of its widest premiums this year.
Separately, Bakken crude, a light barrel, could rise further due to the additional competition, especially as production is still falling. Bakken differentials hit a six-month low earlier this week of $2.65 a barrel below WTI, according to Reuters data, but rose to a $1.80 a barrel discount by Thursday.
(Reporting by Catherine Ngai in New York and Liz Hampton in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio)
Petrochemical Industry Presence in East Bay CA’s North Coast Refinery Corridor
Who Lives Near the Refineries?
By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator & Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community-Based Research & Engagement, March 30, 2016
Communities living along the North Coast of the East Bay region in California are the most impacted by the presence of the petrochemical industry in their communities.
Emissions from these facilities disproportionately degrade air quality in this corridor region putting residents at an elevated risk of cancer and other health impacts.
People of color are more likely to live near the refineries and are therefore disproportionately affected.
Refinery Corridor Introduction
The North Coast of California’s East Bay region hosts a variety of heavy industries, including petroleum refineries, multiple power plants and stations, chemical manufacturing plants, and hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities. Nationwide, the majority of petroleum refineries are located in heavily industrialized areas or near crude oil sources. The north coast region is unique. Access to shipping channels and the location being central to the raw crude product from North Dakota and Canada to the North, and California’s central valley oil fields to the south has resulted in the development of a concentrated petrochemical infrastructure within the largely residential Bay Area. The region’s petrochemical development includes seven fossil fuel utility power stations that produce a total of 4,283 MW, five major oil refineries operated by Chevron, Phillips 66, Shell Martinez, Tesoro, and Valero, and 4 major chemical manufacturers operated by Shell, General Chemical, DOW, and Hasa Inc. This unequal presence has earned the region the title, “refinery corridor” as well as “sacrifice zone” as described by the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition.
The hazardous emissions from refineries and other industrial sites are known to degrade local air quality. It is therefore important to identify and characterize the communities that are affected, as well as identify where sensitive populations are located. The communities living near these facilities are therefore at an elevated risk of exposure to a variety of chemical emissions. In this particular North Coast region, the high density of these industrial point sources of air pollution drives the risk of resultant health impacts. According to the U.S.EPA, people of color are twice as likely to live near refineries throughout the U.S. This analysis by FracTracker will consider the community demographics and other sensitive receptors near refineries along the north coast corridor.
In the map below (Figure 1) U.S. EPA risk data in CalEnviroscreen is mapped for the region of concern. The map shows the risk resulting specifically from industrial point sources. Risk along the North Coast is elevated significantly. Risk factors calculated for the region show that these communities are elevated above the average. The locations of industrial sites are also mapped, with specific focus on the boundaries or fencelines of petrochemical sites. Additional hazardous sites that represent the industrial footprint in the region have been added to the map including sites registered with Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) permits as well as Superfund and otherComprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) sites. The Toxmap TRI sites are facilities that require a permit to emit hazardous air pollutants. The superfund and other CERCLA sites are locations where a historical footprint of industry has resulted in contamination. The sites are typically abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites that are part of register for tax-funded clean-ups.
Figure 1. Interactive map of risk in the East Bay’s North Coast refinery corridor
Oil refineries in particular are unique sources of air emissions. There are 150 large domestic refineries throughout the United States. They are shown in the map in Figure 2 below. The majority (90%) of the refined products from these refineries are fuels; motor vehicle gasoline accounts for 40%. The refinery sites have hundreds of stacks, or point sources, and they emit a wide variety of pollutants, as outlined by the U.S. EPA:
Criteria Air Pollutants (CAPs)
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Particulate Matter (PM)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs)
Carcinogens, including benzene, naphthalene, 1,3-butadiene, PAH
Non-carcinogenic HAP, including HF and HCN
Persistent bioaccumulative HAP, including mercury and nickel
Greenhouse Gases (GHG)
Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S)
Figure 2. Map of North American Petroleum Refineries
Disparate health impacts are therefore a known burden for these Bay Area communities. The region includes the cities of Richmond, Pinole, Hercules, Rodeo, Crockett, Port Costa, Benicia, Martinez, Mt. View, Pacheco, Vine Hill, Clyde, Concord, Bay Point, Antioch, and Oakley. In addition to preserving the ecological system health of this intercostal region is also important for both the ecological biodiversity of the marsh as well as commercial and recreational purposes. These wetlands provide a buffer, able to absorb rising waters and abate flooding.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD) Cumulative Impacts report identified areas where air pollution’s health impacts are relatively high in the San Francisco Bay Area. The report is does not limit their analysis to the North Coast, but shows that these regions with the most impacts are also the most vulnerable due to income, education level, and race and ethnicity. The report shows that there is a clear correlation between socio-economic disadvantages and racial minorities and the impacted communities. Figure 3 shows the regions identified by the BAAQMD as having the highest pollution indices.
This analysis by FracTracker focuses specifically on the north shore of the East Bay region. Like the BAAQMD report, National Air toxic Assessment (NATA) data to identify census tracts with elevated risk. Specifically, elevated cancer and non-cancer risk from point sources emitting hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) as regulated by the U.S. EPA were used. CalEnviroScreen 2.0 data layers were also incorporated, specifically the U.S. EPA’s Risk Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) data. RSEI uses toxic release inventory (TRI) data, emission locations and weather to model how chemicals spread in the air (in 810m-square grid units), and combines air concentrations with toxicity factors.
The census tracts that were identified as disproportionately impacted by air quality are shown in the map below (Figure 4). The demographics data for these census tracts are presented in the tables below. Demographics were taken from the U.S. census bureau’s 2010 Census Summary File 1 Demographic Profile (DP1). The census tracts shapefiles were downloaded from here.
Figure 4. Interactive Map of Petrochemical Sites and Neighboring Communities in the East Bays North Coast Industrial Corridor
Buffers were created at 1,000 ft; 2,000 ft; and 3,000 ft buffers from petrochemical sites. These distances were developed as part of a hazard screening protocol by researchers at the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to assess environmental justice impacts. The distances are based on environmental justice literature, ARB land use guidelines, and state data on environmental disamenities (Sadd et al. 2011). A demographical profile was summarized for the population living within a distance of 3,000 feet, and for the census tracts identified as impacted by local point sources in this region. The analysis is summarized in Table 1 below. Additional data on the socioeconomic status of the census tracts is found in Table 2.
Based on the increased percentage of minorities and indicators of economic hardship shows that the region within the buffers and the impacted census tracts host a disproportionate percentage of vulnerable populations. Of particular note is 30% increase in Non-white individuals compared to the rest of the state. We see in Table 2 that this is disparity is specifically for Black or African American communities, with an over 150% increase compared to the total state population. The number of households reported to be in poverty in the last 12 months of 2014 and those households receiving economic support via EBT are also elevated in this region. Additional GIS analysis shows that 7 healthcare facilities, 7 residential elderly care facilities, 32 licensed daycares, and 17 schools where a total of 10,474 students attended class in 2014. Of those students, 54.5% were Hispanic and over 84% identified as “Non-white.”
Table 1. Demographic Summaries of Race. Data within the 3,000 ft buffer of petrochemical sites was aggregated at the census block level.
Hispanic or Latino
Hispanic or Latino (%ile)
Impacted Census Tracts
3,000 ft. Buffer
Table 2. Additional Status Indicators taken from the 2010 census at the census tract level
Indicators (Census Tract data)
Children, Age under 5
Black or African American
Food Stamps (households)
The results of the refinery corridor analysis show that the communities living along the North Coast of the East Bay region are the most impacted by the presence of the petrochemical industry in their communities. Emissions from these facilities disproportionately degrade air quality in this corridor region putting residents at an elevated risk of cancer and other health impacts. The communities in this region are a mix of urban and single family homes with residential land zoning bordering directly on heavy industry zoning and land use. The concentration of industry in this regions places an unfair burden on these communities. While all of California benefits from the use of fossil fuels for transportation and hydrocarbon products such as plastics, the residents in this region bear the burden of elevated cancer and non-cancer health impacts.
Additionally, the community profile is such that residents have a slightly elevated sensitivity when compared to the rest of the state. The proportion of the population that is made up of more sensitive receptors is slightly increased. The region has suburban population densities and more children under the age of 5 than average. The number of people of color living in these communities is elevated compared to background (all of California). The largest disparity is for Black or African American residents. There are also a large number of schools located within 3,000 ft of at least one petrochemical site, where over half the students are Hispanic and the vast majority are students of color. Overall, people of color are disproportionately affected by the presence of the petrochemical industry in this region. Continued operation and any increases in production of the refineries in the East Bay disproportionately impact the disadvantaged and disenfranchised.
With this information, FracTracker will be elaborating on the work within these communities with additional analyses. Future work includes a more in depth look at emissions and drivers of risk on the region, mapping crude by rail terminals, and working with the community to investigate specific health endpoints. Check back soon.