Category Archives: Bakken Crude

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Benicia’s rejection of oil trains could reverberate across country

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Benicia’s rejection of oil trains could reverberate across country

By Kurtis Alexander, 9/21/16 5:11pm
The Valero refinery is seen in the background behind signage for a railroad crossing on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 in Benicia, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
The Valero refinery is seen in the background behind signage for a railroad crossing on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 in Benicia, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

Benicia’s rejection of plans to bring trains filled with crude oil to Valero Corp.’s big refinery in the city was hailed Wednesday by critics of the country’s expanding oil-by-rail operations, who hope the flexing of local power will reverberate across the Bay Area and the nation.

Of particular interest to environmentalists and local opponents, who for years have argued that Valero’s proposal brought the danger of a catastrophic spill or fire, was a last-minute decision by U.S. officials that Benicia’s elected leaders — not the federal government — had the final say in the matter.

Word of that decision arrived just before the City Council, in a unanimous vote late Tuesday, dismissed Valero’s proposal for a new $70 million rail depot along the Carquinez Strait off Interstate 680. Valero had said the project would not only be safe but bring local jobs, tax revenue and lower gas prices.

“We’re pleased with the decision and the implications it will have across the country,” said Jackie Prange, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several groups opposed to the project. “This issue is live in a number of sites across the country. This is definitely a decision that I think cities in other states will be looking to.”

As oil production has boomed across North America, so has the need to send crude via railroad. The uptick in tanker trains, though, has been accompanied by a spate of accidents in recent years, including a 2013 derailment in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic in which a 72-car train exploded and killed more than 40 people.

The authority of communities to limit oil trains has been clouded by the assertion of some in the petroleum industry that local officials don’t have jurisdiction to get in the way. Companies like Valero have contended that railroad issues are matter of interstate commerce — and hence are the purview of the federal government.

Shortly before Tuesday’s meeting, however, Benicia officials received a letter from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which wrote that Valero, based in Texas, was not a railroad company and that the proposed rail terminal fell under city jurisdiction.

“It’s what I was waiting for to help me make my vote more defensible,” said Councilman Alan Schwartzman at the meeting.

Earlier this year, Valero had asked the Surface Transportation Board for “preemption” protection for the project after Benicia’s Planning Commission rejected the proposal. The plan proceeded to the City Council upon appeal.

The plan called for oil deliveries from up to two 50-car trains a day, many passing through several Northern California communities en route from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. Those trains would carry as many as 70,000 barrels of oil.

The company billed the project as a way to keep gasoline prices low in the absence of a major oil pipeline serving the West Coast. Crude is currently brought to the Bay Area mostly by boat or through smaller pipelines.

On Wednesday, Valero officials expressed frustration at the city’s decision.

“After nearly four years of review and analysis by independent experts and the city, we are disappointed that the City Council members have chosen to reject the crude by rail project,” spokeswoman Lillian Riojas wrote in an email. “At this time we are considering our options moving forward.”

The vote directly hit the city’s pocketbook. Nearly 25 percent of Benicia’s budget comes from taxes on the oil giant, and the city coffers stood to grow with more crude. The refinery employs about 500 people, according to city records.

But the city’s environmental study showed that oil trains presented a hazard. The document concluded that an accident was possible on the nearly 70 miles of track between Roseville (Placer County) and the refinery, though the likelihood was only one event every 111 years.

The document also suggested that much of the crude coming to the Bay Area from North Dakota, as well as from tar sands in Canada, was more flammable than most.

Several cities in the Bay Area and Sacramento area joined environmental groups in calling for rejection of the project.

“The council’s vote is a tremendous victory for the community and communities all throughout California,” said Ethan Buckner of the opposition group Stand, who was among more than 100 people who turned out for the council’s verdict. “At a time when oil consumption in California is going down, projects like this are unnecessary.”

At least two other plans are in the works for oil delivery by rail elsewhere in the region — in Richmond and Pittsburg. A handful of other proposals have been put forth in other parts of California, including the expansion of a rail spur at a Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County, which is scheduled to be heard by the county planning board Thursday.

Prange, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said this week’s finding by the Surface Transportation Board gives cities the confidence to reject the proposed oil trains, if they wish to do so.

“It reaffirms the power of local government to protect their citizens from these dangerous projects,” she said.

U.S. oil deliveries by rail have grown quickly, from 20 million barrels in 2010 to 323 million in 2015, according to government estimates. In response, federal transportation officials have worked to improve the safety of oil-carrying cars with new regulations.

But over the past year, rail deliveries nationwide have slowed, in part because of the stricter rules as well as local opposition, falling crude prices and new pipelines.

Critics have complained that the tightened rules have fallen short, pointing to incidents like a June train derailment in Mosier, Ore., which spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude into the Columbia River. Leaders in Oregon are discussing a statewide ban on crude trains.

Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
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    Fewer Bakken oil trains when major new pipeline is operational

    Repost from the Chronicle Times, Cherokee, IA
    [Editor: Significant quote: “Currently, almost 100% of the 944,000 barrels of crude oil produced daily from western North Dakota oil fields moves out over the U.S. railroad system.”  – RS]

    Energy Transfer sells share of Bakken Pipeline

    By Loren G. Flaugh, Wednesday, August 31, 2016
    Rail shipments to lessen when pipeline operational

    (Photo)According to an Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. (ETP) website, ETP and Sunoco Logistics Partners, L.P. announced they had signed an agreement to sell 36.75% of the Bakken Pipeline Project to MarEn Bakken Company, LLC. Marathon Petroleum Corporation and Canada based Enbridge Energy Partners, L.P. jointly own MarEn Bakken.

    Marathon Petroleum and Enbridge paid $2 billion in cash for the minority share of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and its sister pipeline, the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline (ETCOP).

    The DAPL consists of approximately 1,172 miles of 30-inch diameter pipeline from western North Dakota’s Bakken oil production region to the petroleum storage hub at Patoka, Illinois. The ETCOP is roughly 700 miles of existing, 30-inch diameter pipeline already converted from carrying natural gas to carrying the light sweet Bakken Crude oil. That converted pipeline starts at Patoka and terminates at Nederland, Texas near Houston.

    Energy Transfer said the sale to Marathon Petroleum and Enbidge is to close in the 3rd quarter of 2016 and it’s subject to certain closing conditions. ETP will receive $1.2 billion and Sunoco will receive $800 million in cash when closing is finalized.

    Energy Transfer said they plan to use the proceeds from the cash sale to pay down debt and to help fund their current growth projects.

    Energy Transfer/Sunoco will own 38.25% of the DAPL. MarEn will own 36.75% and Phillips 66 will continue to own the remaining 25%. Energy Transfer will continue to oversee the ongoing construction of the approximately $3.8 billion pipeline project. Once the pipeline becomes operational later this year, Sunoco will be responsible for day-to-day operations of the pipeline.

    Energy Transfer will quickly initiate another open season process and solicit additional shippers on its common-carrier crude oil pipeline to increase the daily flow rate from the current design capacity of 450,000 barrels per day to just under 600,000 barrels per day. The tariffs that ETP will assess petroleum companies that ship oil on the pipeline will pay off construction costs and provide revenue for day-to-day operations

    A large subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum has already committed to participate in this upcoming open season and will make a long-term commitment to ship a large volume of Bakken crude oil to the Patoka petroleum hub. Enbridge owns crude oil storage tanks at Patoka and existing pipelines that go in to and out of this vital petroleum transshipment hub.

    When ETP proposed the DAPL back on June 25, 2014, the pipeline was designed for transporting 320,000 barrels of light sweet Bakken crude oil per day. Energy Transfer said that they would solicit additional shipper interest to increase the daily flow rate. Additionally, Energy Transfer said they were in discussions with Sunoco to seek their participation in a potentially significant equity partnership.

    Then on September 22, 2014, Energy Transfer announced that they intended to initiate an Expansion Open Season to acquire additional crude oil transportation services on the DAPL. This Expansion Open Season was successful when additional shippers signed long-term commitments increasing the daily throughput to 450,000 barrels per day.

    With the pending ETP open season in the coming weeks, this anticipated flow-rate increase of upwards of 570,000 barrels per day will result in the DAPL moving a substantial volume of the daily crude oil produced from western North Dakota’s Bakken/Three Forks petroleum production areas.

    According to the North Dakota Bakken Daily Oil Production News website, the daily production level of Bakken crude oil stood at 994,727 barrels per day as of May 31, 2016. This is a small increase from the previous month. However, both production figures are down significantly from June 30, 2015 when the Bakken oil field was producing at the rate of 1,153,000 barrels per day. The Bakken oil fields had been yielding almost 1,200,000 barrels per day in 2014 when prices for crude oil were much higher than today.

    The U. S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recorded a price for crude oil at $105 per barrel in June of 2013. It was in July of 2014 when oil prices dropped below $100 per barrel. One year ago, in June of 2015, the EIA reported a price per barrel of around $60. Earlier this year, in February, the price per barrel plunged to just above $26 per barrel. Today’s price per barrel is around $40 and still expected to fall more.

    The daily production rates for crude oil in the Bakken oil fields are rising and falling right along with the fluctuating prices for crude oil and will continue to due to the current over-supply of crude oil in the world oil markets.

    Currently, almost 100% of the 944,000 barrels of crude oil produced daily from western North Dakota oil fields moves out over the U.S. railroad system. That is because there are no significant crude oil pipeline systems originating from the Bakken region currently available for moving this huge volume of light sweet crude oil into the broader U.S. pipeline distribution system.

    Once the 600,000 barrel per day DAPL begins commercial operations later this year, it will be the first major pipeline to move Bakken crude oil. However, that still leaves about 400,000 barrels per day for railroad shipment. A 100-car Bakken crude oil unit train can carry about 3,000,000 gallons of oil.

    According to North Dakota statistics, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) hauls out about 75% of the crude oil that leaves the Bakken region. Union Pacific and CSX Corporation are other rail carriers that move Bakken crude oil. Some Bakken crude oil goes north into Canada and is moved east or west to crude oil refineries located as far east as Nova Scotia.

    The most recent crude oil unit train derailment happened on June 3, 2016 when a 96-car Union Pacific unit train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed while moving through the Columbia River Gorge near Mosier, Oregon. Fourteen of the tanker cars derailed, ruptured and caught fire. Approximately 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled. A federal investigation revealed that broken bolts joining two rails caused the accident.

    The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department tracks how much Bakken crude oil moves through Iowa. According to figures from early 2015, BNSF moves Bakken crude oil through Iowa on one heavily used route through Lyon, Sioux and Plymouth Counties and into eastern Nebraska. Another heavily used BNSF route crosses southern Iowa. When daily North Dakota crude oil production rates peaked in 2014 and 2015, roughly 12 to 18 crude oil unit trains per week used the two BNSF routes.

    The Association of American Railroads did a study of U. S. Rail Crude Oil Traffic in November of 2015. Their summary noted; U.S. crude oil production has risen sharply in recent years, with much of the increased output moving by rail. In 2008, U.S. Class I railroads originated 9,500 carloads of crude oil. In 2014, they originated 493,146 carloads, an increase of nearly 5,100 percent. Rail crude oil volumes in 2015 will be lower than in 2014. Additional pipelines will probably be built in the years ahead, but the competitive advantages railroads offer–including flexibility to serve disparate markets–could keep them in the crude oil transportation market long into the future.

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      KQED: Oil train traffic is down by more than half — for market reasons

      Repost from KQED Marketplace

      Oil train traffic is down — for market reasons

      By Jed Kim, August 24, 2016 | 11:12 AM
      At its peak, in October 2014, trains leaving the Bakken region of North Dakota moved more than 29 million barrels. – FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

      Oil and its downstream products enable most transportation methods, from the gas in automobile tanks to the rubber in shoes. For oil itself, however, there are only a few methods of movement, and each is controversial. In the U.S., one method that saw a recent boom is now on the decline.

      Shale oil pumped in recent years from the Bakken region in North Dakota ramped up production and availability faster than pipelines could be built. Trains filled in the gap in the meantime. At its peak, in October 2014, trains moved more than 29 million barrels.

      The most recent data from the Energy Information Administration shows that the amount of oil shipped by rail has fallen dramatically since.

      “Within the U.S., we’re moving about 12 million barrels in May, and that compares with last May – the intermovements within the U.S. was 26 million barrels,” said Arup Mallik, an industry economist at the Energy Information Administration.

      Several factors have contributed to the more-than-half decline in shipments. One is that the price of U.S. oil has risen to more closely match global prices. That has reduced the amount of oil being purchased and shipped to refineries.

      Low global oil prices, meanwhile, have stifled production, thus reducing the amount of oil needing to be moved.

      While those factors have led to a temporary reduction in the need for crude-by-rail shipping, the completion of additional pipeline infrastructure around the country has made more of a permanent change.

      “New pipelines are still getting built, further pushing down the need for crude-by-rail,” said Adam Bedard, CEO of ARB Midstream, a company that invests in pipelines and rail facilities.

      Bedard said the biggest impact to crude-by-rail shipments may come later this year, if construction is completed on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would move oil east into Chicago.

      “Those barrels will have to come from somewhere, and it is our view that a lot of those barrels will come from crude by rail,” Bedard said. “The Dakota Access Pipeline can move up to 450,000 barrels a day.”

      In May, the total amount of oil moved by trains in the entire U.S. was 470,000 barrels a day.

      The future of that pipeline is being decided. Protests have temporarily halted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, partly because of concerns for the safety of drinking water.

      Safety issues plague perception of crude-by-rail as well. In the past four years, there have been a dozen significant derailments of trains carrying crude oil in the U.S., spilling more than 1.5 million gallons, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

      Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said his organization is fighting to reduce or eliminate the traffic traveling through the Pacific Northwest. An oil train derailed in Mosier, Oregon, in June, spilling an undetermined amount of crude.

      “We think oil trains are dangerous,” said VandenHeuvel. “We’ve seen explosions very close to our homes here on the Columbia River and have watched explosions and derailments all over the nation, and we think it’s not a safe way to transport oil.”

      The overall decline of oil train traffic in the U.S. doesn’t extend to his region, as the network of pipelines on the West Coast is largely isolated from the rest of the country. Trains are necessary. Canada, as well, is expected to see an increase in crude-by-rail because it lacks comparable pipeline infrastructure.

      VandenHeuvel said his organization will work to keep more terminals from being constructed that would bring in more rail traffic. He said he’s concerned more will come if oil prices rise again.

      “You know, that number could ramp back up as production increases,” VandenHeuvel said.

      Jed Kim
      Jed Kim is a reporter for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk. He focuses on issues of climate change, conservation, energy and environmental justice.  Prior to joining Marketplace in April 2016, Jed was an environment reporter at KPCC public radio…
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        PROTESTS AFTER MOSIER: Criminal charges dismissed, protesters speak out

        Repost from Hood River News

        Another voice: ‘The greenest corner in the richest nation on earth’

        By Robin Cody, August 19, 2016
        A group of protesters block an oil train in Vancouver, Wash., on Sunday. Photo from Inside Climate News, courtesy of Alex Milan Tracy

        The fiery wreck of an oil train at Mosier is what galvanized many of us to sit on the Burlington Northern railroad tracks in downtown Vancouver on June 18. Twenty-one protesters, ranging in age from 20 to 84, were repeatedly warned of 90 days’ jail time and $1,000 fines for criminal trespassing. And still, we sat.

        Protesters got arrested and briefly jailed. Our legal status remained in limbo until recently, when criminal charges were dismissed.

        Now we can talk.

        The whole idea — of fracking North Dakota and shipping flammable crude oil by rail through the Columbia River Gorge — is not just a threat to people who live near the tracks. It’s also a violation of nature. It’s a big wrong turn in America’s supposed transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

        It’s 2016. About climate change and its causes, the evidence is in. Time is running out. Yet many more tanker loads of climate change could come barreling through the Gorge. The proposed Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the Northwest. It would more than double the daily frequency of mile-long oil trains to the Port of Vancouver.

        If civil disobedience does any good, it’s in the context of many other groups and individuals speaking out. There were rallies in Hood River and Astoria, tribal action in Mosier, and the alarm expressed by city councils of Vancouver and Portland and Spokane. Columbia Riverkeepers, 350pdx, and many other organizations put the spotlight on industries that contribute to, and profit from, America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

        This is about where we live. It would be fundamentally unlike us Cascadians, of all people, to cooperate with big oil’s distant profit.

        The world expects the United States to take the lead with climate action. The U.S. looks to California and the Northwest. So here we are, in the greenest corner of the richest nation on Earth. If we don’t step up for the planet, where in the world will momentum take hold? And when we do take a stand, it might really make a difference.

        Robin Cody of Portland is the author of “Ricochet River” and “Voyage of a Summer Sun.”
         
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