Category Archives: California

California Crude Trains: How Much Oil Is Actually Coming In and Where Is It Coming From?

Repost from North American Shale Blog
[Editor: Notwithstanding the disparaging remarks about crude-by-rail opponents and politics in California, this is an interesting report by a pro-industry analyst.  – RS]

California Crude Trains: How Much Oil Is Actually Coming In and Where Is It Coming From?

California has become ground zero for legal opposition to crude-by-rail projects. Opponents decry derailments, toxic vapors, and other ills.[i]  Yet despite the dire images painted by crude-by-rail’s opponents, the reality on the ground in California has been quite mundane thus far. The high-water mark to date for California railborne crude supplies was approximately 39 thousand barrels of oil per day (kbd) in December 2013 (Exhibit 1).

To put this number in perspective, California refineries typically process an average of around 1.7 million barrels per day of crude – meaning that at the crude-by-rail peak, only about one barrel in 50 of the state’s crude supply came in by rail.[ii]  Presently, the number is closer to one barrel in 100 – certainly not the overwhelming flood of trains opponents fear. And to that point, even supplying one-quarter of California’s total crude oil needs would only require about six to seven crude oil unit trains per day. To put this in context, the Colton Crossing east of Los Angeles by itself can see more than 100 freight trains per day.[iii]

Exhibit 1: California Crude by Rail Sources

exhibit 1
Source: California Energy Commission, Alberta Office of Statistics and Information

Where California’s Railborne Oil Imports Come From

For much of the past six years, light, low-sulfur Bakken crude and heavier, higher-sulfur Western Canadian Select (“WCS”) dominated rail imports into California. Canadian supplies show a clear correlation with how cheap WCS is relative to Maya, a heavy crude oil from Mexico that is shipped by tanker and offers a proxy for what heavy, sour, waterborne crude oil imports into California will cost. The spread between WCS and Maya prices matters because it only makes sense for refiners to purchase WCS barrels if they are sufficiently discounted that the buyer still comes out ahead after adjusting for rail transport costs, which can amount to approximately $20/barrel for manifest trains and $15/barrel for oil moved on unit trains.[iv]

For reference, “manifest trains” are mixed cargo trains where a 100-car freight train might include 20 or 30 tanker cars carrying oil. Unit trains, on the other hand, carry only one type of freight, meaning that all 100 to 120 cars carry crude oil. This maximizes economies of scale and significantly reduces transportation costs. Shipments of Canadian crude oil into California traditionally rode on manifest trains, but in November 2014, Union Pacific brought its first unit train of crude oil from Western Canada into California, to a terminal near Bakersfield.[v] The route is currently dormant as WCS crude’s discount to Maya was less than $10 per barrel in January 2015, according to official price data, making it uneconomical to import the Canadian oil by rail.[vi] Unit trains’ lower costs relative to the previously used manifest trains will likely have oil trains rolling from Alberta to California once again if the WCS discount widens to around $15 per barrel.

California has also seen increased supplies of light, low-sulfur crude oil from New Mexico in recent months. The most likely explanation for this is that continued strong oil production in Texas, New Mexico, and the Midcontinent are inundating the Gulf Coast with light, sweet barrels. Indeed, this author’s models using official Energy Information Administration data strongly suggest that Gulf Coast refineries have hit a physical “wall” where they are not able to sustainably use more than 65 percent domestic crude oil to supply their plants, because facilities designed for heavier, higher-sulfur oils cannot run at maximal efficiency with light, low-sulfur crude feedstocks.[vii] This crowded market reduces the potential realized value of crude to certain Permian Basin producers and makes California attractive as a clearing destination because crude can be railed from the Permian Basin to California for as little as $7-8/bbl, according to Tesoro.[viii]

What the Future May Hold

The bottom line is that California’s existing crude-by-rail terminal capacity is massively underutilized at present. The state’s two largest facilities alone – Kinder Morgan’s terminal at Richmond and new terminal near Bakersfield – can offload more than 140 kbd at full capacity. In comparison, crude-by-rail import volumes were less than 20 kbd in December 2014, the last month for which data are available (Exhibit 2). 

Exhibit 2: California Crude by Rail Capacity vs. Actual Import Volumes

exhibit 2
Source: California Energy Commission, Company Reports

Current terminal capacity is sufficient for approximately two unit trains per day of crude – 140 to 150 kbd – to enter the state. California’s fickle politics make forecasting crude-by-rail volumes a tough exercise. That said, this author believes that if oil prices recover to at least $75/bbl, California’s railborne crude imports will likely exceed 200 kbd by early 2016. Under those conditions, existing terminals would increase their capacity utilization and larger price differentials would attract additional Canadian heavy crude, as well as Bakken and other light, sweet grades from the Rocky Mountain states and the Permian.


[i] “GROUPS SUE TO STOP DAILY 100-CAR TRAIN DELIVERIES OF TOXIC CRUDE OIL TO BAKERSFIELD TERMINAL,” Earthjustice, January 29, 2015, http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2015/groups-sue-to-stop-daily-100-car-train-deliveries-of-toxic-crude-oil-to-bakersfield-terminal; See also Alexander Obrecht, “Environmental Groups Ramp Up the Crude-by-Rail Fight in the Courtroom,” BakerHostetler North America Shale Blog, October 6, 2014, http://www.northamericashaleblog.com/2014/10/06/environmental-groups-ramp-up-the-crude-by-rail-fight-in-the-courtroom/
[ii] “FACTBOX – California crude sources and oil-by-rail projects,” Reuters, July 21, 2014, http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL2N0PM26S20140721
[iii] “Colton Flyover Supports L.A.-Area Business,” Union Pacific Railroad, September 5, 2013, http://www.uprr.com/newsinfo/community_ties/2013/september/0905_colton.shtml
[iv]Yadullah Hussein, “Oil-by-rail economics suffers amid narrowing spreads,” Financial Post, February 9, 2015, http://business.financialpost.com/2015/02/09/oil-by-rail-economics-suffers-amid-narrowing-spreads/?__lsa=c711-5acd
[v] Bruce Kelly, “UP begins Canada-to-California CBR service,” Railway Age, November 25, 2014, http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/tag/CBR/feed.html
[vi] “Heavy Crude Oil Reference Prices, Monthly,” Alberta Office of Statistics and Information, https://osi.alberta.ca/osi-content/Pages/OfficialStatistic.aspx?ipid=941 (last accessed March 18, 2015)
[vii] Detailed explanation of models available; please contact author at gcollins @ bakerlaw.com.
[viii] Company investor presentation, September 2014, “Rail Costs to Clear Bakken,” slide 11, http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=79122&p=irol-presentations
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    Crude oil train shipments dwindle in California, for now

    Repost from The Sacramento Bee

    Crude oil train shipments dwindle in California, for now

    By Tony Bizjak, 03/11/2015 9:47 PM
    A BNSF train carries Bakken crude oil in the hills outside the Feather River Canyon last June.
    A BNSF train carries Bakken crude oil in the hills outside the Feather River Canyon last June. Jake Miille / Special to The Bee

    A year ago, California officials nervously braced for an influx of milelong trains carrying volatile crude oil to refineries in the Valley and on the coast – trains similar to the one that exploded two years ago in Canada, killing 47 people.

    The trains never arrived. Although tank cars full of oil now roll daily through cities in the Midwest and East, provoking fears of crashes and fires, the number of oil trains entering California has remained surprisingly low, state safety regulators say, no more than a handful a month. In recent weeks, they appear to have dwindled to almost nothing.

    The reasons appear to be mainly economic.

    “Crude oil shipments from out of state have virtually stopped,” said Paul King, rail safety chief at the California Public Utilities Commission. “Our information is that no crude oil trains are expected for the rest of this month.”

    Most notably, the BNSF Railway recently stopped running a 100-car train of volatile oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota through the Feather River Canyon and midtown Sacramento to the Bay Area. The trains, several a month, carried an estimated 3 million gallons of fuel each.

    Bakken oil, a lighter type of crude, similar to gasoline, has gained a fearsome reputation since it entered the national scene a few years ago. A string of Bakken train explosions around the country prompted the federal government to issue a warning last year about the oil’s unusual volatility and launch efforts to write stiffer regulations on rail transport, including a proposal to require sturdier tank cars for oil.

    Two more Bakken train derailments and explosive fires recently in West Virginia and Illinois triggered a new round of complaints that the federal government is dragging its heels in finalizing those regulations.

    The BNSF train through Sacramento was believed to be the only train in California carrying 100 cars of Bakken oil. PUC rail safety deputy director King said his commission’s rail monitors have been told by owners of a Richmond oil transfer station in the Bay Area that refiners stopped the shipments in November as global oil prices dropped.

    California Energy Commission fuels specialist Gordon Schremp said lower prices for other types of oil have made Bakken marginally less marketable in California, although that could easily change in the future.

    Other projects, like a Valero Refining Co. plan to run two 50-car oil trains daily through Sacramento beginning this spring to its Benicia plant, have not yet gotten off the ground, in part because of political opposition. Under pressure from state officials, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, Benicia recently announced it is redoing part of its environmental and risk analysis of the Valero rail project. Valero has said it intends to ship lighter fuels, but has declined to say whether those will be Bakken.

    State safety officials said the slowdown provides a bit more time to provide hazardous-materials training for more firefighters, as well as to put together a state rail-bridge inspection program and to upgrade disaster and waterway spill preparedness. But state officials said they still feel like they’re playing catch-up as they prepare for existing and future potential rail hazards.

    “This apparent reprieve may seem helpful, but we still have substantial amounts of … hazardous materials traveling across California’s rail lines,” said Kelly Huston, deputy director of the state Office of Emergency Services. “It only takes one train to create a major disaster.”

    Oil prices have begun rising again, and state officials say they expect Bakken shipments to Richmond and potentially elsewhere to be back on track at some point. “We don’t have any concrete info about when it will resume,” the PUC’s King said. “When prices come up, it is likely to resume, and that could be in months.”

    Federal emergency rules require railroads to report to states when they run trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude, and then again when that amount changes by 25 percent or more. BNSF sent the state Office of Emergency Services a brief notice on Wednesday acknowledging it had not shipped more than 1 million gallons of Bakken on any train in the last week. The notice does not say how long ago the shipments stopped or when they may resume.

    BNSF officials have contended in letters to the state that shipping information is proprietary and should be kept secret. A BNSF spokeswoman declined this week to discuss shipments with The Sacramento Bee, writing in an email, “Information regarding hazardous material shipments is only provided to emergency responders.”

    King of the PUC said his monitors estimate that eight or more non-Bakken crude oil trains had been entering the state monthly from Canadian and Colorado oil fields recently, headed to refineries or transfer stations. The Canadian oil, called tar sands, is not considered as explosive as Bakken, but two tar-sands trains derailed and exploded in recent weeks in Ontario, creating fires that lasted several days.

    The national concern about crude oil rail shipments follows a boom in domestic oil production, notably in North Dakota, where hydraulic-fracturing advances have freed up immense deposits of shale oil. Lacking pipeline access, North Dakota companies have turned to trains to ship the oil mainly to East and Gulf Coast refineries and to Washington state. Crude by rail shipments in the United States skyrocketed from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 436,000 in 2013, according to congressional data.

    California continues to produce a sizable amount of its own oil in Kern County and receives marine shipments from Alaska and foreign sources. Still, a recent state energy-needs analysis estimates the state could receive as much as 23 percent of its oil via train or barge from continental sources, including North Dakota, Canada, Texas and other Western states, in the coming years. That estimate is based on plans by refineries in Benicia, San Luis Obispo and Kern County to build rail facilities that can accommodate large crude transports.

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      Nevada leads US in per-capita growth in solar industry jobs; California tops 50K

      Repost from FOX News (Associated Press)

      Report: Nevada leads US in per-capita growth in solar industry jobs; California tops 50K

      February 12, 2015, Associated Press

      RENO, Nev. –  The number of solar industry jobs in Nevada more than doubled last year, the fastest per capita growth in the nation, a nonprofit research and education group said in a new report Thursday.

      California became the first state to surpass 50,000 solar jobs with a U.S.-leading 54,680 in 2014, The Solar Foundation said in releasing its fifth annual State Solar Jobs Census.

      It estimates that as of November 2014, the solar industry employed 173,807 workers nationally — up nearly 22 percent from the same month the previous year. It reported positive job growth in the industry during that period in 27 states and the District of Columbia.

      Nevada has added 3,500 solar jobs since November 2013, an increase of 146 percent. That puts Nevada seventh on the list overall with 5,900 jobs, and No. 1 in jobs per capita.

      Gov. Brian Sandoval said it is further proof the state that recently landed Tesla Motors’ gigafactory and a huge Switch data center expansion is emerging as a leader in new technology innovation.

      “This announcement demonstrates the possibilities within our state if we continue to recruit the growing industries of the 21st century,” he said.

      Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, based in San Mateo, California, said his company now has 1,000 employees in Nevada compared to none two years ago.

      “The steps the state has taken to build a vibrant, clean energy economy are paying off with thousands of new jobs for Nevadans,” Rive said.

      Massachusetts (9,400), Arizona (9,170), New York (7,284), New Jersey (7,200) and Texas (6,965) follow California on the list of total solar jobs. After Nevada, the most solar jobs per capita were in Vermont, Hawaii, California and Massachusetts. Those specific numbers were still being finalized on Thursday, group officials said.

      “California is still the undisputed leader, but states like Minnesota, Illinois and North Carolina are growing aggressively,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based group that was founded in 1977. “Our long-term research shows that solar industry employment has grown by 86 percent in the past five years, resulting in nearly 80,000 domestic living-wage jobs.”

      The study was conducted with BW Research Partnership, with support from George Washington University.

      ___

      On the Web: http://TheSolarFoundation.org

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