Category Archives: Crude Oil

Washington Agency Votes to Reject Massive Oil-by-Rail Terminal

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Washington Agency Votes to Reject Vancouver Energy’s Massive Oil-by-Rail Terminal

By Justin Mikulka • Wednesday, November 29, 2017 – 10:29
Portland, Oregon, bridge with banner reading 'Coal oil gas none shall pass'
Portland, Oregon, bridge with banner reading ‘Coal oil gas none shall pass’

In another major blow to the West Coast oil-by-rail industry, a Washington state agency voted unanimously to recommend Governor Jay Inslee reject the Vancouver Energy oil terminal. Proposed for construction in Vancouver, Washington, along the Columbia River, it would be the largest oil-by-rail facility in the country.

Washington State’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) has been reviewing the project since 2013 — reportedly the longest review period ever for the council. However, its November 28 meeting and vote on the final recommendation for the Tesoro Savage–backed project only took 10 minutes.

Given the reality of climate change, there is simply no reason to build new fossil fuel infrastructure, especially for the export of extreme oil,” said Matt Krogh of activist group Stand, one of many groups opposing the Vancouver Energy project. “The entire reason behind this proposal was to move crude oil from the middle of North America to overseas markets. Simply put, this oil is not for us — and the proposal would leave every single community along the rail lines with all of the risk and none of the reward.”

Vancouver Energy told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the council has “set an impossible standard” for new energy facilities in Washington.

Proposed by Tesoro Savage Petroleum Terminal LLC (also known as Vancouver Energy), the facility is designed to handle 360,000 barrels of oil per day. Expectations are that the facility would receive both the highly volatile light Bakken oil as well as Canadian tar sands oil, with much of it traveling through the Columbia River Gorge. In 2016 an oil train derailed and caught fire in Mosier, Oregon, with some of the oil ending up in the Columbia River, which has already been suffering major declines of its once-historic salmon populations.

Map of proposed Vancouver Energy oil by rail terminal on the Columbia River
A map of the proposed facility from its Final Environmental Impact Statement. Credit: Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal Facility

Despite lower oil prices, U.S. imports of Canadian tar sands oil reached record levels in 2017 and are currently at 3.3 million barrels per day. More of that oil has been moving by rail recently, and as overall tar sands production continues to rise, industry observers predict large potential increases in shipping more of it by rail over the next several years.

Rich Kruger, CEO of tar sands producer Imperial (the Canadian affiliate of ExxonMobil), recently commented on how rail was becoming more attractive as a way to get oil to America.

Rail is increasingly competitive,” Kruger told Bloomberg. “There are times when we look at the pipeline alternative, [but] the variable cost aspect of rail is a more attractive means for us to get to the mid-Western or Gulf coast markets.”

West Coast Oil-by-Rail Plans

Should Washington Governor Inslee, who has 60 days to make a final decision, follow the recommendation to reject the Vancouver Energy oil terminal, it would throw a major wrench in oil industry plans for Canadian tar sands and Bakken oil in the West. As DeSmog reported in June, oil-by-rail remains part of the industry’s long-term plans to get oil to West Coast refineries.

If Governor Inslee stops this project, it will join the growing list of oil terminals in the West rejected after intense local opposition. Earlier this month a California court ruled that an oil refinery and rail project in Bakersfield could not proceed because its environmental review was inadequate.

Earlier this year the Washington Supreme Court voted unanimously to deny an oil-by-rail project in Grays Harbor because that project lacked a comprehensive environmental review that considered the Ocean Resources Management Act.

Also in 2017, a proposed Phillips 66 oil-by-rail project in California was voted down by the San Luis Obispo County planning commission. In 2016 the city council in Benicia, California, voted unanimously to reject Valero’s proposed oil-by-rail project.

Growing awareness of the risks of oil train terminals has led many communities where they are proposed to back away from such projects.

Local Election Was Proxy Vote on Vancouver Oil Terminal

Because Vancouver Energy’s proposed oil-by-rail facility is sited in the Port of Vancouver, a recent electoral race for one of the port commission’s three seats became a proxy fight over the oil terminal.

The race was between Don Orange, owner of a local auto repair shop and opponent of the oil-by-rail project, and Kris Greene, an insurance agent who was backed by large amounts of money from oil and rail corporations. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Greene raised “nearly $600,000, with 87 percent coming from Vancouver Energy and backers of the project” and also received support from a PAC, funded in part by rail company BNSF and Tesoro, which spent $160,000.

However, Orange also raised close to $400,000, with considerable support coming from the Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund.

Orange thought there was little question why so much money was pouring into a local election for a seat on a commission that pays around $10,000 a year.

This is a choice of what our economy should look like,” said Orange. “It is a choice of having a vibrant small business economy or becoming a big oil town.”

The election’s results showed how the majority of the community felt about the oil-by-rail project: despite being outspent by Greene, Orange won over 64 percent of the vote.

Current port commissioner Eric LaBrant was shocked by the results, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this in local politics … This election shows where the community wants to go and what kind of business the community wants to have there at the port.”

Still, the final decision on the oil terminal lies with the governor, and even then, the door remains open for either side to take legal action.

Main image: People’s Climate March PDX Credit: David SierralupeCC BY 2.0

 

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    Baltimore council members propose ban on new crude oil facilities

    From an email by Jennifer Kunze, Maryland Program Organizer, 
    Clean Water Action
    [See also the Baltimore Sun story, below]

    Thu, Oct 19, 2017

    Hi everyone,

    Just wanted to share the exciting news that the Baltimore zoning code change to prohibit new or expanded crude oil terminals has been officially introduced!  You can download the bill here, and here is some coverage of it in the Baltimore Sun and our local NPR station.  Taylor and I would be happy to answer any questions about it!

    Have a great day,

    Jennifer Kunze
    Maryland Program Organizer
    Clean Water Action
    WebsiteFacebookTwitter


    Repost from The Baltimore Sun

    Baltimore council members propose ban on new crude oil facilities

    By Ian Duncan, October 16, 2017

    Two members of the Baltimore City Council want to ban new crude oil terminals from the city as part of an effort to limit the number of oil trains traveling through the area.

    Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Ed Reisinger introduced a proposed change to the city’s zoning laws Monday that would add the oil terminals to a list of banned facilities, ranking them alongside nuclear power plants and incinerators.

    “Crude oil shipments are potential hazards to residents and entire neighborhoods,” Reisinger said in a statement.

    The council members said they were turning to the zoning code because federal law stops city authorities from directly regulating rail. They hope limiting the terminal capacity will mean there will be less interest in sending oil trains to Baltimore.

    Two existing facilities in Baltimore would be allowed to stay but could not expand in any way under the proposal.

    For years environmental activists have been sounding the alarm about crude oil that is transported by rail, which can lead to deadly explosions in the case of an accident. In 2013, 47 people died when a train carrying crude oil exploded in Canada.

    Precise details of the shipments are scarce, but with the price of oil low, the practice is widely believed to currently be at a low ebb. Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for CSX Transportation, said no oil trains have operated in Baltimore or anywhere else on the company’s network for months. Doolittle also said the company has never run dedicated oil trains through the city, but had moved small amounts of crude on mixed trains.

    Clarke said the dip in the market meant it was the right time for the council to take up the proposed restrictions.

    “It doesn’t put jobs in jeopardy,” she said. “We don’t know when the marketplace may change. If it does we want to have already capped out the capacity of Baltimore facilities.”

    The operator of one of the existing terminals declined to comment; the other did not respond to questions.

    Environmental groups say there’s reason to think that if the price of oil picks up again, companies would seek to expand the number of terminals in Baltimore. That’s what happened during the last boom several years ago, but the plans were blocked.

    Jennifer Kunze, an organizer with Clean Water Action, said it makes sense to put limits in place now.

    “This is really a preventative measure,” she said.

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      Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico, 36 Oil Tanks Catch Fire

      Repost from EcoWatch
      [Editor: More coverage: KRQE 13 News Albuquerque, and KOAT 7 News Albuquerque.  – RS]

      Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico, 36 Oil Tanks Catch Fire

      By Lorraine Chow, Jul 13, 2016

      This week—as thousands of Americans urge awareness to the destruction caused by oil bomb trains—an oil field in San Juan County, New Mexico erupted in flames Monday night, highlighting the continued and increasing dangers of the fossil fuel industry.

      The fire broke out around 10:15 p.m. Monday at a fracking site owned and operated by WPX Energy, setting off several explosions and temporarily closing the nearby Highway 550. Fifty-five local residents were forced out of their homes.

      A photo of the fire before emergency response arrived on site.Kendra Pinto

      The site—located in the Mancos shale deposit area and known as the 550 Corridor and a part of Greater Chaco Canyon—contains six new oil wells and 30 temporary oil storage tanks holding either oil or produced water. All 36 storage tanks caught fire and burned, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based energy company said.

      The site was still smoldering last night and, now, “only 7 of 36 tanks at production site on fire this morning,” the company tweeted.

      “The fire is being allowed to burn itself out due to the intensity of the heat, the number of oil tanks involved and to contain petroleum fluids on WPX’s five-acre site, predominantly in the storage tankage,” WPX said.

      According to Albuquerque news station KOAT, WPX stopped drilling for natural gas and oil in the area last May. The company had been producing for about a week before the fire broke out.

      The cause of the fire is currently unclear. “We think that in the next couple of weeks to months, we will have that information and will be able to share that with the public,” WPX San Juan Asset Team manager, Heather Riley, told the news station.

      There were no reported injuries or damage to nearby property. Most of the evacuees have returned home but 10 families are still lodged in a hotel, The Farmington Daily Times reported.

      Environmental advocates are speaking out about the explosion.

      “The site that exploded is a brand new facility that consists of six wells drilled to shale formations that have never been adequately analyzed for impacts and safety concerns.” Mike Eisenfeld, the Energy and Climate Program manager at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, told EcoWatch in an email.

      WPX was given approval to develop the site from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division in September. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office gave final approval to drill the land in December.

      “In a leap before looking scenario, the federal Bureau of Land Management in Farmington, New Mexico has allowed WPX to proceed with these shale facilities discounting the inherent danger that has now become clear with the explosion,” Eisenfeld said.

      “This highlights the failure to have adequate safeguards in place to protect local communities and also raises serious questions about chemicals and toxicity associated with the explosion. Emergency response for this explosion was hours away. A thorough investigation is necessary. There should be a moratorium on these new wells until BLM completes a legally proficient Resource Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement for the Mancos Shale/Gallup formations.”

      The New Mexico environmental non-profit WildEarth Guardians noted in a statement to EcoWatch that the BLM Farmington Field Office has leased more than 90 percent of the lands it oversees to oil and gas companies and plans to auction off additional acres for fracking during the January 2017 lease sale. The office manages a total of 1.8 million acres of public land.

      “Enough is enough,” Kendra Pinto, counselor chapter outreach intern, said. “It seems like every month we see more wells here, and things are going to get worse if the drilling doesn’t stop. At this rate, what will be left here for our children? The land has changed.”

      WPX Energy has invested millions to drill into the tight shale formations in the San Juan Basin. The company has put in at least $160 million in developing oil plays in 2014 on its 60,000 leased acres, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

      The rise of hydraulic fracturing has aided a U.S. energy boom but the environmental impact of the technology is under intense dispute, from polluting drinking water to earthquakes. Last year, WPX Energy itself came under scrutiny for failing to disclose how it is managing its impacts on communities and the local environment with its fracking operations.

      “WPX Energy scored near the bottom of the industry in a recent scorecard report published by investors benchmarking 35 companies on their disclosed efforts to mitigate key impacts, and has faced controversy in the past over allegations that it irreparably contaminated local drinking water in Pennsylvania,” the advisory firm Green Century Funds wrote.

      WPX Energy has defended its operations and even helped produce a glossy 26-minute documentary, Down Deep, as a way of “spreading the message that fracking is safe and necessary for the U.S. energy future,” Tulsa World wrote of the film.

      Still, as WildEarth Guardians pointed out, the recent oil field explosion in San Juan serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to build safe, clean renewable energy in place of fossil fuels.

      “I know people want jobs,” Samuel Sage, Wildlife Guardians counselor chapter community services coordinator, said. “But why must they come at the expense of our air, water, and climate? Many other places are building clean energy generation and creating well-paying jobs in the process. That is our future, not this dirty industry.”

      “Unfortunately, this may be the tip of the iceberg,” Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, said. “The Obama Administration has already leased more than 10 million acres of public land to oil and gas drilling, and BLM continues to lease more land in New Mexico to fracking interests without studying these impacts. How many more explosions and evacuations will it take before we seriously consider the cost of these dirty fossil fuel industries and simply end this leasing program?”

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        SANTA BARBARA: Company charged in crude oil spill that fouled beaches

        Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate

        Company charged in crude oil spill that fouled beaches

        By Brian Melley, Associated Press, Updated May 18, 2016 2:01 pm
        FILE – In this May 21, 2015, file photo, an oil-covered bird flaps its wings amid at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif. Plains All American Pipeline said in a statement Tuesday, May 17, 2016, that a California grand jury has indicted the company and one of its employees in connection with the pipeline break.

        A Texas pipeline company responsible for spilling more than 140,000 gallons of crude oil on the California coast last year was indicted on dozens of criminal charges in the disaster that closed popular beaches and killed sea lions and birds, prosecutors said Tuesday.

        Plains All American Pipeline and one of its employees face 46 counts of state law violations in the May 19, 2015, spill that initially went undetected until oil began pouring onto a pristine beach on the Santa Barbara coastline and into the ocean.

        Initial investigations by federal regulators found the 2-foot-wide underground pipeline was severely corroded where it broke on land.

        Plains is charged with four felony counts of spilling oil in state waters and could face fines of up to $2.8 million if convicted of all the charges, prosecutors said.

        “The carelessness of Plains All American harmed hundreds of species and marine life off Refugio Beach,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement. “This conduct is criminal, and today’s charges serve as a powerful reminder of the consequences that flow from jeopardizing the well-being of our ecosystems and public health.”

        Plains said the spill was an accident and believes no criminal behavior occurred.

        “We will demonstrate that the charges have no merit and represent an inappropriate attempt to criminalize an unfortunate accident,” the company said.

        The spill came two weeks before Memorial Day weekend last year and forced the state to close popular beaches as an oil sheen spread over miles of the Pacific Ocean. More than 300 dead animals, including pelicans and sea lions, were found in the aftermath, and tar balls from the spill drifted more than 100 miles away to Los Angeles beaches.

        The Houston company faces three dozen misdemeanor counts of harming wildlife.

        A Plains employee and the company also are accused of failing to report the spill quickly enough to state emergency officials. An investigation by federal regulators found that it took hours for Plains to recognize what happened and notify officials.

        A worker removes oil in 2015 at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta. An underground pipe, owned by Plains All American Pipeline of Texas, spewed 140,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific. Jae C. Hong / Associated Press 2015
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