Category Archives: Earthjustice

Earthjustice map: Crude-by-rail Across America

Repost from Earthjustice.org
[Editor: I’m reposting this map today – it was recently updated and still highly relevant.  Earthjustice’s map shows Major Crude-by-Rail Accidents since 2012 (Red Symbols) and communities opposing Crude-by-Rail (Green Symbols).  – RS]

More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents in 2013, than was spilled in the nearly four decades since the federal government began collecting data on such spills.

Since late 2012, as hydraulic fracturing and tar sands drilling created a glut of oil, the industry has scrambled to transport the fossil fuel from drill sites to the east and west coasts, where it can potentially be shipped overseas to more lucrative markets.

The increase in oil rail traffic, however, has not been matched with increased regulatory scrutiny. Oil trains are not subject to the same strict routing requirements placed on other hazardous materials; trains carrying explosive crude are permitted to pass directly through cities—with tragic results. A train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013, killing 47 people in the small community.

In the absence of more protective regulations, communities across the country are beginning to take matters in their own hands.

Legal Cases

Earthjustice represents groups across the country, fighting for protections from crude-by-rail:

FAQs: About Crude-By-Rail

Q. What are DOT-111s?

DOT-111s are rail cars designed to carry liquids, including crude oil, and have been in service in North America for several decades. They are prone to punctures, oil spills, fires and explosions and lack safety features required for shipping other poisonous and toxic liquids. As crude production in the United States has surged exponentially in recent years, these outdated rail cars have been used to transport the crude oil throughout the country.

The U.S. and Canadian government recognized decades ago that the DOT-111s were unsafe for carrying hazardous materials, finding that the chance of a “breach” (i.e., loss of contents, potentially leading to an explosion) is over 50% in some derailment scenarios.

U.S. and Canadian safety investigators have repeatedly found that DOT-111s are unsafe and recommended that they not be used for explosive or hazardous materials, including crude oil; however, the U.S. government’s proposal to phase out these rail cars fails to take sufficient or immediate action to protect the public.

Q. What is Bakken crude oil?

Bakken crude refers to oil from the Bakken shale formation which is primarily in North Dakota, where production has skyrocketed in recent years due to the availability of newer hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques. The increase in the nation’s output of crude oil in 2013, mostly attributable to Bakken production, was the largest in the nation’s history.

Bakken crude is highly flammable, much more so than some crude oils. Today, Bakken crude moves in “unit trains” of up to 120 rail cars, as long as a mile and a half, often made up of unsafe DOT-111s.

Q. Are there alternative tank cars available?

Transporting Bakken crude by rail is risky under the best of scenarios because of its flammability. But legacy DOT-111s represent the worst possible option. All new tank cars built since October 2011 have additional some safety features that reduce the risk of spilled oil by 75%. Even so, safety investigators, the Department of Transportation, and the railroad industry believe tank cars need to be made even safer. Some companies are already producing the next-generation rail cars that are 85% more crashworthy than the DOT 111s. Petitioners support the safest alternatives available, and expect that the ongoing rulemaking process will phase out all unsafe cars.

In the meantime, an emergency prohibition on shipping Bakken crude in DOT-111s—which virtually everyone acknowledges is unreasonably dangerous—is required immediately. (Read about the formal legal petition filed on July 15, 2014.)

Q. What steps have U.S. and Canadian governments taken?

The U.S. government recognizes that Bakken crude oil should not be shipped in DOT 111 tank cars due to the risks, but has done shockingly little to limit their use.

In May 2014, the DOT issued a safety alert recommending—but not requiring—shippers to use the safest tank cars in their fleets for shipments of Bakken crude and to avoid using DOT 111 cars. Canada, in contrast, responded to the Lac Mégantic disaster with more robust action. It required the immediate phase-out of some DOT-111s, a longer phase-out of the remainder, and the railroads imposed a surcharge on their use to ship crude oil in the meantime.

In the absence of similar standards in the U.S., the inevitable result will be that newer, safer cars will be used to ship crude in Canada—while the U.S. fleet will end up with the most dangerous tank cars.

    Enviros Sue California State Lands Commission Over Tesoro Terminal Lease

    Repost from Law360

    Enviros Sue Calif. Land Agency Over Tesoro Terminal Lease

    By Juan Carlos Rodriguez, April 20, 2015, 5:59 PM ET

    New York — Two environmental groups on Friday sued the California State Lands Commission for allegedly renewing Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co.’s lease at an oil receiving facility near San Francisco bay without adequately considering the business’ impacts on the surrounding area.

    The Center for Biological Diversity and Communities for A Better Environment alleged the CSLC violated the California Environmental Quality Act in March when it renewed the 30-year lease for Tesoro’s Avon Marine Terminal. The CSLC’s Final Environmental Impact Report was faulty for a variety of reasons, including that it doesn’t specify what kind of oil will be imported to the terminal, the petition for a writ of mandate said.

    It said the Avon Terminal imports crude oil feedstocks to Tesoro’s nearby Golden Eagle Refinery and exports refined petroleum products, like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

    “The EIR for the Avon Terminal fails as an informational document as it is conspicuously silent about the types of crude oil feedstocks that will be handled at the terminal and the additional risks that may be created by Tesoro’s plans to process lower quality and heavy crudes at the Golden Eagle Refinery,” the petition said.

    It said that Tesoro plans to process increasing quantities of lower quality crude oil feedstocks at the Golden Eagle Refinery, including Bakken crude. The environmental groups said transporting and processing Bakken crude creates numerous health and safety risks because it’s highly volatile and is dirtier than most other crude feedstocks, releasing high levels of benzene, volatile organic compounds, and toxic air contaminants when processed.

    The Avon Terminal EIR is deficient in other ways as well, according to the groups. They said that in analyzing the environmental effects of renewing the Avon Terminal lease, the EIR considers only the Avon Terminal’s effects and fails to consider the combined effects of Tesoro’s integrated facilities, including those of the refinery and another nearby terminal.

    “This artificial isolation of the Avon Terminal improperly masks the full extent of the effects of Tesoro’s integrated refinery operations,” the petition said.

    The EIR also underestimates the annual number of ships that will dock at the relicensed Avon Terminal over its thirty-year lease, resulting in an underestimation of the air, water, wildlife, and other impacts of the Avon Terminal’s future operations, according to the petition.

    “As a result of these and related deficiencies, the EIR fails to fully inform the public and decision-makers of the project’s significant health, safety, and environmental impacts and fails to analyze and mitigate these impacts as the California Environmental Quality Act requires,” the petition said.

    Contra Costa County hosts four of the five major petroleum refineries in northern California, and the fifth is nearby, the petition said, making it the second largest refining center in the western U.S. It said residents in the area suffer from high rates of asthma and many are ill-equipped to deal with these burdens, as more than half the residents are low-income minorities.

    “Tesoro’s operations also affect wildlife. The project area provides habitat for state and federally listed species, such as coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead; delta smelt; green sturgeon; black and Ridgway’s rails; salt marsh harvest mouse; and three endangered plant species,” the petition said.

    The environmental groups are asking the CSLC to void the EIR for the Avon Terminal lease approval; set aside and withdraw approvals of the project; and refrain from granting any further approvals for the Avon Terminal lease approval until the commission complies fully with the requirements of CEQA.

    The CSLC declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday.

    The plaintiffs are represented by Irene V. Gutierrez and Trent W. Orr of Earthjustice and Roger Lin.

    Counsel information for the CSLC was not available Monday.

    The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. California State Lands Commission, number 15-0569 in the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Contra Costa.

    –Editing by Emily Kokoll.

      KQED covers rail and oil industry “show and tell” in Sacramento

      Repost from KQED Science, NPR

      Railroads, Big Oil Move to Ease Fears Over Crude Shipments

      By Daniel Potter, KQED Science | February 24, 2015
      This CPC-1232 tank car represents an upgrade over an older models criticized for being easily punctured, but critics say there's still much to be desired. (Daniel Potter/KQED)
      This CPC-1232 tank car represents an upgrade over an older models criticized for being easily punctured, but critics say there’s still much to be desired. (Daniel Potter/KQED)

      Facing growing apprehension among Californians, railroads and oil companies are trying to allay fears over the dangers of hauling crude oil into the state.

      Tensions have been heightened by a spate of derailments, as well as a recently unearthed government report with some sobering projections for the potential cost to life and property from such incidents in coming years. Federal regulators are weighing stricter rules governing everything from modernized braking systems to new speed limits.

      In a rare move Tuesday in Sacramento, officials with California’s two major railroads, Union Pacific and BNSF, held a media briefing explaining safety measures ranging from computerized stability controls to special foam for choking out fires.

      At the California State Railroad Museum, Pat Brady, a hazardous materials manager for BNSF, showed off a newer model tank car with half-inch thick “head shields” – metal plates extending halfway up on either end.  The car was also equipped with “skid protection,” Brady said, pointing to a nozzle underneath that’s designed to break away in a derailment, leaving the valve itself intact, to avert spills.

      This tank car, the CPC-1232, is supposed to be safer and harder to puncture than the older DOT-111 version, but it’s facing skepticism after several exploded last week when a train hauling North Dakota crude through West Virginia derailed.

      Using a simulator, Union Pacific's William Boyd demonstrates technology making sure train operators don't go too fast or end up on the wrong track. (Daniel Potter/KQED)

      Industry officials at the Sacramento briefing were reluctant to comment about that incident, saying not all the facts are in yet, but several emphasized the importance of keeping trains from derailing to begin with, and claiming that more than 99.99 percent of such shipments arrive safely.

      Both BNSF and Union Pacific said tracks used to haul crude through California undergo daily visual inspections, said Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt, as well as a battery of high-tech tests.

      “We’re using lasers to measure track gauge and track profile to keep trains on tracks,” he said, and also “pushing ultrasonic waves into our rail to detect potential cracks early.”

      Hunt says in a typical month, Union Pacific brings in 1,000 to 1,200 cars loaded with oil, a tiny fraction of the company’s in-state freight. BNSF said its oil haul is even less: about two trains a month. But some predict such shipments could soar in the near future.

      Also represented at the briefing was Valero Energy, which is hoping to start bringing two fifty-car oil trains a day to its refinery in Benicia.

      “Valero as a company has acquired over five thousand rail cars,” said Chris Howe, a health and safety manager at Valero’s Benicia facility. “We’re able to get a number of them committed to our project, so we will likely be using Valero cars of these newer designs.”

      The industry’s shift away from the DOT-111 model is “a useful step,” says Patti Goldman, managing attorney with Earthjustice, who adds that the newer cars are still “not nearly safe enough.”

      “What you need to do to prevent catastrophes when trains do leave the tracks is have far better tank cars to be able to prevent the leaks and explosions in the first place,” says Goldman.

      Earthjustice is in a legal fight pushing for stronger oversight and regulation. Goldman charges that it’s taking a long time to fully phase out older models because the industry is more focused on growing fleets rapidly.

      “That’s just inexcusable,” she says. “We don’t think they’re allowed to do that. We think they need to get these hazardous tank cars off the rails before they start increasing the amount of crude oil that’s going to be shipped on the rails.”