Richmond Makes New Push To Stop Crude-By-Rail Deliveries Amid Concerns Over Derailments
November 18, 2014 by Christin Ayers
RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — Officials in Richmond are making a new push to stop trains carrying cargo that they say is a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s happening at least a few times a week. One hundred car trains, rolling through Richmond, carrying dangerous cargo: highly flammable crude oil. KPIX 5 cameras caught the cargo being transported onto trucks at Richmond’s Kinder Morgan facility.
The oil is called Bakken crude. And last year it leveled a town in Quebec when a train carrying it derailed.
In a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Richmond’s city attorney said if a derailment happened in this city, “The potential blast zone would impact 27 schools…and most of the neighborhoods in Richmond.”
The letter also said the city of Richmond had no idea the trains were running, until an investigative report by KPIX 5 showed the operation in action. It urged the district to stop the trains.
“The letter asks that they revoke the permit if possible and go through a complete environmental quality act review,” Lindsay told KPIX 5.
But when we spoke to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District months ago, they seemed to have no intention of doing that.
“We can’t hold up their permit because of public opposition,” said Jim Karas with the district. “As long as someone doesn’t increase their emissions, we give them a permit.”
Richmond residents, leaders warn of danger from Bakken crude by rail shipments
By Phil James, November 1, 2014
If you go to the website explosive-crude-by-rail.org and zoom in on Richmond, what you’ll find is disconcerting. According to the 1-3 mile buffer zone on the map, the entire city and its 107,000 residents are in danger if trains carrying crude oil explode.
Such is the concern of several Bay Area environmental groups in Richmond who have drawn the City Council into an escalating dispute with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Kinder Morgan, which operates a local crude by rail transfer station.
“The health and safety of the community is at stake here,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said during a City Council meeting. “We are encouraging the air district to review the process.”
Richmond City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to “review” and “if feasible, revoke” the permit given to Kinder Morgan – the 5th largest energy company in the United States — to take in crude oil by rail. Based in Texas, the company was founded in 1997 by two former Enron executives.
The crude, from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota, ignites and explodes more easily than more traditional crudes. On the heels of a major oil boom, transportation of crude by rail in the North America increased by 423 percent between 2011 and 2012, and more crude shipped by rail was spilled in 2013 than in the four previous decades combined.
In 2012, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and decimating the small Canadian town. This, among other incidents, has prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to label Bakken transport by rail as an “imminent hazard”.
Several community groups have rallied to ban the movement of crude shipments through Richmond. Megan Zapanta of The Asian Pacific Environmental Network said she’s worried that a lack of attention could have dire consequences.
“Bakken crude has not been well-documented here,” she said. “If there’s some disaster, how will we get the word out to our immigrant community?”
Evan Reis, a structural engineer for Hinman Consulting Engineers, released a report earlier this year assessing the probability of a crude-laden train derailing in the East Bay.
He estimates there is a six in 10 chance of derailment on the line running from San Jose through Richmond to Martinez within the next 30 years.
“Given the fact that these are highly urbanized places we are going through,” he said by phone, “A 60 percent probability would be of concern to me.”
McLaughlin pledged to support Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) as they consider appealing the air district decision to grant Kinder Morgan a permit to funnel crude through Richmond by rail cars. The city does not have the jurisdiction to revoke any licenses or permits from the company. The permit must go through the air district, where it can be reviewed with respect to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
In March, CBE filed a lawsuit against BAAQMD for failing to publicly disclose the permit to the residents of Richmond. The group only noticed the arrival of crude by rail because a local television station, KPIX, discovered that Kinder Morgan was bringing Bakken crude to its Richmond depot.
The Tesoro refinery in Martinez receives the Bakken shipments by truck after they are transferred from the rail depot in Richmond. Richmond’s Chevron refinery does not take in any of the Bakken crude.
In September, the lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds because the complaint by the CBE was not filed within 180 days of the permit’s issuance.
The permit, which was filed by BAAQMD staff in 2013, drew ire from environmental groups because it was not subject to an environmental impact report, and was granted without review from the district’s board.
Andres Soto, a representative of Communities for a Better Environment in Richmond, appealed to Richmond leaders to counter the decision.
“Kinder Morgan issued an illegal permit to bring Bakken crude into Richmond without public notice or review,” Soto said.
Ralph Borrmann, public information officer for the BAAQMD, declined to comment until the end of the appeal period. The CBE has considered a challenge of the ruling.
The Kinder Morgan depot has been taking in ethanol by rail since 2010, but they have since diversified their intake to include Bakken crude. Kinder Morgan officials, though, say the concerns are overstated.
“We didn’t feel that the profile of the crude oil arriving was materially different,” Melissa Ruiz, a spokesperson for the Texas-based company, wrote in an email.
Charlie Davidson, a member of the Sunflower Alliance speaking on behalf of CBE, disagrees.
“They’re basically running tin cans on 100 cars,” he told Richmond City Council. “The flash point [of Bakken Crude] is so volatile that it could burn in Antarctica.”
“It’s a hazardous material and there’s concern of derailment and fire,” he said in an interview by phone. “But if you put it in relation to other materials, it isn’t as hazardous as chlorine or ammonia. It’s equivalent to ethanol or gasoline.”
“The biggest concern with crude by rail is not so much than the hazard being worse, it’s just the huge amount of quantity that’s being shipped by rail,” Sawyer said.
Since the dismissal of the lawsuit, other municipalities in the North Bay have rallied against crude by rail. In Sacramento, a lawsuit by Earth Justice prompted the local air board to revoke a permit from Inter-State Oil Company on the grounds that they did not disclose the potential public health and safety concerns to local residents.
Suma Peesapati, a member of Earth Justice, drew similarities between Sacramento and Richmond.
“Kinder Morgan’s project in Richmond is virtually identical to the air district issued permits for unloading crude in Sacramento,” she said. “The [Bay Area] Air District made it clear they issued a permit in error, rather than engage in this formal process.”
Despite the resolution passing, Richmond Councilmember Jael Myrick expressed just as much weariness as concern for the issue.
“The frustration that we had the last time we talked about this is it just seems there is so little we can do to combat it.”
Richmond: Judge tosses out suit seeking to stop crude oil shipments by rail
By Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times, 09/05/2014
SAN FRANCISCO — A lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to stop shipments of crude oil by rail to Richmond was tossed out by a judge Friday on the grounds that it was filed too late.
Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in March. The suit involved a Feb. 3 permit issued to Kinder Morgan to receive crude oil by rail at its Richmond trans-loading facility along the BNSF Railway tracks off Garrard Boulevard, where the oil is transferred to trucks.
Kinder Morgan Material Services LLC and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP were co-defendants.
The Feb. 3 permit amended a July 2013 permit that allowed Kinder Morgan to operate a denatured ethanol and crude oil bulk terminal. Ethanol is a volatile liquid derived from grain that is used as fuel or as a fuel additive, among other uses. The Feb. 3 amendments included modified testing procedures and standards for trucks. But the judge applied the 180-day statute of limitations to when the July 2013 permit was issued.
Both permits were issued ministerially and without environmental review.
Kinder Morgan has declined to say where the trucks are headed, citing confidentiality, but they are widely believed to be bound for the Tesoro Golden Eagle refinery in Martinez. Tesoro was an intervenor in the lawsuit, which had sought a preliminary injunction against further crude oil operations at Kinder Morgan and suspension of the air district permit pending a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Earlier this year, a Tesoro spokeswoman confirmed the Martinez facility receives between 5,000 and 10,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude, a light, flammable variety named after oil fields in North Dakota and adjacent areas. That amount is equivalent to about two to four trains per month, the spokeswoman said, and is received through a “third-party facility” that she did not identify.
Air district counsel Brian Bunger hailed Friday’s decision as “a correct application of the law.”
“We’re pleased with the outcome,” Bunger said.
Air district spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said late Friday that “The Air District will continue to work with state legislators and policy makers regarding where and how crude oil is transported into the region for refining.”
But Earthjustice blasted the dismissal, saying it allows Kinder Morgan and the air district to “get away with opening (Richmond) to crude oil transport by rail without public notice.”
“This is just how the agencies and industry wins — hide the information, make the change under the cover of night, and hope people don’t notice while the clock winds down on any hope to stop these dangerous and callous developments,” Earthjustice attorney Suma Peesapati said in a news release. “What’s worse is this emboldens other companies to do the same thing and hide their switch to crude oil.”
Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said his company is “satisfied with the outcome.”
“It was a well-reasoned and thoughtful decision by the judge,” Wheatley said in an email Friday. “We look forward to continuing to serve our customers safely and reliably.”
Tesoro did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Responding by email Friday, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who sits on the air district board, said: “Despite this case’s dismissal, I remain concerned about the safety of transporting Bakken Crude and believe it’s important for the Federal Government to strengthen safety standards.”