Category Archives: Local Regulation

Richmond City Council calls for ban on Bakken crude by rail

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor’s note: See Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia’s letter to Richmond Mayor/City Council here. – RS]

Richmond calls on Congress to halt crude oil transport through Bay Area

By Robert Rogers Contra Costa Times

Posted:   03/25/2014

RICHMOND — A unanimous Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to call on Congress to halt rail transport of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota pending new regulations and explore what local measures could be enforced to thwart truck transport of the volatile fuel mix on local streets.

The resolution, proposed by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, follows revelations in recent days of massive increases in crude-by-rail shipments into Contra Costa County, including at Kinder Morgan in Richmond, the only facility in the Bay Area that receives crude shipped on Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains and transfers it to trucks for transport to Bay Area refineries.

“There are terrible threats in our midst,” McLaughlin said. “Ultimately, we need to ban (Bakken crude) from coming through our community.”

The resolution directs city staff to send a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Division Director Randy Sawyer, Congressmen George Miller and Mike Thompson, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, State Senators Loni Hancock and Mark Desaulnier and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner urging them to work on new regulations, including halting the transport of crude near Bay Area communities. Councilman Tom Butt added an amendment directing staff to explore whether the city could use its own regulatory powers to ban transport of Bakken crude on city streets.

Railroad activity is typically beyond the scope of local laws and is regulated at the federal level.

The vote followed a presentation by oil industry author Antonia Juhasz detailing the nationwide increase in accidents associated with rail transport of Bakken crude, which is fracked in North Dakota and is more volatile and susceptible to explosion than heavier crude blends.

The volume of crude transported by rail into Northern California increased by 57 percent during 2013, according to California Energy Commission statistics.

About 85 percent of the crude by rail delivered to Northern California in 2013 came from North Dakota, followed by 12.5 percent from Colorado, according to the commission. Four of the five Northern California oil refineries listed by the commission are in Contra Costa County, with the other in Benicia.

“A whole lot more oil is being spilled by trains,” Juhasz said. “It’s dramatically worse.”

From 1975-2012. 792,600 gallons of oil were spilled in train accidents, Juhasz said. In 2013, 1.3 million gallons were spilled in accidents, more than the combined total of every year since 1975.

Juhasz said the problem centers on three factors: More oil is being harvested and moved within the continent, it’s being sent to coastal refineries for processing and export due to higher international prices, and regulation has not kept pace with the rapid changes.

“The National Transportation Safety Board said oil spill response planning requirements are practically nonexistent,” Juhasz said. “They recommend that you require rerouting to avoid transportation of such hazardous materials through populated and other sensitive areas.”

In the past month, critics have hosted town hall meetings in Richmond, Martinez and Pittsburg decrying planned increases in crude-by-rail shipments into the Bay Area. On Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution directing city staff to oppose efforts to transport Bakken crude through the city.

Juhasz drew specific attention to rising accident numbers, with particular emphasis on a train explosion in July in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.

“There is a movement toward more federal regulation,” Juhasz said. “This (resolution) would not just be an exercise, it would add to the cacophony of voices making that demand.”

Not all residents were convinced.

“I read about your agenda item to encourage to regulate this, now I am hearing ban it,” said Don Goseny, a Richmond resident. “That is kind of overregulation isn’t it? No one is even asking is there a safe way to transport this crude.”

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia released a statement Tuesday saying he is concerned that “there was no clear communication” between BAAQMD staff members and Kinder Morgan before a permit was issued to the offloading company last September, when Juhasz said it began offloading Bakken crude. He said the issue will be discussed at the next BAAQMD meeting on April 21.

“The dramatic increase in the volume of Bakken shale crude oil being transported by rail through Northern California should be of great concern to local government,” Gioia wrote.

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East Bay Express: Richmond and Berkeley oppose oil by rail

Repost from East Bay Express

Richmond and Berkeley Oppose Fracked Oil and Tar Sands Rail Shipments

Jean Tepperman —  Wed, Mar 26, 2014

The city councils of both Berkeley and Richmond unanimously passed resolutions last night calling for tighter regulation of the shipping of crude oil by rail through the East Bay. The Berkeley resolution went further, committing Berkeley to oppose all shipment of crude oil by rail through the city until tighter regulations are in place.

Information has recently come to light about crude-by-rail activity in both cities. In September, with no public announcement, the Kinder Morgan rail yard in Richmond quietly switched from handling ethanol to crude oil. And a new proposal calls for shipping crude oil to the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria on train tracks that run through the East Bay.

Fracked oil from Bakken shale is highly explosive.
USGS – Fracked oil from Bakken shale is highly explosive.

At the Richmond City Council meeting, oil-industry expert Antonia Juhasz presented evidence from both the BNSF railroad and Kinder Morgan websites showing that the crude oil coming into the Richmond rail yard is fracked from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota. This Bakken crude has been responsible for several recent disastrous explosions when trains carrying it have derailed, with the worst accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed and the downtown destroyed.

Juhasz added that there were more derailments and accidents involving crude by rail in 2013 than in the previous thirty years combined. More crude is being shipped by rail because of the huge increase in production of crude from North Dakota Bakken shale and Canadian tar sands, both far inland, and the need to get the fossil fuel to the coasts to refine and export.

Juhasz also reported that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that emergency response planning along the rail routes is “practically nonexistent” and that current regulations are “no longer sufficient” — and that it’s not safe to carry crude oil in the type of car currently being used. Because of all this, the NTSB has recommended that trains carrying crude oil be rerouted “away from populated and other sensitive areas.”

Several Richmond council members and community speakers expressed surprise that the switch to crude oil happened with no public notice. Andres Soto of Communities for a Better Environment said the “real culprit” was the staff of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which approved Kinder Morgan’s application to make this change without notifying the public or even the air district board members.

City councilmembers wrestled with the fact that the city has no jurisdiction over railroads — only the federal government can regulate them. But Juhasz and McLaughlin said a resolution by the city was important as part of a demand from many cities and organizations for more regulation of crude by rail.

The resolution called on federal legislators to move quickly to regulate the transportation of the new types of crude oil from Bakken shale and Canadian tar sands. Many speakers argued in favor of a moratorium on shipping crude by rail until adequate regulations were in place.

Meanwhile in Berkeley, another oil-industry expert, environmental engineer Phyllis Fox, described the plan to ship crude oil through the East Bay to Santa Maria — probably through Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland — since these tracks are built to carry heavy trains. She projected a map showing that rail lines in California parallel rivers and go through the most populated areas, so accidents would be “disastrous.”

Information released about the plan doesn’t reveal the source of the crude oil, but Fox said the two main kinds of crude oil being shipped by rail are from Bakken shale — oil that is highly volatile and prone to explosion — and Canadian tar sands — very heavy oil that is especially toxic and difficult to clean up. “One catastrophic event,” Fox said, “could cause irreversible harm.”

Other sources have pointed out that the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County is geared to refining heavy crude oil, so it’s most likely that the crude headed to that plant would come from the Canadian tar sands.

Many speakers in the public comment period supported the resolution, including residents of Crockett/Rodeo and Martinez, who are waging similar battles in their communities. Speakers pointed out a wide range of problems with shipping crude by rail in addition to the immediate danger. In a pre-meeting rally in support of the resolution, Mayor Tom Bates said the issues “go beyond the danger to our community to our whole carbon future. If we don’t get off fossil fuel we’re all doomed.”

The resolution commits Berkeley to file comments opposing crude-by-rail projects in any draft permit-approval process, starting with the Santa Maria project; to file comments opposing new projects in the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo and the Valero refinery in Benicia; and to support the federal Department of Transportation in creating strict regulation of rail shipments of crude oil. In presenting the resolution, Maio also said Berkeley should form a coalition with other cities fighting crude-by-rail projects.

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Important issues affecting Benicia to be heard tonight in Berkeley, Richmond

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor’s note: Please understand the significance here, involving the Union Pacific rail line THROUGH BENICIA and across the BENICIA BRIDGE.  Of course, this is also of great importance to our friends uprail in Sacramento, Davis, etc., and across the Carquinez Strait in Martinez, Crockett, and Rodeo and downrail through the East Bay, South Bay and beyond.  To attend tonight’s meetings in Berkeley and Richmond, see details at the end of this article.  – RS] [The Berkeley resolution: “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley]

East Bay and South Bay passenger rail corridor proposed to move crude oil

By Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times, 03/24/2014
A man crosses the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Cutting Blvd. in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, March 24, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

An Amtrak train passes over cars traveling on Macdonald Ave. as it departs the station in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, March 24, 2014. The tracks that carry Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains through more than a dozen East Bay and South Bay cities could become a rail superhighway for crude oil transports under a plan by Phillips 66.   (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

BERKELEY — The tracks that carry Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains through about a dozen heavily populated East Bay and South Bay communities could become a rail superhighway for potentially explosive crude oil transports to Central California under a plan by the Phillips 66 oil company, Berkeley officials warn.

A project at Phillips 66’s Santa Maria refinery would enable it to receive crude oil from North American sources that are served by rail, according to a draft environmental report under review by San Luis Obispo County.

The report identifies the most likely source of the crude as the Bakken oil field that covers parts of North Dakota and Canada. Last July, a train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and nearly destroying the town.

This latest project would add to a growing trend in California to receive imported oil over land via rail rather than by sea. The train cars filled with oil would roll through Sacramento, the East Bay and South Bay on Union Pacific tracks, switching to the UP’s Coast Line and on to Santa Maria, according to Berkeley officials who have analyzed the Santa Maria report.

At its peak, the Santa Maria refinery would receive five trains a week, each just under 4,800 feet long with 80 tank cars, two buffer cars and three locomotives, according to the document.

Bakken crude is light and less viscous than most other varieties of crude, including tar sands. Bakken crude has a lower flash point and is much more flammable.

Phillips 66 did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails Monday. But in a comment in the Santa Maria report, the company wrote that the Santa Maria refinery “is not equipped to process more than nominal volumes of light, sweet crude such as that from the Bakken oil field.”

Ellen Carroll, San Luis Obispo County’s planning manager and environmental coordinator, said in a phone call Monday that “Phillips 66 has indicated to us that they are looking in more detail into where they are actually going to be getting their crude from.”

Carroll said her office is reviewing more than 800 comment letters and that no date has been set for the next hearing.

The prospect of increased shipments of crude has provoked concerns among some residents who live near petroleum refineries, including Chevron in Richmond, Phillips 66 in Rodeo, Shell and Tesoro Golden Eagle, both in the Martinez area, and Valero in Benicia.

But the concerns were based on the notion that refineries would eventually receive crude oil by rail for their own operations, something that is already happening to a limited degree at Tesoro, according to industry sources. Now, the idea the Bay Area could be a transit route for crude oil headed elsewhere in California has spurred elected officials to action.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council will discuss a resolution opposing the transport of hazardous crude by rail along the Union Pacific railway through California and the East Bay.

Teagan Clive, a Rodeo environmental activist, praised Berkeley officials for not sitting idly by.

“(The resolution) lays the groundwork for communities to decide for themselves whether they want volatile crude coming through their towns,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, the Richmond City Council will consider a resolution calling on the East Bay Congressional delegation to take steps to halt the movement of crude oil by rail in the nation until it is fully regulated.

“We want to avoid at all costs a tragedy in Richmond in the face of so many tragedies around the country and in Canada from this crude-by-rail type of transport,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said in an email Monday.

South Bay officials reached Monday said they had not heard of the plans.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt, in an email Monday, said only that “routing for potential crude oil customers will be determined at a future time” and that “currently, we do not move any crude oil through the Bay Area.”

The Santa Maria draft report does not refer specifically to the Capitol Corridor as part of a future transit route for the crude. It refers, however, to the Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles and uses the same tracks as the Capitol Corridor trains between Sacramento and San Jose.

The report analyzes some of the possible impacts on Coast Starlight schedules, but only from San Jose south.

“Potential impacts to the Coast Starlight schedule could occur anywhere north of San Jose as well,” the report reads. “However, north of San Jose, through the Bay Area, there are areas of multiple mainline tracks and a large number of commuter trains. Therefore, it is unclear how much the crude oil unit train would overlap with the Coast Starlight. Given this uncertainty, the (report) has limited the analysis to the Coast Line.”

Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio, who is co-sponsoring the draft resolution with Councilman Darryl Moore, characterized the lack of specific mention of the Capital Corridor in the Santa Maria report as “sleight of hand-like.”

“If they want to rule it out, let’s hear it,” Maio said.

Staff writers Robert Rogers and Eric Kurhi contributed to this report. Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.

If you Go
What: Berkeley City Council
Where: City Council chamber, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

What: Richmond City Council
Where: Community Services Building, 440 Civic Center Plaza
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

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