Category Archives: Phillips 66

Call to Action: Air District as apologist for Big Oil, Phillips 66

Letter to the editor by Larnie Fox, Benicia
August 15, 2017

Phillips 66 Marine Terminal Permit Revision

Larnie Fox, Benicia CA

Last night I attended a Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) presentation on Phillips 66’s plan to expand their marine terminal. It was sponsored by Solano County Supervisor, Monica Brown, and held in Benicia’s City Hall. Five or six BAAQMD staff members were present, as were many members of the community and members of community organizations. Monica Brown deserves our thanks for bringing this issue to light.

The BAAQMD made a short and somewhat vague presentation. It is now soliciting public input before preparing an environmental impact report. The project would allow Phillips 66 to double the amount of tankers coming through the Bay to their refinery in Rodeo, (4½ miles upwind of us in Benicia), but they couldn’t say what kind of crude the tankers would be carrying.

In the ensuing Q & A, it became clear to everyone present that the company plans to bring in crude from the Canadian tar sands – the BAAQMD staff members did not deny this. It also became apparent that taxpayers would bear much of the cost of any fires or spills.

Not all crude oils are alike. Tar sands crude is dirty, heavy, and corrosive. Because of its density, it will sink to the bottom of the Bay (and kill everything there) if it is spilled, making an effective cleanup nearly impossible. In order to ship it, it needs to be mixed with benzene and other volatile carcinogens prone to explosions and fires. It is dirty – releasing more toxins and carcinogens when processed than ordinary crude. It is considered a “sour” crude, which means it has a high sulfur content. This makes it more likely to corrode tanks, pipes, and oil tankers – leading to leaks and explosions.

I was very disappointed to see that BAAQMD staff were acting as apologists for big oil in our City Hall. Their mission is to protect our air, not to protect the profits of Phillips 66.

Most of the oil refined here will be shipped to Asia. The cost in terms of the environment and our health is not worth it. California now produces one-third of its electric power from wind and solar. Electric cars are becoming affordable; many homes have solar panels on them where they can charge their new electric cars. As we enter the age of clean fuels, we are free to move away from fossil fuels, and their associated environmental catastrophes.

I don’t aspire to be an activist. I am a working artist, and I would much rather be in my studio. Perhaps you don’t aspire to be an activist either, but what Phillips 66 is proposing is an unacceptable threat to all downwind of it and will contribute to climate change and environmental degradation. It requires a concerted effort to stop it, now.

What to do:

Contact the BAAQMD before August 28 with your views on the Phillips 66 project. The email they provided for this purpose is <P66MarineTerminalPermitRevision@baaqmd.gov>.

Contact your elected officials, local, state and national, and urge them to ask the BAAQMD to deny the project.  [Editor: Find Your Elected Officials]

Post information about the project on social media and write letters to editors.


Editor: More info here:
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The Crude Oil “Bomb Train” Story: Profits Over Safety

Repost from DeSmogBlog

The Crude Oil “Bomb Train” Story: Profits Over Safety

By Justin Mikulka • Friday, May 20, 2016 – 10:42

I would agree with the opponents. This is not about saving jobs…This is about profits. But gee, what is wrong with profits?”

Those were the words of San Luis Obispo County Planning Commissioner Jim Irving, explaining why he was voting for a project to build a rail spur to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery so that the refinery can receive oil by rail.

It is a safe bet that Jim Irving hasn’t been to Lac-Megantic, where almost three years ago a very profitable oil train derailed and exploded in the middle of downtown. The immediate damage was 47 lives lost, a massive oil spill, and the burning and contamination of the town center.

Nearly three years later, the downtown has yet to be rebuilt. And as we reported on DeSmog, there were many reasons the Lac-Megantic accident occurred. Averting any one of them could have prevented the accident. All were the result of corporate cost-cutting that put profits ahead of safety.

Also to blame were government regulators who allowed corporations to not invest in safety.

The locomotive engine fire that was the initial cause of the event? Faulty cost-saving repair.

The fact that regulators allowed full oil trains to be parked on a hill above a town, unmanned? Staffing cost savings for railroads.

The “19th century technology” air brakes that failed? More profits over safety.

Poor or non-existent employee training? More savings.

And how about those government regulators’ role in this? How could all of these moves to put profits over safety be allowed? The Globe and Mail looked at all the evidence and pointed the finger directly at the regulators.

There is one federal body that is ultimately responsible for the oversight of Canada’s railways: Transport Canada. The Lac-Mégantic disaster falls squarely at its feet.

It was recently revealed that the government of Canada contributed $75 million to the fund for the victims of Lac-Megantic to avoid further litigation. If they weren’t at fault, why would they pay up?

If you want to ask why allowing the pursuit of profits above all other concerns is a problem —  Lac-Megantic is your answer.

Profits Over Safety: The Rule, Not the Exception

The old air braking system that was involved in Lac-Megantic is the standard for all oil trains. There are modern braking systems known as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes that have been described as “a quantum improvement in rail safety” by Joseph Boardman, the former head of the Federal Railroad Administration. But this quantum improvement has not been implemented.

Cynthia Quarterman was in charge of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for the majority of the multi-year process when the new oil-by-rail regulations were developed, and based on that process, she believes ECP brakes are a top priority.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the ECP brakes may be more important than the tank car itself,” Quarterman told USA Today. “Because it would stop the pileup of the cars when there’s a derailment or when there’s a need to brake in a very quick fashion.”

So why aren’t ECP brakes required on oil trains? As DeSmog reported in March of 2015, the industry explained its opposition to ECP brakes in a presentation to regulators, and the opposition included the argument that safer brakes would be “too costly.”

And of course there is the issue of the tank cars used to move the dangerous oil. When the fracking boom happened in North Dakota and there weren’t pipelines to move the oil, the industry quickly built rail loading facilities.

Did the industry also build new safe tank cars to move the oil? No. They began filling the readily available DOT-111 tank cars with oil and started rolling them across North America through big cities and small towns — including Lac-Megantic.

The problem was that the DOT-111s were not designed to move flammable materials like Bakken crude oil, but were made to move things like molasses and corn oil.

But there was money to be made – so it was full-speed ahead with the DOT-111s for Bakken crude.

Shipping Bakken crude oil in DOT-111s has been called “an unacceptable public risk” by a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. But it continues anyway because it is profitable. Gee, what could go wrong with that?

Bomb trains.

The oil could be made safe to transport through a process known as stabilization. But that would require building stabilizing infrastructure in places like North Dakota. That would cut into profits. So it hasn’t been done.

In testimony to the North Dakota Industrial Commission about the proposed regulations to requireoil stabilization,Tony Lucero of oil producer Enerplus explained the reality:

The flammable characteristics of our product are actually a big piece of why this product is so valuable. That is why we can make these very valuable products like gasoline and jet fuel.”

And so there are no regulations to stabilize the oil because it would be less profitable.

What is wrong with profits? Dangerous oil in unsafe cars with 19th century technology brakes traveling though many North American cities is a good starting point to answer that question.

Profits Buy Plenty of Lobbyists

In January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released the report “Rigged Justice – How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy” detailing what is known as regulatory capture — essentially using corporate profits to buy influence over regulators responsible for improving safety. Like the ones who the Globe and Mail said failed the people of Lac-Megantic.

When it comes to undue industry influence, our rulemaking process is broken from start to finish,” Warrenexplained in March while discussing the report. “At every stage – from the months before a rule is proposed to the final decision of a court hearing a challenge to that rule – the existing process is loaded with opportunities for powerful industry groups to tilt the scales in their favor.”

The math is simple. It is much cheaper to buy lobbyists and influence than it is to invest in safety. And that is what is wrong with an approach that puts the pursuit of profits above all else.

We Can’t Take A Chance That Things Will Be Alright

While the oil and rail industries’ pursuit of profits was championed in California on Monday, a similar discussion was happening on the East Coast in Albany, NY. Albany is the largest oil hub on the East Coast and all of that oil comes by rail.

Now there is a proposal to build a pipeline from Albany to the seaport in Linden, NJ. The pipeline would be fed by oil trains that would arrive in Albany. While it was mostly a symbolic vote — unlike the one in California — the Albany city council voted to oppose the Pilgrim Pipeline this week.

In the public comment period, local Pastor McKinley Johnson, whose church is across the highway from the oil train facility, explained his opposition to the pipeline and more oil trains.

“It is time for us to take a stand,” said Johnson “We can’t take a chance that things will be alright.”

And he is right that this is about taking chances. The oil and rail industries are gambling that an event like Lac-Megantic won’t happen in a big city like Chicago — knowing full well that the proper safety measures are not in place to prevent it.

So far they have been really lucky — and very profitable.

This past weekend, Albany was the site of one of the worldwide Break Free From Fossil Fuels events, and the issue of the oil “bomb trains” was front and center. City council member Vivian Kornegay, who represents the community that lives directly alongside the rail yards where the oil is offloaded, was one of the featured speakers.

She repeatedly made the point that her constituents were taking all of the risk with the trains and getting no reward, saying, “We assume 100% of the risk…and miniscule benefits.”

If you are an oil company in pursuit of profits, that is exactly how you want it.


Vivian Kornegay addresses Break Free rally in Albany, NY   Photo credit: Justin Mikulka

Blog Image Credit: Justin Mikulka

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SIERRA CLUB: Community Urges Benicia City Council to Deny Valero’s Dangerous Oil Train Proposal

Repost from Sierra Club – The Planet

Community Urges Benicia City Council to Deny Valero’s Dangerous Oil Train Proposal

By Elly Benson, staff attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, April 6, 2016
Opponents of Valero’s oil train proposal rallied in front of city hall before the Benicia City Council hearing.
Opponents of Valero’s oil train proposal rallied in front of city hall before the Benicia City Council hearing.

On April 4, scores of concerned Californians converged on Benicia City Hall to urge the city council to reject Valero’s plan to transport volatile crude to its Bay Area refinery in dangerous oil trains. In February, local planning commissioners unanimously rejected the proposal, which would send two 50-tanker oil trains through California communities each day. Valero appealed that decision to the city council. Given the intense public interest in the crude-by-rail project, the city council has scheduled four public hearing dates this month.

Before Monday’s city council hearing began, opponents of Valero’s dangerous plan held a rally in front of city hall. Rally speakers included Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín and Andres Soto of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, as well as a local business owner and a senior scientist from Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental justice organization. Benicia residents were joined by members of “up-rail” communities (including Sacramento and Davis) who would be endangered by the oil trains rolling through their cities and towns on the way to the Valero refinery. Oil train derailments and explosions have skyrocketed in recent years — including the July 2013 derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada that killed 47 people and obliterated several city blocks.

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín addressed the crowd at the rally outside Benicia City Hall.
Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín addressed the crowd at the rally outside Benicia City Hall.

Inside the city council chambers, public comment began with testimony by a series of elected officials and agency representatives concerned by the risks posed by Valero’s oil train project. Speaking on behalf of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (which represents six counties and 22 cities), Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor urged the Benicia City Council to consider impacts on up-rail communities, including the 260,000 people in the Sacramento region who live within a quarter-mile of the railroad tracks. A representative from the Sacramento City Unified School District noted that 17 schools in the district are within the “blast zone” that would be put at risk by explosive oil trains on the railroad tracks. Other speakers included Berkeley Vice-Mayor Linda Maio and representatives testifying on behalf of up-rail air quality management districts, the City of Davis, and State Senator Lois Wolk.

After the elected officials and agency representatives spoke, residents of Benicia and up-rail communities voiced their concerns about the severe public health and environmental risks posed by Valero’s proposal. Although a few people expressed support for the project, the majority opposed it. Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community presented the city council with a petition — compiled along with the Sierra Club, Stand, CREDO, Center for Biological Diversity, and 350 Sacramento — with 4,081 signatures of people opposed to Valero’s oil train project.
Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community presented the city council with a petition signed by over 4,000 people who are opposed to Valero’s oil train project.
Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community presented the city council with a petition signed by over 4,000 people who are opposed to Valero’s oil train project.

In addition to urging the Benicia City Council to uphold the permit denial, many speakers urged the council to reject Valero’s request to delay the appeal process. At a city council meeting last month, Valero unexpectedly asked the council to put the appeal on hold while the company seeks a declaratory order from the federal Surface Transportation Board regarding the scope of the legal doctrine of preemption. Valero has insisted that federal regulation of railroads means that Benicia is prohibited from considering the project’s impacts on communities and sensitive environments along the rail line (including derailments, oil spills, and explosions).

At the Benicia Planning Commission hearings in February, attorneys from the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Stanford Law School clinic refuted this expansive interpretation of the preemption doctrine, and the commissioners ultimately rejected Valero’s interpretation as overly broad. Notably, the California Attorney General has previously weighed in on the shortcomings of the city’s environmental review, and specifically noted the failure to adequately analyze impacts to up-rail communities. Valero has not offered a compelling rationale for why the Attorney General would request that analysis if preemption renders those impacts irrelevant. The oil industry’s self-serving interpretation of preemption was also recently rejected by planning staff in San Luis Obispo County, who recommended denial of a similar oil train proposal at a Phillips 66 refinery due in large part to the environmental and health impacts along the rail line.

In a letter submitted to the Benicia City Council last week, the Sierra Club and our allies explained why federal law does not preempt Benicia from denying the permit for Valero’s project. The letter also reiterated that the project’s local impacts, especially increases in refinery pollution, require the city to deny the permit. For years, the Sierra Club and our partners have pushed back against Valero’s efforts to hide the true impacts of its oil train proposal — including submitting comments at each stage of the environmental review process. Our allies in these efforts include NRDC, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, Stand (formerly ForestEthics), Communities for a Better Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, SF Baykeeper, and Sunflower Alliance, among others.

Additional city council hearings are scheduled for April 6, 18, and 19, as needed for public comment and council action.

Media: Valero crude oil gets another shot at NorCal railways (KCRA Sacramento, 4/5/16)

Rallying in front of Benicia City Hall.
Rallying in front of Benicia City Hall.

 

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