Category Archives: Pittsburg CA

Pittsburg CA: WesPac oil storage project no longer includes Bakken crude trains

Repost from the San Jose Mercury News
[Editor: For original project documents and the recent announcement, see the City of Pittsburg’s WesPac Pittsburg Energy Infrastructure Project.  – RS]

Pittsburg: WesPac oil storage project no longer includes Bakken crude trains

By Sam Richards, 04/01/2015 11:40:04 AM PDT

PITTSBURG — Amid the growing national debate over the safety of transporting crude oil by trains, an energy firm has dropped the rail component from a controversial proposal to transform an old PG&E tank farm into a regional oil storage facility here.

WesPac Midstream LLC’s proposed Pittsburg Terminal Project, which had been attacked by local activists as posing a serious safety threat, is back on the table after a year of dormancy.

But the elimination of the crude-by-rail element doesn’t mean critics are satisfied that a revived oil storage and shipping operation would be safe for the community. The dormant tanks are less than a half-mile from hundreds of houses and apartments on West 10th Street and in the downtown area between Eighth Street and the waterfront.

“There are still environmental issues … having the stored oil in those tanks so close to homes, ground pollution issues, vapors from the big tanks,” said Frank Gordon of Pittsburg, a vocal opponent of the project in the past.

The City Council on Monday is expected to approve another review of the proposed oil storage facility’s environmental impact reports — this time excluding the prospect of rail deliveries.

The WesPac plan, as presented in October 2013, included facilities just north of Parkside Avenue — south of the tank farm — to handle as many as five 104-car oil trainloads a week.

Art Diefenbach, WesPac’s Pittsburg project manager then and now, said this week that the “regulatory environment” surrounding rail shipments of crude oil — in particular, the more volatile Bakken crude from an area covering parts of North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan in Canada — isn’t stable enough to plan a major project around.

“We just can’t proceed with that uncertainty floating out there,” said Diefenbach, also noting that falling crude prices help make shipping oil by rail a less attractive alternative, at least in the short term.

He said protests against the crude oil trains — in Pittsburg, the East Bay and the nation — were a factor in the plan change, too. Such decisions, he said, “are always a combination of factors.”

Oil trains, he said, are out of the picture for the foreseeable future.

Several communities in the East Bay have expressed alarm in recent months about the transport of crude by rail through the region in the wake of several high-profile derailments and accidents in North America in recent years, including one in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people and destroyed part of a town. At a meeting in Crockett last week, residents raised concerns about plans to ship oil by rail through Contra Costa County and other parts of the Bay Area to a refinery in Central California.

Without trains, all oil arriving at the WesPac facility would be via either ship or a pipeline from the southern reaches of the Central Valley.

Pittsburg Mayor Pete Longmire said removing the trains from the WesPac equation should result in a safer project for the community. “And it’s probably less controversial than before,” he said.

Although the council will decide Monday night on only an amendment to one of the project’s environmental studies, Longmire expects a large crowd to turn out to discuss what many still likely see as a polluting facility that could present a health danger to the hundreds of people who live near the old tanks.

WesPac Energy, as the company was called then, first applied in March 2011 for needed permits to renovate and restart the former PG&E oil storage and transfer facilities off West 10th Street on the city’s northwestern edge. The $200 million project calls for an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily from ships on the nearby Sacramento River, and from pipelines, and stored in 16 tanks on 125 acres.

The oil would then be moved to Contra Costa County refineries, and the Valero refinery in Benicia, via pipeline for processing.

The Pittsburg Defense Council, a group of opponents to the WesPac project in general, had decried the prospect of Bakken crude oil coming into town for unloading. Some already has rolled through Pittsburg on BNSF rails, destined for a Kinder-Morgan facility in Richmond.

Diefenbach said that, assuming various approvals come at a typical pace, construction could begin in early 2016, and likely would take from 18 to 24 months.

Longmire said he doesn’t have strong feelings about WesPac either way at this point but insists that the project — with its jobs and its boost to the local economy — must be safe. Gordon said he is still leaning against it. They agree, though, the formal permitting process must be allowed to play out.

Said Gordon, “We’ll have to see what they do with the new” environmental impact report.

If you go…

The Pittsburg City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall council chamber, 65 Civic Ave. in Pittsburg. The public is welcome.

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    Pittsburg: WesPac oil-by-rail storage project remains on hold

    Repost from The Contra Costa Times

    Pittsburg: WesPac oil-by-rail storage project remains on hold

    By Paul Burgarino, 08/02/2014

    PITTSBURG — The brakes remain on a massive $200 million plan to transport domestic crude oil by railroad cars and ships, store it in refurbished storage tanks and pipe it to refineries throughout the Bay Area.

    And after almost six months of no action, it may stay that way for a while.

    Pittsburg officials said it will be at least early 2015 before the project is brought before city decision-makers — if it ever is.

    “Right now, we’re kind of in a holding pattern and waiting for a green light from the applicant,” City Manager Joe Sbranti said.

    In February, city leaders — prompted by a letter from the office of state Attorney General Kamala Harris urging further scrutiny on air quality and the risk of accidental spills, as well as fierce community opposition — told WesPac Energy that it would be reopening the public comment period on its draft environmental documents.

    The WesPac project calls for an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily and stored in 16 tanks on 125 acres once used by Pacific Gas & Electric to store fuel oil two decades ago.

    Since earlier this year, Pittsburg planners and a hired consultant have briefly discussed some of the issues raised, but that has ceased until WesPac decides whether it will put more money toward continuing the process, Sbranti said. All costs for studies of development projects are covered by applicants, he said.

    The earliest a revised contract would be considered by the City Council is September, Sbranti said. After that, he estimated additional studies could take anywhere from six to 10 months.

    “If and when they decide to come forward, they are entitled to and deserve a fair hearing,” Mayor Sal Evola said. “As it stands today, as far as we know, they’ve put the project on hold.”

    Art Diefenbach, project manager for WesPac, said in an email, “We have nothing new to share about our project at this time.”

    The facility, located on the western edge of town near homes, schools, churches and the Pittsburg Marina, would handle an estimated 88 million barrels of domestic and imported crude oil and partially refined crude. Its capacity is massive, and 20 percent of the state’s processed oil could pass through it over the course of a year, according to the Jan. 15 letter from Harris’ office.

    Supporters of the $200 million project say it will bring jobs and revenue to the city, make use of a dormant industrial parcel, and help refineries meet their future needs at a time when oil production in California is declining and existing storage is near capacity.

    The Pittsburg Defense Council, along with several environmental groups, is fighting the project over concerns about air quality, environmental issues and safety concerns involving the transportation of crude by rail.

    “We’ve been keeping an eye out for when it comes back on city agendas, and being vigilant,” said longtime resident and Defense Council member Lyana Monterrey. The group has also been keeping an eye on crude-by-rail issues in Berkeley, Richmond and Benicia, she said.

    The Pittsburg critics point to a train carrying Bakken crude that exploded in July 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, and other derailments and explosions have occurred in the past year in Alabama and North Dakota.

    Crude shipments by rail from the Midwest and Canada into the state have increased from about 1.1 million barrels in 2012 to about 6.3 million barrels in 2013, according to the California Energy Commission. One thing the WesPac issue has brought forward is a “heightened sense of awareness” about rail safety, as both the Union Pacific and Burlington North Santa Fe lines cut through Pittsburg, Evola said.

    Pittsburg, he said, is lobbying for a bill currently in the state Assembly requiring railroads to report details of transports of hazardous materials on a quarterly basis to the state Office of Emergency Services.

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