Repost from KQED Newsroom (via Youtube)
[Editor: Note that the oil-by-rail portion of this video begins at 1:00 and goes to 11:00. – RS]
Concerns Over Crude by Rail
May 2, 2014
Proposals to transport crude oil on railroads throughout Northern California are fueling worries about health and safety. Just this week, a train carrying oil derailed in Virginia, sending a huge fireball into the air and forcing evacuations. Locally, many officials and residents from Davis to Pittsburg are opposed to plans to increase crude oil rail shipments.
•Molly Samuel, KQED Science
•Yvonne Addassi, CA Office of Spill Prevention & Response
•Tom Vacar, KTVU News
Congrats, Pittsburg – a HUGE WIN! City to re-open public comment on the EIR!
February 18, 2014
At tonight’s City Council meeting, City Manager Joe Sbranti announced that today the City of Pittsburg sent a letter to WesPac saying that they plan to re-open public comment on portions of the EIR (Environmental Impact Report).
What this means is that, as Mayor Sal Evola put it, “the ball is in WesPac’s court”. They may choose not to proceed further with the project, which would be the best course of action for everyone. If they don’t, we’ll have more opportunity to get our objections on the record, and the project will be delayed by a few months, perhaps up to a year. And of course there are elections this year….
We will keep on pushing until we kill this project once and for all, but for now, raise your glass to yourself, Pittsburg, California! This is a major win!
And thank you to the City Council and City Manager for this decision – you did the right thing!
City of Pittsburg 65 Civic Avenue • Pittsburg, California 94565
February 18, 2014
Art Diefenbach WesPac Energy 2355 Main Street, Suite # 210 Irvine, CA 92614
RE: WesPac Project Status, Review of Recirculated Draft EIR Comments
Dear Mr. Diefenbach:
The public comment period for the Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR) closed on September 13, 2013. Based upon the comments received to date, City staff anticipates the addition of information to one or more sections of the RDEIR. In light of this, and in order to afford the public additional opportunity for review and comment, the City plans to open a new public review and comment period for the applicable portions of the RDEIR.
The City, as the lead agency for CEQA compliance on the WesPac project, is committed to protecting the community and in prioritizing safety. Therefore, ensuring a complete and comprehensive environmental review for the proposed project is of utmost importance. Accordingly, City staff will want to meet with you to discuss the appropriate next steps. Kristi Pollot, the City’s lead planner on this project, will contact you this week to discuss further.
Joe Sbranti City Manager
cc: City Council Planning Commission City Attorney Planning Department
Bay Area Residents Resist Crude-by-Rail as Accidents Rise
Molly Samuel, KQED Science | February 17, 2014
The city of Pittsburg, 20 miles east of Oakland, is considering approving a new oil terminal to supply crude to Bay Area refineries. The oil would come via ship, pipeline and railroad. But there have been a number of recent accidents around the United States involving rail shipments of crude oil, and some locals are concerned about the safety of the project.
‘A Dynamite Factory in Our Backyard’
On a Saturday morning in January, about 150 people gathered at a playground in Pittsburg. Greg Osorio, a local pastor stepped up to a microphone and got the rally started.
“They want to put a dynamite factory in our backyard with crude oil bombs,” he said. “Right next to housing. Turn around and look at that.”
A cluster of faded yellow metal oil tanks sit just behind the park. Each one is the size of a house. Right now they’re empty, and have been for 15 years. But they soon could be filled with crude oil.
Riding the Crude-by-Rail Boom
WesPac, an Irvine-based company, is proposing to re-open and upgrade the tanks. The property, which includes a power plant that’s still in use, once belonged to PG&E and is now owned by an energy company called NRG. WesPac wants to take over the tanks to bring in oil, store it and redistribute it to Bay Area refineries to make into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other products. The $200 million project would be able to store up to 375,000 barrels of oil in 17 tanks.
“It’s consistent with the types of operations that are going on in that area already,” said Art Diefenbach, the project manager for WesPac. This is an existing facility in a traditionally industrial town, he says, so the project makes sense here. After the tanks were decommissioned, neighborhoods grew up around them, but Diefenbach says that won’t present a problem.
“We’ll be installing additional safety equipment and noise reduction equipment and air pollution control equipment so that it’s actually going to be better than it is today,” he said.
Better, he means, than sitting empty. Plus, the project would create up to 40 permanent jobs, though those wouldn’t be guaranteed to Pittsburg residents.
But community members aren’t just concerned about the oil in the tanks; they’re also concerned about the trains that would deliver it.
In 2008, there was no oil coming into California by rail. Last year in December alone, trains carried more than a million barrels into the state.
“The problem that we have is, there’s not a terribly good infrastructure to get oil to the coasts where most of the refining and frankly most of the customers are, for that energy, located,” he said.
Without pipelines, oil companies are turning to trains. While crude delivered by rail accounts for a little less than two percent of all the oil California uses now, that may be changing. WesPac is one of six crude-by-rail projects being considered in the state. If they all get approved, rail could provide a quarter or more of California’s oil, according to the California Energy Commission.
More Trains, More Accidents
But more crude-by-rail has led to more crude-by-rail accidents. Last summer in Quebec, 47 people died when an oil train exploded. In the past four months, there have been derailments in Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Alabama and New Brunswick, Canada.
Pittsburg is a city that’s weathered industrial catastrophes before. In 1944, 320 people were killed when two Navy munitions ships in nearby Port Chicago exploded.
Andres Soto says he thinks oil companies aren’t being transparent about safety concerns.
“They don’t want to admit the risk,” he said. “Because if they did, the community would say, ‘Not in my backyard.’ And the people have a right to say that.”
There have been some responses: The National Transportation Safety Board is making recommendations to improve crude-by-rail safety; Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal boosts funding for the agency that cleans up oil spills; Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote a letter to the Pittsburg planning department, expressing her concerns about the WesPac project, particularly the impacts on air quality and the risk of accidents.
Tupper Hull says the companies he works with are aware of the safety concerns, and he expects there will be more regulations.
“We’re in one of these eras where the market has brought us good news, and now we’re catching up on the regulatory and the infrastructure side.” Good news, he said, because this is domestic oil—rather than from overseas—and it’s cheap.
Lyana Monterrey, a Pittsburg resident and one of the people leading the charge against the project, isn’t buying it.
“Not here,” she said. “Not next to a community. You don’t sacrifice people, community for your profits. That’s wrong. That’s an injustice.”
The city of Pittsburg is currently considering the project. The city council is expected to decide on its fate soon.
The California Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris, sent a stark letter to the City of Pittsburg this week warning of “significant legal problems” with the documentation around the proposed WesPac mega oil terminal. The eleven page letter noted “fundamental defects” and “errors” in the Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report for the 242,000 barrel per day rail and marine terminal for failing to do the following:
Adequately disclose and analyze local air quality impacts to the already impacted community of Pittsburg;
Consider the effects to other Bay Area communities of refining the new crudes;
Propose and analyze feasible mitigation that could reduce local air quality, impacts;
Adequately disclose and address the risk of accidents that could result from transportation and storage of the new crudes;
Fully disclose and consider mitigation for the Project’s climate change-related impacts; and
Consider a reasonable range of feasible alternatives that could reduce the Project’s significant impacts.
The letter urges the City of Pittsburg to correct these problems before moving forward. However, these issues arise from fundamental and serious environmental, health and safety flaws that are inherent to the project. NRDC together with dozens of other advocates, civic leaders and thousands of residents have raised these issues repeatedly over the past few months as awareness of the project has grown. A rally and march last weekend brought hundreds out to demonstrate their pride in Pittsburg and opposition to the WesPac project.
This Tuesday, January 21st, another rally is planned in front of City Hall (65 Civic Avenue, Pittsburg) at 5pm before the City Council meeting. Please come show your support for a healthy and safe Pittsburg, before the city moves forward with this dirty and dangerous oil terminal. Pittsburg deserves better.