Category Archives: Public Health

NRDC report on Valero meeting – Valero’s Magic Box

Repost from NRDC Switchboard, Diane Bailey’s Blog

Valero’s Magic Box, balancing sludge v. stink of crude oil

Posted March 26, 2014

valero meeting.jpgLast night I learned all about the magic box of Valero’s “operating envelope” at their Benicia (San Francisco Bay Area) refinery during their public meeting for the proposed Crude Oil Rail Terminal.  Valero staff described the proposal to a packed audience, speaking cheerfully about bringing two 50-tanker car trains of crude oil in and out of Benicia each day. The friendly façade crumbled a little during the lengthy explanation to concerned community residents about the type of crude oil that could be coming in those tanker trains, confirming that they may carry dirty tar sands and volatile Bakken crude oil.

Valero - Feedstock Profile (any crude can fit in the blend box) (2).png

This slide from Valero’s presentation shows the magic box that bounds the density of the crude oil – the sludge factor, and the sulfur levels – aka the stink factor – of the crude oil that the Valero Benicia refinery is capable of handling.  It turns out though that the refinery can take a lot of different kinds of crude oil outside the magic yellow box; these are the yellow triangles.  The yellow triangles outside the magic box include both Bakken and tar sands crude oil.  That is to say that they can get the world’s dirtiest and most dangerous crude oils into the magic box of the refinery operating envelope by mixing them.  That’s right, they can brew up an exceptionally hazardous cocktail of tar sands sludge mixed with volatile Bakken crude oil to get inside the magic box.

So, Valero can take the sludgiest, highest stink crude oil and cut it with lighter oil.  Then, voila, they say there are no changes to the balance of sludge and stink in the crude oil refined.  Although this mix may look like the same old conventional crude oil according to Valero’s magic box theory, the reality is that this kind of blend of extreme crude oils creates the greatest public health hazards. Why? It retains the toxic heavy metal contamination from sludgy crudes and that comes out as air pollution; It is much harder to process, which means even more air pollution; it is unstable, prone to volatilizing toxic hydrocarbons like benzene; and it is highly corrosive, putting the refinery and infrastructure at greater risk of accidents.

Will Valero come clean with a real analysis of the public health, safety and environmental risks of the project when the draft Environmental Impact Report comes out next month? Or will they hide these impacts in magic boxes?

Reuters report on West Coast energy projects mentions Valero, Benicia

Repost from Reuters

New U.S. West Coast energy projects face tough opposition

By Edward McAllister

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The West Coast of the United States, long a battle ground for industrial and environmental interests, is set for another round of disputes as the region attracts key energy projects.

Huge new oil and gas fields have changed the way energy is transported across the United States, opening up the prospect of gas exports to Asia and increasing shipments of oil by rail. As this happens, the West Coast, from California to Washington, has become a major focus for energy developers.

Veresen Inc’s Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Coos Bay, Oregon, received approval from the Department of Energy on Monday to export gas to needy importers in Asia. Another project further north, known as Oregon LNG, is expected to receive similar approval within two months.

The two developments, both of which still need construction permits, would be the first of their kind on the West Coast outside of Alaska and represent a potentially new era for the United States, where a drilling boom has pushed output to record highs. The outcome of these projects could also set the standard for other energy developments in the region.

But opposition remains.

“Jordan Cove still needs a slew of federal and state permits to begin construction,” said Zack Malitz of San Francisco-based environmental group Credo, which is opposed to exports because it could lead to more drilling. “We still have time to sound the alarm.”

OIL, COAL

Energy projects have long met opposition in West Coast states where a stronger environmental lobby has made development approvals tougher to obtain than in other more oil industry-friendly states like Texas or Louisiana.

The strength of that opposition is being tested again as coal and oil producers look to the West Coast to broaden their business.

In recent years, mining and shipping industries have tried, and sometimes failed, to gain permission to move coal through ports in the Pacific Northwest to reach Asian markets. The Port of Coos Bay dropped its plans for a coal export terminal last spring after environmental challenges.

Now, three more export terminals remain on the drawing board. Backers of the Morrow Pacific project in Oregon expect to clear regulatory hurdles in the coming months.

Meanwhile, oil producers looking to tap west coast markets have proposed a number of terminals to receive and refine crude oil delivered on trains. Crude by rail has become a major industry in recent years, as new output overwhelms the existing pipeline network. But a number of explosive derailments have given pause to states considering more train traffic, especially loads carrying grades of crude oil from North Dakota considered more volatile than others.

In Washington State, which has the potential to become a major oil port if all pending projects are approved, opposition to moving more crude by rail is growing.

Public meetings held in October regarding a crude by rail terminal in the Port of Vancouver proposed by Tesoro Corp and Savage Services garnered tens of thousands of comments, many of which centered on concerns about crude train crashes and spills.

The project is in the permitting phase, and the final decision lies with Governor Jay Inslee.

Valero Energy Corp’s plan to build an offloading facility at its San Francisco-area refinery was pushed to the first quarter of 2015 from late 2013 to allow time for an environmental review after opponents voiced concerns to local officials.

The surge in the transport of crude oil by rail into California has caught the attention of lawmakers in Sacramento, who last week held a hearing to examine whether more resources should be dedicated to preventing and responding to accidents.

Currently, less than 1 percent of the state’s crude oil is delivered by rail. But with at least six new crude-by-rail facilities planned or under construction in California, that figure is expected to reach 25 percent by 2016.

“Regardless of whether it takes two years or four years, this is a significant change that represents an emerging threat to California’s natural resources,” Tom Cullen, administrator of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, said at the hearing last week.

(Reporting By Edward McAllister in New York, Rory Carroll in San Francisco, Patrick Rucker in Washington D.C. and Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Joseph Radford)

CCTimes editorial: Officials must oversee dangerous crude oil trains

Repost from a  Contra Costa Times Editorial

Despite unknown risks, highly volatile crude shipments suddenly routing through the East Bay

Contra Costa Times editorial © 2014 Bay Area News Group
Posted:   03/21/2014

Crude oil is not normally considered explosive. But lighter crude from the Bakken Shale formation of North Dakota, suddenly being shipped through the East Bay, is entirely different.

It contains several times the combustible gases as oil from elsewhere, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis. Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s hazardous materials chief, considers it as explosive as gasoline.

In Quebec last summer, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed, exploded and killed 47 people. Subsequently, derailed trains in Alabama and North Dakota exploded.

“Given the recent derailments and subsequent reaction of the Bakken crude in those incidents, not enough is known about this crude,” Sarah Feinberg, chief of staff at the U.S. Transportation Department, told the Journal.

Yet, long trains carrying the volatile cargo started traveling through the East Bay last year. This calls for aggressive oversight from Martinez to Sacramento to Washington — before we have a disaster on our hands.

According to the governor’s office, rail shipments of oil into the state, including Bakken crude, are expected to increase from 3 million barrels to approximately 150 million barrels per year by 2016.

Kinder Morgan is unloading some of that cargo in Richmond, just blocks from an elementary school and the Point Richmond and Atchison Village neighborhoods, and transferring it to tanker trucks.

At least some of it is going to Tesoro Refinery near Martinez, according to Sawyer and a report by KPIX Channel 5. Tesoro — which recently demonstrated its lack of candor after two acid spills that sent four workers to hospitals — refuses to say whether it’s processing Bakken crude.

The implications are profound. The notion of transporting massive quantities of highly combustible crude through local neighborhoods should alarm the federal Department of Transportation, which regulates rail shipping.

The long trains are going right through the districts of Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez, and Mike Thompson, D-Napa. They must demand answers from the administration about why it allows this to proceed when so little is known.

At the local level, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors must examine the adequacy of the county’s Industrial Safety Ordinance to make sure it can ensure that Tesoro and any other refinery that uses Bakken crude has taken adequate precautions.

Sawyer, the county’s environmental hazards chief, didn’t even know Bakken fuel was coming into the county until he saw recent press reports. Clearly the system is broken.

 

SF Chron article about Benicia / Crude by Rail

Repost from SFGate.com

[Editor’s note]  This SF Chronicle report includes a short video interview with Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson.  Unfortunately, the interview is preceded by advertising, and can’t be set to manual play – so I will not embed it here.  After reading the text here, click on the link above to see the video on SFGate.  The text here very nicely places Valero’s proposal in a wider Bay Area and California context, and then lays out some startling numbers.  Worth the read!

Is California prepared for a domestic oil boom?

Published Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The North Dakota oil boom has resulted in more trains going boom. At least 10 trains hauling crude oil from the Bakken Shale across North America have derailed and spilled, often setting off explosions. The deadliest killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013. As California refineries seek to adapt their operations to bring in Bakken crude by rail, Bay Area residents in refinery towns want to know: Will they be safe?

In Solano County, Benicia residents packed a Planning Commission meeting when Valero Refining Co. unveiled a plan to adapt its Benicia refinery to receive crude by rail rather than by ship. In Contra Costa County, Pittsburg residents (as well as state Attorney General Kamala Harris) are concerned about a proposal by West Pac Energy to convert a closed tank farm to an oil storage and transfer facility. Similar worries are voiced in Crockett and Rodeo about a proposed propane and butane project at the Phillips 66 refinery.

Air pollution is the top-line concern for these communities, followed by fear of spills and explosions. Some protests are tied to the larger political debate over importing tar sands oil from Canada.

The refinery operators maintain they are merely trading ship transport for rail transport or upgrading aging facilities.

We do know this: The tangle of laws and agencies that oversee rail transport make it easy to assign blame to someone else and tough to hold any one agency or business accountable. Rail oversight is primarily the federal government’s job, which makes sense for an industry with track in every state. While the state handles pollution, some safety inspections and emergency response, it is unclear how much legal authority it or any other state government has. The Obama administration announced some voluntary safety measures Friday that would slow trains in cities, increase track inspections and beef up emergency response. There’s still work to do be done sorting out who would enforce such rules.

A state Senate committee will meet Monday to begin investigating whether California is prepared to receive hundreds of railcars a day of highly flammable Bakken crude. The legislators are asking: Should we have confidence that the agencies with oversight, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Public Utilities Commission and Caltrans, are up to the job?

We need to know how theses railroads will run safely before more Bakken crude comes in by rail.

More crude riding the rails

85-fold – the increase in the amount of crude oil transported on U.S. railroads since 2006, from 4,700 carloads to 400,000 carloads in 2013, according to a rail industry regulatory filing.

135 times – the increase in the amount of crude transported by rail in California since 2009, from 45,491 barrels in 2009 to 6,169,264 barrels in 2013, according to the California Energy Commission.

1 percent – the portion of crude oil transported into California by rail (most comes by ship). This is projected to increase as more refineries adapt to bring in Bakken crude by rail.

73 degrees Fahrenheit – the flash point of Bakken crude, a lighter oil that contains more volatile organic compounds than other crude oils, as compared with 95 degrees Fahrenheit. “Crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil,” reported the U.S. Department of Transportation.