Category Archives: Public Health

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.

      Panel of Experts meeting in Martinez Feb. 26

      On Facebook: facebook.com/events/834097813284056/
      Download, print and distribute the FLYER

      Big Oil Trains: Derailing Community Safety

      A forum about increased rail accidents, refinery dangers, and climate change.
      BigOilInOurMidst_header
      How will refinery expansions and transportation of crude oil by rail affect YOUR town?

      A panel of experts and activists will inform residents of Benicia, Martinez, Rodeo, Crockett and Port Costa of Big Oil’s plans, both local and global.

      Wednesday, Feb. 26th at 6:30 PM
      Veterans War Memorial Building, 930 Ward Street, Martinez
      (@ the corner of Ward and Court Streets)

      Please join our panelists for presentations and Q & A:

      • Marilaine Savard: spokesperson for a citizens’ group in the region of Lac-Mégantic, Québec.  Last year, a string of exploding petroleum rail cars destroyed the center of the town and claimed 47 lives.
      • Antonia Juhasz: oil industry analyst, journalist, and author of “The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry and What We Must do to Stop It” and “Black Tide: the Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill”.
      • Diane Bailey, senior scientist at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
      • Marilyn Bardet:  watchdog activist for the Valero refinery  and founding member of Benicia’s Good Neighbor Steering Committee.
      • Nancy Rieser: spokesperson, Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group, challenging Phillips 66 on its Propane Expansion Project.
      • Kalli Graham: spokesperson, Pittsburg Defense Council, fighting the proposed WesPac oil terminal.

      Sponsored by:SunflowerAlliance_logoIn partnership with:
      Sierra Club, 350 Bay Area, Communities for a Better Environment, Richmond Progressive Alliance, ForestEthics, Pittsburg Defense Council, Pittsburg Ethics Council, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, and the Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group.

      Download, print and distribute the FLYER

      For those in other towns, we have related forums in Pittsburg and Richmond!  See http://sunflower-alliance.org/forums-on-the-new-dangers-of-extreme-energy/