Category Archives: Public Health

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.

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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/

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KQED Science report on WesPac, Pittsburg

Repost from KQED Science

Bay Area Residents Resist Crude-by-Rail as Accidents Rise

Molly Samuel, KQED Science | February 17, 2014
Bay Area Residents Resist Crude-by-Rail as Accidents Rise

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

Tank cars on the tracks in Pittsburg. (Molly Samuel/KQED)
Tank cars on the tracks in Pittsburg. (Molly Samuel/KQED)

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.

Barrels of oil coming into California by train, 2009-2013. Data from the California Energy Commission.
Barrels of oil coming into California by train, 2009-2013. Data from the California Energy Commission.

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.

That’s because there’s an oil boom in North Dakota and Canada, explained Tupper Hull, the spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association.

“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.

KQED - Oil Train Accidents 17 Feb 2014“People here are concerned about that happening,” said Andres Soto, an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. “They’d rather prevent it than respond to it.”

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.

Pittsburg residents George and Lyana Monterrey are among those leading protests against the oil terminal. (Molly Samuel/KQED)
Pittsburg residents George and Lyana Monterrey are among those leading protests against the oil terminal. (Molly Samuel/KQED)

“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 oil tanks are the round shapes on the map.

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