Category Archives: Refinery safety

Wall Street Journal: Fewer Oil Trains Ply America’s Rails

Repost from The Wall Street Journal

Fewer Oil Trains Ply America’s Rails

Safety concerns, low crude prices depress train traffic

By Alison Sider, April 6, 2015 3:30 p.m. ET
In March, oil-train traffic was down 7% from a year earlier. The slowdown comes amid safety concerns. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

The growth in oil-train shipments fueled by the U.S. energy boom has stalled in recent months, dampened by safety problems and low crude prices.

The number of train cars carrying crude and other petroleum products peaked last fall, according to data from the Association of American Railroads, and began edging down. In March, oil-train traffic was down 7% on a year-over-year basis.

Railroads have been a major beneficiary of the U.S. energy boom, as oil companies turned to trains to move crude to refineries from remote oil fields in North Dakota and other areas not served by pipelines. Rail shipments of oil have expanded from 20 million barrels in 2010 to just under 374 million barrels last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

About 1.38 million barrels a day of oil and fuels like gasoline rode the rails in March, versus an average of 1.5 million barrels a day in the same period a year ago, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of the railroad association’s data.

Oil-train traffic declined 1% in the fourth quarter of 2014 as crude-oil prices started to tumble toward $50 a barrel. More recently, data from the U.S. Energy Department show oil-train movements out of the prolific Bakken Shale in North Dakota have leveled off as drillers there have begun to pump less, though oil-train shipments from the Rocky Mountain region have risen.

WSJ_Shipped-By-US_Rail_2014-15The slowdown comes as federal safety experts call for stronger tank cars. On Monday the National Transportation Safety Board recommended an aggressive five-year schedule for phasing out or upgrading older railcars used to haul crude-oil. A string of oil train accidents in recent months have resulted in spills, intense fires and community evacuations. The NTSB said railcars in use today rupture too quickly and aren’t fire-resistant enough.

A few incidents have involved more modern tank cars—the CPC-1232 model. The NTSB also said the new railcar’s design isn’t sturdy enough. “We can’t wait a decade for safer rail cars,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart Monday in a letter to federal transportation regulators.

Opponents of a fast phaseout have said that if tougher standards are introduced too quickly it will create a railcar shortage and make some oil train operations unprofitable.

Many refiners, including Philadelphia Energy Solutions, say they are still committed to shipping oil on trains. Chief Executive Phil Rinaldi in December said he likes that railroads don’t require long-term contractual agreements the way pipelines do. That allows his plant managers to buy crude only when it’s needed.

With pipelines, “you have to pay for that transit whether it makes sense or not,” Mr. Rinaldi said. “With rail, that’s not the case.”

Railroad operators have warned investors that their outlook for transporting crude is slightly weaker than it was last year, said David Vernon, a rail analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

BNSF Railway Co., which is responsible for about 70% of U.S. oil-train traffic, operated as many as 10 trains a day last year, but is averaging nine a day now, a spokesman said.

City of Torrance acknowledges gaps in response to ExxonMobil refinery explosion

Repost from The Daily Breeze
[Editor: See also in the Los Angeles Times: Too much pressure in equipment triggered Torrance refinery explosion.  – RS]

Torrance acknowledges gaps in response to ExxonMobil refinery explosion

By Nick Green, Daily Breeze, 02/25/15, 7:16 PM PST
Aerial view of affected area at the Exxon/Mobil refinery in Torrance following an explosion and fire on Feb. 18, 2015. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)

TORRANCE >> In response to criticism in the wake of last week’s explosion at ExxonMobil’s Torrance Refinery, city officials acknowledged this week that a new telephone alert system needs improvement.

“It shows us things we have to tweak and modify,” City Manager LeRoy Jackson said at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting in response to complaints from the council and public alike. “We did not use all the tools in our toolbox.”

Councilman Tim Goodrich, who formerly worked for a California labor union, was perhaps most critical of ExxonMobil. He wondered whether safety was really the company’s top priority, an issue also raised by United Steelworkers Local 675, which represents workers at the plant.

“Honestly, I’m not at all surprised that happened,” Goodrich said. “How many close calls is ExxonMobil willing to have before we have one we’re really going to regret?”

ExxonMobil officials attended the meeting, but did not respond to the comments.

Municipal officials had expected a big crowd, but there were plenty of open seats in the council chambers and only a handful of people spoke. At a meeting ExxonMobil hosted Friday night, scores of residents vented their frustration.

Still, the incident has attracted the attention of state legislators. The Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and the Environmental Quality Committee will hold a joint hearing at 6 p.m. March 5 at City Hall to address the emergency response, the refinery’s safety record and impacts to the community.

Inadequacies to the emergency response addressed Tuesday included:

  • A decision not to use the ExxonMobil emergency siren to alert the community to the explosion and subsequent ash and dust fallout because officials determined the emergency was confined to the 750-acre refinery. “We have this great siren system that wasn’t used and it probably should have been,” Councilman Mike Griffiths said.
  • A decision not to close the barriers that cordon off Crenshaw Boulevard, the closest thoroughfare to the explosion. “We had a close scrape here,” said Councilman Kurt Weideman. “The question arises in my mind why we didn’t close the barriers on Crenshaw.”
  • The ineffectiveness of a new, partially implemented Torrance Alerts automated mass telephone notification system that informs residents of what they should do in the case of an emergency or natural disaster. Mayor Pat Furey, who lives two blocks from the refinery, said it took three phone calls before the recorded alert played, while Weideman said he didn’t get one at all at his north Torrance home of 35 years.
    Councilman Geoff Rizzo said the alert’s readout on his caller ID did not convey the urgency of the situation, a sentiment echoed by Councilwoman Heidi Ashcraft, who screens all calls to her home phone.
  • A lack of education about what the public should do when hearing the siren, or as one resident put it: Should people “run like hell” or shelter at their home or office? (It’s the latter.)

“We need, along with the refinery, to do a better job of outreach and educating folks,” Deputy Fire Chief Dave Dumais said Wednesday.

Fire Chief William Racowschi said officials would use the incident as a “baseline” to incorporate what they learned into improving the largely untested mass notification system and other elements of the response.

“We learned a lot and, thank God, it was a localized event that didn’t cause a whole lot of destruction and death,” he said Wednesday.

Note: This version has been changed from the original to reflect Tim Goodrich’s status as a former, not current, worker for a labor union.

Explosion at refinery in Torrance, California

BREAKING NEWS from multiple sources (thank you, Google)

[Editor: what with the rash of explosive news of late (Derailments in Alberta on the 14th, Ontario on the 15th, West Virginia on the 16th, and now this refinery explosion in Torrance), I can hardly keep up.  Here are Mr. Google’s stories on Torrance.  – RS]

Torrance Fire Department Crews Respond To Explosion At
KABC-TV-56 minutes ago
Torrance School District officials instructed its 30 schools to shelter in place. Although air quality readings were withing normal range, residents were also …

Explosion Shakes Homes Near Torrance Refinery
Highly CitedNBC Southern California5 minutes ago
Explore in depth(35 more articles)
  • Video: Flames after explosion reported at Torrance, Calif

    BreakingNews.com38 minutes ago
    Video: Flames after explosion reported at Torrance, Calif., ExxonMobil … Photo: Smoke, flames from an explosion at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, Calif.
  • Incident at Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, CA

    NBCNews.com29 minutes ago
    One afternoon in late January, Howard Flysher, an avuncular 67-year-old with a neatly trimmed white short-boxed beard, walked the length of the towering …
  • Photos: Blast hits Southern California refinery

    KCRA Sacramento19 minutes ago
    Southern California authorities say an explosion has occurred at an Exxon Mobil refinery in the city of Torrance, triggering a very large smokestack flare to burn …
  • Sydney Morning Herald

    Blast hits Southern California refinery

    The Daily Progress22 minutes ago
    TORRANCE, Calif. (AP) — Southern California authorities say an explosion has occurred at an Exxon Mobil refinery in the city of Torrance, triggering a very …

Attorney General Confirms CBE Concerns over Chevron Refinery

News Release from Communities for a Better Environment
[Editor: Read the June 9 news release here, or  download the release.  And… Read the Attorney General’s letter to the Richmond Planning Dept.  – RS]

Attorney General Confirms CBE Concerns over Chevron Refinery

June 9, 2014

 A CBE News Release – A.G. Kamala Harris cited refinery safety, air pollution, and climate protection concerns with Chevron’s proposed Richmond refinery expansion—the same concerns raised by CBE.

Urging the City of Richmond “to revise the EIR so that it will fully inform the public and the City Council of the local and statewide impacts of this Project,” Attorney General Kamala Harris cited refinery safety, air pollution, and climate protection concerns with Chevron’s proposed Richmond refinery expansion—the same concerns raised by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) last month.

The Attorney General’s June 6th comment letter identified at least five issues that need further evaluation in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Chevron Expansion (“Modernization”) Project:

  • Safety hazards of the proposed project;
  • Potential project impacts on statewide climate protection objectives;
  • disparately impacted local community;
  • Feasible measures to cut local air pollution; and
  • Reasonable alternatives that may be environmentally superior to the project as currently proposed.

Specific concerns Harris raised include, among others, increased safety hazards from refining higher sulfur oil, increased carbon emission intensity, and the reliance on ‘emission reduction credits’ that do not require emission reductions in the communities directly affected by the proposed project’s potential air pollution.

CBE called on the City to revise and recirculate Chevron’s draft EIR, in comments documenting these same concerns submitted May 2, 2014. Last week CBE challenged air quality officials’ action granting a permit for the project without any valid air quality or environmental review. The Richmond Planning Commission has scheduled a decision on the project and EIR for a public hearing on July 9, 2014.

Download the June 9th press release
Read the Attorney General’s letter to the Richmond Planning Dept.