Category Archives: Richmond

Martinez to Benicia: Oil Refinery Protest Draws About 100 Demonstrators

Repost from the East Bay Express
[Editor: Many thanks to the East Bay Express for excellent coverage of this colorful and important event (below).  Benicia old timers were heard to say that sleepy little Benicia has probably NEVER seen a protest demonstration like this.  Check out two facebook pages for great photos of the day: facebook.com/stopcrudebyrail AND facebook.com/events/220829548127114/?ref=22.  – RS]

East Bay Oil Refinery Protest Draws About 100 Demonstrators

Jean Tepperman —  Mon, May 19, 2014

Accompanied by a four-kayak flotilla and a fifth-generation Martinez resident on horseback, about one hundred environmental activists marched seven miles from Martinez to Benicia on Saturday to protest the local toxic pollution and global climate impact of Bay Area oil refineries. The march was spearheaded by a Bay Area group affiliated with Idle No More, an organization of Canadian First Nations people fighting development of the tar sands oil fields in Alberta and other environmentally destructive projects on their traditional lands.

refinery_walk1_5-17.jpeg

Kelly Johnson

Specific targets of the protest were proposed expansion projects at the Chevron (Richmond), Valero (Benicia), and Phillips 66 (Rodeo) refineries, a crude oil transportation terminal in Pittsburg planned by energy infrastructure company WesPac, and the major investment of Shell (Martinez) in the Canadian tar sands mines. The Saturday march was the second of four planned Refinery Corridor Healing Walks — the first, from Pittsburg to Martinez, was held in April, and future walks are planned for June and July, ending up at Chevron in Richmond. The series of walks aims to “connect the dots” to “bring awareness to the refinery communities, invite community members to get to know one another, and to show support for a just transition beyond fossil fuels,” according to the group’s website.

At a gathering at the Martinez Regional Shoreline before the march, a winner of this year’s Goldman environmental prize, South African Desmond D’Sa, described the high rates of leukemia, cancer, and asthma in his home town of Durban and the community’s struggles against Shell Oil there, urging the crowd to “fight them (refineries) wherever they are.” Penny Opal Plant, of the East Bay Idle No More group, said she only recently began to conceive of the refinery corridor as a total area suffering from the “immense devastation” caused by oil refineries.

Richmond residents have long protested pollution from Chevron, most recently the toxic explosion that sent 15,000 seeking medical treatment in August 2012. Benicia residents have also organized to oppose environmental hazards. In the last year, local groups have also formed in Pittsburg, Crockett-Rodeo, and Martinez to protest refinery expansion and transportation plans, including major increases in the amount of crude oil to be carried by rail through the Bay Area and beyond.

Describing the dangers of mining, refining, and transporting oil, and looking ahead to a future free from fossil fuel, Opal Plant said, “We are Mother Earth’s immune response awakening. We’re born at this time to do this thing.”

refinery_walk2_5-17.jpeg

Kelly Johnson

The group’s route first went through the Shell refinery, then over the bridge to Benicia, with a view of the Valero refinery there. From a hilltop vista point next to Carquinez Strait, Benicia activist Marilyn Bardet pointed out refineries and planned oil industry project sites, as well as the environmentally Suisun Marsh. Railroad tracks leading to the Valero refinery, she said, go right through the marsh. A spill of tar sands crude oil, she added, would be impossible to clean up because the oil is so heavy it would sink and cause irreparable damage.

The next Refinery Corridor Healing walk is scheduled to go from Benicia to the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo on June 14.

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CBS TV Sacramento: uprail communities concerned as crude by rail spikes

Repost from CBS13 Sacramento
[Editor: Rather a poor report, with a few errors (for instance, six explosions, not three) and a pessimistic ending.  But good tv exposure on the issue.  See the excellent quote by Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza, and note how the Valero Benicia spokesperson evades the reporter’s question on “Who will pay for safety?” in the interview near the end.  – RS]

Crude Oil Shipment Spike Has California Residents Along Railways Concerned

May 13, 2014


DAVIS (CBS13) — It’s been a deadly year for the oil and railroad industries as crude oil tankers on North American railways explode in three separate incidents, calling into question what dangers are we willing to accept in our insatiable quest for fuel.

Welcome to North Dakota, where the earth is gushing oil. But the black gold blessing is quickly becoming a shipping curse.

The number of trains carrying crude oils is rapidly expanding, putting residents like Errin Enos of Davis at risk.

“Of course I’m scared, they go right past my house,” he said.

About 1 million barrels of oil a day is being extracted from the Bakken Oil Field in North Dakota. Getting it from there to refineries in California has created a controversial and dangerous dilemma.

“Frankly, it’s just the odds,” said California state Sen. Beth Jackson. “If we’re transporting more things by rail, it’s just going to happen at some point no matter how we try to be careful.”

Oil industry insiders know about the controversy involving the third-largest refining state.

For the most part, crude oil is transported around the world on ships, through pipelines and by trains. Each of those has risks.

Three accidents involving oil trains have occurred in the last year alone:

July 2013: A train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Quebec, Canada, leveling portions of the town of Lac Megantic and killing 47 people.

December 2013: An oil train collided with a derailed train near Casselton, North Dakota.

April 30: A train loaded with crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia. Some cars burst into flames, others plunged into the James River.

But even shipping has its dangers.

November 2007: A Cosco Busan oil tanker rammed the Bay Bridge, spilling 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the San Francisco Bay—or less than two rail cars full of oil.

March 1989: The Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound Alaska. Up to 750,000 barrels of crude oil spilled, making it one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters.

On land, millions of barrels of crude oil are moved through pipelines and trains. So which is safer?

Juan Acosta represents Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and recently testified at a hearing at the state Capitol.

Even though pipelines are safer, he says, environmental groups strongly oppose building new pipelines, meaning America’s overflowing oil reserves are now hitting the rails.

Crude Spike Means Busy Railways

Railroads have several lines to bring crude oil into California. Many of them converge at refineries in our part of the state in cities like Richmond and Benicia. In the coming years, officials estimate that 25 percent of crude coming into California will arrive on trains.

Cities and towns that line these train tracks are fighting the trend, because there’s a plan to send even more crude oil through Northern California.

That has Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza concerned.

“If those same tracks are going to be be carrying hundreds of thousands of cars of crude oil through Davis every day, that’s absolutely a situation we can’t have in this community,” he said.

The plan would send 82,000 barrels of North Dakota Bakken crude oil on California tracks through Roseville, West Sacramento and Davis on their way to the Valero refinery in Benicia.

Chris Howe is the director of health, safety and environment at the refinery where they convert crude oil into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. They hope to build a special station where they can offload North Dakota’s oil from train cars.

“Today about 80 percent of the crude oil that we process at the refinery comes in by marine tanker,” he said.

Currently, a little more than five percent of oil comes into the state by rail, but that’s almost certain to increase dramatically.

With a record amount of crude oil being extracted from North Dakota and a lack of pipelines to ship it, and with the world’s appetite for oil products increasing in places such as China and India, the oil industry says it’s a basic business principle of supply and demand.

And it’s not just in Benicia. Oil is alreayd being offloaded from rail cars and onto tanker trucks at McClellan Park near Sacramento.

Who Will Pay For Safety?

At a recent hearing at the state Capitol, Lisa Stark testified for Union Pacific, saying safety is a top priority.

“I know we’re very aggressive on safety, so it may not make a huge difference here in California because we already have a very aggressive program here,” she said.

But at that same hearing, emergency responders from a host of state agencies were concerned about their ability to respond to a catastrophe.

“What we did learn is that there really is no preparedness,” said State Sen. Jerry Hill.

He says not only are local emergency crews not prepared, but he says only the railroads are willing to pay to train local firefighters, not oil companies.

“They’re fine with most of what’s being proposed,” he said. “It’s the oil companies who are opposed to any additional fees that would be imposed on crude oil that comes.”

Something Howe doesn’t confirm, but doesn’t deny either.

REPORTER: So you think Union Pacific would be willing to go into some of these smaller communities and offer training?

HOWE: I’ve read their commitment to do that and it’s my understanding …

REPORTER: But it’s not something Valero would be willing to do?

HOWE: I would surely encourage the railroad to help do that.

Living along the tracks, Enos believes more trains filled with explosive crude oil will be rolling by his home in the near future.

“They’re gonna get their way,” he said. “I mean I could talk, talk, talk and it’s not gonna make any difference, I don’t believe.”

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State hiring beginners for critical refinery-inspector jobs

Repost from SFGate

State hiring beginners for critical refinery-inspector jobs

State hiring new graduates for tough jobs that protect workers, public
Jaxon Van Derbeken  |  May 4, 2014

State regulators who were handed millions of dollars from the oil industry to improve refinery safety after the disastrous 2012 fire at Chevron’s Richmond plant are hiring inspectors out of college with little or no experience in the field, The Chronicle has learned.

The Legislature assessed new fees on oil refineries and dedicated the money for increased oversight in response to scathing federal criticism of the state’s refinery oversight leading up to the fire, which sent 15,000 people to hospitals complaining of respiratory and other problems. Federal investigators found that California conducted too few comprehensive inspections of refineries and that its lax monitoring allowed Chevron to ignore corroded pipes, one of which sprang a leak and started the fire.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which led the Chevron investigation, has also questioned the state’s inspection efforts in the wake of an acid spill in February at the Tesoro Corp. refinery near Martinez that sent two workers to the hospital with chemical burns.

In its reports after the Chevron fire, the board called for the state to hire more “experienced, competent” refinery inspectors. At the time of the Richmond fire, the state had seven inspectors, several of whom had years of experience working at refineries but did not have sufficient engineering backgrounds to stand up to industry pressure, federal investigators said.

After Cal/OSHA, the agency responsible for inspections, acknowledged that seven inspectors weren’t enough, the Legislature approved $5.4 million in annual fees on oil refineries and said the money should be spent on at least 15 inspectors.

19-member team

The Department of Industrial Relations – which oversees Cal/OSHA – hired six new inspectors and transferred employees from elsewhere in the agency to create a 19-member team that will inspect oil refineries and other hazardous-materials plants. However, none of the new hires has any refinery safety experience, state officials say.

Most have bachelor’s degrees in engineering and some have master’s, said Mike Wilson, chief scientist for Cal/OSHA, but none has ever worked in a refinery or done an inspection at one.

“We have some young new people – I am confident they will all be up to speed to where we intend to take this program,” said Christine Baker, head of the Department of Industrial Relations. “They are all very qualified people, or they would not even be considered to meet the civil service standards of this position.”

They will join existing refinery inspectors and six transfers from elsewhere in Cal/OSHA in the new unit, Wilson said. The transferred inspectors have not worked at refineries either.

Sponsor’s concerns

State Sen. Loni Hancock, author of the bill that raised the money for new inspectors, said she has pressed state officials to explain their hiring strategy, and so far is not satisfied.

“I am trying to get enough highly qualified inspectors on board so we don’t have a Tesoro a year after we have a Chevron,” said Hancock, D-Berkeley. She said she has asked Cal/OSHA why it is hiring recent engineering graduates instead of industry veterans, but “we have not gotten those answers yet.”

Wilson said the hires and transfers will undergo training over several months before starting inspections. Cal/OSHA expects its beefed-up unit to conduct comprehensive inspections at four refineries per year, each lasting roughly five months – compared with the 50 to 70 hours of staff time typical of inspections before the Chevron fire.

An official with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board questioned whether Cal/OSHA was taking the right approach in its hiring.

“They need more experienced people,” said Don Holmstrom, head of the federal agency’s Western region investigations office. “Not all of the people need to be experienced people, but you could have half of them with 10 or more years in a refinery or a chemical plant.”

Only about one-fourth of the 19 inspectors in the beefed-up inspection unit will have that much experience, according to numbers provided by the Department of Industrial Relations. All of those were with Cal/OSHA at the time of the Chevron fire.

“It doesn’t sound necessarily like they are hiring the same kind of people we would hire,” Holmstrom said.

Hancock said lawmakers wanted “enough highly qualified inspectors to go into these very dangerous and complex places – people who are skilled engineers in this area – and make sure safety regulations are being met.”

Ready for challenges

Only inspectors with experience and knowledge will be equipped to take on companies like Chevron with “armies of lawyers who are qualified and highly trained, and they challenge every fine, every finding, no matter how small, and string it out,” Hancock said.

Holmstrom echoed Hancock’s concerns, adding that even the holdover veterans at Cal/OSHA aren’t “chemical engineers with refinery experience.”

They may have experience operating refineries, he said, “but don’t have technical experience needed to challenge the companies. Without it, that’s not going to happen.”

Baker said the holdovers have “over 60 years of combined hands-on experience in refinery work, which has contributed enormously to the effectiveness of our oversight.”

She added that although “staffing is critical” to improving refinery safety, increased staffing alone is “insufficient to improve refinery safety at the pace and scale that I believe is needed.”

“Like most public health and safety problems, enforcement efforts are most effective when they are part of a comprehensive prevention effort,” Baker said.

For the newly created refinery inspection team to do its job, she said, it “must be provided with modernized regulations” that would make refineries provide proof that they identify and fix hazards. The Department of Industrial Relations is drawing up such rules, Baker said.

Big enough team?

Federal officials aren’t sure that even a 19-inspector unit is enough, given that the state is responsible for ensuring that California’s 14 active refineries and 1,800 chemical plants are being run safely.

Great Britain, which has the same number of oil refineries as California, dedicates a team of four inspectors per refinery, backed up by scientific experts, said Holmstrom, who recently visited England to study its approach to refinery safety.

Hancock said she is determined to “figure out how to get the inspections done that we need, and if (state officials) can’t provide them, we ought to give it back to the federal government – let the CSB (Chemical Safety Board) run our oil refinery program. I’m looking to see evidence that there is some sense of urgency and commitment here.”

Wilson said California’s reform process has been rapid, by the state’s standards, but change “doesn’t happen overnight.”

Jaxon Van Derbeken is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
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