Category Archives: Richmond

KQED report: Chevron expansion project

Repost from KQED Science

Chevron Tries Again With Richmond Refinery Revamp

 Molly Samuel, KQED Science | April 14, 2014

The rust-red painted tanks of Chevron’s Richmond refinery are a familiar sight for drivers in the East Bay. The facility, sprawling across about four and a half miles at the foot of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, is the biggest refinery in Northern California.

It was built in 1902. Picture those black and white photos of Victorian ladies after the 1906 earthquake. The refinery was already here, chugging along.

“There was pretty much nothing else here. It just looked like an open plain,” said Chevron’s Brian Hubinger.

Today, according to the company, one out of every five cars on the road in the Bay Area is driving with gas from here, and two-thirds of the jet fuel used at Bay Area airports starts here.

Now Chevron is looking to launch a billion-dollar construction project at the refinery. It’s a slimmed down version of a project that environmentalists stopped with a lawsuit a few years ago.

After that legal battle and a fire at the refinery in 2012, Chevron is trying to win back the community’s trust not only with a new environmental impact report on the project, but also with a company-published local news website and billboards celebrating the city of Richmond, and TV ads supporting the proposed project.

A view of the Chevron refinery from its wharf, where ships deliver crude oil. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

A view of the refinery from its wharf, where ships deliver crude oil. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

Hubinger, the technical advisor for what Chevron’s calling its modernization project took me on a tour of the facility. (Critics of the project are more apt to call it an “expansion.”) We drove to the end of the wharf where tankers full of oil from the Middle East and Alaska unload, and then back into the heart of the refinery, past right-angled tangles of pipeline.

We parked near what looked like a brown barn on stilts: Chevron’s half-built hydrogen plant. That’s how much the company was able to construct before a state court judge stopped the project in 2010. This plant would produce more hydrogen, more efficiently, than the existing one does.

Chevron wants the upgrade — and other changes it’s proposing — because hydrogen helps clean the sulfur out of crude oil. And the company wants to refine crude that has more sulfur in it.

The partially-built hydrogen plant. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

The partially-built hydrogen plant, the “barn on stilts.” (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

“It provides flexibility to the refinery to remain competitive in the future,” Hubinger said.

Chevron won’t say exactly where that oil would be coming from, but the refinery can only receive crude via ship. So this is not about using trains to bring in oil from Canada’s tar sands or North Dakota’s Bakken formation, the company says. Instead, the project would allow Chevron to process crude from declining oil fields, which are often higher in sulfur.

Here’s another case where, like “modernization” versus “expansion,” the language drives a point of view: Opponents call the crude that’s higher in sulfur “dirty.” In the oil industry, they call it “sour.”

There’s no debating, though, that sulfur is an impurity in crude oil, and that processing higher sulfur crude will affect emissions at the refinery.

“Whatever Chevron says, we have to look at the truth and not accept their word for it,” said Andrés Soto, an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE).

CBE, with other partner organizations, was the group that won the lawsuit to stop the earlier project. CBE argued, and a state judge agreed, that Chevron hadn’t provided enough information about how the project would affect air pollution.

Andrés Soto is the Richmond organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

Andrés Soto in Atchison Village, a neighborhood near Chevron’s Richmond refinery. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

“Chevron refused to disclose the crude slate quality that they would process as a result of this project,” Soto said. “If they were going to expand their hydrogen production, that was because they were going to be processing dirtier crude.”

Unlike Chevron’s last attempt at the project, this time its environmental impact report does provide details on the amount of air pollution that will be created. And it describes how Chevron will try to offset that pollution.

“Our commitments for no net increase are: no net increase in criteria air pollutants, no net increase in health risk and no net increase in greenhouse gas,” said Nicole Barber, a spokeswoman for Chevron. (Criteria air pollutants are particulates that the Environmental Protection Agency regulates for human and environmental health, such as lead, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.)

Greenhouse gas emissions could go up by 15 percent or more if this project happens, but, Barber said, Chevron would offset that by buying carbon credits, giving money to greenhouse gas reduction programs in Richmond and making changes on-site like using LED lighting and reusing water. That’s on the climate change side.

In terms of emissions that could make people sick — toxic air contaminants and criteria air pollutants – Barber said Chevron will offset those, too. The company’s proposals include installing new burners that lower nitrogen oxide emissions and replacing three tanker ships with newer ships that have more efficient engines.

That’s all according to the environmental impact report. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which regulates emissions, and CBE have both said they’re still examining the report, and have no comment yet on whether the details Chevron provides are thorough and sufficient.

“We know they are claiming there will be no net increase in emissions,” said Soto. “And that sounds great. Except that the current level of emissions are already killing us. We have disproportionately high rates of cancers, asthma, other autoimmune diseases.”

Richmond is an industrial area. There are other refineries, shipping, trucking and factories. And year in and year out, Chevron’s refinery is one of the biggest polluters in the Bay Area.

Pipes inside the refinery. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

Pipes inside the refinery. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

Soto said the 2012 fire at the refinery is an extreme example of the health risks a refinery poses. The fire released a dark plume of smoke into the sky and sent more than 10,000 people to the hospital complaining of breathing problems

“That was an episodic exposure,” he said. “But then there’s the persistent and prolonged every day exposure that also happens.”

Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin said she wants the project and the 1,000 construction jobs it’s expected to create, but she also wants to make sure it’s safe. And she sees it as a chance to push Chevron for lower emissions.

“How often do we have an opportunity to determine whether or not to permit a $1 billion expansion project from a large refinery?” she said.

The draft environmental impact report is open for public comment until May second. The planning commission could vote on it as soon as this summer. There’s a public hearing on the project this week on Thursday night.

California cities’ crude-by-rail opposition makes national news

Repost from The Miami Herald

As oil shipments rise on rails, California cities fight to be heard

By Curtis Tate and Tony Bizjak
McClatchy  Newspapers                           
 A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. North Highlands is a suburb just outside the city limits of Sacramento, CA.
A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. North Highlands is a suburb just outside the city limits of Sacramento, CA.        Randall Benton    /     MCT 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As rail shipments of crude oil have risen in Northern California, so has opposition in many communities along rail lines and near the refineries they supply.

Concerned about the potential safety and environmental hazards of 100-car trains of oil rolling through population centers, leaders from Sacramento to San Jose say they’re banding together to present a unified voice for “up-line” cities: communities that could bear some of the highest risks as California turns toward rail shipments to quench its thirst for fuel.

“What I suspect will come out of this is more of a regional understanding and interest in the topic,” said Mike Webb, director of community development and sustainability in Davis.

The federal government regulates rail shipments, but the rules haven’t caught up to the surge in oil traffic on the nation’s rail network. That’s left local leaders at the forefront of pushing for changes in state and federal laws.

Last week, the city councils of Berkeley and Richmond voted to oppose crude shipments on rail lines through their towns. The resolutions call for state lawmakers and members of Congress to seek tougher regulations.

Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit last week against pipeline operator Kinder Morgan and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The groups said the agency quietly issued a permit to Kinder Morgan for a crude-by-rail facility in February without reviewing potential environmental and health impacts.

“We don’t accept that as a forgone conclusion,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups in the lawsuit.

But it may be an uphill fight. State officials anticipate that within two years, California will receive a quarter of its petroleum supply by rail. That could potentially mean several trains of crude oil passing daily through Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis.

The Sacramento Bee reported last week that crude oil had been transferred from trains to trucks at the former McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento since last year without the knowledge of local emergency response officials and without a required air quality permit.

Webb said Davis’ goal is to be part of the review process to make sure the city’s concerns are heard.

“Our primary objective and interest is in the health and safety of our community,” he said.

A group of community activists in Benicia and Martinez has been trying to stop two oil refiners, Tesoro and Valero, from expanding their crude oil deliveries by rail. And they’re pressing local, state and federal officials to push for tougher oversight of crude oil shipments by rail following a series of derailments with catastrophic fires and spills.

They’re focused on two types of crude oil that are moving by rail in the absence of new pipelines. First is tar sands, a thick, gritty crude that’s produced in western Canada. Tar sands production generates more carbon dioxide emissions, environmentalists say, and is more difficult to clean up when spilled in water because it’s heavy and sinks.

The second is Bakken crude, extracted through hydraulic fracturing of shale rock. Most of the Bakken formation lies in North Dakota, and most of the oil produced there moves out of the state by rail. The oil has proved more volatile than conventional types.

Since last summer, three major derailments have involved Bakken crude. The first, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people in an inferno that also leveled the center of the small lakeside town.

Subsequent derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, though not fatal, showed that disaster could strike again.

“People are afraid that anybody along the rail line could become the next Lac-Megantic,” said Andres Soto, a community activist in Benicia.

Part of the frustration at the local level is the lack of information about how much crude oil is being shipped on rail lines. The companies involved in transporting and refining oil are not required to provide much information on the shipments and usually don’t.

“There is so little oversight,” Bailey said. “This is a new area and people are scratching their heads, saying, ‘Wow, this isn’t covered.’”

West Sacramento Fire Chief Rick Martinez, who has experience fighting oil fires, said national attention on the issue may provide a platform for cities to push for better real-time information on what materials are coming through town, so emergency responders know what to expect as they head to a call.

“Is there way through technology to get more information to local agencies?” he asked. “We are trying to take advantage of the interest to pose the questions.”

Richmond City Council calls for ban on Bakken crude by rail

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor’s note: See Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia’s letter to Richmond Mayor/City Council here. – RS]

Richmond calls on Congress to halt crude oil transport through Bay Area

By Robert Rogers Contra Costa Times

Posted:   03/25/2014

RICHMOND — A unanimous Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to call on Congress to halt rail transport of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota pending new regulations and explore what local measures could be enforced to thwart truck transport of the volatile fuel mix on local streets.

The resolution, proposed by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, follows revelations in recent days of massive increases in crude-by-rail shipments into Contra Costa County, including at Kinder Morgan in Richmond, the only facility in the Bay Area that receives crude shipped on Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains and transfers it to trucks for transport to Bay Area refineries.

“There are terrible threats in our midst,” McLaughlin said. “Ultimately, we need to ban (Bakken crude) from coming through our community.”

The resolution directs city staff to send a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Division Director Randy Sawyer, Congressmen George Miller and Mike Thompson, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, State Senators Loni Hancock and Mark Desaulnier and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner urging them to work on new regulations, including halting the transport of crude near Bay Area communities. Councilman Tom Butt added an amendment directing staff to explore whether the city could use its own regulatory powers to ban transport of Bakken crude on city streets.

Railroad activity is typically beyond the scope of local laws and is regulated at the federal level.

The vote followed a presentation by oil industry author Antonia Juhasz detailing the nationwide increase in accidents associated with rail transport of Bakken crude, which is fracked in North Dakota and is more volatile and susceptible to explosion than heavier crude blends.

The volume of crude transported by rail into Northern California increased by 57 percent during 2013, according to California Energy Commission statistics.

About 85 percent of the crude by rail delivered to Northern California in 2013 came from North Dakota, followed by 12.5 percent from Colorado, according to the commission. Four of the five Northern California oil refineries listed by the commission are in Contra Costa County, with the other in Benicia.

“A whole lot more oil is being spilled by trains,” Juhasz said. “It’s dramatically worse.”

From 1975-2012. 792,600 gallons of oil were spilled in train accidents, Juhasz said. In 2013, 1.3 million gallons were spilled in accidents, more than the combined total of every year since 1975.

Juhasz said the problem centers on three factors: More oil is being harvested and moved within the continent, it’s being sent to coastal refineries for processing and export due to higher international prices, and regulation has not kept pace with the rapid changes.

“The National Transportation Safety Board said oil spill response planning requirements are practically nonexistent,” Juhasz said. “They recommend that you require rerouting to avoid transportation of such hazardous materials through populated and other sensitive areas.”

In the past month, critics have hosted town hall meetings in Richmond, Martinez and Pittsburg decrying planned increases in crude-by-rail shipments into the Bay Area. On Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution directing city staff to oppose efforts to transport Bakken crude through the city.

Juhasz drew specific attention to rising accident numbers, with particular emphasis on a train explosion in July in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.

“There is a movement toward more federal regulation,” Juhasz said. “This (resolution) would not just be an exercise, it would add to the cacophony of voices making that demand.”

Not all residents were convinced.

“I read about your agenda item to encourage to regulate this, now I am hearing ban it,” said Don Goseny, a Richmond resident. “That is kind of overregulation isn’t it? No one is even asking is there a safe way to transport this crude.”

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia released a statement Tuesday saying he is concerned that “there was no clear communication” between BAAQMD staff members and Kinder Morgan before a permit was issued to the offloading company last September, when Juhasz said it began offloading Bakken crude. He said the issue will be discussed at the next BAAQMD meeting on April 21.

“The dramatic increase in the volume of Bakken shale crude oil being transported by rail through Northern California should be of great concern to local government,” Gioia wrote.

East Bay Express: Richmond and Berkeley oppose oil by rail

Repost from East Bay Express

Richmond and Berkeley Oppose Fracked Oil and Tar Sands Rail Shipments

Jean Tepperman —  Wed, Mar 26, 2014

The city councils of both Berkeley and Richmond unanimously passed resolutions last night calling for tighter regulation of the shipping of crude oil by rail through the East Bay. The Berkeley resolution went further, committing Berkeley to oppose all shipment of crude oil by rail through the city until tighter regulations are in place.

Information has recently come to light about crude-by-rail activity in both cities. In September, with no public announcement, the Kinder Morgan rail yard in Richmond quietly switched from handling ethanol to crude oil. And a new proposal calls for shipping crude oil to the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria on train tracks that run through the East Bay.

Fracked oil from Bakken shale is highly explosive.
USGS – Fracked oil from Bakken shale is highly explosive.

At the Richmond City Council meeting, oil-industry expert Antonia Juhasz presented evidence from both the BNSF railroad and Kinder Morgan websites showing that the crude oil coming into the Richmond rail yard is fracked from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota. This Bakken crude has been responsible for several recent disastrous explosions when trains carrying it have derailed, with the worst accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed and the downtown destroyed.

Juhasz added that there were more derailments and accidents involving crude by rail in 2013 than in the previous thirty years combined. More crude is being shipped by rail because of the huge increase in production of crude from North Dakota Bakken shale and Canadian tar sands, both far inland, and the need to get the fossil fuel to the coasts to refine and export.

Juhasz also reported that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that emergency response planning along the rail routes is “practically nonexistent” and that current regulations are “no longer sufficient” — and that it’s not safe to carry crude oil in the type of car currently being used. Because of all this, the NTSB has recommended that trains carrying crude oil be rerouted “away from populated and other sensitive areas.”

Several Richmond council members and community speakers expressed surprise that the switch to crude oil happened with no public notice. Andres Soto of Communities for a Better Environment said the “real culprit” was the staff of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which approved Kinder Morgan’s application to make this change without notifying the public or even the air district board members.

City councilmembers wrestled with the fact that the city has no jurisdiction over railroads — only the federal government can regulate them. But Juhasz and McLaughlin said a resolution by the city was important as part of a demand from many cities and organizations for more regulation of crude by rail.

The resolution called on federal legislators to move quickly to regulate the transportation of the new types of crude oil from Bakken shale and Canadian tar sands. Many speakers argued in favor of a moratorium on shipping crude by rail until adequate regulations were in place.

Meanwhile in Berkeley, another oil-industry expert, environmental engineer Phyllis Fox, described the plan to ship crude oil through the East Bay to Santa Maria — probably through Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland — since these tracks are built to carry heavy trains. She projected a map showing that rail lines in California parallel rivers and go through the most populated areas, so accidents would be “disastrous.”

Information released about the plan doesn’t reveal the source of the crude oil, but Fox said the two main kinds of crude oil being shipped by rail are from Bakken shale — oil that is highly volatile and prone to explosion — and Canadian tar sands — very heavy oil that is especially toxic and difficult to clean up. “One catastrophic event,” Fox said, “could cause irreversible harm.”

Other sources have pointed out that the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County is geared to refining heavy crude oil, so it’s most likely that the crude headed to that plant would come from the Canadian tar sands.

Many speakers in the public comment period supported the resolution, including residents of Crockett/Rodeo and Martinez, who are waging similar battles in their communities. Speakers pointed out a wide range of problems with shipping crude by rail in addition to the immediate danger. In a pre-meeting rally in support of the resolution, Mayor Tom Bates said the issues “go beyond the danger to our community to our whole carbon future. If we don’t get off fossil fuel we’re all doomed.”

The resolution commits Berkeley to file comments opposing crude-by-rail projects in any draft permit-approval process, starting with the Santa Maria project; to file comments opposing new projects in the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo and the Valero refinery in Benicia; and to support the federal Department of Transportation in creating strict regulation of rail shipments of crude oil. In presenting the resolution, Maio also said Berkeley should form a coalition with other cities fighting crude-by-rail projects.