Insurance industry figures on 2013 natural and human-caused disasters

Repost from Business Insurance
[Editor’s note: The text here lumps together losses from natural catastrophes and “man-made” disasters.  But the link at the end of this story downloads a PDF that shows detailed information about oil and rail disasters. – RS]

Catastrophes caused global insured losses of $45B in 2013: Swiss Re

Sarah Veysey
March 26, 2014

Global insured losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters totaled about $45 billion in 2013, down from about $81 billion a year earlier, according to a report released Wednesday by Swiss Re Ltd.

Economic losses from natural and man-made disasters were about $140 billion in 2013, down from $196 billion in 2012, according to the Swiss Re sigma report.

The most costly insured event in 2013 was flooding in parts of central and eastern Europe during May that caused insured losses of about $4.1 billion, according to the study.

Hailstorms in France and Germany in July caused insured losses of about $3.8 billion, the report showed, while floods in Canada in June resulted in insured losses of about $1.9 billion.

In the United States, thunderstorms and tornadoes in May caused insured losses of $1.8 billion, while severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and hail later that same month caused insured losses of $1.4 billion. A winter storm bringing ice, tornadoes and heavy rain in April resulted in insured losses of $1.2 billion.

Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in November, left about 7,500 people dead or missing, and caused insured losses of about $1.5 billion, according to the report.

Windstorm Christian, which hit parts of northern and central Europe in October, caused insured losses of about $1.5 billion, according to Swiss Re, while Typhoon Fitow in China and Japan in September caused insured losses of about $1.1 billion.

“Risk prevention and mitigation measures have progressed in recent years,” Swiss Re said in a statement.

“For instance, the losses from the floods in central and eastern Europe last year would have been much worse had the flood protection measures not been strengthened after the same region suffered severe flooding in 2002,” it said.

The study can be found here: Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2013 sigma1_2014_en.PDF.

NRDC report on Valero meeting – Valero’s Magic Box

Repost from NRDC Switchboard, Diane Bailey’s Blog

Valero’s Magic Box, balancing sludge v. stink of crude oil

Posted March 26, 2014

valero meeting.jpgLast night I learned all about the magic box of Valero’s “operating envelope” at their Benicia (San Francisco Bay Area) refinery during their public meeting for the proposed Crude Oil Rail Terminal.  Valero staff described the proposal to a packed audience, speaking cheerfully about bringing two 50-tanker car trains of crude oil in and out of Benicia each day. The friendly façade crumbled a little during the lengthy explanation to concerned community residents about the type of crude oil that could be coming in those tanker trains, confirming that they may carry dirty tar sands and volatile Bakken crude oil.

Valero - Feedstock Profile (any crude can fit in the blend box) (2).png

This slide from Valero’s presentation shows the magic box that bounds the density of the crude oil – the sludge factor, and the sulfur levels – aka the stink factor – of the crude oil that the Valero Benicia refinery is capable of handling.  It turns out though that the refinery can take a lot of different kinds of crude oil outside the magic yellow box; these are the yellow triangles.  The yellow triangles outside the magic box include both Bakken and tar sands crude oil.  That is to say that they can get the world’s dirtiest and most dangerous crude oils into the magic box of the refinery operating envelope by mixing them.  That’s right, they can brew up an exceptionally hazardous cocktail of tar sands sludge mixed with volatile Bakken crude oil to get inside the magic box.

So, Valero can take the sludgiest, highest stink crude oil and cut it with lighter oil.  Then, voila, they say there are no changes to the balance of sludge and stink in the crude oil refined.  Although this mix may look like the same old conventional crude oil according to Valero’s magic box theory, the reality is that this kind of blend of extreme crude oils creates the greatest public health hazards. Why? It retains the toxic heavy metal contamination from sludgy crudes and that comes out as air pollution; It is much harder to process, which means even more air pollution; it is unstable, prone to volatilizing toxic hydrocarbons like benzene; and it is highly corrosive, putting the refinery and infrastructure at greater risk of accidents.

Will Valero come clean with a real analysis of the public health, safety and environmental risks of the project when the draft Environmental Impact Report comes out next month? Or will they hide these impacts in magic boxes?

Reuters report on West Coast energy projects mentions Valero, Benicia

Repost from Reuters

New U.S. West Coast energy projects face tough opposition

By Edward McAllister

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The West Coast of the United States, long a battle ground for industrial and environmental interests, is set for another round of disputes as the region attracts key energy projects.

Huge new oil and gas fields have changed the way energy is transported across the United States, opening up the prospect of gas exports to Asia and increasing shipments of oil by rail. As this happens, the West Coast, from California to Washington, has become a major focus for energy developers.

Veresen Inc’s Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Coos Bay, Oregon, received approval from the Department of Energy on Monday to export gas to needy importers in Asia. Another project further north, known as Oregon LNG, is expected to receive similar approval within two months.

The two developments, both of which still need construction permits, would be the first of their kind on the West Coast outside of Alaska and represent a potentially new era for the United States, where a drilling boom has pushed output to record highs. The outcome of these projects could also set the standard for other energy developments in the region.

But opposition remains.

“Jordan Cove still needs a slew of federal and state permits to begin construction,” said Zack Malitz of San Francisco-based environmental group Credo, which is opposed to exports because it could lead to more drilling. “We still have time to sound the alarm.”

OIL, COAL

Energy projects have long met opposition in West Coast states where a stronger environmental lobby has made development approvals tougher to obtain than in other more oil industry-friendly states like Texas or Louisiana.

The strength of that opposition is being tested again as coal and oil producers look to the West Coast to broaden their business.

In recent years, mining and shipping industries have tried, and sometimes failed, to gain permission to move coal through ports in the Pacific Northwest to reach Asian markets. The Port of Coos Bay dropped its plans for a coal export terminal last spring after environmental challenges.

Now, three more export terminals remain on the drawing board. Backers of the Morrow Pacific project in Oregon expect to clear regulatory hurdles in the coming months.

Meanwhile, oil producers looking to tap west coast markets have proposed a number of terminals to receive and refine crude oil delivered on trains. Crude by rail has become a major industry in recent years, as new output overwhelms the existing pipeline network. But a number of explosive derailments have given pause to states considering more train traffic, especially loads carrying grades of crude oil from North Dakota considered more volatile than others.

In Washington State, which has the potential to become a major oil port if all pending projects are approved, opposition to moving more crude by rail is growing.

Public meetings held in October regarding a crude by rail terminal in the Port of Vancouver proposed by Tesoro Corp and Savage Services garnered tens of thousands of comments, many of which centered on concerns about crude train crashes and spills.

The project is in the permitting phase, and the final decision lies with Governor Jay Inslee.

Valero Energy Corp’s plan to build an offloading facility at its San Francisco-area refinery was pushed to the first quarter of 2015 from late 2013 to allow time for an environmental review after opponents voiced concerns to local officials.

The surge in the transport of crude oil by rail into California has caught the attention of lawmakers in Sacramento, who last week held a hearing to examine whether more resources should be dedicated to preventing and responding to accidents.

Currently, less than 1 percent of the state’s crude oil is delivered by rail. But with at least six new crude-by-rail facilities planned or under construction in California, that figure is expected to reach 25 percent by 2016.

“Regardless of whether it takes two years or four years, this is a significant change that represents an emerging threat to California’s natural resources,” Tom Cullen, administrator of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, said at the hearing last week.

(Reporting By Edward McAllister in New York, Rory Carroll in San Francisco, Patrick Rucker in Washington D.C. and Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Joseph Radford)

Important issues affecting Benicia to be heard tonight in Berkeley, Richmond

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor’s note: Please understand the significance here, involving the Union Pacific rail line THROUGH BENICIA and across the BENICIA BRIDGE.  Of course, this is also of great importance to our friends uprail in Sacramento, Davis, etc., and across the Carquinez Strait in Martinez, Crockett, and Rodeo and downrail through the East Bay, South Bay and beyond.  To attend tonight’s meetings in Berkeley and Richmond, see details at the end of this article.  – RS] [The Berkeley resolution: “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley]

East Bay and South Bay passenger rail corridor proposed to move crude oil

By Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times, 03/24/2014
A man crosses the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Cutting Blvd. in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, March 24, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

An Amtrak train passes over cars traveling on Macdonald Ave. as it departs the station in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, March 24, 2014. The tracks that carry Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains through more than a dozen East Bay and South Bay cities could become a rail superhighway for crude oil transports under a plan by Phillips 66.   (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

BERKELEY — The tracks that carry Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains through about a dozen heavily populated East Bay and South Bay communities could become a rail superhighway for potentially explosive crude oil transports to Central California under a plan by the Phillips 66 oil company, Berkeley officials warn.

A project at Phillips 66’s Santa Maria refinery would enable it to receive crude oil from North American sources that are served by rail, according to a draft environmental report under review by San Luis Obispo County.

The report identifies the most likely source of the crude as the Bakken oil field that covers parts of North Dakota and Canada. Last July, a train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and nearly destroying the town.

This latest project would add to a growing trend in California to receive imported oil over land via rail rather than by sea. The train cars filled with oil would roll through Sacramento, the East Bay and South Bay on Union Pacific tracks, switching to the UP’s Coast Line and on to Santa Maria, according to Berkeley officials who have analyzed the Santa Maria report.

At its peak, the Santa Maria refinery would receive five trains a week, each just under 4,800 feet long with 80 tank cars, two buffer cars and three locomotives, according to the document.

Bakken crude is light and less viscous than most other varieties of crude, including tar sands. Bakken crude has a lower flash point and is much more flammable.

Phillips 66 did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails Monday. But in a comment in the Santa Maria report, the company wrote that the Santa Maria refinery “is not equipped to process more than nominal volumes of light, sweet crude such as that from the Bakken oil field.”

Ellen Carroll, San Luis Obispo County’s planning manager and environmental coordinator, said in a phone call Monday that “Phillips 66 has indicated to us that they are looking in more detail into where they are actually going to be getting their crude from.”

Carroll said her office is reviewing more than 800 comment letters and that no date has been set for the next hearing.

The prospect of increased shipments of crude has provoked concerns among some residents who live near petroleum refineries, including Chevron in Richmond, Phillips 66 in Rodeo, Shell and Tesoro Golden Eagle, both in the Martinez area, and Valero in Benicia.

But the concerns were based on the notion that refineries would eventually receive crude oil by rail for their own operations, something that is already happening to a limited degree at Tesoro, according to industry sources. Now, the idea the Bay Area could be a transit route for crude oil headed elsewhere in California has spurred elected officials to action.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council will discuss a resolution opposing the transport of hazardous crude by rail along the Union Pacific railway through California and the East Bay.

Teagan Clive, a Rodeo environmental activist, praised Berkeley officials for not sitting idly by.

“(The resolution) lays the groundwork for communities to decide for themselves whether they want volatile crude coming through their towns,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, the Richmond City Council will consider a resolution calling on the East Bay Congressional delegation to take steps to halt the movement of crude oil by rail in the nation until it is fully regulated.

“We want to avoid at all costs a tragedy in Richmond in the face of so many tragedies around the country and in Canada from this crude-by-rail type of transport,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said in an email Monday.

South Bay officials reached Monday said they had not heard of the plans.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt, in an email Monday, said only that “routing for potential crude oil customers will be determined at a future time” and that “currently, we do not move any crude oil through the Bay Area.”

The Santa Maria draft report does not refer specifically to the Capitol Corridor as part of a future transit route for the crude. It refers, however, to the Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles and uses the same tracks as the Capitol Corridor trains between Sacramento and San Jose.

The report analyzes some of the possible impacts on Coast Starlight schedules, but only from San Jose south.

“Potential impacts to the Coast Starlight schedule could occur anywhere north of San Jose as well,” the report reads. “However, north of San Jose, through the Bay Area, there are areas of multiple mainline tracks and a large number of commuter trains. Therefore, it is unclear how much the crude oil unit train would overlap with the Coast Starlight. Given this uncertainty, the (report) has limited the analysis to the Coast Line.”

Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio, who is co-sponsoring the draft resolution with Councilman Darryl Moore, characterized the lack of specific mention of the Capital Corridor in the Santa Maria report as “sleight of hand-like.”

“If they want to rule it out, let’s hear it,” Maio said.

Staff writers Robert Rogers and Eric Kurhi contributed to this report. Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.

If you Go
What: Berkeley City Council
Where: City Council chamber, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

What: Richmond City Council
Where: Community Services Building, 440 Civic Center Plaza
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

For safe and healthy communities…