Expert analysis: SoCal refinery plans for crude oil trains to pass over the Benicia railroad bridge

By Roger Straw, BenIndy Editor
With expert analysis by Dr. Phyllis Fox

Union Pacific Railroad bridge, the first bridge at this location, built between April 1929 and October 1930 by Southern Pacific. It is used by Union Pacific and BNSF (trackage rights) freight trains and 36 scheduled Amtrak passenger trains each weekday. Passenger trains include the long-distance trains California Zephyr and Coast Starlight and short-haul Capitol Corridor trains….It is the second-longest railway bridge in North America, and the longest railway bridge west of the Mississippi River. [Wikipedia]
On March 21, The Benicia Independent posted news that Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio would approach the Berkeley City Council with a resolution “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley.”  The resolution was passed unanimously on March 25, 2014.

In her background materials and in the resolution, Vice Mayor Maio made the extraordinary claim that Phillips 66 was seeking a permit to ship extreme crudes by rail from “Donner Pass, through Auburn, Rocklin, and Roseville, proceed along the Sacramento River through Sacramento and Davis to Benicia and along the San Francisco Bay through Martinez, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland.  From Oakland the trains would use the Coast Line via Hayward, Santa Clara, San José, Salinas and continue along the Pacific Coast into San Luis Obispo County.”

Railroads are notably secretive about routing of hazardous materials, so I asked Maio to clarify exactly how she determined that these crude oil trains would pass through Benicia and across the 85-year-old Benicia rail bridge (built in 1929) to Martinez, along the Carquinez Strait and down through the East Bay.

Vice Mayor Maio asked her “subject matter expert,” Dr. Phyllis Fox, to be in touch, and below is her detailed and I think rather conclusive explanation.  It looks like Benicians are facing not only the offloading of 100 train cars of crude each day, but another 100 cars passing through on tracks shared by Amtrak.The following is by Phyllis Fox, Ph.D, PE, BCEE, QEP, Environmental Management, Rockledge, Florida:

I’m the subject matter expert that ferreted out the route of the Santa Maria trains for the CBR Berkeley Resolution.

I reviewed the full DEIR for the Santa Maria Rail Spur Project for the Sierra Club. The DEIR (and my comments) are at:

The DEIR fails to disclose the route the trains will take from their entrance to California to San Jose, a fundamental flaw in the DEIR. However, there are important clues.

First, the DEIR on p. 4.12-7 suggests the Mulford line out of Oakland to Santa Clara would be used. The only way to get to Oakland is through Richmond and Berkeley.

Second, on p. 4.12-22, the DEIR notes “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 EIR has limited the analysis to the Coast Line.” (e.g., the DEIR only discusses the route from San Jose to Santa Maria, leaving the reader to guess which East Bay cities will be affected.) The implication is that any route with capacity is fair game.

Third, throughout the DEIR, interference between “commuter” trains and the crude unit trains is discussed. See, e.g., Sec. 4.12. The Union Pacific Coast Starlight line is apparently a key option. Figure 4.12-3 shows it passes through Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and down the East Bay.

Fourth, finding no clear statement in the DEIR as to the East Bay route, I did an exhaustive survey of railroad maps. This work indicates that rail lines go either: (1) down the Central Valley, roughly parallel to I-5, or through Benicia, Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and down the East Bay. There is no connection between these two routes except for the Altamont Corridor Express or ACE commuter line from Stockton, over the Altamont Pass into Livermore, Pleasanton, and Fremont. See:  The ACE line would be an unlikely choice given the challenges posed by the Altamont Pass in handling unit trains with 80+ cars weighing up to 18,000 tons that are a mile long. The line has significant operating limitations including limited capacity, single track for much of the route, slow average operating speeds, and service limitations. Further, the line alarmingly, passes through the Niles Canyon, which also contains the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, carrying the water supply for San Francisco. The DEIR is silent on the ACE line. Thus, the only route that appears viable, coming from northern California, is through Sacramento (Roseville), the refinery towns and into Berkeley, Oakland etc. The most likely route is from the northern part of CA, as both Bakken crude and tar sands crude come from the far north and will most likely be sent first west into WA or OR into northern California or through Reno.

Finally, the DEIR suggests Union Pacific would be the carrier and it includes a map of the UP rail lines in CA. This map is on p. 4.12-7. It shows what I describe above in item #4, two parallel rail lines with the only connections leading into the East Bay through Benicia, or out of Stockton over the Altamont Pass. See also the UP Gross Weight Map:

There are no other connecting rail lines between the Central Valley route and the East Bay. Thus, by process of elimination, I (and others who did similar analyses) concluded the most likely route is through the East Bay.

Regardless, the DEIR does not restrict the route. Thus, any route can be used, so the East Bay cannot be eliminated.

Phyllis Fox, Ph.D., PE

Is crude by rail coming to a town near me?

Repost from unEARTHED – The Earth Justice Blog

28 March 2014, 11:41 AM
Jessica Knoblauch

Explosive Crude By Rail Trains Roll Into Main Street America

Concerned communities fight back


Vice Mayor Linda Maio, joined by Mayor Tom Bates and Council member Darryl Moore, speaks out in support of resident opposition to a proposed crude by rail project. (Photo credit: Mauricio Castillo)

Is crude by rail coming to a town near me?

For weeks, I’ve been asking myself that question as I kept hearing about the skyrocketing number of trains that are transporting crude oil throughout the U.S. to east and west coast export facilities.

And I’m not alone.

This week, I attended a protest by my fellow neighbors in Berkeley, California, to stop crude by rail shipments coming through our town. The crude oil boom is brought on by fracking in North Dakota and drilling in Canada’s Alberta tar sands. Both forms of crude are hazardous—Bakken shale crude from North Dakota is highly flammable and tar sands oil is extremely corrosive and also difficult to clean up.

Not surprisingly, once people hear how explosive and dangerous this crude can be when spilled, they really don’t want it traveling through their main streets…or anywhere else. But travel it does. Hundreds of miles, in fact, through rural towns and along main streets, along densely populated areas like Chicago and Albany, and even inside windswept and vulnerable wild lands like Montana’s Glacier National Park.

I once drove a U-Haul along Yellowstone’s winding roads in my move from New York to California. The sun was bright and the wind was calm, but I was still gripping the steering wheel the whole time. Now imagine a 100-foot long train filled with millions of gallons of explosive crude oil traveling through that same area—in the dead of winter with the wind howling and the snow piling up on the tracks.

Seems like an accident just waiting to happen, right? Unfortunately, it already has, time and again. In fact, more oil spilled from trains last year than in the last four decades. And these spills can be catastrophic. Last July, a crude oil train derailed in Canada, decimating a town and killing 47 people.

Residents rally outside Berkeley City Hall.

Residents rally outside Berkeley City Hall to show opposition to a proposed crude by rail project. .(Photo credit: Mauricio Castillo)

These and other sobering statistics are causing communities to think twice about allowing these exploding trains onto their tracks. This week, the City Council of Berkeley voted unanimously to oppose an oil company’s plans to transport crude oil through their town and other East Bay cities to a new refinery in nearby San Luis Obispo County. The council was backed by several people who showed up before the meeting to protest the crude by rail project.

East Bay resident Margaret Rossoff, who helps support communities in fighting refineries, compared crude by rail to “transporting dynamite.” Shoshanna Howard with the Center for Biological persity described the project as “preposterous,” adding that “We shouldn’t continue feeding into a fossil fuel system that has proven us wrong time and again.” Their concerns were echoed by many other local residents who felt strongly that we are going in the wrong direction by allowing more crude oil transport.

They are not alone.

During the same week, the city council of Richmond, another Bay Area community, also voted to oppose crude-by-rail plans that involved trains running through its city. In early February, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued energy company Kinder Morgan a permit to operate its crude-by-rail project, without any notice to the public or environmental and health review. Kinder Morgan is transporting volatile Bakken crude oil to Bay Area refineries using the same unsafe train cars involved in the explosion in Canada. Members of the Richmond community, perhaps even members of the air district’s Board of Directors, did not know that a permit to transport crude oil had been issued for over a month. The community’s opposition is backed by Earthjustice, which on behalf of environmental justice and conservation groups filed a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan and the air district and asked the court to halt operations immediately while the project undergoes a full and transparent review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

On the other side of the country, residents in the county of Albany, New York, feel similarly. Recently, the county halted plans to expand crude-by-rail operations at its port terminal. The news followed pressure by a broad coalition—including community and environmental groups like Earthjustice—against the state Department of Environmental Conservation for its dangerously lax approach to skyrocketing shipments of crude-by-rail into the Port of Albany.

To Big Oil, these communities may look like a place where it can transport millions of barrels of crude oil without drawing too much attention.  But to people living near these tracks, like me and thousands of others, these communities are home. We have a right to know what hazards are moving in next door, a right to participate in decisions that impact our neighborhoods, and a right to health and environmental review of industrial activities before they happen.

We are not alone.

After-the-fact permitting for Bakken oil transfers in Sacramento

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento officials kept in dark about crude oil transfers at rail facility

By Curtis Tate and Tony Bizjak McClatchy Washington Bureau
Last modified: 2014-03-29T04:26:30Z
Published: Friday, Mar. 28, 2014 –  9:00 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Mar. 28, 2014 –  9:26 pm
Randall Benton /
Tanker cars containing crude oil wait on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on March 19.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Since at least last September, trains carrying tank cars filled with crude oil have been rolling into the former McClellan Air Force Base, where the oil is transferred to tanker trucks that take it to Bay Area refineries.

Until this week, Sacramento’s InterState Oil ran the operation without a required permit. Local fire and emergency officials who would be called upon to respond in case of a spill or fire weren’t informed it was happening. The McClellan transfers include at least some Bakken crude, extracted from shale by hydraulic fracturing, which regulators say is particularly flammable.

Jorge DeGuzman, supervisor of permitting for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, said an inspector first discovered in the fall of 2012 that InterState Oil was unloading ethanol from rail cars at McClellan without a permit. The company then applied for a permit and received it in October 2012.

Last September, another inspection revealed that InterState was transferring crude oil from rail cars to trucks taking their loads to Bay Air refineries; again without a permit.

The company was not fined, and continued the ethanol and crude operations during the permitting process. The crude oil permit was approved this week.

Fuel transfer operations such as the one at McClellan have popped up in California and other states amid an energy boom driven by hydraulic fracturing of shale oil formations in North Dakota and elsewhere. While the oil furthers economic growth and energy independence, it’s also bringing unforeseen safety risks to communities, catching many state and local officials off guard.

“As long as it’s not stored, I don’t think it’s required for them to inform me,” said Steve Cantelme, Sacramento’s chief of emergency services. Still, he said, “I would like to know about it.”

State and local governments have scant jurisdiction over the movement of goods on rail lines, which is generally a matter for the federal government.

Federal regulators and the rail industry have taken voluntary steps to improve the safety of such shipments, including reduced speeds, more frequent inspections and using safer routes. They’re also working on a safer design for tank cars. But some state and local officials feel the response hasn’t matched the risk they face.

Fiery derailments in Alabama, North Dakota and Canada in the past several months have raised safety and environmental concerns about rail shipments of crude. On July 6, a 72-car train of crude oil from North Dakota broke loose, rolled down a hill and derailed in the lakeside village of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The unusually volatile oil fed a raging fire and powerful explosions that leveled the center of town. Of the 47 people who were killed, five vanished without a trace.

The issue has received limited attention in California because the state has continued to rely on its traditional petroleum supply, which arrives on marine tankers.

But that’s changing. In December 2012, the state received fewer than 100,000 barrels of oil by rail. A year later, it was receiving nearly 1.2 million, according to the California Energy Commission.

“It potentially could be a fatal issue here in Sacramento,” Cantelme said.

The state projects that within two years, California could receive a quarter of its petroleum supply by rail. That would mean at least six trains of 100 tank cars every day, or 500,000 barrels of oil, passing through the capital. The capacity of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is 830,000 barrels.

InterState officials declined a request by The Sacramento Bee to observe the McClellan operations. The company also declined to answer questions The Bee sent last week about the facility, including how frequently the transfers take place and what safety precautions are taken.

In an emailed statement, the company’s president, Brent Andrews, said InterState has “the highest regard for safety procedures” and is “very thorough in our education and training with our employees.”

InterState’s new permit allows it to transfer about 11 million gallons of crude oil and ethanol a month at McClellan.

“That’s a lot,” said Darren Taylor, assistant chief of operations at the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Department.

Neither McClellan Business Park, where the operation takes place, nor Patriot Rail, the short line railroad that switches the cars there, were required to verify that InterState had the necessary permits.

Another company, Carson Oil, was unloading ethanol at McClellan without a permit, but has since received one. Carson, based in Portland, Ore., is also seeking a permit to unload crude oil at McClellan in hopes of securing a contract. Carson did not return phone messages and emails requesting comment.

“If we don’t see anything alarming, we don’t shut a business down just because they missed some paperwork,” DeGuzman said. “The inspector felt it was a paperwork procedure.”

The McClellan operation straddles the boundary between Metropolitan Fire’s jurisdiction and that of the Sacramento Fire Department. Both departments could be involved in an emergency response to the site.

After a reporter told him about the facility last week, Dan Haverty, the city fire department’s interim chief, sent his battalion chief and a hazardous materials inspector to McClellan, where they reported finding 22 tank cars loaded with crude oil.

Haverty said far more hazardous commodities move by rail through Sacramento, including toxic chemicals, such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia, and that his department has planned and trained for emergencies involving those materials.

Taylor said he was “comfortable and confident” in his department’s capabilities.

But Niko King, Sacramento’s assistant fire chief, said he didn’t have a lot of information on what was coming through the region by rail and new risks his department might face.

“I don’t want to say we’re in front of the curve,” he said. “We’re definitely reacting.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation has required that petroleum producers test and properly label and package Bakken oil before it is transported. But once the oil reaches its destination, whether a refinery or a transfer facility, such as the one in Sacramento, it’s handled no differently than conventional crudes.

The McClellan operation falls outside of some agencies’ jurisdiction. The Sacramento County Environmental Management Department regulates crude oil storage facilities, but McClellan isn’t considered one.

“We regulate the stuff that’s there” for more than 30 days, said Elise Rothschild, chief of the department’s Environmental Compliance Division, “not the stuff in transit.”

The railroads bringing crude oil to Sacramento, meanwhile, are not required to tell local officials that they’re doing so. One of them, BNSF Railway, is the nation’s largest hauler of crude oil in trains, mostly from North Dakota.

Earlier this month, CSX, the largest railroad on the East Coast, reached an agreement with Pennsylvania’s emergency management agency to share information on the shipment of hazardous materials on its network, including crude oil.

But the agreement requires state officials not to make the information public. It is possible to determine where shipments are going, however. BNSF, for example, lists Sacramento as one of its crude-by-rail terminals on a marketing website. A Sacramento Bee photographer who visited the McClellan site recently found crude oil being transferred from rail cars to trucks, activity that was plainly visible.

Cantelme said he’s begun in recent weeks to organize a regional task force with other local officials and the state Office of Emergency Response in an effort to better understand the risks of such operations and develop a coordinated response plan.

“This is preliminary for us,” he said. “We’re just now getting into it.”

A McClatchy analysis of federal data showed that more than 1.2 million gallons of crude oil spilled from trains in 2013 alone. In contrast, fewer than 800,000 gallons had been spilled nationwide from 1975 to 2012.

“Nobody saw this incredible increase in volume,” said Tom Cullen, administrator of the oil spill prevention office in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. In his January budget proposal, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed increasing funding for the Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response and shifting its focus from marine spill to inland spills.

Other states where crude oil shipments have increased are taking action.

In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed several state agencies to review safety procedures and emergency response plans. That state’s capital, Albany, has become a hub for rail shipments of North Dakota and Canadian oil for East Coast refineries. Earlier this month, Albany County placed a moratorium on the expansion of a train-to-barge facility blocks from state offices until the completion of a health study.

Washington lawmakers considered several measures to address increased oil shipments, including a 5-cents a barrel tax on crude oil shipped by rail into the state, but the efforts died before the session adjourned last week.

Activists in the Bay Area cities of Benicia, Richmond and Martinez are fighting the expansion of crude oil deliveries to local refineries. Earlier this month, Elizabeth Patterson, the mayor of Benicia, called on Brown to sign an executive order similar to Cuomo’s.

Tate reported from Washington. Bizjak of the Sacramento Bee reported from Sacramento.

Valero fined $183,000 for 2010 incidents

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor: These fines are for violations in 2010.  In October of 2013, Valero agreed to pay $300,300 in fines for violations occurring in 2011 and 2012 (see SFGate story, Benicia Herald story).  At that time, Mayor Patterson and I asked the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (independently) to consider making the fines available to the local setting where the violations occurred, a practice not without precedent.  I never a definitive answer on my request from Eric Stevenson, the District’s Director of Technical  Serevices.  He did inform me in November 2013 that the District had scheduled a meeting with Mayor Patterson to discuss this request.  I wonder what happened?  It makes sense to me that the City of Benicia could finance better air monitoring using these funds.  – RS]

Benicia refinery hit with $183,000 fine for air quality violations

(Vallejo) Times-Herald   03/28/2014 04:56:30 PM PDT

BENICIA — Valero has agreed to pay $183,000 to settle air quality violations at its Benicia refinery, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced Friday.

The civil penalty covers seven notices of violation that the air district issued to Valero in 2011 for incidents that occurred in 2010, according to an air district news release.

The violations were related to a December 2010 upset of Valero’s fluid catalytic cracking unit, which converts heavy gas oils into gasoline and other lighter compounds. The upset resulted in intermittent violations of opacity and particulate standards at Valero’s main stack over a 10-day period, as well as violations of carbon monoxide and sulfur standards at other affected equipment, the district said.

All settlement funds will be used to fund air district activities such as the inspection and enforcement activities that led to the settlement.

For safe and healthy communities…