Tag Archives: American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers

California attorney general subpoenas oil refiners

Repost from SFGate
[Editor:  See also coverage in Bloomberg, Reuters, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.  – RS]

California attorney general subpoenas refiners on gas prices

Associated Press, Updated 2:57 pm, Friday, July 1, 2016

The California attorney general has issued subpoenas to several oil refiners to learn how they set gasoline prices, which are consistently higher in California than in most other states.

Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp. confirmed on Thursday that they have received subpoenas in recent weeks.

The attorney general is making a sweeping request for information about gasoline supplies, pricing, and maintenance shutdowns that can temporarily create shortages and increase prices, according to people familiar with the investigation. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the subpoenas.

The requests came from Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate. Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for Harris, declined to comment on whether her office was investigating.

Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall said the company received a subpoena from the attorney general’s office and would cooperate with the investigation.

Valero received a subpoena “and we will respond accordingly,” said spokeswoman Lillian Riojas.

Spokesmen for Exxon and Tesoro also confirmed the requests for information. None of the companies would discuss the matter further.

California perennially has among the nation’s highest prices for gasoline. This week, the average for a gallon of regular was $2.90 in the state compared with the national average of $2.29, according to the AAA auto club.

Some consumer advocates have charged that refiners drive prices higher by tactics such as frequent or overly long plant shutdowns.
Refineries are routinely taken offline for maintenance, and there have been longer-lasting outages after disasters such as the explosion in February 2015 at an Exxon refinery in Torrance, near Los Angeles.

Gordon Schremp, senior fuels specialist with the California Energy Commission, said 2015 saw an “extraordinary price spike in magnitude and duration in California,” which a commission advisory committee has been investigating.

“We are aware that they were doing this,” Schremp said of the attorney general’s investigation, “because off and on they’ve talked to us about what was going on with the 2015 market, important factors that can cause spikes in the markets.”

Industry officials blame high prices on California’s stricter clean-air requirements, which they say add costs and make it more difficult to import gasoline from other states when there is a price spike.
Rebecca Adler, a spokeswoman for the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, called the allegations in the subpoenas baseless.

“We are confident that nothing will come of this,” she said.

The group Consumer Watchdog has repeatedly called on Harris to investigate oil companies over California gas prices and welcomed news of the investigation.

“It’s great that we have a law enforcement official asking questions about both supplying the market and equitable pricing within the market,” said the group’s president, Jamie Court.

Senator: Using bad tank cars? Then pay a fee

Repost from The Columbus Dispatch

Using bad tank cars? Then pay a fee, Brown proposes

By Rick Rouan, June 30, 2015 11:36 PM

Sen. Sherrod Brown wants shippers using tank cars that have been linked to fiery train derailments to pay fees that would be used to reroute train tracks, train first responders and clean up spills.

Brown has proposed fees that start at $175 per car for those using the DOT-11 [sic], a tank car that federal regulators have warned hazardous-material shippers against using.

The fees would pay to clean up hazardous-material spills, to move tracks that handle large volumes of hazardous material and to hire more railroad inspectors. Brown’s bill earmarks about $45 million over three years to train first responders near rail lines that carry large quantities of hazardous material.

Earlier this year, federal regulators tightened rules on newly manufactured tank cars but did not require shippers to immediately remove the old cars.

“(The rule) probably didn’t go far enough,” Brown said on Tuesday at the site of a 2012 derailment and explosion near the state fairgrounds. “If it’s a threat to public safety, they probably need to be off the rails.”

The federal rule will phase out or require retrofitting of thousands of the oldest tank cars that carry crude oil by 2018. Another wave of the oil-carrying tankers would have to change by 2020.

Some of the tank cars that aren’t carrying crude oil would not be replaced or retrofitted until 2025.

Brown’s proposal calls for a tax credit for companies that upgrade their tank cars to the new federal standard in the next three years.

Chet Thompson, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association, said his organization would oppose the fee structure Brown proposed.

“We think the federal focus should be on the rail carriers and their efforts to improve track integrity,” he said. “We want to see legislation that beefs up track integrity to keep the trains on the track.”

A spokesman for the American Association of Railroads declined to comment on Brown’s proposal. The organization is appealing the new federal standard, arguing that it doesn’t do enough to require shippers to stop using the DOT-111 tank cars and should require more heat protection on the cars, spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

The cars have been involved in several fiery derailments while carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota to East Coast refineries. In July 2013, a runaway train killed 47 people and destroyed the business district in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

And in February, a train carrying volatile Bakken crude derailed in Mount Carbon, W.Va., after it likely traveled through Columbus. The train was run by CSX, which has three tracks that carry crude oil converging in Columbus before they head toward West Virginia.

On July 11, 2012, a Norfolk Southern train slipped the rails just north of Downtown. One of the cars punctured, spilling ethanol and causing an explosion and fire. Two people were injured and about 100 people were evacuated.

The National Transportation Safety Board said a broken track caused the derailment.

“Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident,” Brown said.

A recent analysis for Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security found that crude oil represents the largest share of hazardous material transported by rail through the region, Director Mike Pannell said.

Earlier this year, the state released reports showing that 45 million to 137 million gallons of Bakken crude travel through the state each week.

Local first responders have procedures in place to handle derailments but not specific plans for every piece of track, including lines that run through residential areas, said Karry Ellis, an assistant chief in the Columbus Fire Division.

Brown’s proposal calls for the U.S. Department of Transportation to study whether first responders are prepared for flammable-liquid spills and whether longer freight trains pose a greater risk.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.

Oil industry lawsuit against BNSF: a look behind the scenes

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Purposeful Distraction? Unpacking the Oil Refiners’ “Bomb Trains” Lawsuit vs. Warren Buffett’s BNSF

By Steve Horn, Tue, 2015-03-24 15:58

On March 13, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) — the oil refiners’ trade association — sued oil-by-rail carrying giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) for allegedly violating its common carrier obligation under federal law. A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed there may be more to the lawsuit than initially meets the eye.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, AFPM sued BNSF “for violating its common carrier obligation by imposing a financial penalty” for those carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin and other hazardous petroleum products in explosion-prone DOT-111 rail cars.

AFPM‘s beef centers around the fact that BNSF began imposing a $1,000 surcharge for companies carrying explosive Bakken fracked oil in DOT-111 cars, as opposed to “safer” CPC-1232 cars, at the beginning of 2015.

The Warren Buffett-owned BNSF did so, argues AFPM, illegally and without the authority of the federal government.

“This $1,000 surcharge on certain PHMSA-authorized rail cars breaches BNSF’s common carrier duty to ship hazardous materials under the auspices of PHMSA’s comprehensive regime governing hazardous materials transportation,” wrote AFPM‘s legal team, featuring a crew of Hogan Lovells attorneys. “Allowing railroads to penalize companies that ship crude oil in federally-authorized rail cars would circumvent PHMSA’s statutory and regulatory process for setting rail car standards for hazardous materials shipments.”

Upon a quick glance, it seems like a fairly straight-forward case of federal law and an intriguing example of an intra-industry dispute. But as recent history has proven, the devil is in the details.

BNSF Surcharge Not Unique

Though unmentioned in AFPM‘s lawsuit, BNSF is not the only oil-by-rail “bomb trains” company promulgating a surcharge.

In February 2014, eight months before BNSF announced its surcharge, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP Rail) and Canadian National Railway Company both announced their own DOT-111 surcharge intentions.

CP Rail will add a $325 ‘general service tank car safety surcharge’ on each car of crude that is shipped in any container other than the CPC 1232 model, effective March 14, it said in a notice issued to customers,” Reuters reported. “The new tiered pricing scheme comes the same week that Canadian National Railway Co also confirmed it was increasing rates for the older variety of DOT-111 tank cars.”

In its lawsuit, AFPM disapprovingly cited minutes from a March 19 meeting held between BNSF higher-ups and U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) higher-ups in which a BNSF told PHMSA that “there needs to be [a] disincentive to use DOT 111.”

Those minutes were included as an exhibit to the complaint.

Yet in the Reuters article, CP Rail spokesman Ed Greenberg stated that his company had the same goal as BNSF: to “encourage shippers to work towards an upgraded tank car standard for crude by rail shipments.”

AFPM Lobbies vs. Regs, Funds Denial

As first reported here on DeSmogBlog, AFPM has attended meetings with the Obama White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which serves as an industry-friendly mediator between industry and executive-level regulatory agencies like PHMSA. BNSF top-level lobbyists, executives and attorneys have also had a seat at the table at those myriad meetings.

PHMSA is expected to publish a final version of updated oil-by-rail regulations in May, after announcing a delay in JanuaryAFPM also submitted comments in opposition to PHMSA‘s draft rules in September 2014, arguing it’s an issue of train tracks and people, not the rail cars themselves.   

While AFPM supports appropriate and effective mitigation, several of PHMSA’s proposed measures fail to take meaningful steps toward preventing derailments, risk significantly reducing crude rail capacity, and cost billions of dollars,” wrote AFPM. “AFPM respectfully submits that any effort to enhance rail safety must begin with addressing the primary root causes of derailments and other accidents: (1) track integrity and (2) human factors.”

Beyond advocating against oil-by-rail regulations, AFPM also funded a May 2014 study concluding that Bakken crude oil is no more chemically volatile than any other oil.

“Bakken crude oil was found to be well within the limits for what is acceptable for transportation as a flammable liquid,” the report concludes. “This survey shows that Bakken crude oil does not pose risks that are significantly different than other crude oils and other flammable liquids authorized for transportation as flammable liquids.”

BNSF Responds — Sort Of

Five days after AFPM filed its lawsuit, BNSF responded in the form of a press release. Well, kind of.

BNSF continues to review the complaint…challenging [its] recent implementation of rate discounts for crude shippers that load their product in rail cars with improved safety characteristics,” stated the company.

“This rate structure is also consistent with BNSF‘s ongoing efforts to ensure the safe transport of crude on our network, including voluntary adoption of enhanced operating practices around crude oil shipments and requesting the federal government to make newer, safer tank cars the new standard for crude-by-rail shipments, replacing the older DOT-111 and non-modified CPC-1232 cars.”

Purposeful Distraction?

So, what gives? Why a lawsuit against BNSF by AFPM and not against CN Rail nor CP Rail? No clear answers exist and AFPM did not respond to a request for comment sent by DeSmogBlog.  

Despite the murkiness at play, some answers do exist.

Firstly, CPC-1232 tanks cars — the centerpiece of the lawsuit — have proven no “safer” than DOT-111 tank cars to begin with. And secondly, the lobbying and advocacy track records of both BNSF and AFPM demonstrate they both prefer the status quo over robust regulations, which would hurt their corporate bottom lines.

Purposeful or not then, at the end of the day, the lawsuit still serves as a distraction for the central issues in the oil-by-rail debate as the May deadline nears for PHMSA to publish its final regulations.

Image Credit: Cartoonresource | Shutterstock

Rightwing Canadian Thinktank: Bakken crude is safe, consumers will pay for unneeded regulation

Repost from The Waterloo Record, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada [Editor: It is instructive – although distressing – to take note of current talking points of the right-wing Canadian Fraser Institute.  – RS]

Consumers are the losers in rush to regulate oil by rail

Opinion, by Kenneth P. Green

In the wake of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic oil-by-rail disaster, when a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken field exploded in Quebec, some people began to characterize Bakken crude oil as “uniquely flammable,” implying that new rail car standards might be required to move the material.Indeed, the supposed uniquely flammable characteristics of Bakken crude was ultimately cited as a central reason for the recent Department of Transportation proposal to tighten railcar standards in the U.S., which Canada will almost certainly have to match given the integrated nature of the North American rail system.

There’s no question we must carefully consider the safety of how we move oil, whether by pipeline, rail, roadway or barge. But we should make those judgments based on data, not on emotion or hunches. We also need to consider the costs that such decisions might impose on consumers of oil and derivative products and services. And a recent study of Bakken crude commissioned by the North Dakota Petroleum Council reveals that Bakken crude is just regular crude oil that can be safely transported in existing rail cars.

The study sampled Bakken crude at 15 well sites across the Bakken formation, and at seven rail terminals, testing the oil for a broad range of physical characteristics.

To summarize the findings in plain language: Bakken crude is comparable to light sweet crude oil when it comes to its relative weight as compared to water, and it has very low levels of sulphur and corrosive acidic components. The vapour pressure of Bakken oil (a measure of how much outward pressure that Bakken oil would exert on a container such as a rail car) was found to be within a few pounds per square inch of other light sweet crude oils.

The flash point of Bakken oil (that’s the lowest temperature at which the oil could vaporize enough to ignite in air) was found to be below 73 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to other light sweet crudes. The initial boiling point (that’s the temperature at which bubbles form in a heated liquid) was found to be between 95 F and 100 F, which is also in the normal range for light sweet crude oil; and Bakken crude didn’t have unusually high concentrations of very light (and particularly flammable) hydrocarbons (known as “light ends”).

And, contrary to suggestions that there might have been additions to Bakken crude that would make it uniquely flammable, the study found no evidence that Bakken crude was “spiked” with more flammable natural gas liquids prior to being shipped by rail.

Finally, the report notes that: “… Bakken crude oil meets all specifications for transport using existing DOT-111 tank cars.” This conclusion is consistent with the recent American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Bakken Report, which stated: “Bakken crude oil does not pose risks significantly different from other crude oils or other flammable liquids authorized for rail transport. While Bakken and other crude oils have been classified as flammable liquids, the report noted Bakken crude poses a lower risk than other flammable liquids authorized for transport by rail in the same specification tank cars.”

The “uniquely flammable” narrative has driven the ongoing process to develop new rail-safety regulations, and new standards have been proposed in the U.S.

Retrofitting existing rail cars to meet the new standards is estimated to cost between $30,000 US and $40,000 US, and industry estimates suggest there are about 78,000 cars that need to be retrofit, at a total cost of $2.3 billion US to $3.1 billion US. Complying with the new regulations will increase costs of oil transport and, thus, the cost of oil, gasoline, derivative products and services provided through the use of those products for everyday consumers. It will also slow the trend of the shift to rail, at least in the short term, until retrofits can be worked through the system.

Some have suggested that the new standards might engender savings through reduced insurance rates, though this seems unlikely. In the wake of the Lac-Mégantic derailment, the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration effectively concluded that current insurance coverage levels were not simply low, they were drastically too low to cover potential costs of an accident. If anything, there will be still higher insurance rates issued to cover the more expensive cars, further reducing the economic viability of moving large quantities of oil by rail.

Adding to the complexity, there may not be sufficient resources in the rail-insurance sector to step up to the plate and offer more comprehensive coverage.

We may or may not be safer as a result of the proposed tank-car regulations, but it may be that the “uniquely flammable” narrative of Bakken crude has led us to focus on the wrong problem by tackling the material aspect of things before we’ve tackled the insurance side of the equation. Most likely, an integrated process tying both factors together would have yielded a superior outcome.

Kenneth P. Green is the senior director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute, an independent, right-of-centre think-tank.