Tag Archives: California Energy Commission (CEC)

California imports of Bakken crude by BARGE sets record in 2014

Repost from Reuters
[Editor:  Significant quote: “Bakken transported on water poses unique risks since it is lighter and more volatile than other crudes…. ‘An oil barge accident in San Francisco Bay or off the coast of Los Angeles would be catastrophic,’ said Matt Krogh, a director at environmental group ForestEthics.  ‘Bakken is simply too dangerous to move by barge or train and we don’t need this extreme oil,’ he said.”  (emph. added)  – RS]

California imports of Bakken crude by barge sets record in 2014

By Rory Carroll, SAN FRANCISCO, April 16, 2015

(Reuters) – California imports of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota on barges totaled a record 1.5 million barrels last year, 27 percent greater than the amount that reached the state by rail, the California Energy Commission told Reuters on Thursday.

The transport of Bakken crude by rail is controversial, with fiery derailments in recent years prompting safety and environmental concerns. In California, 15 cities and towns have passed resolutions opposing the trains in their towns.

But many California refineries do not have the infrastructure necessary to unload crude oil trains. Attempts to add rail extensions to those refineries have in some cases been delayed due to opposition from environmental groups.

To get the low-cost Bakken crude to California refineries, producers load it onto trains in North Dakota bound for transport terminals in the Pacific Northwest. From there it is loaded onto barges bound for California refineries, which are better equipped to receive crude from sea vessels.

David Hackett, president of Stillwater Associates, a refining consultancy, said the Global Partners LP transport terminal in Clatskanie, Oregon, is a key departure point for barges carrying Bakken to California.

The facility, on a small canal that feeds into the Columbia River, began quietly transshipping oil from trains to barges in 2012 and is now receiving so-called “unit trains”, mile-long trains that only carry crude oil.

Global Partners did not respond to a request for comment.

Hackett said refineries such as Tesoro Corp’s facility in Carson, California, are likely destination points for the barges.

Tesoro declined to discuss its movements of crude oil, saying the information is commercially sensitive.

Hackett noted that imports of Bakken either by rail or barge represent only a fraction of California’s total crude imports. California imported nearly 300 million barrels of crude from foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq last year, he noted.

But Bakken transported on water poses unique risks since it is lighter and more volatile than other crudes, environmentalists say.

“An oil barge accident in San Francisco Bay or off the coast of Los Angeles would be catastrophic,” said Matt Krogh, a director at environmental group ForestEthics.

“Bakken is simply too dangerous to move by barge or train and we don’t need this extreme oil,” he said.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ken Wills)

Sacramento Area leaders call for strong safety controls on oil trains headed west and south

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento leaders call for more crude-oil train safety

By Tony Bizjak, 11/14/2014
A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil at McClellan Park in March.
A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil at McClellan Park in March. Randall Benton

Concerned about potential oil spills and fires, Sacramento leaders are calling for stronger safety controls on a Phillips 66 proposal to transport crude oil via trains through Sacramento neighborhoods to the oil company’s refinery in San Luis Obispo County.

In a letter approved Thursday by board members of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, regional officials are asking San Luis Obispo County to require the oil company to notify local fire officials before any crude oil train comes through the area, limit the parking of crude-oil-laden trains in the urban area, provide funding for training on fighting oil fires, and require trains and tracks to have modern safety features.

SACOG officials said they are not taking a stance against rail shipments of crude oil in general.

“Our intent is not to prohibit any types of shipments, our intent is to ensure that where they are shipped that we impose the most reasonably feasible safety measures for our communities,” the agency’s attorney Kirk Trost said during a board briefing this week.

A boom in domestic oil production in North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and other Western states in recent years has prompted safety concerns after several high-profile oil-train explosions, including one in Canada that killed 47 people last year. The federal government is formulating new safety regulations, including a requirement for sturdier tank cars.

SACOG’s letter comes in response to a Phillips 66 proposal to ship oil via train five days a week to its Santa Maria Refinery in San Luis Obispo County. Many of those trains are likely to come through Northern California, via Roseville, and run through downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento, downtown Davis and East Bay cities. Some could take a route through Sacramento to Stockton, then west into the Bay Area. The route east of Roseville is unknown.

The Sacramento group, in its letter, also joined a growing national chorus of cities and states demanding that particularly flammable crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota be stripped of its more volatile elements before being loaded on trains.

In an email to The Sacramento Bee, Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss said Phillips does not plan to ship Bakken oil to its Santa Maria Refinery. He did not specify which types of crude oil the refinery will receive.

“Phillips 66 is working to ensure the long-term viability of the Santa Maria Refinery and the many jobs it provides,” he wrote. “Our plans for this project reflect our company’s commitment to operational excellence and safety while enhancing the competitiveness of the facility.”

SACOG, a transportation planning agency formed by the region’s six counties and 22 cities, previously called for similar safety measures on another oil company plan to transport oil, likely Bakken, through Sacramento to a Benicia refinery. Valero Refining Co. officials say they hope to start next year shipping two 50-car oil trains a day through Sacramento to that plant.

Railroads have long successfully argued that federal railroad regulations pre-empt states, counties and cities from imposing any rules on their operations. In their letter, Sacramento officials contend that San Luis Obispo County and Benicia can require the oil refineries to write safety measures into their contracts with the rail carrier companies. A rail law expert, Mike Conneran of the Hanson Bridgett law firm in San Francisco, said Sacramento’s argument might have legal merit, but likely will have to be tested in court.

Crude-oil trains have proliferated in recent years around the country as producers use newer fracking technologies to unearth previously trapped oil deposits in the West. California Energy Commission analysts say very little of that oil is being transported on rail into California currently, but they say as much as 22 percent of the state’s oil will arrive by train by 2016.

One such shipment comes through Sacramento, traveling on the rail line that cuts through North Sacramento, midtown, Land Park and Meadowview en route to Richmond in the Bay Area. The BNSF Railway company recently filed papers with state emergency officials indicating they are running up to two trains a week on that route, an increase from one train a week earlier this year.

Another major crude-by-rail facility, outside of Bakersfield, is expected to open before the end of this year and may take shipments of crude oil on rail that will come through Sacramento. A spokesman for Plains All American, owner of the facility, declined comment on the routes the trains will take, saying that will be a decision the railroad companies will make.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/transportation/article3935260.html#storylink=cpy


Dangerous Oil-by-Rail Is Here, but Railroad Bridge Inspectors Are Not

Repost from ALLGOV.com

Dangerous Oil-by-Rail Is Here, but Railroad Bridge Inspectors Are Not

By Ken Broder, September 18, 2014

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) estimates there are about 5,000 railroad bridges in California, but doesn’t really know for sure. They are privately owned and inspected and were off the public radar until oil companies started shipping dangerous crude by rail to California refineries in increasingly large quantities.

Governments are not ready to have volatile loads of cargo rolling through sensitive habitats across the state, much less through heavily-populated metropolitan areas. But help is on the way. In March, the CPUC requested funding (pdf) for seven inspectors to specifically handle oil-by-rail, and two of them would focus on bridges.

The Contra Costa Times reported last week that the two inspectors have not yet been hired, but when they are, they will be the only two inspectors checking out the bridges. They will be assisted in their task by the sole federal inspector assigned to the area―an area that includes 11 states.

One of their first jobs will be to find the bridges. There is no comprehensive list. Judging by some industry comments, there may be some reluctance on the part of rail owners to provide all the information the government might ask. Bridge consultant and former American Society of Civil Engineers President Andy Hermann told the Times that the companies kept bridge data secret for competitive reasons.

But not to worry. The owners already do a good job of maintaining the bridges because, in Hermann’s words, “There’s a very strong profit motive to keep the bridges open. Detours will cost them a fortune.” In other words, this would be a situation where a company does not make a risky decision based on short-term, bottom-line considerations that could adversely affect the well-being of people and the environment.

In a report (pdf) to lawmakers on rail safety last December, the CPUC called California’s rail bridges “a potential significant safety risk.” It said most of them “are old steel and timber structures, some over a hundred years old.” Big rail companies tout their safety programs but the report points out often these bridges are owned by small short line railroads “that may not be willing or able to acquire the amount of capital needed to repair or replace degrading bridges.”

That’s bad, but not AS bad when the rail shipments aren’t volatile oil fracked from North Dakota’s Bakken formation, loaded on old rail cars ill-equipped to handle their modern cargo. Federal regulations to upgrade the unsafe cars will probably take at least a few years to complete.

When safety advocates talk about the dangers of crude-by-rail, they invariably cite the derailment last July in Quebec that killed 47 people, burned down 50 buildings and unleashed a “river of burning oil” through sewers and basements. But the Times reached back to 1991 for arguably California’s worst train derailment, albeit sans crude oil.

A train in Dunsmuir, Siskiyou County, fell off a bridge and dumped 19,000 gallons of a concentrated herbicide into the Sacramento River. Fish and vegetation died 45 miles away. Some invertebrate species went extinct. Hundreds of people required medical treatment from exposure to the contamination.

Railroads are carrying 25 times more crude oil nationally than they were five years ago. Most oil in California is moved via pipeline or ship. In 2012, only 0.2% of the 598 million barrels of oil arrived by rail in California. But the California Energy Commission (CEC) has said it expects rail to account for a quarter of imports by 2016.

Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group, does not want safety measures to amble down the track years after the crude roars through. Its lawyers joined with the Sierra Club and ForestEthics to file a lawsuit in federal court last week to force a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) response to a July legal petition seeking a ban on the type of rail cars that derailed and exploded in Quebec.

A week ago, a San Francisco County Superior Court judge told Earthjustice and other environmental groups they couldn’t sue to halt deliveries of crude oil to a rail terminal in Richmond because the deliveries had been legally permitted by the state―without public notification―and the 180-day deadline to appeal had quietly passed.