RODEO — A second organization has sued to block a propane and butane recovery project at a Rodeo refinery, and a third announced it would do so as well Thursday.
Rodeo Citizens Association filed suit Thursday in Contra Costa Superior Court, Martinez against Contra Costa County and the Phillips 66 Co., contending Phillips wants to transport heavy and dirty tar sands crude by rail from outside the state to a sister refinery in San Luis Obispo County and pipe the semi-refined oil to Rodeo. The association further contends that a county-approved Environmental Impact Report fails to note that the project would increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
On Wednesday, Communities for a Better Environment sued the county and Phillips 66, contending the project is part of a grander plan to process heavy, dirty tar sands crude that would come to California by rail.
Phillips 66 spokesman Paul Adler said Thursday he had not seen the Rodeo Citizens Association suit and therefore could not comment on it. On Wednesday, commenting on the CBE suit, Adler had called that organization’s allegations “inaccurate and misleading.”
“Following two years of careful analysis by the Contra Costa County board (of Supervisors) and its expert staff, claims that this project is a crude by rail project were dismissed,” Adler said Wednesday.
Also on Thursday, Safe Fuel Energy Resources of California, a group representing workers at the Rodeo refinery, sued the county and Phillips 66 in Superior Court, Martinez, according to an announcement by the firm Public Good PR LLC. The group contends, among other allegations, that Phillips 66 wants to bring in tar sands crude from out-of-state and that the county improperly “piecemealed” its review of the Rodeo project from other Phillips 66 projects and neglected to analyze the cumulative levels of the various projects on air quality and human health and safety.
The timing of Safe Fuel Energy Resources’ filing was not known as of late Thursday.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe car carrying pork derails in Richmond, raising concerns about more hazardous materials
By Robert Rogers, December 3, 2014
RICHMOND — The derailment Friday of a single rail car containing refrigerated pork is under investigation by Burlington Northern Santa Fe officials, who say it occurred during a low-speed movement within its rail yard and suggests no added risk for the rail transport of more hazardous materials in Contra Costa County.
“This was a very minor incident with a single car going less than 10 mph,” BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said. “There are many precautions we take to ensure that 99.997 percent of all hazardous materials we transport reach their destinations without a release caused by an accident.”
The car was being pulled by a locomotive through the yard just west of Richmond Parkway near Pennsylvania Avenue when it tipped over.
Kent said people cut through a chain-link fence soon after and took boxes of refrigerated pork that spilled from the crumpled hull. Empty cardboard Tyson Foods boxes were seen scattered in the neighborhood nearby.
Kent said the incident is under investigation, and she declined to say what may have caused it or whether the line on which the derailment occurred is ever used to transport hazardous materials.
The incident and its aftermath — the car remains broken beside the tracks and will soon be scrapped — has only heightened concerns in a community already on edge over the recent influx of crude-by-rail shipments, much of it from the Bakken region of North Dakota.
City officials last month sent a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District urging the agency to revoke a permit allowing Kinder Morgan to offload Bakken crude and Canadian tar sands oil at its Richmond rail yard, the major draw for local crude-by-rail traffic.
In September, a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to revoke that permit — which was issued without public notice — was tossed out by a judge on the grounds that it was filed too late.
Kent said BNSF transports two oil-carrying trains per month in California but declined to say exactly where, citing security concerns.
Industry experts expect crude-by-rail traffic to increase in the coming years, as North American oil extraction grows, and the product must be refined in facilities across the United States, including several in Contra Costa County.
Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, said trains of up to 100 cars travel into Richmond before being transferred to trucks or pipelines to be refined. He noted that cars carrying hazardous materials are more robust than the one that carried the spilled pork, and they would be unlikely to spill in a low-speed derailment.
Nonetheless, “A crude car could tip over also,” Sawyer said. “It’s a possibility.”
Kent said Friday’s derailment does not indicate a wider problem.
“We operate all of our trains with safety as our first priority,” Kent said. “However, when it comes to hazardous material we do have more restrictive operating procedures.”
County Supervisor John Gioia said BNSF officials have told him they are developing “more resilient” cars for crude oil, a development he took to mean that the company expects the crude-by-rail market to continue to grow, and that federal regulators are likely to impose new standards as communities across the country see increased crude-by-rail traffic in their midst.
“Any train derailment concerns me because there could be anything from injury to a larger public safety issue; it’s all important,” Gioia said. “But this new (incident) hasn’t told me anything new other than what we know already based on derailments in other parts of the country: that trains with hazardous materials pose a risk.”
Richmond residents, leaders warn of danger from Bakken crude by rail shipments
By Phil James, November 1, 2014
If you go to the website explosive-crude-by-rail.org and zoom in on Richmond, what you’ll find is disconcerting. According to the 1-3 mile buffer zone on the map, the entire city and its 107,000 residents are in danger if trains carrying crude oil explode.
Such is the concern of several Bay Area environmental groups in Richmond who have drawn the City Council into an escalating dispute with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Kinder Morgan, which operates a local crude by rail transfer station.
“The health and safety of the community is at stake here,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said during a City Council meeting. “We are encouraging the air district to review the process.”
Richmond City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to “review” and “if feasible, revoke” the permit given to Kinder Morgan – the 5th largest energy company in the United States — to take in crude oil by rail. Based in Texas, the company was founded in 1997 by two former Enron executives.
The crude, from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota, ignites and explodes more easily than more traditional crudes. On the heels of a major oil boom, transportation of crude by rail in the North America increased by 423 percent between 2011 and 2012, and more crude shipped by rail was spilled in 2013 than in the four previous decades combined.
In 2012, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and decimating the small Canadian town. This, among other incidents, has prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to label Bakken transport by rail as an “imminent hazard”.
Several community groups have rallied to ban the movement of crude shipments through Richmond. Megan Zapanta of The Asian Pacific Environmental Network said she’s worried that a lack of attention could have dire consequences.
“Bakken crude has not been well-documented here,” she said. “If there’s some disaster, how will we get the word out to our immigrant community?”
Evan Reis, a structural engineer for Hinman Consulting Engineers, released a report earlier this year assessing the probability of a crude-laden train derailing in the East Bay.
He estimates there is a six in 10 chance of derailment on the line running from San Jose through Richmond to Martinez within the next 30 years.
“Given the fact that these are highly urbanized places we are going through,” he said by phone, “A 60 percent probability would be of concern to me.”
McLaughlin pledged to support Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) as they consider appealing the air district decision to grant Kinder Morgan a permit to funnel crude through Richmond by rail cars. The city does not have the jurisdiction to revoke any licenses or permits from the company. The permit must go through the air district, where it can be reviewed with respect to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
In March, CBE filed a lawsuit against BAAQMD for failing to publicly disclose the permit to the residents of Richmond. The group only noticed the arrival of crude by rail because a local television station, KPIX, discovered that Kinder Morgan was bringing Bakken crude to its Richmond depot.
The Tesoro refinery in Martinez receives the Bakken shipments by truck after they are transferred from the rail depot in Richmond. Richmond’s Chevron refinery does not take in any of the Bakken crude.
In September, the lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds because the complaint by the CBE was not filed within 180 days of the permit’s issuance.
The permit, which was filed by BAAQMD staff in 2013, drew ire from environmental groups because it was not subject to an environmental impact report, and was granted without review from the district’s board.
Andres Soto, a representative of Communities for a Better Environment in Richmond, appealed to Richmond leaders to counter the decision.
“Kinder Morgan issued an illegal permit to bring Bakken crude into Richmond without public notice or review,” Soto said.
Ralph Borrmann, public information officer for the BAAQMD, declined to comment until the end of the appeal period. The CBE has considered a challenge of the ruling.
The Kinder Morgan depot has been taking in ethanol by rail since 2010, but they have since diversified their intake to include Bakken crude. Kinder Morgan officials, though, say the concerns are overstated.
“We didn’t feel that the profile of the crude oil arriving was materially different,” Melissa Ruiz, a spokesperson for the Texas-based company, wrote in an email.
Charlie Davidson, a member of the Sunflower Alliance speaking on behalf of CBE, disagrees.
“They’re basically running tin cans on 100 cars,” he told Richmond City Council. “The flash point [of Bakken Crude] is so volatile that it could burn in Antarctica.”
“It’s a hazardous material and there’s concern of derailment and fire,” he said in an interview by phone. “But if you put it in relation to other materials, it isn’t as hazardous as chlorine or ammonia. It’s equivalent to ethanol or gasoline.”
“The biggest concern with crude by rail is not so much than the hazard being worse, it’s just the huge amount of quantity that’s being shipped by rail,” Sawyer said.
Since the dismissal of the lawsuit, other municipalities in the North Bay have rallied against crude by rail. In Sacramento, a lawsuit by Earth Justice prompted the local air board to revoke a permit from Inter-State Oil Company on the grounds that they did not disclose the potential public health and safety concerns to local residents.
Suma Peesapati, a member of Earth Justice, drew similarities between Sacramento and Richmond.
“Kinder Morgan’s project in Richmond is virtually identical to the air district issued permits for unloading crude in Sacramento,” she said. “The [Bay Area] Air District made it clear they issued a permit in error, rather than engage in this formal process.”
Despite the resolution passing, Richmond Councilmember Jael Myrick expressed just as much weariness as concern for the issue.
“The frustration that we had the last time we talked about this is it just seems there is so little we can do to combat it.”
Sacramento-area leaders concerned about crude-rail risks
Uprail communities urge Benicia to address oil train safety hazards
By Tony Burchyns, 08/09/2014
Sacramento-area leaders are voicing concerns about Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail plan, accusing Benicia of paying too little attention to potential “very serious” hazards of increased oil train shipments through Placer, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano and Contra Costa counties.
In a draft comment letter on the project, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments last week sharply criticized a Benicia study that found that the crude oil trains rattling through cities and sensitive habitats would pose no “significant hazard” whatsoever.
“We believe that conclusion is fundamentally flawed, disregards the recent events demonstrating the very serious risk to life and property that these shipments pose, and contradicts the conclusions of the federal government, which is mobilizing to respond to these risks,” the letter states.
In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that crude-by-rail shipments pose an “imminent hazard,” based on a recent pattern of fires and spills involving crude oil shipments from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.
The letter urges the city to “substantially revise” the project’s draft environmental impact report “so that it will fully inform the public and the City Council of the full impacts.”
Valero is proposing daily shipments of up to 70,000 barrels of crude to its Benicia refinery. The tank cars would originate at unspecified North American sites and be shipped to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Roseville yard, where they would be assembled into two daily 50-car trains to Benicia.
Last month, Benicia officials extended the public comment period on the project’s draft environmental impact report to Sept. 15.
The council — which represents six counties and 22 cities in the Sacramento region — is set to approve its draft letter later this month. Meanwhile, the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, Yolo County Board of Supervisors and Caltrans separately have submitted comment letters to Benicia expressing concerns about the project.
Yolo County officials contend that Benicia’s project analysis “provides only a brief review of the environmental, safety, and noise effects on upstream communities.”
“All areas along the route will have the same trains traveling on them,” the Yolo County officials wrote. They added that potential risks to all communities along the rail line should be studied.
The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District recommended that the city offset increased air emissions from locomotives by supporting clean-tech programs in the region. The district also faulted the city for not studying the project’s cumulative air pollution effects throughout Sacramento and Yolo counties, as well as parts of Placer, El Dorado, Solano and Sutter counties.
Caltrans focussed its concerns on how oil train deliveries would impact Interstate 680 near the Bayshore Road off-ramp. They recommend safety measures — including rail signals — at the Bayshore Road crossing to prevent freeway backups during peak commute hours.
The agency also requested that a mechanism be put in place to advise Caltrans directly of any accidents affecting the freeway.
Benicia Senior Planner Amy Million said the city would respond to all valid project concerns following the close of the public comment period. The next public hearing on the project is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 250 E. L St.