Tag Archives: Oil Change International

MAP: crude by rail incidents in more than 250 municipalities over the last four years

Repost from ProPublica

Gov’t Data Sharpens Focus on Crude-Oil Train Routes

A ProPublica analysis of federal government data adds new details to what’s known about the routes taken by trains carrying crude oil. Local governments are often unaware of the potential dangers they face.
By Isaiah Thompson, special to ProPublica, Nov. 25, 2014
A crude-bearing train derailed and exploded in Casselton, N.D., in December 2013, prompting the evacuation of most of the town’s 2,300 residents. (Bruce Crummy, File/AP Photo)

The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations.

But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide — a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle.

Much of North Dakota’s oil is being transported by rail, rather than through pipelines, which are the safest way to move crude. Tank carloads of crude are up 50 percent this year from last. Using rail networks has saved the oil and gas industry the time and capital it takes to build new pipelines, but the trade-off is greater risk: Researchers estimates that trains are three and a half times as likely as pipelines to suffer safety lapses.

Indeed, since 2012, when petroleum crude oil first began moving by rail in large quantities, there have been eight major accidents involving trains carrying crude in North America. In the worst of these incidents, in July, 2013, a train derailed at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec and exploded, killing 47 and burning down a quarter of the town. Six months later, another crude-bearing train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, prompting the evacuation of most of the town’s 2,300 residents.

In those and other cases, local emergency responders were overwhelmed by the conflagrations resulting from these accidents. Residents often had no idea that such a dangerous cargo, and in such volume, was being transported through their towns.

Out of the disasters came a scramble for information. News outlets around the country began reporting the history of problems associated with the DOT-111 railroad tank cars carrying virtually all of the crude.

Local officials, environmental groups, and concerned citizens began to ask what routes these trains were taking and whether the towns in their paths were ready should an accident occur.

In July, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation ordered railroads to disclose route information to state emergency management officials. Railroads had fought hard to keep this information private, citing security concerns. Even after federal regulators required more disclosure, railroads pressured many state governments to withhold their reports from the public. Some have come out, often as a result of public records requests by news organizations: The Associated Press has obtained disclosures in several states initially unwilling to release them.

Map: Where Do Trains Carry Crude Oil?

Our interactive map uses federal government data to show where safety incidents on trains were reported, where each train began its journey, and where it was ultimately headed. Explore the app »

(Yue Qiu, Eric Sagara and Lena Groeger, ProPublica, and Isaiah Thompson, special to ProPublica)

Still, those disclosures offer scant detail, often consisting of little more than a list of counties through which crude oil is passing, without further specifics.
There have been attempts to fill in the blanks. KQED in Northern California, for example, combined the information disclosed in federal route reports with maps of the major railroads to show where trains carrying crude passed through California. The environmental group Oil Change International superimposed major refineries and other facilities that handle crude oil onto a national railroad map.

A ProPublica analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration adds new details by plotting out where trains carrying crude have experienced safety incidents, most of them minor. The data shows such incidents in more than 250 municipalities over the last four years. We’ve used the data to create an interactive map showing where safety incidents on trains were reported, where each train began its journey, and where it was ultimately headed.

The data also shows that factors that contributed to major, or even catastrophic, accidents have also been present in hundreds of minor ones: outdated tank car models; component failures; and missing, damaged and loose parts.

Bit by bit, a more realistic notion of where the dangers of crude-bearing trains are most substantial is emerging.

“Frankly, the [previous] disclosures weren’t of that much use,” says Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, one of the first state agencies to make those disclosures available for anyone on its website. When it comes to a detailed picture of where crude is moving, Huston says, “The expectation of the public is very far from the reality of what we’re actually getting.”

The hazardous materials data reviewed by ProPublica adds to that picture.

Only a handful of places around the country have the refinery capacity and infrastructure necessary to handle the massive amounts of oil being extracted from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale: Bakersfield, Carson, and Long Beach in California; St. James, Lake Charles, Lacassine in coastal Louisiana; Philadelphia, Paulsboro, New Jersey. Delaware City, Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic.

These cities have become the terminuses for “unit trains” carrying up to 100 tank cars, each containing as much as 30,000 gallons of crude oil. These endpoints also have shaped the paths along which crude-bearing trains now cross hundreds of communities, many of which have never seen such traffic. Tracks all but abandoned for years have sprung back to life on account of the oil boom.

The vulnerabilities of the DOT-111 tank cars in which much of the oil is moved are well known by now. For decades, federal officials have cited concerns over their relatively thin shells, which are prone to puncturing or rupturing in an accident and releasing the hazardous material inside. They also have other components prone to damage, including protruding fittings often left unprotected, and hinged lids held on by bolts that have a history of coming loose, especially if not properly tightened by the original shipper.

Firefighters douse blazes after the oil-train derailment in Lac-Megantic in Canada. (FranÁois Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)

When a tank car full of oil ruptures, the consequences can be dire. At a panel held by the National Transportation Safety Board in April, one technical expert with the agency described a “fireball release,” in which “the entire content of the tank car, up to 30,000 gallons, is instantly released, along with the potential for rocketing car parts.” When one tank car ignites, the heat can set off a chain reaction, causing other cars to explode as well.

In most cases, the tanks cars used to transport crude are supplied by railroad shipping companies, not railroads themselves. Railroads have typically pushed for more stringent safety requirements since they have to move the cars. Shipping companies and oil producers have pushed back against stricter proposals.

In 2011, as the crude-by-rail industry was ramping up and federal regulators were preparing to introduce new rules, industry groups adopted voluntary safety modifications to add thicker shells and other protections to new tank cars. But roughly 85 percent of the fleet currently carrying flammable liquids still consists of the older models. And while PHMSA is expected to issue rules requiring safer tank cars, railroads will have years to phase in the upgrades and it’s not yet clear to what extent they will be required to retrofit existing cars.

For most local fire departments, a blaze involving even a single tank car, let alone many, would be too much to handle, emergency response officials acknowledge.

“[Most] fire departments don’t have the capacity to deal with more than a standard gasoline tank [fire], which is about 9,000 or 10,000 gallons of fuel,” said Richard Edinger, vice chairman of the International Association of Fire Chief’s hazardous materials committee. “Well, one DOT-111 car holds about 30,000 gallons — that pretty much exceeds our capacity.”

Complicating matters, many towns don’t even know that trains carrying crude oil are passing through.

Along the journey south from North Dakota, for example, many trains now make a stop in the tiny town of El Dorado, Arkansas, population 18,500, bound for a refinery that recently added capacity to accommodate Bakken crude. The PHMSA hazmat data includes more than a dozen leaks found on trains headed for the town.

Yet Union County Emergency Management Services deputy director Bobby Braswell, a former Chief Deputy for the El Dorado Fire Department, was unaware of the new crude traffic and its potential risks.

“We’ve got a little old railroad here, but if they transport crude, I don’t know,” said Braswell in an interview. If state emergency management officials have a plan to respond to oil train derailments, they haven’t shared it with El Dorado yet: “I don’t remember anybody calling about crude,” Braswell said.

Along the trains’ route to the Mid-Atlantic, according to PHMSA’s hazmat data, is Mineral City, Ohio, where Tuscarawas county emergency services director Patty Levengood said she didn’t know whether fire departments in her jurisdiction had been trained or otherwise advised on the new oil traffic. Such planning was “pretty much left to the individual chiefs,” she said.

Other responders said they are acutely aware of the new risks facing their towns, and some expressed alarm. Asked whether his fire department had the capacity to handle a single tank car fire, Duane Hart, fire chief for Juniata County, Pennsylvania, answered with an emphatic “I know we don’t!” Crude trains now pass through Port Royal, a town of 925 in Juniata County for which Hart’s department provides services.

In many circumstances, all local responders would be able to do in the event of a large tank car fire is simply let it burn, experts say. At the recent NTSB rail safety panel, Gregory Noll, a chairperson for the hazardous materials committee of the National Fire Protection Association, summarized the situation bluntly.

“There’s very little that we as a responder are going to do,” he said, “other than… to isolate the area, remove people from the problem, and allow the incident to go its natural course until it essentially burns down to a level where we can extinguish it.”

But that approach would still involve tremendous damage in the many densely populated areas through which crude is now moving by rail, officials acknowledge.

“The standard evacuation is typically a half-mile,” said Jeff Simpson, a 30-year firefighter who lives in North Virginia and teaches a course called “Training for Railroad Emergencies.”

“But if you’re in the middle of a big city, the footprint is going to be much bigger.”

The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit news organization PublicSource reported in August that up to 40 percent of that city’s roughly 300,000 residents live within the potential evacuation zone of trains carrying crude through the city.

Another Pennsylvania metropolis, Philadelphia, has become one of the biggest destinations in the U.S. for Bakken crude thanks to newly retrofitted refineries and a brand new rail unloading facility opened just two years ago.

The city appears frequently in hazmat reports: In at least 65 cases over the last two years, tank cars bound for or arriving in Philadelphia were found to have loose, leaking or missing safety components. These parts are meant to prevent flammable contents from escaping in the event of an accident.

There was a more serious incident last January, when a train full of oil derailed a few miles from the city’s downtown. Luckily, no one was injured. The train was soon righted and the railroad made repairs, assuring city officials that the danger had passed.

But even after the derailment, Philadelphia “has not issued new plans, directives, or protocols in response to the increase of crude oil shipments,” wrote city director of Emergency Management Samantha Phillips in an email to ProPublica.

The Philadelphia County Local Emergency Planning Committee “has not been active on the transportation of Bakken crude oil,” Phillips added.

The agency’s website contains no emergency information specific to a fire involving crude oil, or any other hazardous substance, other than a video featuring ” Wally Wise-Guy, the Shelter in Place Turtle.”

The video advises that “in the event of a hazardous materials emergency … do what Wally Wise Guy does — go inside.”

Reuters Exclusive: California getting more Bakken crude by barge than rail

Repost from Reuters
[Editor:  At the 9/11/14 Benicia Planning Commission meeting, John Hill, vice president and general manager of the Valero Benicia Refinery, stated that Bakken crude has been refined at Valero.  Commissioner Steve Young asked Hill to confirm his statement, which he did.  Young then asked the means of transport, and Hill replied “by barge.”  Our communities might well ask when, how much, and with what new volatile emissions output, etc….  – RS]

Exclusive: California getting more Bakken crude by barge than rail

By Rory Carroll, SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 23, 2014
A pumpjack brings oil to the surface  in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A pumpjack brings oil to the surface in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) – Shipments of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to California by barge have quietly overtaken those by train for the first time, showing how the state’s isolated refiners are using any means necessary to tap into the nation’s shale oil boom.

While tough permitting rules and growing resistance by environmentalists have slowed efforts to build new rail terminals within California itself, a little-known barge port in Oregon has been steadily ramping up shipments to the state, a flow expected to accelerate next year.

From January through June, California received 940,500 barrels of the North Dakota crude oil from barges loaded at terminals in the Pacific Northwest, the highest rate ever, Gordon Schrempf, senior fuels analyst for the California Energy Commission, told Reuters.

Bakken crude transported to California on railcars, which has gained widespread attention after a series of fiery train derailments in North America, accounted for just 702,135 barrels over the same time period, according to published figures.

“We’re seeing marine transport of Bakken crude outpace rail for the first time,” Schrempf said. In 2013, rail shipments of 1.35 million barrels exceeded barge shipments of 1.33 million barrels. The year before, almost no crude arrived by barge.

Bakken shipments by barge and rail may only comprise a tiny portion of the crude California imports, at about 5,200 and 4,000 barrels per day respectively, with Alaska supplying over 20 times as much crude.

But companies, including refiner Tesoro Corp and logistics company NuStar Energy LP, have plans to significantly expand that volume with new terminals along the Pacific Northwest that would unload trains from North Dakota and pump the oil onto tankers.

They would help make California a major destination for Bakken oil, a trend that has drawn objections from environmental groups who have been seeking to stem the tide, often by blocking local permits to built oil-train offloading terminals.

“Bringing it in by barge gets you around cumbersome permitting and the growing citizen opposition to crude-by-rail,” said Lorne Stockman, research director of Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organization working on energy, climate and environmental issues.

To be sure, their objections may differ. The principle concern over transporting Bakken by rail is the risk that a derailment could cause a deadly explosion similar to the one in Lac Megantic, Quebec, last year that killed 47 people.

There is no suggestion that waterborne oil transportation poses similar explosive risks, although the environmental impact of a barge spill could be much greater.

“The barges are designed to carry the grade of oil that the Bakken is,” said Ted Mar, prevention branch chief for the state’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and a former member of the Coast Guard.

That is small comfort to environmentalists, who oppose all forms of oil production, in particular shale crudes like Bakken, extracted through hydraulic fracking they fear contributes to global warming and poses a potential risk to water supplies.

“Our end goal is to leave these more dangerous, unconventional fuels in the ground,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, conservation manager for the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.


With state production declining since the mid-80s, California’s refiners have increasingly relied on deliveries of crude by oceangoing tankers carrying 500,000 barrels or more from places like Alaska, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Iraq, which supplied two-thirds of their needs last year.

The refiners have been scrambling for several years to get better access to cheaper domestic shale oil by any means necessary, replacing costlier imports. But with the big shale fields to the east of the Rocky Mountains and a lack of major pipelines, it has not been easy.

The articulated tug barges (ATBs) now arriving are tiny by comparison to the tankers, carrying as little as 50,000 barrels.

Such shipments cost more than bringing Bakken directly to California by rail, but easily plug into existing port and terminal infrastructure – avoiding the need for new permitting that can take years.

While many are working to build out their own rail facilities, a handful of major rail-to-barge terminals along the Pacific Northwest coast that would ship over 500,000 bpd of Bakken crude have been in the works for several years. But most are incomplete, and several face delays.

One of the few exceptions is an idled ethanol terminal and processing plant in Clatskanie, Oregon, run by Global Partners LP. 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.

“Unit train volume into our Clatskanie terminal is up, and interest in the facility from prospective customers is at an all-time high,” Global Partners Chief Executive Eric Slifka said in August.

Global Partners did not respond to a request for comment.

Later that month, the firm received a new air permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that will allow it to ship as much as 1.84 billion gallons of volatile liquids, or some 120,000 bpd. It did not specify crude or ethanol.

Much of those shipments moved north to refineries in Washington, including BP’s Cherry Point in Puget Sound, and Phillips 66’s Ferndale facility. But both those plants are expanding their own facilities to bring more Bakken in by rail, likely curbing some demand for barges.

Top oil barge operator Kirby Corp, which runs vessels out of Clatskanie, is currently building two larger 185,000-barrel barges to deploy on the coast next autumn.

Environmentalists say they are monitoring the rise in Bakken-by-barge deliveries.

“This won’t pull our focus away from crude by rail, but rather expand the lens with which we look at dangers of Bakken entering our communities,” said the Sierra Club’s Dervin-Ackerman.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Jonathan Leff and Marguerita Choy)

Tar Sands on the Tracks: Railbit, Dilbit and U.S. Export Terminals

Repost from DESMOGBLOG

Tar Sands on the Tracks: Railbit, Dilbit and U.S. Export Terminals

2014-06-17  |  Ben Jervey

Last December, the first full train carrying tar sands crude left the Canexus Bruderheim terminal outside of Edmonton, Alberta, bound for an unloading terminal somewhere in the United States.

Canadian heavy crude, as the tar sands is labeled for market purposes, had ridden the rails in very limited capacity in years previous — loaded into tank cars and bundled with other products as part of so-called “manifest” shipments. But to the best of industry analysts’ knowledge, never before had a full 100-plus car train (called a “unit train”) been shipped entirely full of tar sands crude.

Because unit trains travel more quickly, carry higher volumes of crude and cost the shipper less per barrel to operate than the manifest alternative, this first shipment from the Canexus Bruderheim terminal signaled the start of yet another crude-by-rail era — an echo of the sudden rise of oil train transport ushered in by the Bakken boom, on a much smaller scale (for now).

This overall spike in North American crude-by-rail over the past few years has been well documented, and last month Oil Change International released a comprehensive report about the trend. As explained in Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude-by-Rail in North America (and in past coverage in DeSmogBlog), much of the oil train growth has been driven by the Bakken shale oil boom. Without sufficient pipeline capacity in the area, drillers have been loading up much more versatile trains to cart the light, sweet tight crude to refineries in the Gulf, and on both coasts.

Unfortunately, some of these “bomb trains” never make it to their destination, derailing, spilling, exploding and taking lives.

While shale oil, predominantly from the Bakken, has driven the trend, Canadian tar sands producers are increasingly turning their attention to rail. Hobbled by limited pipeline capacity out of Alberta, and frustrated by their inability (so far) to ram the Keystone XL pipeline through the American heartland, tar sands producers are signing contracts with Canadian rail operators. Canadian National Railway is getting the lionshare of the business.

Canadian National not only has the infrastructure in place near Alberta’s tar sands developments, but also operates 19 subsidiary railways in the United States under the Grand Trunk Corporation. Strung together, Canadian National network stretches 2,800 miles from Western Canada down to the Gulf Coast, the only company that can offer straight-through shipping from the tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

Of the upstream infrastructure — or the loading terminals up near the tar sands, the Oil Change International report explains:

At the time of writing there were 31 terminals in operation that load tar sands or heavy crude, with six of these expanding and an additional eight planned or under construction…

The first terminal designed to load unit trains with Canadian tar sands crude, the Canexus terminal in Bruderheim, northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, started operations in December 2013. It has a capacity of 70,000 bpd and loads tar sands bitumen from MEG’s Christina Lake SAGD project, among others.

Downstream, rail terminals are similarly adapting to handle shipments of tar sands crude. From the Runaway Train report:

Terminals designed to unload tar sands crude are currently concentrated in the Gulf Coast region, where the biggest concentration of heavy oil refining capacity is located…

The Gulf Coast terminals have about one million bpd of unloading capacity today, set to grow to over two million bpd in 2016. Some of this capacity is at refineries such as those operated by Valero in Port Arthur, Texas, and St. Charles, Louisiana. Valero has ordered 1,600 insulated and coiled tank cars specifically for hauling tar sands crude to its refineries.

The Gulf Coast also has significant midstream capacity on the Mississippi River, where crude oil, including tar sands crude, is unloaded from trains and pumped from storage tanks into local pipelines or loaded onto barges that deliver to coastal refineries via the Intracoastal Waterway.

Meanwhile, refineries on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts are angling to get in on the action, hoping that their shipping advantages to Europe and Asia respectively will prove appealing to tar sands producers.

As described in Runaway Train, terminals on the West Coast are particularly well positioned to serve as a “fast-track out of North America for Canada’s tar sands.”

There are currently 13 crude-by-rail unloading terminals in California, Oregon and Washington, of which four are currently expanding their capacity. There are also 11 terminals planned or under construction.

Many of these are at refineries that, like their counterparts on the East Coast, are looking to take advantage of discounted domestic or Canadian crudes that they have little hope of ever gaining access to via pipeline. With a larger proportion of refining capacity geared up for heavy tar sands processing than exists on the East Coast, West Coast refineries such as the Valero facility in Wilmington, Calif., and the Phillips 66 refineries in California and Washington, are keen to rail in tar sands crude.

Accessing these West Coast refineries by rail, as well as the prospect of export terminals in Washington and Oregon, are potentially the tar sands industry’s best bet for major market expansion in the face of delays and possible cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline and pipelines to the Canadian west coast such as the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain expansion.

These latter projects, which are primarily focused on exporting tar sands crude to Asia, face particularly stiff opposition from coastal communities, which fear the destruction of fisheries and coastal environments from the increased tanker traffic that would ensue.

Given the relative proximity particularly of Washington State refineries and ports to Alberta’s tar sands fields, these terminals offer oil companies a potential solution to the transportation bottlenecks that are threatening the viability of tar sands production growth. At least three proposals in southern Washington State have the potential to unload tar sands crude from trains and load it onto tankers for export to Asia or transport to refineries along the California coast.

Tar sands producers are particularly motivated to get their crude to coastal terminals and refineries for export. As we’ve covered in the past on DeSmogBlog, tar sands companies want to export their product, because the low-grade crude is more easily refined into diesel, which has a much larger market in Europe and Asia. This is the core reason that the Keystone XL, if built, would be little more than an export pipeline, and wouldn’t actually provide more oil to American markets, nor lower American gas and heating oil prices.

The Oil Change International report also shines a light on the fact that though crude exports are banned from the U.S., domestic refineries can legally export crude from Canada.

While crude oil of U.S. origin is subject to export restrictions, no such restriction applies to exports of Canadian oil through the U.S., as long as it can be shown that no U.S. oil was blended.

Shippers wishing to export Canadian oil from U.S. ports still have to apply for export licenses from the Department of Commerce, but these can and have been granted. Given the lack of pipeline capacity to Canadian ports, it is attractive for tar sands producers to find ways to get their product to a U.S. port where it can be exported. Crude-by-rail terminals on the West and East Coasts are strategically important as they are closer to Alberta than those on the Gulf Coast and it is therefore cheaper to reach these ports by rail.

Railbit vs. Dilbit

As this still-nascent segment of crude-by-rail develops, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to understand the distinction between a couple of different tar sands products that are being shipped by train. The vast majority of tar sand crude-by-rail shipments thus far have been diluted bitumen, or dilbit. Dilbit, which you have heard of as the tar sands crude that is already funneling through North American pipelines, is composed of the sticky, viscous tar sands bitumen, which is then mixed with about 30 percent diluent, allowing it to flow through pipelines. This mixture of dilbit is particularly volatile and abrasive, and reports have pointed to it being more likely to cause leaks and spills and explosions during transport.

Railbit is a relatively new designation for crude, and is defined as bitumen that has been mix with roughly 17 percent diluent. Moving railbit, rather than dilbit, saves tar sands shippers about half of the so-called “diluent penalty,” or the cost of adding the diluent to the mix.

So why are most trains still loaded with dilbit? Because to this point, most loading terminals are still being fed by feeder pipelines or trucks that can only handle this more watered down blend. That and the fact that special loading and unloading facilities are necessary to handle railbit, which is more viscous and needs to be heated in special tank cars to be unloaded. Some downstream terminals are making these investments, seeing railbit as a viable alternative going forward, but today dilbit is still dominant.

Either way, it’s dirty and dangerous, and tar sands bitumen in any form does nothing to lower American energy bills. Bitumen, by rail or pipeline or barge, is bound to wind up on a tanker to Europe or Asia.

California Senate committee approves fracking moratorium – oil lobbyists spending millions

Repost from Daily Kos
[This from Judi Sullivan of Benicia, who attended the Appropriations Committee meeting: “This is a big victory.  The entire Senate vote is scheduled for this Tuesday, May 27.   All the senator’s offices, those listed HERE and the others not mentioned, along with the governor’s office have been contacted by phone.  According to the people I spoke with, they have been deluged with calls asking for support of This Bill.  Talked to real people each  time.  In addition to asking for a “yes” vote on sb 1132,  they were were open to hearing detailed comments about fracking concerns backed by research revealed in prior testimonies. All was respectfully received, even by those who represent  the fracking districts.  The more of us who voice our objections re: the  negative impacts of fracking to our government officials, the stronger our opposition can be felt.  The public’s grassroots effort is definitely gaining power. Hurray!”]

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Fracking Moratorium Bill

By Dan Bacher  |  May 23, 2014

In spite of the millions spent by Big Oil on lobbying in Sacramento every year, the California Senate Appropriations Committee today voted 4 to 2 to approve a bill, SB 1132, to place a moratorium on fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in the state.

SB 1132, authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, now moves to a vote on the Senate floor. Senators Gaines and Walters voted against the bill while Senators De León, Padilla, Hill and Steinberg voted to advance the bill to the floor.

The bill moved forward the same week that the U.S. Energy Administration reduced its previous estimate of recoverable oil in California by 96 percent.

“The cost-benefit analysis of fracking in California has just changed drastically,” said Senator Mitchell in a statement. “The costs to people, homes and the environment remain unacceptably high, but we now also know that the projected economic benefits are only a small fraction of what the oil industry has been touting.”

“The latest report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration reduces prior estimates of oil potential by 96%. Why put so many at risk for so little?” Mitchell asked.

“There’s no ocean of black gold that fracking is going to release tomorrow, leaving California awash in profits and jobs. We have the time, the need and, in SB 1132, the mandate to halt fracking while we determine if and how it can be done safely in California,” she said.(http://sd26.senate.ca.gov/…)

David Turnbull of Oil Change International pointed out that those who voted against the legislation received big campaign contributions from Big Oil. (http://priceofoil.org/…)

“As usual, those voting against safeguarding the public interest and in favor of Big Oil’s wishes have received far more in Big Oil political contributions than those voting in favor of climate and community safety and against dangerous oil extraction processes,” said Turnbull.

The numbers, according to the organization’s Dirty Energy Money database, tell the story:

On average, Senators voting against the moratorium have received nearly 3 times as much in Big Oil contributions than those voting for.

The two Senators voting against the moratorium have received over $110k in Big Oil money combined (Sen. Walters = $82k, Sen. Gaines = $29k).

“As the vote comes to the California Senate floor in the coming days, you can be sure the oil industry will put the pressure on. The question is whether the members of the California Senate will listen to the people, who recent polls show resoundingly support a moratorium on fracking, or the Big Oil benefactors lining their campaign coffer,” said Turnbull.

“And, of course, Governor Brown could also step in any time now and enact a ban on fracking in the State…but so far he appears to be listening to his Big Oil friends as well,” noted Turnbull.

A previous analysis by Oil Change International showed that the 2 Senators voting against the passage of the fracking moratorium by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee in April received 16 times as much in fossil fuel contributions, on average, than those Senators in support of the bill.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) that is leading the campaign to frack California spends more money every year on lobbying in Sacramento than any other corporate group. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged “marine protected areas” in Southern California, is the President of the Association.

In her latest statement on the Western States Petroleum Association blog, Reheis-Boyd claims, “The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA), revision does not change the estimate of the amount of oil present. It only changes their estimate of how much of that oil can be produced given the current state of technology in California.” (http://www.wspa.org/…)

She used the new estimate as an opportunity to promote new “research and exploration,” which you can bet would be subsidized by taxpayers’ dollars.

“This change in the estimate of recoverable oil indicates the need to continue to invest in research and exploration in this area to adapt technologies that have proved successful at producing oil from shale resources elsewhere to California’s unique geology,” she claimed. “We have a great deal of confidence that the skill, experience and innovative spirit possessed by the men and women of the petroleum industry will ultimately solve this puzzle and improve production rates from the Monterey Shale.”

Reheis-Boyd’s organization spent a total of $5,331,493 in 2009, $4,013,813 in 2010, $4,273,664 in 2011, $5,698,917 in 2012 and $4,670,010 in 2013 on lobbying at the State Capitol – and spent $1,456,785 in just the first 3 months of 2014. (http://www.truth-out.org/…) You can bet that a good chunk of this money spent so far this year was spent on trying to stop Senate Bill 1132.

A report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause also reveals that Big Oil’s combined spending on lobbying and political campaigns in Sacramento amounts to a stunning $266.9 million over the past 15 years. (http://www.counterpunch.org/…)

However, the oil industry’s money, power and enormous influence over state officials doesn’t change the fact that the Energy Information Administration’s estimate for technically recoverable oil in the Monterey Shale has been reduced from 13.7 billion barrels of oil to just 0.6 billion barrels of oil.

As Turnbull said so well, “With reports showing the bonanza that Big Oil wants Californians believe is largely a fantasy, and two-thirds of Californians supporting a stop to fracking in the state, Big Oil is on its heels. It’s time the people’s voice was heard over rustle of Big Oil dollar.”

Senate Bill 1132 Background:

SB 1132 requires the California Natural Resources Agency to facilitate an “independent scientific study” on well stimulation treatments (fracking and acidizing) and their hazards and risks to natural resources and public, occupational, and environmental health and safety by January 1, 2015.

The legislation would also:

      • require the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to adopt rules and regulations for well stimulation treatments by January 1, 2015, in consultation with the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), CalRecycle, and any local air and regional water quality control boards;
      • require DOGGR to complete a statewide environmental impact report (EIR) by July 1, 2015 ;
      • allow operators to continue well stimulation practices while DOGGR completes its regulations, providing that the well owner complies with interim requirements.

If fracking is not banned, groundwater and surface supplies will be polluted with numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene, naphthalene and trimethylbenzene.  According to the Center for Biological Diversity, evidence is mounting throughout the country that these chemicals are making their way into aquifers and drinking water.

Human health, endangered Central Valley salmon, steelhead and other fish populations and many wildlife species will be imperiled by increasing water pollution in California, as well as by the increasing use of water for fracking that is badly needed for people, farms and fish during the current drought.