Tag Archives: Phillips 66 in Rodeo

Faces of Fracking – Ed Ruszel of Benicia, California

Repost from Faces of Fracking
[Editor – This is much more than a story about our friend Ed Ruszel.  Author Tara Lohan packs background and detail into this piece like a great storyteller.  Another MUST READ, including almost everything you need to know about crude by rail in Benicia….  (This story also appears on Grist and DeSmogBlog.)  – RS]

Faces of Fracking

Stories from the front lines of fracking in California

Ed Ruszel
Ed Ruszel’s family business is in an industrial park in Benicia, CA, where Valero Energy is hoping to build a new rail terminal at its refinery to accept 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day. (Sarah Craig)

“Business by the Rails” by Faces of Fracking, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Ed Ruszel

Story by Tara Lohan | Photography by Sarah Craig

Ed Ruszel’s workday is a soundtrack of whirling, banging, screeching — the percussion of wood being cut, sanded, and finished. He’s the facility manager for the family business, Ruszel Woodworks. But one sound each day roars above the cacophony of the woodshop: the blast of the train horn as cars cough down the Union Pacific rail line that runs just a few feet from the front of his shop in an industrial park in Benicia, California.

Most days the train cargo is beer, cars, steel, propane, or petroleum coke. But soon two trains of 50 cars each may pass by every day carrying crude oil to a refinery owned by neighboring Valero Energy. Valero is hoping to build a new rail terminal at the refinery that would bring 70,000 barrels a day by train — or nearly 3 million gallons.

And it’s a sign of the times.

Crude by rail has increased 4,000 percent across the country since 2008 and California is feeling the effects. By 2016 the amount of crude by rail entering the state is expected to increase by a factor of 25. That’s assuming industry gets its way in creating more crude by rail stations at refineries and oil terminals. And that’s no longer looking like a sure thing.

Valero’s proposed project in Benicia is just one of many in the area underway or under consideration. All the projects are now facing public pushback — and not just from individuals in communities, but from a united front spanning hundreds of miles. Benicia sits on the Carquinez Strait, a ribbon of water connecting the San Pablo and Suisun Bays in the northeastern reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, about 20 miles south of Napa’s wine country and 40 miles north of San Francisco, the oil industry may have found a considerable foe.

The Geography of Oil

The heart of California’s oil industry is the Central Valley — 22,500 square miles that also doubles as the state’s most productive farmland. Oil that’s produced here is delivered to California refineries via pipeline. For decades California and Alaska crude were the main suppliers for the state’s refineries. Crude came by pipeline or by boat. Over the last 20 years imports from places like Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, and Iraq have outpaced domestic production. But a recent boom in “unconventional fuels” has triggered an increase in North American sources in the last few years. This has meant more fracked crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale and diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands.

A Union Pacific train engine is parked in front of the Valero refinery in Benicia, CA. Union Pacific has the final say over the logistics of trains arriving to the refinery. (Sarah Craig)

            “Union Pacific Train” by Faces of Fracking, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Unit trains are becoming a favored way to help move this cargo. These are trains in which the entire cargo — every single car — is one product. And in this case that product happens to be highly flammable.

This is one of the things that has Ed Ruszel concerned. He doesn’t think the tank cars are safe enough to transport crude oil (or ethanol, which is also passing through his neighborhood) in the advent of a serious derailment.

But he’s also concerned not just with the kind of cargo, but the sheer volume of it. If a derailment occurs on a train and every single car (up to 100 cars long) is carrying volatile crude, the dangers increase exponentially. The more trains on the tracks, the more likely something could go wrong. In 2013, more crude was spilled in train derailments than in the prior three decades combined, and there were four fiery explosions in North America in a year’s span.

This risk Marilaine Savard knows well. I met her in February of 2014 when she visited the Bay Area to tell residents about what happened in her town of Lac Megantic, Quebec. The closest word to describe the experience was “apocalypse,” she said, through tears.

Most people by now know of the train derailment that killed 47 people and incinerated half of Lac Megantic’s downtown in the wee hours of the morning on July 7, 2013. The fire was so hot the city burned for 36 hours. Even the lake burned.

We now have term for this: bomb train.

Traffic Jam

Just two days before the disaster in Lac Megantic, Ed joined a community meeting in Benicia about the Valero project. For many residents, it was the first they were learning of it, but Ed had known months before.

In January 2013 a train carrying petroleum coke leaving Valero’s refinery derailed. It was minor — no cargo spilled — but it did rip up a piece of track, and the stalled train blocked the driveway to Ruszel Woodworks for hours. It was one of three minor derailments in the industrial park in the span of 10 months.

Ed came outside to see what the problem was. “The Valero people told me ‘get used to it, because we’re really going to be bringing in a lot of cars soon,’” Ed says. “At that point I really started paying attention and I got really scared.” Ed soon learned about plans for Valero’s new terminal, the 100 train cars that would pass by his business each day, and that it appeared the city was ready to rubber stamp the project — no Environmental Impact Report required.

The fire was so hot the city burned for 36 hours. Even the lake burned.

To explain one of the reasons for his concern, Ed shows me around his property where the lands comes to a V and two rails lines intersect. The main line of Union Pacific’s track passes along the back of Ed’s property, about 75 feet from his building. Here trains can get off the main line and switch to the local line that runs inside the industrial park. The local track passes by the front of Ed’s property, about 20 feet from the building.

The tracks into the industrial park were not designed for a crude by rail facility, Ed says. There are no loops. For Valero to get crude tanks into the refinery, the train must pass by the back of Ed’s property on the main line, pull all the way forward (usually about a mile), and then back up onto the local line, past the front of Ed’s property and into the refinery. The process is reversed when the train leaves. The 100 train cars a day that Valero hopes to bring in will come by his business up to four times per day.

That’s a concern not just because of potential dangers from derailments and diesel fumes from idling trains, but also because the industrial park has a rail traffic problem.

“My big concern here is specifically with the rails — I realize there are other huge environmental issues and global issues with the kinds of fossil fuel production we’re dealing with now and where it’s going,” Ed says.

Already trains servicing the Valero refinery and other industry neighbors can cause traffic nightmares. The trains block driveways to businesses and sometimes major roadways.  An off ramp from Interstate 680 empties into the industrial park. Ed has photos of cars trying to exit the highway but are backed up on the interstate because of train traffic.

The reason has to do with the area’s history.

The tracks that come through the industrial park were not built for industry, but for the U.S. Army.

From 1851 to 1964, part of the land now claimed as an industrial park was home to the Benicia Arsenal. Bunker doors in the hillsides and buildings from the 1800s are part of the area’s colorful history. The rail lines moved around troops and armaments from the Civil War through the Korean War, Ed says, but it’s ill-suited to servicing a busy commercial rail terminal.

The Public Comments

Ed’s family moved their woodworking business to the industrial park in 1980. His brother Jack and their father started the company when Jack was still in high school, and it’s grown to over 20 employees. They’ve always played nice with the other businesses, including the refinery, which was built in 1968 and bought by Valero in 2000.

Ed Ruszel drives by the Valero Refinery, which is about a mile from his family’s woodworking business in Benicia, CA. (Sarah Craig)
  “Valero’s Refinery” by Faces of Fracking, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0  

But the Ruszels felt the crude by rail issue demanded they take a stand. While not aligned with any local activist groups, Ed and other members of his family have spoken publicly about their concerns.

“In some ways, getting outspoken we feel like we’re sticking our neck out,” Ed says. “There are four generations of my family here in Benicia — I’ve got my 80 year-old mother, tiny little grandnieces and nephews, and they all have to live with it. But it is important enough.”

Their voices are part of a growing chorus in the area.

On May 31, 2013 the City of Benicia issued a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which means an initial study by the city concluded there were no significant environmental problems with the project that couldn’t be mitigated.

But many residents felt differently and commented on the initial study or voiced concerns at a July 9 city planning department meeting, which occurred just two days after the disaster in Lac Megantic drove home the reality of a catastrophic accident.

By August the city sided with concerned residents and decided that a draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) needed to be prepared to further review the project. An outside consultant was hired for the job but paid for by Valero. After much delay, the DEIR was released in June 2014 and promptly slammed by everyone from the state’s Attorney General Kamala Harris to the local group Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community because it left out crucial information and failed to address the full scope of the project.

Even the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities in six counties that are “uprail” from the project, weighed in. It noted the draft EIR doesn’t offer any recommendations for safety measures because it concludes there is no “significant hazard.”

“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 comment states. It even quotes a U.S. Department of Transportation report from May 2014 that says that Bakken crude by rail shipments pose an “imminent hazard.”

One of the biggest omissions in Valero’s DEIR was Union Pacific not being named as an official partner in the project. With the trains arriving via its rail lines, all logistics will come down to the railroad. Not only that, but the federal power granted to railroad companies preempts local and regional authority.

This preemption is one of the biggest hurdles for communities that don’t want to see crude by rail come through their neighborhoods or want better safeguards. An October 2014 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle lamented, “What’s really crazy is the federal law that allows preemption of municipal and state law when it comes to critical decisions on rail safety. Affected communities deserve a say over what rolls through their towns.” With preemption, that may be impossible.

The DEIR also doesn’t identify exactly what kind of North American crudes would be arriving and from where, deeming it “confidential business information.” Attorney General Kamala Harris called that omission an “overly broad determination of trade secrets.”

Different kinds of crude have different health and safety risks. A pipeline rupture carrying Canadian diluted bitumen in a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 showed that the thick, corrosive crude is much harder (perhaps impossible) to clean up adequately and is different than conventional crude, which sheens on the surface of water. And Bakken crude has proved more explosive than other crudes because of its chemical composition. It’s likely that some of the crude coming to Valero’s refinery would be from either or both sources.

Consider the numbers: In 2013 the total crude by rail brought into California was nearly 6.3 million barrels, and in the first nine months of 2014, the numbers were 4.3 million barrels. The top two sources have been North Dakota and Canada.

Further, the DEIR only examines the risks of a minor derailment along a 69-miles stretch of track between Benicia and Roseville. It doesn’t address the hazards (which could be catastrophic) of the three potential routes that the Union Pacific trains may take entering California, which involve passing over mountains, through tinderbox-dry forests, and along critical water sources.

Just a week ago a train derailed along one such route in the Feather River Canyon. Eleven cars plunged off the track and down the canyon. Had the cargo been crude instead of corn, its contamination could have made its way down the Feather River to Lake Oroville, a reservoir for millions of Californians.

Public comments on the DEIR closed on September 15, and now it’s a waiting game to see what happens next in Benicia. The planning commission will vote on whether to accept or deny the permit for the project. If the commission denies the permit, Valero can appeal to the city council. Either way, it’s likely to end up in court.

Cumulative Impacts

Ed spends his weekdays on land in Benicia and his weekends on the water, sailing out of nearby Richmond. He has shaggy brown hair, a neatly trimmed salt and pepper goatee, and looks every bit the weathered sailor that he is.

Having worked professionally as a boat captain and even as a solo sailor to Hawaii, Ed is a bit overqualified for the nearly windless fall Sunday we set sail with local activist Marilyn Bardet, a member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community.

Ed Ruszel and Marilyn Bardet, an activist with Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, sail outside of the Richmond Harbor to investigate the presence of the oil industry along the Bay Area’s shoreline. (Sarah Craig)
  “Richmond Sailing” by Faces of Fracking, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Marilyn has been a refinery watchdog in Benicia for years and worries about more than just the transportation of fossil fuels. “For me it’s not only about whether they were going to bring it by rail, but whether they were going to bring it at all,” she says.

Sailing from Richmond, we get a good perspective of how pervasive the oil industry is in this area. We pass a couple of blue and white docked ships with their decals reading “Marine Spill Response.” Ever since the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, Ed explains, the industry pays into a fund that keeps ships at the ready in case of an accident.

No such thing exists for the crude by rail industry. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board reported in January 2014, “Current regulations do not require railroads transporting crude oil in multiple tank cars to develop comprehensive spill response plans and have resources on standby for response to worst-case discharges.”

Ed points the bow of the boat toward the Long Wharf in Point Richmond where hulking oil tankers sidle up to be unburdened of their cargo.

We also have a clear view of the large terra cotta-colored storage tanks nesting above neighborhoods in the hillsides of Richmond. These are part of the sprawling refinery operations run by Chevron, but first begun by Standard Oil in 1901.

And it’s not the only refinery around here. In the North Bay, there are five along a 20-mile crescent, with Richmond and Benicia being the bookends. In between, Phillips 66 operates a refinery in Rodeo, and two other refineries (Shell and Tesoro) straddle Martinez.

Residents of these towns have joined in the crude-by-rail fights as well — lending their comments to Environmental Impact Reports, attending community meetings, and joining together for “healing walks” between communities.

Oil storage tanks used by the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA are seen from the water’s edge. A fire at the refinery in 2012 caused thousands of nearby residents to seek medical treatment. (Sarah Craig)
   “Chevron Refinery By the Bay” by Faces of Fracking, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

The network of support has even extended hundreds of miles south. The Phillips 66 refinery has two parts — one in Rodeo and the other 200 miles away, just outside the town of Nipomo in San Luis Obispo County. A pipeline joins the operations. The refinery has expansion plans that are currently being reviewed. One part of those plans involves building a new rail unloading facility in Nipomo that would bring in five unit trains of crude a week, with 50,000 barrels per train.

But the crude-by-rail projects in the area don’t end there. In nearby Pittsburgh, 20 miles east of Benicia, residents pushed back against plans from WestPac Energy. The company had planned to lease land from BNSF Railway and build a new terminal to bring in a 100-car unit train each day of crude. But WestPac’s plan has stalled after Attorney General Kamala Harris commented on a recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report and said the project had “significant legal problems” and “fails to disclose the sources and analyze the environmental impacts of the new crude.”

Further south in Kern County in the heart of oil country, Plains All American just opened a crude-by-rail terminal that is permitted for a 100-car unit train each day. Another nearby project, Alon USA, received permission from the county for twice as much but is being challenged by lawsuits from environmental groups.

Closer to home, though, unit trains are already arriving. In March, an investigation by local TV station KPIX revealed that Kinder Morgan, a “midstream” company which is in the business of transporting crude (usually by pipeline or rail), received a change of use permit for a rail terminal in Richmond. Kinder Morgan had been transporting ethanol, but the Bay Area Air Quality Management District OK’d Kinder Morgan to offload unit trains of Bakken crude into tanker trucks. KPIX journalists followed the trucks to the Tesoro refinery in Martinez, just across the Carquinez Strait from Benicia.

Aimee Durfee is part of the Martinez Environmental Group. Not only is Martinez flanked by two refineries, but it’s also bisected by Union Pacific rail lines. Now, the residents also know that crude is arriving by truck. “We came to understand that we are collateral damage,” she said. “We get it coming and going.”

Aimee says her group’s biggest fear is the threat of derailment and explosion. The same is true for many Richmond residents near Kinder Morgan’s rail terminal.

“The permit was given illegally by the air district, without concern for the health and safety of the community,” says Andres Soto, an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. “Should there be a catastrophic explosion — there are residences and two elementary schools across the street from the railyard.” He also says that the blast zone in Richmond contains a total of 27 schools. The blast zone is defined as a half mile away for evacuations if there is a derailment and one mile away if there is an explosion and fire.

Train cars are parked at the Kinder Morgan rail facility in Richmond, CA. The facility is currently permitted to offload Bakken crude from unit trains. (Sarah Craig)
  “Rail Terminal” by Faces of Fracking, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Earthjustice, a nonprofit that litigates on behalf of environmental causes, has led legal efforts trying to block the permit for Kinder Morgan, but in September, Judge James Bush threw out the suit because it was not filed within 180 days of the permit issuance. (The catch-22 of course being that it hadn’t been filed in the proper window of time because no one knew it had even happened, since public notice was not given.)

Earthjustice has appealed Judge Bush’s decision, but residents are continuing to fight the permit in other ways. On October 28, the Richmond City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to review and “if feasible, revoke the permit and subject the project to a complete CEQA process,” which would be a full environmental review.

The Big Picture

With all this crude by rail activity, some big picture thinking would be helpful. As Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote about the Benicia project, “There’s no consideration of cumulative impacts that could affect public safety and the environment by the proliferation of crude-by-rail projects proposed in California.”

Ed has come to a similar understanding. He is focused on the trains passing by his shop, but the process has opened his eyes to a lot more. He’d heard about the impacts of tar sands and Bakken crude but didn’t have a personal connection to it until unit trains began arriving in California.

“Just focusing on what’s happening in my little neck of the woods has led me to spend more time really looking at the big picture,” he said. “The climate is rapidly changing for one reason or another and probably a good portion of it is what we’re doing with the burning of fossil fuels and so forth, especially this rapid extraction.

“I can’t go to New York and demonstrate or deal with the Keystone XL pipeline, but we can look around here, keep our eyes open, and try to articulate what we’re seeing locally,” says Ed.

20 By 2020: A Pledge To Reduce Bay Area Refinery Pollution

Repost from SWITCHBOARD, Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog

20 By 2020: A Pledge To Reduce Refinery Pollution

By Diane Bailey, October 9, 2014

Diane Bailey

The Bay Area Air District has been working for the past two years to craft regulations that track and limit refinery pollution as oil companies begin bringing in extreme new types of crude oil that put workers and refinery fenceline communities at risk.  Facing much more pollution from refining extreme crude oil, like tar sands and Bakken crude, and in the aftermath of the massive August 2012 fire at Chevron Richmond, a number of community and environmental advocates got together with refinery workers at the start of the rulemaking effort.  (below, the Chevron refinery and tanks loom large over North Richmond; Photo Credit: Environmental Health News)

Chevron richmond homes.jpgWe came up with the Worker-Community Approach to not only ensure that pollution would not increase from refineries but to track crude oil used and achieve continual progress on air quality by reducing 20 percent of refinery pollution by 2020.

Our challenge to the Bay Area Air District and to all Chevron tankfarm homes.jpgfive oil companies with refineries in the region is that given the tremendous amounts of pollution pumped out by refineries and impacting the health of fenceline communities every day, will they work together to commit to cutting pollution by 20 percent by 2020?  Here are five things you need to know about refinery pollution in the Bay Area that help explain why Refineries in the Bay Area are much more polluting than other refineries and can easily reduce 20 percent of their toxic emissions over the next five years:

1)      According to US EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Data: Bay Area refineries, on average, report more than twice the toxic chemical releases reported by Los Angeles Area refineries.

2)      According to the California Air Resources Board, emissions inventory data, Bay Area refinery emissions are estimated to decrease by 50 percent or more by 2020, making a 20 percent reduction by 2020 seem easy.  But projections are one thing; we need a reliable commitment in writing.

3)      The CARB emissions inventory data also shows that Bay Area Refineries currently emit 7 times more nitrogen oxides (NOx), 3 times more sulfur dioxide and at least a third more organic hydrocarbons (like benzene) than Southern CA refineries, yet Southern California refineries collectively have over a third more capacity.

4)      According to regional air district data, the Chevron Richmond refinery is much more polluting than its El Segundo “twin” that has the same design; Chevron Richmond emitted more than twice as much organic hydrocarbon and particulate matter (PM) and eight times more toxic benzene than the El Segundo refinery in 2012.  Going back to TRI emissions, Chevron Richmond released over 80 percent more toxic air pollution than Chevron El Segundo in 2011.

5)      According to a 2013 Statewide Audit, on a rough per gallon of gasoline basis, Bay Area Refineries are 50 percent more climate polluting, twice as polluting for organic hydrocarbons and NOx, almost 20 percent more polluting for PM and leak over three times as much benzene and almost five times as much formaldehyde relative to gasoline produced in Southern California.

Wouldn’t it be great if Bay Area refineries – Valero, Chevron, Tesoro, Phillips 66 and Shell – took the 20 by 2020 pledge?  They could use the same modern pollution controls that refineries in Southern California have installed.  This kind of commitment to clean air, is not only doable technologically, it is a smart approach to being a good neighbor and supporting community health.  The proactive Worker-community Approach to improving air quality also ensures that we won’t see an increase in pollution as oil companies bring more extreme crude oil into the region.  In fact, we would like to see refiners take a good neighbor pledge not to bring any extreme, dangerous crude oil into the Bay Area at all.  At the very least, they should pledge a 20 percent reduction of toxic pollution by 2020.  They did it in Southern California; Bay Area communities deserve no less.

THE PLEDGE:  A Worker-Community Approach to Emission ReductionsIn order to address the ongoing health hazards in refinery-impacted communities and prevent any increases in pollution caused by changing crude oil, the refinery rule should require:

1)  Each refinery is required to decrease refinery-wide emissions of pollutants that create environmental health hazards by at least 20 percent below the refinery’s baseline by 2020, showing adequate incremental progress of at least two percent each year;


2)  If these reductions aren’t possible, a refinery needs to show that they are using the best available emission control technology (BACT) throughout the refinery (i.e., eliminate “grandfathered,” “non-BACT” and “exempted” sources in the refinery).

Sources & Notes:
  1. Refinery Capacity vs. Throughput: Refinery comparisons were adjusted by capacity as reported to US EPA and to the California Energy Commission.  Although annual crude oil throughput would be a better comparison point, it is not publicly available.  Thus an imperfect assumption that most refineries utilize most of their capacity must be made in order to compare emissions.  According to CEC, Southern California has roughly 1 million BPD refining capacity and the Bay Area has roughly 700,000 BPD capacity.  “A rough per gallon” refined basis is relative to reported capacity not throughput or production.
  2. CARB emissions inventory queries were run for 2012 and the future projection year of 2020 for industrial sources, taking the sum of the Emissions Inventory Categories: 040-Petroleum Refining (Combustion) and 320-Petroleum Refineries.
  3. BAAQMD Emissions Inventory Data for each refinery was transmitted to NRDC via Public Records Request, August 28, 2014 for years 2011 through 2013.






East Bay projects are redefining refineries

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor: a shorter version of this article appeared in The Vallejo Times-Herald with byline Robert Rogers.  This seems to be a re-write by Tom Lochner and Rogers.  Interesting to see analysis of all five refineries in the Bay Area, labeled the “Contra Costa-Solano refinery belt, California’s largest.”  Good quotes from our colleagues Tom Griffith and Antonia Juhasz.   – RS]

East Bay’s oil refineries look to the future

Upgrades: Projects to allow flexibility to respond to changing energymarkets, but environmentalists raise concerns
By Tom Lochner and Robert Rogers, September 24, 2014

chevronThe East Bay’s first oil refinery opened in 1896 near the site of Porkopolis-of-the West, a defunct stockyard and slaughterhouse in the town of Rodeo. In the ensuing decades, four more East Bay refineries joined it, defining the region and powering its growth like no other industry.

A century later, the Contra Costa-Solano refinery belt, California’s largest, continues to cast an enormous shadow over surrounding cities, influencing their politics, their economies, even their aesthetics. And at a time when fossil fuel seems like yesterday’s energy source, the Bay Area’s five refineries have all embarked on ambitious projects to transform the way they do business — and ensure their economic viability in a rapidly changing global energy market for decades to come.

These projects, if seen to completion, will diversify the refineries’ operations by allowing them to process both dirtier, heavier oil and cleaner, lighter crude. Two refineries are looking to build their future, at least in part, on crude-by-rail operations, expanding available sources of petroleum while intensifying a controversy over whether that transportation method endangers East Bay communities.

All told, the upgrades will generate a collective investment in the East Bay of more than $2 billion, while adding hundreds of construction jobs. And once they are completed, proponents say, the projects should result in a substantial combined cut to greenhouse gas emissions, even though many environmentalists remain unsatisfied.

“While some of these local refinery projects promise to reduce greenhouse gasses, or pollution in general, that’s not nearly enough,” Tom Griffith, co-founder of Martinez Environmental Group, said in a recent email. “And it’s arguable given the cumulative costs.”

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said oil companies are looking to increase efficiency through these refinery projects while meeting the state’s stricter environmental requirements — not an easy balancing act.

“They want to continue to supply California. And they want to contribute to the economy of the state,” she said. “What’s different right now is, a lot of the policies being contemplated in California, either at the state level or locally, are making it more difficult to achieve that. The biggest thing is, how do you balance our energy policy with our climate change policies?”

Even without the new projects, the five East Bay refineries are a critical part of the local economy.

In 2012, Chevron, Tesoro, Shell, Phillips 66 and Valero processed a total of about 800,000 barrels a day of crude oil, providing more than 7,500 direct jobs, according to industry sources. The oil and gas industry as a whole in the Bay Area generated $4.3 billion that year in state and local taxes, plus another $3.8 billion in federal taxes, according to an April 2014 Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation study commissioned by the Western States Petroleum Association.

The biggest project underway is at Chevron, a $1 billion investment to upgrade parts of its century-old 2,900-acre Richmond refinery allowing it to refine dirtier blends of crude with no increase in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the project application.

Tesoro’s Golden Eagle refinery, near Martinez, has spent nearly as much on upgrades since 2008, and other projects are underway at Shell in Martinez, Phillips 66 in Rodeo and Valero in Benicia.


While these sweeping investments offer the promise of new jobs and cleaner, more efficient operations, many environmentalists complain that they don’t go far enough to curb emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming by trapping heat in the lower atmosphere, and sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that can cause serious health problems in people in surrounding communities.

And others warn that the improvements will smooth the path for highly flammable crude oil from North America’s Bakken shale region to the East Bay on railroad lines, raising the specter of spectacular explosions from train derailments, as happened last summer in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people died. Those fears have dominated debate over a proposed rail terminal at Benicia’s Valero refinery.

A growing number of detractors clamor for America to cast off the yoke of fossil-fuel dependency altogether and concentrate on efforts to develop cleaner, renewable energy.

“The missed opportunity here is for the oil companies to refocus their sights on the future of renewable energy,” Griffith said.

That aim, albeit more gradual, is the policy of the state under Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The legislation calls not only for reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also for reducing the state’s dependency on petroleum.

The refineries take that as a challenge but not a death warrant.

“The industry clearly thinks these refineries are here to stay and wants them to adjust to the changes of the makeup of the world’s oil supply, which is dirtier, more dangerous oil,” said Antonia Juhasz, an oil and energy analyst and author of the book “The Tyranny of Oil.”

Juhasz cited Canadian tar sands oil as the prime example of dirtier crude, and pointed to oil from the Bakken shale formation, mostly in North Dakota, as the prime example of the more dangerous variety.

Scott Anderson, a San Francisco-based senior vice president and chief economist for Bank of the West, agrees that the increases in renewable energy sources pose no threat to the future of oil refineries locally. In fact, he says, increasing global demand for refined oil products makes refineries like those in Contra Costa and Solano counties an “emerging growth industry for the U.S.”

“Demand is going to continue to increase, and there haven’t been any new refineries built in the U.S. in decades. So what we’re left with is these projects in existing refineries designed to improve efficiency and flexibility,” he said.

Here is a look at the major projects underway:

• At Tesoro’s Golden Eagle refinery, one of the biggest shifts has been bringing in up to 10,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude, which company officials say is critical to replace other sources of petroleum.

“Our challenge going forward is, as California and Alaskan crudes decline, to find replacements that keep the refinery a viable business,” General Manager Stephen Hansen said.

“One of those crudes is in the midcontinent, and the only way to get it here is by rail,” he added, noting that the refinery receives crude from ship, pipeline and truck after offloading it from rail cars in Richmond.

The refinery’s nearly $1 billion in capital upgrades since 2008 have focused not on increasing capacity but on using a wider variety of crude blends and processing them more efficiently, cleanly and safely. A $600 million replacement of the refinery’s coker, for example, has reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by at least 400,000 tons, according to refinery officials.

• Shell’s Martinez refinery is seeking to shift some of its refining capacity toward lighter crudes, which it says will allow it to trim greenhouse gas emissions. In phases over several years starting in 2015, the refinery would build processing equipment and permanently shut down one of two coker units, resulting in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 tons per year.

Shell spokesman Steve Lesher said the project involves replacing equipment, not expanding the facility beyond its 160,000 barrels per day. He also said the refinery currently processes heavier oil from the San Joaquin Valley but will be bringing in oil from other, as-yet-unidentified sources.

• Phillips 66 in Rodeo, the region’s oldest refinery, hopes to start recovering and selling the propane and butane that are a byproduct of its refining process, rather than burning them off in a highly polluting process called flaring or using them as fuel in refinery boilers.

The project would add new infrastructure, including a large steam boiler, propane and butane recovery equipment, six propane storage vessels and treatment facilities and two new rail spurs.

Phillips 66 has said the project, which was approved by the county Planning Commission in November, would reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by removing sulfur compounds from refinery fuel gas, and reduce other pollutants and greenhouses gases, but those assertions have been questioned by environmentalists and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which wants further evaluation before signing off.

Two groups have filed an appeal to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval, and in what might be a first for the region, the air district is requiring that the project’s emissions and possible health effects must be considered cumulatively with other refinery-related projects in the Bay Area.

• Chevron’s plan, which received City Council approval in July after months of intense public debate, is touted as an important upgrade in an increasingly competitive global petrofuels market. While other refineries are gearing up to exploit the North American oil boom, Chevron will continue to get the bulk of its oil from the Persian Gulf and Alaska.

But the new modernization plan approved in July would allow the refinery to process crude oil blends and gas oils with higher sulfur content, which refinery officials say is critical to producing competitive-priced transportation fuels and lubricating oils in the coming decades.

In addition, it would replace the refinery’s existing hydrogen-production facilities, built in the 1960s, with a modern plant that is more energy-efficient and yields higher-purity hydrogen, and has the capacity to produce more of it.

• Valero Refining wants to build a $55 million crude-by-rail unloading facility at its Benicia refinery that could handle daily shipments of up to 70,000 barrels of oil transported in two 50-car trains daily from sources throughout North America. That plan has drawn sharp criticism from locals and leaders in Sacramento concerned about the hazards of increased rail shipments.

The project would not increase capacity at the refinery but replace crudes that are currently delivered by ship. Nor would it increase emissions from refinery operations, according to a project description on the city of Benicia’s website. The document also cites an air quality analysis indicating that rail cars generate fewer emissions locally than marine vessels.

The latest projects, while still drawing criticism, have turned some critics into allies. Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition, who played a leading role in getting millions of dollars in settlements for North Richmond residents stemming from a chemical spill linked to the Chevron refinery in the early 1990s, has come out in support of the Chevron modernization.

“After all the negotiation and community input, we have a better project than we ever expected,” Clark said. “Fenceline communities like North Richmond are going to be next to a safer, cleaner facility and get to share in millions in community benefits.”

Martinez could become hazardous rail car choke point

Repost from The Martinez Gazette

Martinez Environmental Group: Martinez could become hazardous rail car choke point

By Jim Neu  |  May 29, 2014

On May 14, a few members of the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG) attended the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) seminar in Vallejo, where the major topics of discussion were petroleum crude oil being shipped by rail and new regulations for rail tank car construction.

Since September 2013, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of petroleum crude by rail derailments and explosions across the U.S. and Canada, due to the expanded market of Midwestern crude oil being transferred to the Gulf and East and West coasts. This has hazardous materials specialists and first responders nervous, and looking for local, state and federal regulation on rail car inspection, labeling, speed controls in residential areas, car construction, overloading, and offload monitoring.

Currently, Phillips 66 in Rodeo, Valero in Benicia and Shell and Tesoro in Martinez, receive highly volatile and explosive Bakken crude oil by rail, ship, and/or pipeline. There are no regulations in place for the DOT 111 rail tank car which has a tendency to split apart when derailed or comes into contact with other surfaces. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration (PHMSA) have drafted a proposed regulation regarding construction, transportation, and usage of DOT 111′s  that will be recommended to the refiners and shippers. This will be a recommendation, not a mandate.

The DOT 111 rail car was originally designed to haul corn syrup but now hauls crude oil, ethanol, butane, propane, a wide variety of hazardous chemicals such as hydrochloride and sulfuric acids, and non odorized liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Phillips 66 Refinery in Rodeo proposed a propane recovery project that will capture excessive butane and propane from refining Bakken crude oil. This process will increase rail tanker car traffic through downtown Martinez as Bakken crude oil moves west for refining and liquified petroleum gas moves east after refining. This project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) states 24 LPG cars per day will come out of the refinery which – added to the 100 plus LPG cars that regularly sit on rail sidings east and west of our downtown – are turning Martinez into a DOT 111 rail car choke point.

June 3 at 9 a.m. in the County Building at 651 Pine St., Martinez, the Contra Costa County Supervisors are scheduled to respond and decide on the Phillips 66 Propane Recovery Project EIR.

This hearing has been postponed several times because of inconsistencies and omissions in the EIR. If you have concerns about the increase of  hazardous materials in unsafe, deteriorating rail tank cars being moved through your downtown, or the effects on your health the Phillips 66 refinery project will inflict by refining dirtier crude oil, there is time on the agenda for public speaking. We encourage you to attend and be heard.

Additional note: at the June 3 meeting, the Supervisors will also be considering Shell’s request for an EIR consultant on their proposed changes to the Martinez Refinery, so we encourage you to come and ask questions about the project, as well.

More information can be found at the Martinez Environ­mental Group website at www.mrtenvgrp.com.