Tag Archives: Vancouver Washington

Bloomberg News – Valero Oil-by-Rail Plan Has ‘Unavoidable’ Air Impacts, City Says

Repost from Bloomberg News

Valero Oil-by-Rail Plan Has ‘Unavoidable’ Air Impacts, City Says

By Lynn Doan Jun 17, 2014

Valero Energy Corp. (VLO)’s plan to unload as many as 70,000 barrels of oil a day from trains at its Benicia refinery will increase emissions across California in a “significant and unavoidable” way, a city report shows.

Valero has applied to build a rail-offloading rack at the plant northeast of San Francisco that would take oil from as many as 100 tanker cars a day. The San Antonio-based company delayed the project’s completion by a year to early 2015 as it awaits approval from the city.

“Project-related trains would generate locomotive emissions in the Bay Area Basin, the Sacramento Basin, and other locations in North America,” the city of Benicia said in an environmental assessment posted on its website today. “The city has no jurisdiction to impose any emission controls on the tanker car locomotives; therefore, there is no feasible mitigation available to reduce this significant impact to a less-than-significant level.”

Valero is proposing the rail spur as record volumes of oil are extracted from North American shale formations that the U.S. West Coast has little pipeline access to. California’s refiners are already bringing in the biggest-ever volumes of oil by rail as they seek to displace shrinking supplies of crude within the state and from Alaska.

A series of explosions and derailments of trains carrying crude, including one in Quebec that killed 47 people in July, touched off a flood of letters to the city of Benicia about Valero’s project and compelled the planning commission to put off a decision until an environmental study could be done.

New Rules

Regulators in both the U.S. and Canada are imposing new rules designed to improve the safety of trains carrying oil and a group of California agencies released a report June 10 recommending ways in which the state should respond.

Earlier this month, the city council in Vancouver, Washington, voted to oppose a proposal by Tesoro Corp. (TSO) and Savage Cos. to build a 360,000-barrel-a-day, rail-to-marine complex at the Port of Vancouver.

Valero’s Benicia project would probably result in a spill of more than 100 gallons once every 111 years, according to an analysis conducted as part of the city’s environmental report. The report was prepared by researchers at the University of Illinois’s Rail Transportation and Engineering Center in Urbana, Illinois.

California’s refiners received 557,315 barrels of oil by rail in April, the most ever for that month, state Energy Commission data show. Crude from Canada made up 45 percent of the state’s total rail receipts. Oil from North Dakota accounted for 22 percent.

’Challenged’ Market

Valero has described refining in the western U.S as “a challenged market” with margins close to break-even when all of the region’s plants are running normally. Profits from the 132,000-barrel-a-day Benicia refinery are particularly under pressure, Joe Gorder, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said in a presentation May 21.

The plant “produces a significant yield of gasoline, which, of course, we’ve seen the margins compressed on and demand not be the greatest on,” Gorder said at the UBS Global Oil and Gas Conference in Austin, Texas. Sourcing alternative crudes on the West Coast “would increase the economics out there for us substantially,” he said.

Spot California-grade diesel has traded about 3.5 cents a gallon above gasoline in Los Angeles this year and averaged an 8.75-cent premium in 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lynn Doan in San Francisco at ldoan6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Marino at dmarino4@bloomberg.net Charlotte Porter

US DOT and railroads want to circumvent Washington State’s Public Records Act

Repost from The Seattle Post Intelligencer (seattlepi.com)

Should shipments of oil by rail be kept secret from the public?

Posted on June 4, 2014 | By Joel Connelly
In this image made available by the City of Lynchburg, several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil in flames after derailing in downtown Lynchburg, Va., Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (AP Photo/City of Lynchburg, LuAnn Hunt)Several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil erupt in  flames after derailing in downtown Lynchburg, Va., on April 30.  It was the latest in a series of oil train accidents.  Nobody was killed, but much of downtown Lynchburg was evacuated.  (AP Photo/City of Lynchburg, LuAnn Hunt)

The nation’s railroads were told last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation that they must notify state emergency management officials about the volume, frequency and county-by-county routes used in cross country shipment of volatile North Dakota crude oil.

But a hitch has developed in Washington, where refineries at Anacortes and Cherry Point north of Bellingham are increasingly relying on oil by rail.

In its order, the Department of Transportation, siding with the railroads, said the information ought to be kept secret from the public.

The DOT told state emergency preparedness agencies to “treat this data as confidential, providing it only to those with a need to know and with the understanding that recipients of the data will continue to treat it as confidential.”

The BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads have sent the state drafts of confidentiality agreements that would restrict access to what the shippers call “security sensitive information.”

In this Aug. 8, 2012 photo, a DOT-111 rail tanker passes through Council Bluffs, Iowa. DOT-111 rail cars being used to ship crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region are an "unacceptable public risk," and even cars voluntarily upgraded by the industry may not be sufficient, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2014. The cars were involved in derailments of oil trains in Casselton, N.D., and Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just across the U.S. border, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said at a House Transportation subcommittee hearing. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
A DOT-111 rail tanker passes through Council Bluffs, Iowa. DOT-111 rail cars being used to ship crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region are an “unacceptable public risk,” and even cars voluntarily upgraded by the industry may not be sufficient, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board told Congress in February. The cars were involved in derailments of oil trains in Casselton, N.D., and Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just across the U.S. border. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

On Wednesday, however, spokesman Mark Stewart of state Emergency Response Commission told the Associated Press that the railroads’ request conflicts with one of Washington pioneering open government laws.

The confidentiality agreements “require us to withhold the information in a manner that’s not consistent with the Public Records Act,” Stewart told the AP.

The US DOT order came in the wake of a series of oil train fires, most recently train cars catching fire in Lynchburg, Virginia and dumping “product” into the James River.

This follows a deadly runaway trail explosion last year that leveled the downtown of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and killed 47 people, as well as an explosion and fire near Casselton, North Dakota.

Lawmakers, notably Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, have pressed the Transportation Department to speed implementation of new safety rules that would require phaseout of 1960′s-vintage, explosion vulnerable DOT 111 tank cars.

The Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes accepted its first trainload of oil in September of 2012. The shipments have soared, with 17 million barrels of oil coming into the state by rail in 2013.  Trains carry as many as 50,000 barrels of crude oil to the Tesoro refinery.

And Tesoro wants to build a $100 million rail-to-barge terminal in the Port of Vancouver on the Columbia River. It would be the largest such terminal in the Northwest, capable of receiving 380,000 barrels of oil a day. The Vancouver City Council voted earlier this week to oppose the project.

Shell Anacortes is in the process of creating a facility that would take 100-car oil trains.  The BP Refinery at Cherry Point is also receiving oil by rail.

All told, according to a Sightline Institute study, 11 refineries and ports in Washington and Oregon are either receiving oil by rail, or have projects underway to receive rail shipments of oil.

The shipments head by rail through cities in both Eastern and Western Washington.

The railroads have been highly secretive about their operations.  They are regulated by the federal government under the Interstate Commerce Act, leaving cities and local governments with almost no rights to request information or limit operations.

The BNSF has promised to purchase 5,000 newer, safer tank cars, and Tesoro has pledged to phase out use of the DOT-111 cars this year.

Vancouver City Council votes to oppose crude oil train terminal – “unacceptable risks”

Repost from ThinkProgress

Washington City Rejects Massive Oil Train Project, Citing ‘Unacceptable Risks’

By Emily Atkin June 4, 2014

Flanked by hundreds of concerned residents, the City Council of Vancouver in southwestern Washington State voted early Tuesday morning to formally oppose what would be the Pacific Northwest’s largest crude oil train terminal, saying the project poses “unacceptable risks” to the city’s population of 160,000.

The council’s decision came after six hours of testimony from more than 100 residents, most of them opposed to Tesoro Corp.’s plan to develop a large train terminal at the Port of Vancouver, which would receive up to 380,000 barrels of North Dakotan crude oil per day and transfer it to ships bound for West Coast refineries. That amount of oil, which would come through the city on four separate unit trains per day, is just less than half the daily amount that would be transported by the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

“The Council’s opposition … [is] due to the unacceptable risks posed to the citizens of Vancouver by the terminal and the related transportation of Bakken crude oil through the city,” the resolution, passed 5-2, reads.

The broad, non-binding resolution opposing Tesoro’s proposal also included language that formally opposes any proposal that would result in an increase of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale being hauled through Clark County. Last July, 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has warned Bakken crude could be more flammable than regular oil, due to either its unique properties or because of added chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract it.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also recently made recommendations that crude oil trains stay far away from urban population centers, citing the increasing rate of fiery accidents involving crude oil trains.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Councilor Bill Turlay were the two that voted no against the proposal, with Leavitt saying he didn’t want to make a “political statement” against a single project without having all the facts.

“It’s kind of like back in the Old West, [when] Judge Roy Bean said, ‘We’re going to have a fair trial and hang the guilty bastard’,” Turlay said, according to a report in the Columbian. “Now, that’s not exactly how I want to present this.”

Turlay and Leavitt did join the other councilors in voting for a resolution that would allow the city to actually have a say in the decision-making process over Tesoro’s proposed project. That resolution allowing intervention in the decision-making process gives Vancouver officials the right to present evidence against the project and appeal any decision, which will ultimately be made by the state’s sitting governor, currently Gov. Jay Inslee.

Sharp rise in West Coast oil trains, fears abound

Repost from the Salem, Oregon Statesman Journal
[Editor: See quotes from Benicia’s Andrés Soto near end of this article.  – RS]

Sharp rise in West Coast oil trains, fears abound

Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press  |  May 26, 2014

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Residents along the scenic Columbia River are hoping to persuade regulators to reject plans for what would be the Pacific Northwest’s largest crude oil train terminal — the proposed destination for at least four trains a day, each more than a mile long.

The increasing numbers of trains, each carrying tens of thousands of barrels of potentially volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, have raised concerns around the country after nine accidents in the past year, including one last month in Virginia.

In Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia from Portland, Oregon, the oil companies say their proposed terminal will create at least 80 permanent jobs and will bring an economic windfall to the region. But area residents and others in nearby communities are worried about the risks to people, wildlife, businesses and to their way of life.

“We depend on the Columbia for moving freight, generating power, irrigating farms, fishing,” said Eric LaBrant, president of the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association, which represents about 2,000 residents who live next to the proposed site.

“Anywhere on the Columbia, an oil spill would cripple our economy,” he said.

The river is, in a way, the soul of the Pacific Northwest. It is cherished for its beauty, for its recreational offerings like wind surfing, and for the salmon and steelhead caught by sport fishermen, commercial fishermen and Native Americans.

The fight over the terminal underscores a new reality on the West Coast: The region is receiving unprecedented amounts of crude oil by rail shipments, mostly from the oil boom in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada.

More than a dozen oil-by-rail refining facilities and terminals have been built in California, Oregon and Washington in the past three years. As a result, long oil trains are already rolling through rural and urban areas alike — including along the iconic Columbia.

Another two dozen new projects or expansions are planned or in the works in those three states.

While traditionally most crude has moved to Gulf Coast and the East Coast terminals and refineries, experts say there’s a West Coast boom because of cheap rail transport prices and its proximity to Asian markets should Congress lift a ban on U.S. oil exports.

Oil by rail shipments through Oregon ballooned from about 1.6 million barrels of crude carried on 2,789 tank cars in 2009 to more than 11 million barrels on 19,065 tank cars in 2013, according to annual railroad company reports.

In California, the volume of crude imported by rail skyrocketed from 45,500 barrels carried on 63 tank cars in 2009 to more than 6 million barrels on 8,608 tank cars in 2013, according to data by the California Energy Commission.

The state estimates its oil-by-rail shipments will rise to 150 million barrels per year in 2016.

And in Washington state, crude oil shipments went from zero barrels in 2011 to 17 million barrels in 2013, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, though officials said those numbers are rough estimates.

The two main rail companies, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, say they work hard to prevent accidents by inspecting tracks and bridges, investing in trailers with fire-fighting foam and providing hazmat training to emergency responders.

Still, the spike in shipments has led to concerns among officials in the Pacific Northwest over rail safety and oil spill responsiveness — and to opponents lashing out at rail companies for not disclosing how much oil is being shipped and where. Railroad companies aren’t required to disclose such information.

In some cases, oil-by-rail transports on the West Coast started without the knowledge of local communities or emergency responders.

A terminal near Clatskanie, 62 miles northwest of Portland, was permitted to move oil two years ago by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality without a public process. This year, the state fined the facility for moving six times more crude than allowed.

The disclosure caused public protests, but the company, Global Partners, says it’s following the law.

In the San Francisco Bay area, where the local air district in February issued a permit to operate a crude-by-rail project in Richmond without notice to the public or an environmental review, residents and environmental groups filed a lawsuit.

They are seeking a preliminary injunction and a suspension of the air permit, pending a full environmental review.

“We feel that we were deliberately deceived by the permitting authority,” said Andres Soto, the Richmond organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental justice group that’s a plaintiff in the case.

“The delivery of this product right next to schools, to neighborhoods, where literally you can throw a rock and hit these rail cars, presents a clear danger to literally thousands of residents,” Soto said.

The fears are shared by many in Vancouver, where officials received more than 33,000 public comments about the project — detailing feared impacts to air quality, wildlife, recreation, tribal treaty rights, and home values, among others.

After a review, state officials will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say.