Tag Archives: WestPac

Pittsburg: WesPac oil-by-rail storage project remains on hold

Repost from The Contra Costa Times

Pittsburg: WesPac oil-by-rail storage project remains on hold

By Paul Burgarino, 08/02/2014

PITTSBURG — The brakes remain on a massive $200 million plan to transport domestic crude oil by railroad cars and ships, store it in refurbished storage tanks and pipe it to refineries throughout the Bay Area.

And after almost six months of no action, it may stay that way for a while.

Pittsburg officials said it will be at least early 2015 before the project is brought before city decision-makers — if it ever is.

“Right now, we’re kind of in a holding pattern and waiting for a green light from the applicant,” City Manager Joe Sbranti said.

In February, city leaders — prompted by a letter from the office of state Attorney General Kamala Harris urging further scrutiny on air quality and the risk of accidental spills, as well as fierce community opposition — told WesPac Energy that it would be reopening the public comment period on its draft environmental documents.

The WesPac project calls for an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily and stored in 16 tanks on 125 acres once used by Pacific Gas & Electric to store fuel oil two decades ago.

Since earlier this year, Pittsburg planners and a hired consultant have briefly discussed some of the issues raised, but that has ceased until WesPac decides whether it will put more money toward continuing the process, Sbranti said. All costs for studies of development projects are covered by applicants, he said.

The earliest a revised contract would be considered by the City Council is September, Sbranti said. After that, he estimated additional studies could take anywhere from six to 10 months.

“If and when they decide to come forward, they are entitled to and deserve a fair hearing,” Mayor Sal Evola said. “As it stands today, as far as we know, they’ve put the project on hold.”

Art Diefenbach, project manager for WesPac, said in an email, “We have nothing new to share about our project at this time.”

The facility, located on the western edge of town near homes, schools, churches and the Pittsburg Marina, would handle an estimated 88 million barrels of domestic and imported crude oil and partially refined crude. Its capacity is massive, and 20 percent of the state’s processed oil could pass through it over the course of a year, according to the Jan. 15 letter from Harris’ office.

Supporters of the $200 million project say it will bring jobs and revenue to the city, make use of a dormant industrial parcel, and help refineries meet their future needs at a time when oil production in California is declining and existing storage is near capacity.

The Pittsburg Defense Council, along with several environmental groups, is fighting the project over concerns about air quality, environmental issues and safety concerns involving the transportation of crude by rail.

“We’ve been keeping an eye out for when it comes back on city agendas, and being vigilant,” said longtime resident and Defense Council member Lyana Monterrey. The group has also been keeping an eye on crude-by-rail issues in Berkeley, Richmond and Benicia, she said.

The Pittsburg critics point to a train carrying Bakken crude that exploded in July 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, and other derailments and explosions have occurred in the past year in Alabama and North Dakota.

Crude shipments by rail from the Midwest and Canada into the state have increased from about 1.1 million barrels in 2012 to about 6.3 million barrels in 2013, according to the California Energy Commission. One thing the WesPac issue has brought forward is a “heightened sense of awareness” about rail safety, as both the Union Pacific and Burlington North Santa Fe lines cut through Pittsburg, Evola said.

Pittsburg, he said, is lobbying for a bill currently in the state Assembly requiring railroads to report details of transports of hazardous materials on a quarterly basis to the state Office of Emergency Services.

Request to Martinez City Council: moratorium on crude by rail

Repost from The Martinez Gazette

Martinez Environmental Group: Martinez moratorium resolution, facts to consider

May 11, 2014 | by GUY COOPER,  Special to the Gazette

The Martinez Environmental Group presented a resolution to the City Council May 7, proposing opposition to increased crude-by-rail (CBR) traffic through our city, mirroring similar resolutions and expressions of concern already proffered by Berkeley, Richmond, Davis, Benicia, and many other communities along the tracks. The following is what I wish I would have said in support at that meeting if I hadn’t chickened out.

A major attraction of Martinez is its status as a transportation hub. People commute and travel via Amtrak. There are connections to BART and bus destinations north, south, east and west. The train brings people to our town, sometimes for the first time. They stop, stroll, eat, drink, shop. I’ve talked to many of them. They like what they see, are amazed by the friendliness of the locals. Many are surprised such a town even exists huddled beside those hulking refineries. Basically, they come and go with a good impression that can’t hurt.

Personally, I love being able to jump on the train, catch a Giants game, make a trip to the City or Jack London Square for an event, or head towards Davis, Sacramento, or Truckee for a weekend. Naturally, money is spent on tickets, restaurants, hotels, etc.

If WestPac, Tesoro, Valero, Kinder Morgan, Chevron and Phillips 66 have their way, we could see five to six oil trains a day pass through. Each train consists of about 100 tanker cars. Each car holds about 30,000 gallons of crude. So each train contains about 3 million gallons, is over a mile long, and weighs about 28 million pounds.

A major consideration: How much can our 85-year-old rusty Benicia/Martinez rail trestle tolerate? Has it ever had to endure that kind of traffic before? What’s the frequency of inspections and maintenance of that span? None of this info is easily accessible. The Coast Guard and rail companies have haggled over a bridge refurb for years. How can it be done without contaminating the water, and who’s going to pay for it? Meanwhile, nothing happens. A few years back Channel 4 did a piece on the trestle, noting the heavy rust, separated metal and bent bolts. I guess it was stoutly built way back when, but how long can we expect our elderly bridge to endure an onslaught not seen since WWII? If the rail bridge failed under the load of one of these trains … well, I don’t even want to contemplate that disaster.

These oil trains would use the same tracks used by the California Zephyr, the Capital Corridor commuters, the Coast Starlight.

Farmers, industrial customers, and rail passengers in the heartland of this country are already complaining about train delays and freight delivery impacts due to oil train traffic kludging up the system. What exactly will the local economic impact be if passenger rail schedules are severely disrupted?

Have you noticed the increase in delays lately just trying to get across the tracks to the waterfront as oil trains are built, rolling back and forth, attaching more cars, blocking traffic?

Exactly what economic impact do the local refineries have? Taxes, wages … I’d like to see the details. And please, not the contributions to local causes. For them, that’s just a drop in the PR bucket. What about the health effects of the carcinogens and other toxics spewed into our local environment? We rate amongst the worst in the country in that regard, because of the refineries. What are those costs? The more trains, the more detrimental health impacts. These trains out-gas toxic stuff while unloading or just sitting. Has that been factored into the cost/benefit mix? How about emergency response costs? Not just in responding to a sudden emergency, but in equipping and staffing for the eventuality. Are the oil producers and refiners offering to cover those costs?

Here’s some more math. These so-called “Bakken Bombers” carry a crude that has been likened to gasoline in volatility. One gallon of gas is equivalent to the explosive power of 63 sticks of dynamite. A Bakken Bomber contains about 3 million gallons, or the equivalent of 189,000,000 sticks of dynamite. You know, I’ve been to Hiroshima, Japan. A sobering experience. The power of the bomb that flattened that city was rated at 12 kilotons, or equivalent to 4.8 million sticks of TNT. So one Bakken Bomber train could potentially contain the explosive power of 39 Hiroshimas.

My point is, there is very little benefit to our city hosting this exponential increase in oil train traffic. And much at risk. Any one of these trains could annihilate our town or indelibly poison our water front. It’s just not worth it.

I believe the City of Martinez should be acutely concerned about this issue and wish to join our neighboring municipalities in conveying that concern to the powers at the state and federal levels that can do something about it. So I ask that the City Council call for a moratorium on crude-by-rail until all safety and health concerns are remedied. Vote to pass our resolution.