Category Archives: Bay Area Refineries

NRDC Scientist calls for comprehensive state review

Repost from NRDC Switchboard – Diane Bailey’s Blog

Crude Oil Train Boom Headed to California

March 19, 2014

Oil train.jpgCalifornia’s Senate Committees on Environmental Quality, and Natural Resources and Water are holding a joint hearing on Emergency Response to Rail Accidents today to talk about oil spill response in the event of a crude oil train accident.  This is important given the spate of crude oil train accidents over the past year as oil rail transport has boomed, and as California faces the prospect of new oil rail terminals and up to 25% of crude oil coming to this coastal state by rail (see here, here and here).

It’s good to see the state improving oil spill response planning and resources, including the Governor’s proposal to collect fees from oil rail transport for potential clean-ups.  But we need the state to do more than just mop up oil spills after accidents.  We need a comprehensive review of the public safety implications of all of the new oil terminal proposals before they are built and a focus on human health (in addition to wildlife).

First, does it make sense for the state to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure like oil rail terminals, when petroleum product use is in decline?  A recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report predicts a 13 percent drop in gasoline and diesel used in California by 2020 despite a growing population.

Second, if we’re going to bring in crude oil by rail, should we allow new terminals in densely populated areas right next to homes and schools?  That is what’s proposed right now, despite National Transportation Safety Board recommendations for crude oil trains to avoid urban areas.

Third, should the state disclose what these crude oil trains are carrying, how much of it, how often they run and exactly which rail routes they take?  The public has a right to know when mile long trains filled with hazardous cargo are passing by their front porches.

Fourth, if we have choices about which crude oil we import and refine in California, should we make an effort to avoid the very dirtiest and most dangerous crudes?  The California Energy Commission (CEC) and Energy Information Administration report record imports of dirty tar sands to California in recent months.

Fifth, if a rail yard suddenly decides to take 100 car unit trains of crude oil, shouldn’t there be a public process and government oversight to determine whether that is safe and appropriate?  Last week a news report revealed that the Kinder Morgan rail terminal in  Richmond was quietly permitted by the Bay Area Air District to receive mile long crude oil trains every day without any public disclosure whatsoever.  Even the CEC didn’t know about it until a news station broke the story.  In the same story, the Air district stated cavalierly that they’re not concerned about this terminal, which happens to be in the middle of Richmond, a city that has endured significant historic and ongoing pollution from the Chevron refinery and other industrial activities.

These questions should be discussed at the rail safety hearing today. It’s easy to dismiss the public concern over crude by rail safety before an accident happens.  In fact, the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec, may not have been concerned about crude oil trains running through it until the day one derailed, exploded and wiped out the downtown area taking 47 lives last July.

Given that terrible tragedy in Quebec last summer and all the fiery crude oil train derailments since then, the thought of 100 tanker car trains filled with highly volatile, explosion-prone Bakken crude oil going through the densely populated Bay Area ought to give some pause to government authorities. Communities all along crude oil rail routes are waking up to this new reality and they’re concerned.

It’s encouraging to see some steps to address oil rail risks in other regions.  Albany, New York just placed a moratorium on the expansion of the processing of crude oil at the Port of Albany pending a public health investigation by the Albany County Health Department. The City of Seattle passed a resolution last week urging adoption of state legislation and federal regulations; state assessment of risks; railroad company restriction of petroleum transport through Seattle; and update of City incident response plans to address the potential safety, environmental, and economic impacts of petroleum transport by rail.  Similar efforts are under way in Spokane.

A few weeks ago the Mayor of Benicia called on the Governor to issue an executive order to ensure that the state is prepared to deal with the highly flammable and explosive Bakken crude oil from North Dakota coming into California.  That would be a great starting place for California to get out ahead of the looming oil by rail safety crisis in this state.


Additional note: Visiting a Southern California rail yard today, watching trains get built, plenty of DOT-111 tanker cars were in the mix.

tanker cars in Colton 2.JPG

tanker cars in Colton.JPG

Local officials may check Solano “Industrial Safety Ordinance”

Repost from Vallejo Times-Herald
[VERY interesting in this story: “Local officials say they may need to revisit the county’s Industrial Safety Ordinance to see whether modifications should be made to ensure safety in dealing with Bakken crude, which is more volatile and susceptible to explosion than heavier crude blends.”  – Editor]

Huge increase in crude oil by rail to Bay Area concerns local leaders

By Robert Rogers/MediaNews Group
Posted:   03/18/2014 01:08:00 AM PDT 

RICHMOND — Bakken crude oil from North Dakota is part of the mix of increased crude-by-rail shipments into Contra Costa County, raising concerns from local leaders about whether current regulations are sufficient to minimize risks of transporting the volatile fossil fuel.

“There’s a lot more to be learned, but Bakken (crude) is coming in now,” said Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Division Director Randy Sawyer. “How much, I don’t know.”

Kinder Morgan Inc., at 1140 Canal Blvd. in Richmond, secured a permit last month to transfer crude from rail cars to trucks, said county Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, and is the only facility in the Bay Area that receives crude shipped on Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains, according to the California Energy Commission.

Domestic oil harvesting has increased in recent years, most notably in North Dakota, where drillers use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to fracture rock and extract oil. As the haul has increased, more oil is coming by rail to California refineries for processing.

Northern California volume of crude by rail increased 57 percent during 2013, from 74,332 barrels in January to 116,657 barrels in December, according to California Energy Commission statistics. But the bulk of the increase statewide went to Southern California refineries, as total state volume spiked from 155,841 barrels in January to 1,180,662 barrels in December. Only about one tenth of all crude-by-rail imports came to Northern California.

About 85 percent of the crude by rail delivered to Northern California in 2013 came from North Dakota, followed by 12.5 percent from Colorado, according to the commission. Four of the five Northern California oil refineries listed by the commission are in Contra Costa County, with the other in Benicia.

The city of Benicia is considering local resident concerns about Valero’s proposals to ship crude by rail.

Local officials say they may need to revisit the county’s Industrial Safety Ordinance to see whether modifications should be made to ensure safety in dealing with Bakken crude, which is more volatile and susceptible to explosion than heavier crude blends.

What local agencies can do to regulate the rail cargo, which is typically covered by federal interstate commerce laws, is limited.

The changes come as popular resistance to increased refining of continental oil has been building.

In the past month, critics hosted town hall-style meetings in Richmond, Martinez and Pittsburg decrying planned increases in crude-by-rail shipments into the Bay Area. Activists drew attention to rising accident numbers, with particular emphasis on a train explosion in July in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed. Other derailments and explosions have occurred in the past year in Alabama and North Dakota.

Correction – tar sands, not bakken spotted in Bay Area?

By Roger Straw, editor, The Benicia Independent

In my weekly BenIndy newsletter yesterday I highlighted KPIX’s most recent report, “Trains Carrying Fracked Oil Spotted In Bay Area.”

First, KPIX is to be thanked for its continued excellent coverage of the crude by rail crisis in the Bay Area.

But overnight, I heard from a trusted community organizer in Davis, Lynne Nittler, who is in touch with a staff person for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).  They believe that the Kinder Morgan trains are most likely carrying crude sourced from tar sands, not fracked Bakken crude.

The OSPR staffer was told that the trains are carrying tar sands crude.  This clearly fits with the last quarter of data posted by the California Energy Commission, which shows a sudden increase in tar sands coming into California.  The Commission had predicted 2 million barrels in crude-by-rail for 2013.  In reality, it jumped to 6 million barrels – because of the increases last quarter.  See

So I want to correct any possible misinformation I might have spread in my newsletter.  The fault for misinformation here?  Certainly not KPIX.  A Bay Area expert offered the following observation, “This is clear evidence that we need public disclosure: what are these rail cars carrying, how much, on what routes?”  I let KPIX reporters know about this.  The Kinder Morgan tar-sands trains would be a good follow-up story.  This is deadly serious – diluted tar sands crude is less volatile, but as Lynne Nittler wrote, dilbit spills “are worse – more polluting and harder to clean up, more corrosive, and much worse at the refinery for air pollution and producing much more petcoke.”

For a detailed background on Valero’s proposal 2012-present, see Also see{C45EA667-8D39-4B30-87EB-9110A2F9CE13}

Spokesperson Andrés Soto, (707) 742-3597

KPIX Exposé: Crude by Rail already in Bay Area

Repost from CBS San Francisco 5KPIX News

Trains Carrying Fracked Oil Spotted In Bay Area

March 14, 2014 12:24 AM
by Kristin Ayers

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) – We have seen how fracked crude oil can explode when trains derail. And Bay Area residents have made it clear that they don’t want them here and several projects to bring in crude by rail are on hold because of it.

But KPIX 5 discovered it’s already happening, in an operation so hush hush that even the state’s energy commission didn’t know about it.

A unit train, 100 cars long, is designed to deliver 70,000 barrels of crude cross country in one single run. It’s the same kind of train that derailed and exploded in Quebec, and the same kind of train that Bay Area residents have been fighting to keep out of their towns.

So what is the train doing in a rail yard in Richmond? “I was very surprised,” said energy consultant Ian Goodman.

Goodman found out about it in an investor publication for Kinder Morgan. The energy company operates pipelines and terminals across the U.S.

“They were very proud of the fact that they were the only unit train terminal to unload crude in California,” he told KPIX 5. “My impression was there were no existing unit train unloading facilities in California.”

That’s apparently what state officials thought too. “At this point we don’t have any of those facilities operating in California,” said Gordon Schremp with the California Energy Commission.

After KPIX 5 showed him our video Schremp revised that. “It’s certainly a recent change that you know, we haven’t been made aware of that,” he said.

He said Kinder Morgan’s Richmond terminal has been receiving ethanol on 100 car trains for years. But what about receiving explosive Bakken crude?

KPIX 5 asked Schremp: “Is that something that maybe should be monitored? Put out to the public, so that people are aware that this is running through that area?”

“Well I think it would depend. If the crude oil is just in rail cars and is just temporarily stored there in rail cars, then there should be no need to do an Environmental Impact Report,” he said.

But our camera captured much more than that. After talking to the state, we went back to Richmond and saw this: Bakken crude oil getting unloaded from the train cars onto tanker trucks.

KPIX 5 followed one of those tanker trucks to the Tesoro refinery in Martinez.

So we wondered, where’s the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)?

“Our agency would not necessarily require an EIR to be done,” said Jim Karas at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Karas said Kinder Morgan just applied for a change of use, because their terminal is already set up to receive ethanol trains.

So even though it’s now Bakken crude, key agencies involved don’t seem to care. “This would not be something that would be a significant concern to us,” said Karas.

KPIX 5 called the city of Richmond to see if they approved the project. They said Kinder Morgan leases the rail yard from Burlington Northern Railroad, which is under federal jurisdiction. Bottom line they said they have no control.

Kinder Morgan confirms it is receiving the trains and is in compliance with air quality district permits. In a statement to KPIX they said : “Kinder Morgan is committed to public safety, protection of the environment and operation of our facilities in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations. It is our goal to work openly and cooperatively with all stakeholders regarding environmental, health and safety (EH&S) issues. Among other related EH&S programs, policies and procedures (including annual EPA compliance and ethics training for employees) to help us achieve that goal, we integrate Kinder Morgan EH&S employees into each business unit, where they actively participate in the overall operating success of the organization.”