Category Archives: California Regulation

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.”


Mayor Patterson’s Op Ed, SF Chronicle, 03Mar2014

Repost from San Francisco Chronicle, Opinion, Open Forum

Governor must ensure rail tanker safety

Elizabeth Patterson
March 3, 2014                                 

There isn’t a moment to lose. Gov. Jerry Brown should 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 by rail and water into California.

There should be no hesitancy in taking this step, and no excuse. The exponential increase in the shipment of this “peculiar” crude is documented and has the attention of my community, and my sister communities in Solano, Contra Costa, Yolo and Sacramento counties. Citizens have organized to ask local and state officials to address their concerns about the safety of the increased rail transport of crude in what many experts – and the National Transportation Safety Board – say are the notorious DOT-111A tank cars, whose design makes them prone to puncture in accidents.

Last year’s explosive tanker rail accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killed 47 people, destroyed its small downtown and spilled fuel that burned on the lake and its shore. As the Davis Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk noted in his letter to me, “A similar accident in Davis as the one in Quebec would likely produce even more catastrophic results, in terms of loss of life and the destruction of our downtown.”

According to the California Energy Commission, crude by rail shipments will increase in 2014 to more than 50 million barrels from the 6 million barrels in 2013.

We have seen fiery accidents documented last year with 10 major explosions involving oil trains in the United States and Canada. Clearly these increased crude-by-rail shipments in unsafe tank cars pose imminent danger to the small rural communities, such as Dunsmuir (Siskiyou County), the site of a 1991 derailment that dumped thousands of gallons of pesticide into the Sacramento River, dense urban settings in the Bay Area and all that lies in between.

Public safety must be addressed. Rail incidents involving crude oil spills increased exponentially from fewer than five in 2000 to 90 in 2012, as reported by the Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration. And there is more: While the burning of Mégantic Lake is an environmental disaster, our stressed and endangered rivers, delta and wetlands alongside the tracks in California are also at risk.

These shipments of Bakken formation oil are carloads of hazardous chemicals, often incorrectly labeled. How would the Suisun Marsh survive a potential spill, explosion and fire? What contaminants could enter our delta waterways – a water source for 25 million Californians – from several vulnerable rail crossings?

The governor should waste no time in issuing an executive order that would address:

Are we prepared? The governor should direct state agencies, working with federal authorities, to assess the state’s prevention and response rules, as well as inspection programs, involving the transport of petroleum products.

Who responds? Which are the relevant local agencies? Are there well-trained, well-equipped personnel ready to respond to rural, urban and environmental incidents?

What’s the law? Does the Legislature need to change the law or regulations to enhance safety and improve coordination with federal agencies to improve the state’s ability to prevent and respond to incidents?

As mayor of a small city affected by the increase in crude-by-rail traffic, oil and hazardous materials off-loading, I expect nothing less than my state to focus its attention and resources on these public health and safety concerns – for the sake of us all.

Elizabeth Patterson is the mayor of Benicia, a refinery town.