Category Archives: Earthquake

Benicia-Martinez bridge – a Bay Area LIFELINE in the “big one”

The Earthquake Effect: 30 years after Loma Prieta quake, scientists call Bay Area ‘Tectonic Time Bomb’

ABC 7 Eyewitness News, by Jennifer Olney, October 17, 2019

“The only big bridges built to Lifeline standards are the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. The other big bridges are expected to stand up in a big quake, but might not be usable for some time after.”

SAN FRANCISCO — Thirty years after the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area, killing 63 people, scientists have a chilling reminder: that quake was just a warm up.

“The first thing for people to realize is that Loma Prieta was not the big one,” warned Richard Allen, head of the U.C. Berkeley Seismological Lab.

The Loma Prieta quake in Oct. 1989 left 16,000 homes uninhabitable, knocked out a section of the Bay Bridge and caused the collapse of a double decker freeway in Oakland.

The disaster prompted an explosion of research in the Bay Area and a lot of science-based predictions about what will happen when the “real big one” hits. David Schwartz, geologist emeritus with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), describes the Bay Area as a “tectonic time bomb.”

ABC7 ORIGINAL SERIES: ‘The Earthquake Effect’ provides in-depth coverage on Bay Area’s readiness for the next major earthquake

“It is going to be the challenge of all our lives when we have this earthquake happen here” according to Mary Ellen Carroll, head of the San Francisco Office of Emergency Management.

The last time the San Andreas Fault unleashed its full power in the Bay Area was the Great San Francisco Quake of 1906, believed to have been magnitude 7.9.

That earthquake left an estimated 3,000 people dead and 225,000 homeless. The USGS calculates the 1906 quake released 16 times more energy than the Loma Prieta quake.

Now scientists say the network of faults running under the Bay Area is locked and loaded. The USGS calculates there is a 72 percent chance of a major quake here by the year 2043.

VIDEO: The catastrophic fall and slow rise of the Bay Bridge after Loma Prieta

“Regardless of where you live in the Bay Area, you’re not far from a fault, and there are enough faults that, if any one of them has a major earthquake, it’s going to affect the entire Bay Area,” according to USGS Geologist Belle Philibosian.

Schwartz believes many people will be surprised at the amount of damage that occurs in a major quake, despite years of improved engineering, retrofitting, rebuilding and planning.

He points to what he calls a “smaller” quake, the magnitude 6.0 temblor that hit Napa in 2014. Damage estimates ran up to a billion dollars. But in a magnitude 7.0 or a 7.9 like the one in 1906, Schwartz expects the damage to be spread over a much, much wider area.

“If you have a minute and a half or two minutes of shaking, it’s really unclear what that’s going to do to a lot of structures that are out there,” he added.

The reason California is at such high risk for earthquakes is that we are right on the edge of two huge tectonic plates in the earth’s crust — the Pacific Plate on the west and the North American Plate on the east.

RELATED: Hayward Fault – Here’s how close you are to the most dangerous fault in America

The San Andreas Fault runs between the two plates, right through California. The Pacific Plate is constantly moving north. The movement is usually so slow we don’t feel it, but sometimes the pressure builds and the ground shoots forward faster, causing an earthquake.

Scientists believe the continued movement of the plates over millions of years will eventually lead to Los Angeles being right alongside San Francisco.

Many researchers believe the Hayward Fault is actually a bigger threat to public safety than the San Andreas. Some call it the “most dangerous fault in America.”

The Hayward Fault runs just east of the San Francisco Bay, passing through 11 cities — San Jose, Fremont, Union City, Hayward, Castro Valley, San Leandro, Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond and San Pablo.

VIDEO: What to pack in your earthquake emergency kit

Images from ABC7’s SKYMAP7 clearly show why the danger is so great. The Hayward Fault is underneath some of the most heavily populated areas in the Bay Area, with about 300 buildings directly on the fault itself.

“So when it moves, it moves two feet, or three feet or six feet, those structures are going to be stressed and many of them are going to fail” said Schwartz.

Some of the buildings along the fault are iconic structures including the Mormon Temple and Claremont Hotel in Oakland and the UC Berkeley Football Stadium.

Many of the major structures near the fault have had major seismic improvements, but most of the structures are homes that were built before new, tougher building standards. Experts say there is way to know how many of them will perform when a big earthquake hits the fault.

The Hayward Fault also crosses a lot of critical infrastructure including roads, utility lines and water mains.

The last time a really big earthquake hit the Hayward Fault was in 1868. Back then there were about 25,000 people in the area around the fault. Now there are about two million, most of whom probably have no idea what is happening right below them.

“Hayward Fault is pretty unique in that it creeps, so it actually is moving very, very slowly, all the time” explained Angeline Catena with the Math Science Nucleus.

VIDEO: Pet preparedness: How to keep your furry babies safe during a disaster or emergency

Over the past million years, that non-stop movement actually created the East Bay Hills, and the movement is not stopping.

Catena took us to Fremont’s original City Hall that sits right on the Hayward Fault. Back in 1972, a huge crack appeared in the floor and it has been growing ever since. Fremont’s city government was moved to a new building and the old building was never repaired, so the crack remains as an ongoing record of how the fault keeps growing, moving in three different directions.

Nearby is a muddy Tule pond that was once the epicenter for research on the Hayward Fault. Schwartz and other scientists spent years digging trenches and analyzing data from the pond. That research determined that over the past 1,700 years, there have been 12 large earthquakes on the Hayward Fault.

Research at the pond is over and now a BART extension to San Jose runs right across it, directly over the fault. BART has spent millions of dollars of voter approved bond money on seismic upgrades all over the system.

Schwartz also showed us around downtown Hayward where the fault’s signature is especially obvious, from some buildings slowly sliding apart, to others completely abandoned.

“You can cover the fault up, but in the end the fault always wins” Schwartz said.

Braces and bolts tell the story of constant effort to prepare for the next big earthquake, but it’s a neverending battle. Cracks are filled in and covered up, but they just keep coming back.

Experts say it is critical the public understand the danger that is coming. That’s why the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners developed a project they call “HayWired.” It is a science-based scenario showing what could happen if a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits the Hayward Fault.

An animated video shows the scenario. In a quake with an epicenter underneath the city of Oakland, the rupture races 52 miles along with fault toward Fremont and Richmond, with speeds up to 7-thousand miles per hour.

In the scenario, the ground in Berkeley and Hayward shifts 3 to 5 feet, ripping through buried pipes and wires. Violent and extreme shaking lasts up to thirty seconds or longer causing extreme damage.

“The predictions in the HayWired scenario are grim: 800 dead and 18,000 injured. Of course, this is just one possible way a major earthquake may play out.

Back at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, executive director Mary Ellen Carroll explained that realistic scenarios of what to expect in a big quake are a serious planning tool.

“How we prepare for something that we haven’t experienced is that we pretend,” she said.

Carroll showed us around the command center where her team sometimes practices for major earthquakes, often in coordination with other similar departments in other cities and counties around the bay.

“We are looking at thousands of buildings lost, potentially hundreds of thousands of people that may be trapped in the city, depending on the time of day,” she said. “There will be many injuries and deaths. There’s just no way around that. It’s not good scenario.”

RELATED: A look at the most powerful earthquakes in California history above 7.0 magnitude

And don’t think you are safe just because you don’t live or work right on a fault.

“The shaking intensity isn’t right at the fault or just at the fault, it is over a pretty wide swath as you go away from the fault,” according to Richard Allen at the U.C. Berkeley Seismological Lab. In a big quake he says, “You are going to feel strong shaking across the entire region.”

For example, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake epicenter of was in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but some of the worst damage was actually 50 miles away. The effects of a bigger quake could travel even farther.

The experts say you should expect major power outages, most communication including mobile phones and the internet will be down, thousands of people may have no water for weeks, maybe months. In addition to shake damage, major fires could cause even more destruction.

“The question is what will that be like for those of us who survive,” Carroll said. “The steps that we take to prepare individually are so critical.”

As bad as a major quake will be, every expert we talked to agreed, we are safer now than we were 30 years ago.

The Bay Area region has spent an estimated $80 billion on a wide range of seismic improvements since Loma Prieta.

Disaster recovery expert Mary Comerio says it is money well spent and she cites a long list of improvements.

RELATED: Earthquake scale: How they are measured and what the magnitude and intensity scales mean

“We have required hospitals to be significantly upgraded all across the state, locally we have improvements to Hetch Hetchy, the water supply system and to BART,” she said. “We have also had retrofit ordinances for brick buildings and soft story apartments. Many of our police and fire stations, 911 call centers, city halls have been seismically upgraded.”

Caltrans has spent over $9 billion improving and strengthening the large bridges in the Bay Area, including the completely new eastern side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge which was finished in 2013.

“We’ve had tens of thousands of professionals come here over the last twenty years and help us with this,” said Caltrans Bay Area Chief of Public Information Bart Ney. “It’s the biggest thing that we’ve ever done as a state is prepare this region for the next earthquake.”

Even so, a major earthquake is likely to do serious damage to many roads and Bay Area airports, so Caltrans has built what it calls Lifeline Routes. Lifelines are specific highways engineered to withstand the region’s strongest expected earthquake.

“These are going to be the roadways that emergency services use to begin the relief for the area once this earthquake hits” according to Ney.

The only big bridges built to Lifeline standards are the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. The other big bridges are expected to stand up in a big quake, but might not be usable for some time after.

One of the enduring lessons from Loma Prieta is that in a large scale disaster, many of us will be on our own for hours, maybe even days. Our preparation for disaster will make the difference, and so will regular people who step up when first responders are overwhelmed.

After Loma Prieta, those experiences led to the formation of a more organized citizen response for future disasters. Teams of volunteers are now constantly training all over the Bay Area, learning basic search and rescue and some first aid.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: ABC7’s Peabody Award winning coverage of 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

Looking back at ABC7 News Peabody Award winning coverage of the terrifying hours after the Loma Prieta quake, it is the courage and heart shown by both first responders and ordinary citizens that stands out.

Volunteers helped fight fires, searched for survivors in rubble, staffed shelters and took displaced neighbors into their homes. Restaurants donated meals and union workers provided free labor to help repair homes. All proving over and over that when it comes to fundamental values in a crisis ,we in the Bay Area are made of the right stuff.

There is a lot that is inspiring about what happened after the Loma Prieta earthquake, but there is still plenty of reason to be concerned about what is going to happen to each of us when a major quake hits. The best thing you can do is be ready.

Take a look at ABC7’s in-depth coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake here.

Bay Area quake caused refineries to flare; ‘What happens if there’s a big one?’

Bay Area quake caused refineries to flare; ‘What happens if there’s a big one?’

10/15/19, 5:39 p.m.
The Marathon refinery in Martinez, shown here on Tuesday, experienced a problem due to Monday’s quake and had to flare. Photo: Paul Kuroda / Special to The Chronicle

A 4.5-magnitude earthquake centered in Pleasant Hill on Monday night caused flaring at the two refineries in Martinez, local officials said.

Flaring is a safety procedure to burn off excess gas. At the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Martinez, flaring stopped at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to a company spokesman.

Portions of the Marathon refinery shut down after the quake and things restarted early Tuesday, Contra Costa County health department spokesman Will Harper said.

Flaring also occurred at the Shell refinery in Martinez, Harper said.

Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said by email that “some equipment was temporarily affected by the quake,” but operations were back to normal Tuesday morning.

The Chevron refinery in Richmond sustained “no known damage,” according to a spokeswoman. Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said in an email Tuesday that there were no major disruptions at the company’s Benicia refinery, and operations are continuing.

But the problems in Martinez prompted some people to wonder what will happen when a bigger quake strikes.

“Thank God for a small one last night, but what happens if there’s a big one?” said Torm Nomprasseurt, a senior community organizer with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network who has lived on the fence line of the Chevron Richmond refinery since 1975.

When there is a siren warning the community because of a flare at the Chevron plant, he shelters in place with his family.

“But if an earthquake happened … and we can’t stay in our house, what are we going to do?” he said.

“This is one of the challenges of living in an earthquake area with the industrial belt,” Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said Tuesday. He said officials have “gotten progressively better in the 25 years” with notifying communities about instances like flaring at refineries.

Amy Myers Jaffe, who served on the California Energy Commission’s Petroleum Market Advisory Committee and is now based at a think tank in New York, said refineries carry significant safety and environmental risks. In an earthquake, underground pipes can rupture and storage tanks of gasoline or other chemicals burn.

Robert Young, associate professor of chemical engineering practice at USC School of Engineering, who used to work for Exxon, said “flaring is a very important safety measure” because it combusts highly hazardous or acutely toxic materials instead of releasing them into the ground or inside the facility.

The plants are equipped with safety devices that tell operations to shut down automatically when a vibration is detected, said Ralph Borrmann, spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“It’s a normal process that occurs when the safety devices get triggered,” Borrmann said.

The air quality district is conducting an investigation following the quake, part of standard protocol.

At 11:10 p.m. Monday, due to the Marathon refinery problems, Level 1 of the community warning system was issued, the company said. On a scale of 0 to 3 that meant there were no expected off-site health impacts and only the health department and other county agencies were notified, according to Harper, the Contra Costa County spokesman. In the case of more significant incidents, the county would issue an advisory to the community.

Separately on Tuesday afternoon, at least two tanks caught fire after an explosion at a tank farm at a NuStar facility in Rodeo in Contra Costa County. A 4.7-magnitude earthquake struck near Hollister (San Benito County) on Tuesday shortly after noon, but it was unclear whether the explosion was quake-related. Hollister and Rodeo are 100 miles apart.

The tank farm stores fuels and hydrocarbons, according to Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County health officer, who said officials were trying to determine the explosion’s cause.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office released a shelter-in-place alert: “There is a hazardous materials emergency in Crockett and Rodeo at the NuStar facility. The danger will be much less indoors. Go inside, and close all windows and doors. Turn off all heaters, air conditioners, and fans,” the alert read.

“Unless you are using your fireplace, close your fireplace dampers and vents. Cover any cracks around doors or windows with tape or damp towels. Stay off the phone unless you need to report a life-threatening emergency at your location. Remain sheltered indoors until you receive further official instructions. Stay off the phones and do not call 911 unless you have a life threatening emergency.”

According to the company website, the facility has 24 tanks and holds a capacity of 3.04 million barrels.

Chronicle staff writer Anna Bauman contributed to this report.  Mallory Moench and Megan Cassidy are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. 

EXPERT REPORT ON LOCAL IMPACTS: Dr. Phyllis Fox rips Valero’s oil train proposal

By Roger Straw, April 5, 2016

The Benicia Independent is in receipt of the 92-page expert analysis of Dr. Phyllis Fox, submitted yesterday to the City of Benicia.  As of this posting, the report has not been posted on the City’s website.

The report focuses primarily on the many significant local impacts and risk factors.  This is highly important, in that the Council is being urged to ignore all of the crucial uprail factors of health and safety that have been identified.

City staff, paid consultants, the City’s contract attorney and Valero have all cited federal law that protects railroads from local or state regulation. Together, they claim that Benicia’s City Council may not deny or mitigate Valero’s plan based on anything beyond Valero’s small boundary.

Nearly a dozen opposing attorneys have testified to the contrary, asserting that Benicia has every right to deny a permit to a company like Valero that is NOT a railroad, and to condition any approval on local government and police powers to protect the health and safety of the community and those affected by impacts of the project.

Should the Council choose to ignore uprail impacts, Dr. Fox’s lengthy listing of local impacts will offer a clear path for a decisive vote to reject Valero’s proposal.  Taken together, the horrific uprail impacts alongside these daunting on-site health and safety impacts make a convincing case for denial.

Short of denial of the land use permit for the project, Dr. Fox has shown the many fatal flaws and inadequacies of the EIR.  She calls for it to be revised and recirculated yet again.

Dr. Fox’s table of contents and a significant excerpt follow. (Significant excerpt.) (Complete document.)


……A. On-Site Fugitive Railcar ROG Emissions Are Significant
……B. Feasible Mitigation For On-Site Fugitive Railcar ROG Emissions
……C. Storage Tank ROG Emissions
…………1. Tanks Violate BAAQMD Rule 8-5
…………2. Feasible Tank Mitigation


……A. The EIR’s Quantitative Significance Risk Assessment Is Incorrect and Unsupported
…………1. The Santa Barbara County CEQA Guidelines Are Misapplied
…………2. The Santa Barbara CEQA Guidelines Are Not Solely Applicable
…………3. The EIR’s Quantitative Risk Assessment Is Unsupported
……B. Off-Site Risks from On-Site Accidents Are Significant
…………1. Number of Injuries
…………2. Number of Fatalities
…………3. Feasible Mitigation
……C. The EIR Fails to Evaluate All Feasible Types of Accidents
……D. The EIR Fails to Evaluate All Feasible On-Site Accident Scenarios
…………1. Accidents During Train Maneuvering at Unloading Facility (Impact 4.7-3)
…………2. Accidents During Line Hookup And Crude Oil Transfer (Impact 4.7-4)
…………3. BLEVE (Thermal Tear)
……E. Accidents at Other Project Facilities Were Excluded
…………1. Crude Oil Pipeline
…………2. Crude Tank Farm
…………3. Access Road
……F. Factors Contributing to Hazard Impact Significance
…………1. The Location
…………2. Ignition Sources
…………3. External Events
…………4. Centroid Location
…………5. Other Rail Traffic

……A. Flooding Could Increase Hazards
……B. The Project Could Increase Flooding
……C. Flood Mitigation
……D. The EIR Fails to Address Benicia General Plan Requirements

SIGNIFICANT EXCERPT (footnotes removed here):

[Benicia’s] Community Development Director (CDD) concluded “the Project’s on-site impacts are mitigated to a less than significant level and all the findings can be made to approve the Use Permit.” Thus, Staff recommended that the City Council overturn the Planning Commission’s denial, certify the FEIR, and approve the Use Permit (3/9/16 CDD Memo).

SAFER requested that I review the CDD’s conclusions, focusing on on-site impacts. My analysis of the record and additional analyses, documented below, indicate that the Project will result in significant on-site impacts that have not been disclosed in the EIR. These include:

• Significant on-site emissions of reactive organic gases (ROG) from railcar fugitives;
• Significant on-site ROG emissions from change in service of existing crude oil storage tanks;
• Significant cancer, chronic, and acute health impacts from benzene emitted from railcar fugitives;
• Significant off-site injury and fatality impacts from on-site accidents;
• Significant off-site flooding impacts from on-site infrastructure and railcars; and
• Significant off-site injury and fatality impacts from on-site accidents caused by seismic shaking.

Thus, the EIR must be revised to disclose these impacts, impose all feasible mitigation, and be recirculated.

Tesoro Savage Port of Vancouver report: 28 more oil trains each week; salmon, earthquake, derailment risks, etc.

Repost from the Seattle Times
[Editor:  The press is full of revealing information taken from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) analyzing the proposed Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project.  The document was released yesterday.  Several media links are provided below.  – RS]

28 more oil trains across state each week if big terminal built, study says

By Hal Bernton,  November 24, 2015, Updated 11/25/15 9:25 am

A major oil terminal proposed for Vancouver, Wash., would bring an additional 28 oil trains per week across the state and launch a new era of oil-tanker traffic down the Columbia River, according to a draft state study released Tuesday.
…but concerns about the risks of oil-train derailments … the study noted that trains also may deliver bitumen — a heavier crude …  [FULL STORY]

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