crude oil and flammable liquids

Business Day

North Dakota Regulators Tell Producers to Filter Crude Oil of Flammable Liquids

A tanker truck leaving the depot in New Town, N.D., where crude oil is shipped from the fields.

North Dakota regulators on Tuesday ordered producers pumping oil from the Bakken shale field to begin removing flammable natural gas liquids from their product before shipment in an effort to prevent deadly explosions involving trains.

The Bakken field has played a major part in the spurt of oil drilling that has raised domestic production by more than 70 percent over the last six years. But a series of explosive accidents involving trains carrying Bakken crude, including one last year in Quebec that took 47 lives, has raised fears in many cities where oil trains regularly transit.

Oil companies rely on the trains because the Bakken shale field has been developed so quickly and adequate pipelines do not exist in and around North Dakota.

The new regulations set by the North Dakota Industrial Commission will require producers of Bakken crude to process their product through mandated temperatures and pressures that regulators hope will remove much of the butane, propane and other volatile liquids commonly found in the North Dakota crude.

“The North Dakota Industrial Commission reiterates the importance of making Bakken crude oil as safe as possible for transportation,” the commission, led by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said in a joint statement after a meeting on Tuesday. “This order will bring every barrel of Bakken crude within standards to improve the safety of oil for transport.”

Once the rules are in force early next year, transported North Dakota crude oil will have a similar volatility to that of automobile gasoline, which should decrease the risk and size of any fire that might occur once a rail car is punctured in an accident, according to state regulators.

City of Benecia, California

The hot national debate over crude oil train safety has taken an unusual twist in the Bay Area city of Benicia, where a blunt-talking mayor’s right to free speech is being pitted against an oil company’s right to a fair public hearing.

This summer, amid tense public debate over a Valero Refining Co. proposal to bring crude oil on trains to its Benicia plant, Mayor Elizabeth Patterson revealed that the city attorney had privately advised her that her frequent public comments about oil transport safety could be seen as bias against the Valero project.

The mayor said the city attorney advised her to stop talking about the oil trains and sending out mass emails containing articles and other information, and to recuse herself from voting when it came before the council.

Patterson, a longtime community planner and environmental activist, is refusing to step aside, saying she has a duty to share information with constituents about the city’s pivotal role in the crude oil debate, one of the biggest environmental fights in the state.

New Oil Train Terminal

From page A10 | November 21, 2014 |

By Elizabeth Lasensky, Carol Warren and Lynne Nittler

Uprail residents have until Monday at 4:30 p.m. to send comments on the Phillips 66 Rail Spur Extension Project at the Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo County. Letters may be sent to Murry Wilson at

Those who wish to write their own letter may email Lynne Nittler at for information on topics and a letter template, or they may add their names to the complete version of the following letter. Simply email Nittler and express your wish to sign the letter.

In communities up and down the West Coast, groups of environmentalists, neighbors and local governments are doing whatever they can to mitigate or outright stop railroad terminals being built at coastal refineries at the end of rail lines that cut through cities and sensitive environmental areas.

Davis residents joined the fight earlier this year against the Valero oil refinery in Benicia, and now are adding their voices to a chorus opposing a Phillips 66 facility in San Luis Obispo County.

A local collection of environmental watchdogs called the Yolano Climate Action Group was one of the first to realize the potential public safety threat of Bakken crude oil trains traveling from out of state, through Roseville, Davis and to Benicia.

The group successfully petitioned the city of Davis Natural Resources Commission in January to oppose the Valero project. The commission then was successful in persuading the City Council a few months later to begin monitoring the project and round up support from government agencies like Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to lobby Benicia for a more complete environmental impact report.

“It was Davis that alerted the entire region,” said Lynne Nittler, a coordinator for the Yolano Climate Action Group.

Meanwhile, Davis’ state and federal representatives have been doing what they can, within the limits of strong federal pre-emption laws for railroads.

Trains carrying the hazardous materials have derailed and exploded in recent years, most notably in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where a July 6, 2013, derailment caused a fire and wiped out a portion of the town, killing 47 people and forcing 2,000 others to flee. A subsequent derailment and explosion just outside Casselton, N.D., in January also alarmed the public.

If the Valero refinery railroad terminal is built at Benicia, Davis would see trains estimated to be 100 cars long filled with volatile Bakken shale crude oil traveling straight through downtown along the same route the Amtrak Capital Corridor uses to carry commuters.

Phillips 66 terminal

But Davis faces another possible threat, as well.

Far to the south and west of Davis are the Central California coast communities of San Luis Obispo County, housing the Phillips 66 oil refinery near the Nipomo Mesa and — potentially — another rail terminal.

That terminal would attract more trains filled with Canadian tar sands crude oil, traveling through Roseville, Davis, Oakland, San Jose and Salinas to Phillips 66. While somewhat less volatile than Bakken shale crude, tar sands crude is mixed with chemical thinners that make it potentially explosive.

Laurence Shinderman leads an activist group in Nipomo opposing the Phillips 66 railroad terminal called the Mesa Refinery Watch Group. The group’s ranks swelled from a handful in recent months to 250 residents spearheading a letter-writing campaign targeting the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

The county is leading the environmental review process for the railroad terminal. Yolano Climate Action Group, the city of Davis and SACOG have submitted their concerns, as well.

Shinderman said Nittler has been helping from the start, giving advice to the Mesa Refinery Watch Group.

The mission among the Davis group is to get people to go from NIMBY to NOPE, or from saying, “Not In My Back Yard” to “Not On Planet Earth,” Nittler said.

It represents a shift in thinking from opposing a particular project to a wider understanding of what environmentalists consider a dangerous trend of oil by rail along the West Coast.

In San Luis Obispo County, the rail line that would carry the oil runs through the Cal Poly SLO campus and over a bridge adjacent to a county drinking water treatment facility.

“The reality is there is human error, there are guys who are going to fall asleep at the switch,” Shinderman said. “You can’t mitigate for human error. The railroad is hiding behind the skirt of federal pre-emption and saying, “Ah, you can’t do anything.’ ”

Federal protection

Under federal code, any laws governing railroads must be uniform across the country, “to the extent practicable.”

That forbids the vast majority of local tinkering, but a small “savings clause” says a state may regulate some railroad activity provided the situation is geared at a local, but not statewide, safety hazard; is not in conflict with federal law; and does not “unreasonably” restrict railroad commerce.

The party claiming federal pre-emption has the burden of proof in any case.

In the matter of the railroad terminals, local cities and counties are ostensibly in charge of the approval — or disapproval — of the projects.

Even there, federal law may give the oil companies and the railroads a recourse in court if the terminals aren’t built.

According to the Association of  American Railroads, rail safety is a top priority. In accordance with a 2014 emergency order from the federal Department of Transportation, rail companies are required to notify state emergency response agencies about the routes of trains carrying large amounts of Bakken crude.

The association also notes that railroads train thousands of first responders, including using a $5 million specialized crude-by-rail training and a tuition assistance program, which is estimated to serve 1,500 first responders in 2014.

“If an incident occurs, railroads swiftly implement well-practiced emergency response plans and work closely with first responders to help minimize injuries or damage,” reads a position statement on the association’s website.

The association said the industry is also advocating for safer rail cars that are less prone to disaster. The association claims that in 2013, freight railroads “stepped up the call for even more rigorous standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids” that included asking that existing tank cars be retrofitted to meet higher standards or be “phased out.”

Nittler said that was a smokescreen, and the federal government does not impose rules the industry doesn’t agree to first.

Even according to AAR, the federal Railroad Safety Advisory Committee that develops safety standards for rail transport uses a “consensus process” to impose new safety standards.

Legislative help

Davis’ Democratic congressman, Rep. John Garamendi, is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He said the committee is in the process of crafting new rules for railroads.

“I have and will continue to push them to write the strongest possible guidelines,” Garamendi said in an email.

At the state Capitol, state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is part of efforts to pass laws that levy taxes on railroads to provide money for first responders.

“The volume of crude oil being imported into California has increased 100-fold in recent years, and Valero has plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil per day through the heart of my district to its refinery in Benicia,” Wolk wrote in an email.

“… Currently, local governments along these transport corridors don’t have sufficient funding to protect their communities. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, I will push for funding for developing and maintaining adequate state and local emergency response to accidents and spills involving rail transports of crude oil and other hazardous materials.”

Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads filed suit against the state in October, claiming that California or any other state does not have the authority to impose safety requirements on them because federal law already does that.

That may put a damper on a new North Dakota law passed Thursday that requires companies to stabilize the volatility of Bakken crude before shipping it out of the state. Texas already requires such handling.

In the meantime, Nittler is busy trying to drum up support for a letter-writing campaign to the SLO Board of Supervisors before a 4:30 p.m. deadline Monday for comments on its draft environmental review.

“If they don’t build it, they won’t come,” Shinderman said.

— Reach Dave Ryan at or 530-747-8057. Follow him on

Oil Train Fear in San Jose

Oil trains in San Jose: Phillips 66 refinery expansion could imperil downtown
By Richard Nevle and Deborah LevoySpecial to the Mercury News
POSTED: 11/18/2014 10:00:00 AM PST0 COMMENTS
For generations of Americans, the rhythmic sound of a distant freight train has inspired dreams of freedom and possibility. But the trains rolling through Northern California communities may soon carry massive charges of highly toxic tar sands crude. Rather than hopeful dreams, these trains could bring nightmarish catastrophes to the heart of San José’s downtown neighborhoods.

Oil-giant Phillips 66 is agitating to upgrade its Santa Maria refinery near San Luis Obispo to build a rail spur that will enable it to begin receiving oil trains carrying massive loads of noxious tar sands crude. If approved, these oil trains will roll through thousands of California communities, including downtown San José, threatening our safety, air, water and climate. Even Phillips 66 admits transporting this oil will result in “significant and unavoidable” levels of toxic air pollution to the towns along the route.

The mile-long trains transport millions of gallons of volatile oil in unsafe tank cars that are prone to derailing and exploding. California’s railways weren’t built to transport this noxious oil. If you think oil spills can’t happen in San José, consider that more rail-transported oil spilled in 2013 than in the four prior decades. Or ask relatives of the 47 people who were incinerated when an oil train exploded in Quebec in July, 2013.

Why should we ask California’s brave first responders to risk their lives to fight the fires, explosions and spills that would likely ensue from this plan, just to further the profit margin of Phillips 66?


Oil trains aren’t just a public safety nightmare. The toxic tar sands oil they carry is some of the most polluting, climate-torching crude on the planet. Fighting the trains is fighting for a decarbonized energy future. It’s about working toward a future in which we might still have half a hope of averting the worst of a climate catastrophe, a future to which we were thankfully nudged closer by the announcement of President Obama’s landmark agreement with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions last week.

California will continue to lead the world toward a decarbonized economy, and it’s time for its citizens to step up active resistance to the oil industry’s attempts to expand crude transport infrastructure that will move our state and our planet in the wrong direction.

The defeat Nov. 4 of three Chevron-backed candidates in the city of Richmond, who were funded to tune of $1.3 million, should remind us that sometimes California’s citizens, just like David, know how to aim their sling.

Oil companies including ConocoPhillips, of which Phillips 66 is a subsidiary, have contributed huge sums of money to forestall meaningful legislative action on the climate, actively working against the public interest in order to line their own pockets. The proposed facility expansion in Santa Maria is motivated by more of the same amoral self-interest that willfully places the public health, land, water and climate at risk.

We can’t hope for oil companies to behave ethically. That would be perilous. We simply have to fight them every step of the way. So we call on the citizens of San José to join people across California to contact the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors and urge them to reject the Phillips 66 proposed rail spur. (Link to submit comment:

People get ready, cause there’s a train a comin’.

Richard Nevle and Deborah Levoy of San Jose are active with 350 Silicon Valley, a local branch of the international environmental activist group They wrote this for this newspaper.

New York Oil Trains

New York proactive on oil trains
By Joe Martens and Joan McDonald, Commentary
Published 4:49 pm, Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The unprecedented boom in crude oil transport by rail throughout the United States, and through the Port of Albany in particular, has heightened fears that derailments and accidental releases could jeopardize public safety and cause environmental harm. Those concerns are real, given the tragedy at Lac Megantic in July 2013, and subsequent accidents which released thousands of gallons of crude oil to the environment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was the first state leader to recognize the seriousness of the issue. In January 2014, he directed several state agencies to comprehensively review safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to rail and water shipments of crude oil.

The report, issued on April 30, identified major concerns with the type of rail cars being used and the lack of information and notification to local responders. In addition, the state made a host of recommendations to federal agencies, since rail transport is the exclusive domain of the federal government, a fact that many critics still choose to ignore.

On the basis of that report, Cuomo immediately asked President Barack Obama to finalize long overdue new and retrofitted tank car regulations. This is underway now.

The state also recommended that the oil industry commit to reducing the volatility of certain crude oil prior to shipment — a technique that would greatly reduce the danger associated with transporting Bakken crude. Last week, we urged North Dakota to take swift action on this issue to make communities safer and more protected from oil train accidents by requiring the removal of volatile gases from crude oil at the source before it is shipped.

The state has stepped up its own efforts. The Department of Transportation hired new railroad inspectors and increased its rail inspections. On Sept. 29, DOT filed comments with the federal Department of Transportation on its proposed rule-making pertaining to the transport of crude oil. Specifically, we strongly urged USDOT to move swiftly on advancing the replacement of USDOT-111 cars, and to mandate and strengthen the railroad safety and emergency response plans.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, working in conjunction with the Coast Guard, has accelerated efforts to update geographic response plans and the location of sensitive environmental resources along rail routes in New York state. As recently as last week, we have conducted drills with the railroads and local responders to ensure that when accidents occur we are prepared, can respond quickly and minimize the damage from spills.

The Port of Albany has been the center of concerns about the transport of crude oil, since two major oil storage facilities there have become a conduit for crude oil. One of these facilities, owned by Global Companies, has submitted a request to DEC to amend its air permit so that it can heat certain heavy crude oil products and facilitate their shipment through the Port. Nearby residents have expressed their concerns about this permit modification and DEC is taking this very seriously.

Although the Times Union and others have criticized DEC’s efforts, the fact is that DEC is conducting a very thorough, open and transparent review of Global’s application, has undertaken a community air monitoring effort to establish a baseline of the air quality in the vicinity of the Port, and we continue to work closely with the local community and will not take any action until we are satisfied that its concerns are addressed.

The state is doing everything in its power to ensure that crude oil is transported safely, and if accidents do occur, all levels of government respond quickly and effectively. The federal government, rail carriers, and oil companies need to do the same.

Joe Martens is commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Joan McDonald is commissioner of the state Department. of Transportation

Republican victories mean that the Keystone Pipeline will be built and take business away from Oil Trains

The Republican victories mean that the Keystone Pipeline will be built and take business away from TRN Currently Eagle Ford and Williston crude oil is being shipped to California by rail. Several California cities and the California Attorney General are complaining about rail safety. So, that business will probably leave California.

The Obama administration hasn’t taken a final position on Keystone yet:

Richmond, California

The cover page of the Communities for a Better Environment's presentation on crude-by-rail depicts the aftermath of the 2012 Lac-Megantic train disaster in Quebec. The environmentalist group urged Richmond City Council to take action against Kinder Morgan. (Photo Courtesy of: CBE)


Kinder Morgan’s Richmond depot takes in dozens of DOT-111 train cars laden with Bakken crude oil from North Dakota every week. (Phil James/Richmond Confidential)

By Phil JamesPosted 2 hours ago

If you go to the website and zoom in on Richmond, what you’ll find is disconcerting. According to the 1-3 mile buffer zone on the map, the entire city and its 107,000 residents are in danger if trains carrying crude oil explode.

Such is the concern of several Bay Area environmental groups in Richmond who have drawn the City Council into an escalating dispute with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Kinder Morgan, which operates a local crude by rail transfer station.

“The health and safety of the community is at stake here,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said during a City Council meeting. “We are encouraging the air district to review the process.”

Richmond City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to “review” and “if feasible, revoke” the permit given to Kinder Morgan – the 5th largest energy company in the United States — to take in crude oil by rail. Based in Texas, the company was founded in 1997 by two former Enron executives.

The crude, from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota, ignites and explodes more easily than more traditional crudes. On the heels of a major oil boom, transportation of crude by rail in the North America increased by 423 percent between 2011 and 2012, and more crude shipped by rail was spilled in 2013 than in the four previous decades combined.

In 2012, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and decimating the small Canadian town. This, among other incidents, has prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to label Bakken transport by rail as an “imminent hazard”.

Several community groups have rallied to ban the movement of crude shipments through Richmond. Megan Zapanta of The Asian Pacific Environmental Network said she’s worried that a lack of attention could have dire consequences.

“Bakken crude has not been well-documented here,” she said. “If there’s some disaster, how will we get the word out to our immigrant community?”

Evan Reis, a structural engineer for Hinman Consulting Engineers, released a report earlier this year assessing the probability of a crude-laden train derailing in the East Bay.

He estimates there is a six in 10 chance of derailment on the line running from San Jose through Richmond to Martinez within the next 30 years.

“Given the fact that these are highly urbanized places we are going through,” he said by phone, “A 60 percent probability would be of concern to me.”

McLaughlin pledged to support Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) as they consider appealing the air district decision to grant Kinder Morgan a permit to funnel crude through Richmond by rail cars. The city does not have the jurisdiction to revoke any licenses or permits from the company. The permit must go through the air district, where it can be reviewed with respect to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

In March, CBE filed a lawsuit against BAAQMD for failing to publicly disclose the permit to the residents of Richmond. The group only noticed the arrival of crude by rail because a local television station, KPIX,discovered that Kinder Morgan was bringing Bakken crude to its Richmond depot.

The Tesoro refinery in Martinez receives the Bakken shipments by truck after they are transferred from the rail depot in Richmond. Richmond’s Chevron refinery does not take in any of the Bakken crude.

In September, the lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds because the complaint by the CBE was not filed within 180 days of the permit’s issuance.

The permit, which was filed by BAAQMD staff in 2013, drew ire from environmental groups because it was not subject to an environmental impact report, and was granted without review from the district’s board.

Andres Soto, a representative of Communities for a Better Environment in Richmond, appealed to Richmodn leaders to counter the decision.

“Kinder Morgan issued an illegal permit to bring Bakken crude into Richmond without public notice or review,” Soto said.

Ralph Borrmann, public information officer for the BAAQMD, declined to comment until the end of the appeal period. The CBE has considered a challenge of the ruling.

The Kinder Morgan depot has been taking in ethanol by rail since 2010, but they have since diversified their intake to include Bakken crude. Kinder Morgan officials, though, say the concerns are overstated.

“We didn’t feel that the profile of the crude oil arriving was materially different,” Melissa Ruiz, a spokesperson for the Texas-based company, wrote in an email.

Charlie Davidson, a member of the Sunflower Alliance speaking on behalf of CBE, disagrees.

“They’re basically running tin cans on 100 cars,” he told Richmond City Council. “The flash point [of Bakken Crude] is so volatile that it could burn in Antarctica.”

Randy Sawyer, Chief Environmental Healthand Hazardous Materials Officer in Contra Costa County, acknowledged the dangers but also downplayed the risk of a major disaster.

“It’s a hazardous material and there’s concern of derailment and fire,” he said in an interview by phone. “But if you put it in relation to other materials, it isn’t as hazardous as chlorine or ammonia. It’s equivalent to ethanol or gasoline.”

“The biggest concern with crude by rail is not so much than the hazard being worse, it’s just the huge amount of quantity that’s being shipped by rail,” Sawyer said.

Since the dismissal of the lawsuit, other municipalities in the North Bay have rallied against crude by rail. In Sacramento, a lawsuit by Earth Justice prompted the local air board to revoke a permit from Inter-State Oil Company on the grounds that they did not disclose the potential public health and safety concerns to local residents.

Suma Peesapati, a member of Earth Justice, drew similarities between Sacramento and Richmond.

“Kinder Morgan’s project in Richmond is virtually identical to the air district issued permits for unloading crude in Sacramento,” she said. “The [Bay Area] Air District made it clear they issued a permit in error, rather than engage in this formal process.”

Despite the resolution passing, Richmond Councilmember Jael Myrick expressed just as much weariness as concern for the issue.

“The frustration that we had the last time we talked about this is it just seems there is so little we can do to combat it.”

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