Richmond oil train offloading (screen grab: CBS San Francisco)
Although press reports raised an alert months ago that crude oil imports to California, which usually arrive via ocean transports and pipeline, have increasingly begun arriving by rail, not everyone at the California Energy Commission (CEC) is apparently paying attention.
Last week, CBS San Francisco was tipped off to a 100-car train loaded with crude sitting in a Richmond rail yard and asked commission Senior Fuels Specialist Gordon Schremp about it. The train is similar to one that exploded in Quebec last July killing 47 people, burning down 50 buildings and unleashing a “river of burning oil” through sewers and basements.
“At this point we don’t have any of those facilities operating in California,” he said, just moments before the reporter showed him footage of the train. Afterward, he said, “It’s certainly a recent change that you know, we haven’t been made aware of that.”
Until recently, the terminal was used to service so-called unit trains that were bringing in ethanol, a far less dangerous fuel.
In 2012, only 0.2% of the 598 million barrels of oil arrived by rail in California. Railroads are carrying 25 times more crude oil nationally than they were five years ago and the increase is reflected in oil spill incidents.
The commission has said it expects rail to account for a quarter of imports by 2016 as oil production in the West booms and producers look for refiners. And, of course, tar sands oil from Canada looms as Alberta looks to ship the world’s dirtiest petroleum product to the Gulf Coast via the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and California via trucks and rail.
The reporter questioned Schremp about whether Kinder Morgan, the energy company that operates the terminal, needed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before bringing in the crude. He told KCBS it probably isn’t a problem if the train is just sitting in temporary storage in Richmond. But it isn’t.
The TV station filmed tanker trucks offloading oil from the train cars. The oil, from North Dakota’s Bakken area, is said to be considerably more flammable than conventional crude. And, according to Environment and Energy Daily, transportation experts warn that the aging train cars are susceptible to rupture and puncture in a derailment.
The city of Richmond said they had no control over the terminal, which is under federal jurisdiction.