California Refinery Gets Green Light for Five Times As Much Bakken Crude By Rail

California Refinery Gets Green Light for Five Times As Much Bakken Crude By Rail
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The Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved Alon USA Energy’s plan to expand the rail terminal at its Bakersfield, CA refinery to receive five times as much crude oil by train.

Alon USA, which is based in Texas, hopes to take advantage of North America’s booming oil production. The company plans to get oil from the fracked shale fields of Texas and North Dakota, which likely means a big increase in the amount of highly volatile Bakken crude imported into California. Reuters reports that the rail terminal will also be outfitted with the equipment to offload tar sands oil from Canada.

The Associated Press reported the news in stark terms: “Mile-long trains filled with millions of gallons of flammable crude oil may be rolling through Kern County next year.”

The company’s plan is to increase the capacity of the refinery’s rail terminal from 40 to 208 tank cars per day, which would make it the largest crude-by-rail facility in California (though Valero has similar plans for its Benicia, CA refinery, it would only increase its capacity to 100 cars a day). Alon USA‘s Bakersfield refinery, which has not been in full operation since 2012, will also be retrofit to process lighter Bakken crude.

Environmentalists are decrying the 5-0 vote to let Alon USA go ahead with the plan, saying the Board of Supervisors rushed its decision-making process and, in doing so, drastically understated the potentially devastating impacts that bringing more Bakken crude-by-rail to Kern County could have on public health and safety.

“The county has rushed this enormous project through faster than I have ever seen,” Kassie Siegel, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Sacramento Bee. “I suspect the next stop is to go to court to challenge the project.”

Environmental law firm Earthjustice challenged the Environment Impact Report relied on by the Kern County Board of Supervisors in making its decision, saying it had not adequately considered the safety of trains hauling highly volatile Bakken crude over hazardous mountain passes and ignored impacts to human health in Kern County, which already has some of the worst air quality in the country.

“There are so many ways that this plan is so wrong for Kern County,” Earthjustice senior associate attorney Wendy Park said in a press statement. She goes on to list several:

It will route mile-long trains hauling highly volatile fossil fuels over steep and treacherous mountain passes along outdated rail lines. It will bring Bakken crude, which in addition to being explosive also vaporizes easily, releasing emissions into the Central Valley already overburdened by extreme air pollution and home to a disproportionate number of people with asthma and other ailments. Finally, it sets California back in its mission to wean off fossil fuels and embrace clean energy. The County Board members should be focused on protecting citizens over industry, not closing their eyes and crossing their fingers that nothing catastrophic befalls the communities in the paths of these oil trains.

According to the California Energy Commission, more than 6 million barrels of oil were imported into California by rail in 2013, compared to just over 1 million barrels in 2012. The Golden State had imported some 3.65 million barrels so far in 2014 as of July, putting it on pace to meet or beat last year’s record.

Image Credit: Tanks with fuel being transported by rail by huyangshu / Shutterstock.com

California Refinery Gets Green Light for Five Times As Much Bakken Crude By Rail
Mike Gaworecki is a San Francisco-based journalist who writes about energy, climate, and forest issues for DeSmogBlog and Mongabay.com. His writing has appeared on BillMoyers.com, Alternet, Treehugger, Change.org, Huffington Post, and more. He is also a novelist whose debut “The Mysticist” came out via FreemadeSF in 2014.

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