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Future Blast Zones? How Crude-By-Rail Puts U.S. Communities At Risk

By Steve Early - Telesur, March 23, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The transport of petroleum via rail is now a well-known and unwelcome sight in many other U.S. communities. Its long distance rail transport has resulted in five major train fires and explosions in the last 16 months alone.

Now a diverse industrial city of 100,000, Richmond is still crisscrossed with tracks, both main lines and shorter ones, serving its deep-water port, huge Chevron oil refinery, and other local businesses.

Trains just arriving or being readied for their next trip, move in and out of a sprawling Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail yard located right next to the oldest part of town. Some train formations are more than 100 cars long. The traffic stalls they create on nearby streets and related use of loud horns, both day and night, have long been a source of neighborhood complaints. Persistent city hall pressure has succeeded in cutting horn blasts by about 1,000 a day, through the creation of several dozen much appreciated “quiet zones.” No other municipality in California has established so many, but only after many years of wrestling with the industry.

Despite progress on the noise front, many trackside residents continue to experience “quality of life” problems related to the air they breath. Some of their complaints arise from Richmond’s role as a transfer point for coal and petroleum coke (aka “pet coke”) being exported to Asia. As one Richmond official explained at a community meeting in March, these “climate wrecking materials” wend their way through the city in open cars—leaving, in their wake, houses, backyards, and even parked cars covered with a thick film of grimy, coal dust. Coal train fall-out has become so noisome in Richmond that its seven-member city council—now dominated by environmental activists— wants the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to mandate the use of enclosed cars.

This would seem to be a no-brainer, public health-wise. But the track record of this particular governmental agency—in any area related to public health and safety—has not been confidence inspiring lately. The BAAQMD is already complicit with the creation of Richmond’s most troubling new fossil fuel hazard in recent memory. For the last year, that threat has been on display, as far as the eye can see, at BNSF, which is owned by Nebraska billionaire Warren Buffett. Buffett’s rail yard has been filled with hundreds of black, tubular metal tank cars containing a particularly volatile form of crude oil that’s come all the way to Richmond from the new energy boomtowns of North Dakota.

CBE and Allies Risk Arrest to Halt Operations at Richmond Kinder Morgan Train Terminal

Communities for a Better Environment, September 4, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

[Richmond, CA] Today more than a dozen Bay Area citizens chained themselves to a gate at the Kinder Morgan rail terminal in Richmond to stop operations. The citizens risked arrest to protest mile-long oil trains that threaten the safety of area residents and are a massive new source of air and carbon pollution in the region.

Among the demonstrators were residents of Richmond, Rodeo, Martinez, and Benicia, all towns that currently see dangerous oil trains moving through residential areas. Earlier this year the regional air quality agency, known as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, changed an existing permit to allow oil trains at the rail facility. Demonstrators contend that the agency broke the law when it modified the existing permit without additional environmental and safety review.

On Friday the San Francisco Superior Court will hold a hearing on a lawsuit filed by groups challenging the legality of the permit change and asking for a halt to oil train operations at the facility.

“People in Richmond are angry that the Air District, who are supposed to protect us, instead has put our community at catastrophic risk along with all the uprail communities. This irresponsible behavior must be stopped NOW!” said Andres Soto, organizer with Communities for a Better Environment.

“The law in the State of California requires public agencies like the Air District to inform the public of projects like the Kinder Morgan Bomb Train operation. Not only that, the law requires an environmental review and public input into the process of issuing permits. The Air District broke the law when they secretly approved this dangerous project,” stated Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor.

“I work with Richmond residents who already struggle with cancer, asthma and other devastating health impacts of pollution. Now they are living with bomb-trains full of explosive Bakken crude oil driving through their neighborhoods. By allowing this to happen, BAAQMD is failing to protect us and choosing Kinder Morgan’s profits over our safety,” said Megan Zapanta, Asian Pacific Environmental Network Richmond Community Organizer.

“It’s unacceptable and illegal that the Air District allowed Kinder Morgan to bring explosive Bakken oil by rail from North Dakota without going through the processes established by state law to protect air quality and the safety of families in Pittsburg, Martinez, Crockett, Rodeo, Benicia, and Richmond. We demand that all operations related to oil by rail at Kinder Morgan stop immediately,” says Pamela Arauz, on behalf of Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition.

“As the Bay Area Air District and other government agencies are failing to protect the health and lives of communities from the reckless shipments of crude oil by rail, the people are taking action to protect our communities,” said Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

“The Air District took a reckless, illegal shortcut that puts our families at risk. We’ve seen what happens when one of these trains derails and catches fire, we can’t let that happen here,” said Ethan Buckner, US organizer with ForestEthics.

“Climate disruption is bearing down on us even faster because of the extreme extraction of tar sands and shale oil. With Bomb Trains carrying millions of gallons of that dangerous crude rolling on Bay Area rails, all of our lives are on the line. Instead of the alarming dead-end expansion of the fossil fuel industry we need a rapid transition to renewable energy now,” said Shoshana Wechsler of the Sunflower Alliance.

“To be sure, we take the oil refineries’ contempt for fenceline communities for granted. But frankly, it was shocking to see how covertly BAAQMD threw our public health under the bus,” said Nancy Rieser, Co-founder, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.)

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