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Battle Begins Over Plan To Send Large Crude Oil Trains Through California Cities

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"Battle Begins Over Plan To Send Large Crude Oil Trains Through California Cities"

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A company’s plan to send massive trains of crude oil through about about a dozen heavily populated California communities is starting to hit some roadblocks.

On Tuesday, the City Council of Berkeley, California passed a resolution recommending strong action against Phillips 66, the company that recently filed a project proposal to bring 80-car trains of Canadian or North Dakotan oil to its refinery in Southern California. If approved, that project would have the capacity to transport trains carrying 2 million gallons of crude oil 250 times per year on tracks that are currently used for Amtrak commuter rail, traveling through communities in the Bay Area, Berkeley, and Oakland.

It would be the first time crude oil could travel on trains through the Bay Area, the resolution said.

“A crude train accident could occur anywhere along the transportation corridor,” the resolution states, citing the July derailment of a 72-car freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that resulted in a 1.5 million gallon oil spill and the deaths of forty-seven people.

Phillips 66′s proposed project intends to expand its Santa Maria Refinery, which currently processes crude oil that arrives via underground pipe from locations throughout California. But due to the decline in California’s crude oil production, Phillips 66 says it needs to look elsewhere for competitively priced oil. “These could include fields as far away as the Bakken field in North Dakota or Canada,” the company’s project description states.

The company says this would be done by building five sets of parallel tracks to accommodate the 80-car unit trains as often as 250 times per year. It would also build an above-ground pipeline to bring the oil from the trains to the refinery.

The Berkeley City Council’s resolution states that it will file comments in opposition of the project, which is currently before the San Luis Obispo County planning board. The council said it would also work with the city attorney to file “friend of the court” briefs on any lawsuit that challenges the project, and will lobby Congressional representatives at the federal level.

While railroads are generally subject to federal law, the City Council says they can also have an impact by denying land use and other permits if Phillips 66 refuses to mitigate harmful impacts its project might have.

One of those potential harmful impacts is the risk that a train would derail. The National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] recently made recommendations that crude oil trains stay far away from urban population centers, citing the increasing rate of fiery accidents involving crude oil trains. Many of those accidents involved North Dakota’s Bakken Shale oil — the type Phillips 66 may decide to use — a type of oil which the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has warned could be especially flammable due to either particular properties of the oil or added chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract it.

Another potential impact is the amount of greenhouse gases the project would emit, and how it would contribute to climate change. Phillips 66′s environmental impact statement says traveling from the Bakken oil fields to its refinery is a 2,500 mile one-way trip. Phillips 66 estimates that the project would emit 51,728 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2e) solely from transporting the crude by rail in states that are not California, and 8,646 MTCO2e solely from transporting the crude within California.

Overall, the whole project would emit 65,908 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent, the company said.

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