On Sunday, the Center for Biological Diversity held a public forum at the San Jose City Hall to educate residents about what they believe are the dangers of so called oil-trains. According to the Center, tar sands oil and heavy crudes that will be brought in from Canada are most toxic, carbon intensive and dirtiest fuels on the planet.
The context: Phillips 66 plans to build a rail terminal at its Santa Maria refinery that would result in 100 tank-car oil trains transiting the Bay Area and Southern California. Hence the uproar–again.
Every day and night trains roll through San Jose carrying a few people and vast amounts of freight. Phillips 66 has proposed to bring heavy crude oil through the Bay Area to its refinery in San Luis Obispo County.
As Breitbart News revealed last April in “California: Here Come the Oil Trains,” pressure has been mounting on state and federal officials to disclose the number of hundred tank-car trains that rumble into California carrying highly combustible crude oil. With California’s substantial supply of imported Iraq oil in peril of being cut off, the State of California on June 13, 2014 said it had decided to withhold all disclosures regarding the rapidly growing number of oil-trains coming to California.
According to the Energy Information Agency, “California is oil rich.” Yet public policy and access to cheap imported oil have resulted in California’s crude oil production declining by 60%, from 1.1 million barrels a day to 450,000 barrels per day, over the past 25 years. Lacking any gas or oil pipelines west of the Rocky Mountains, California has been covering 16% of its shortfall by importing 130,600 barrels of Iraqi oil per day.
With the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) capturing over half of Syria and Iraq, California’s supply of Iraq oil has collapsed.
Facing the cost of Middle East oil that had more than doubled in the last five years, California refiners quietly began ramping up North American domestic imports of environmentally friendly light sweet crude oil (low sulfur) from Canada’s Tar Sands and the Bakken fields of North Dakota.
Despite growing public concerns that crude oil carried in tank cars is susceptible to puncture, the Office of Emergency Services told the Sacramento Bee last year that the State of California would still withhold disclosing the volumes and time schedules of oil-trains.
According to the California Energy Commission, oil train volume since 2013 rose from about 160,000 barrels per month to about 1.1 million barrels per month in December. That was a rise from one hundred-car oil train each week, to one per day.
In statements responding to public concerns, Phillips 66 has said that it has “one of the most modern crude rail fleets in the industry, which exceed regulatory standards. Safety is our top priority.”
Phillips 66 says that with Iraq’s supply in question, the only alternative for supply is to bring in North American crude oil by train. Given the current available rail lines, there is no way to detour trains around the Bay Area.