Oil

Saturday, May 24 2014 06:51 PM

County defers to feds on oil-by-rail safety impacts

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    A worker uses the forklift near a hydrocracker area of the Alon USA Bakersfield Refinery on Rosedale Highway in this file photo.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

County planners studying an oil-by-rail terminal proposed along Rosedale Highway have determined the project could threaten public safety in the event of a train-related spill but that they lack the regulatory authority to fully address them.

In a draft environmental review released Thursday, the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department spelled out various concerns -- including possible impacts on air and water quality and biological resources -- regarding Alon USA Energy Inc.'s plans to build a facility that would offload mile-long oil trains, two per day, at its refinery on Rosedale.

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HOW TO COMMENT

Members of the public have until 5 p.m. July 7 to submit comments on the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department's draft environmental review of Alon USA Energy Inc.'s plans to reconfigure its Rosedale Highway refinery and expand an existing oil-by-rail offloading facility at the site.

The review, which measures 1,700 page including appendices, is available online at http://pcd.kerndsa.com/planning/environmental-documents.

The document is also available for public inspection at the Planning and Community Development Department, 2700 M St., Suite 100.

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to host a hearing on the draft review at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 at its chambers on the first floor of the Kern County Administrative Center, 1115 Truxtun Ave.

Anyone with questions about the process may contact Ross Fehrman, 862-5017 or, by email, fehrmanr@co.kern.ca.us.

The planning department says the most helpful comments suggest specific project alternatives or "mitigation measures that would provide better ways to avoid or mitigate significant environmental effects."

While some risks can be addressed on site, staff say it is largely up to federal agencies to ensure the safety of train shipments through the Bakersfield area.

The department's 1,700-page draft review says the county and other state and local agencies "could be preempted from imposing mitigation measures, conditions or regulations to reduce or mitigate potential impacts of BNSF (Railway Co.) train movements on the mainline."

The document recommends a number of on-site measures to protect against a possible oil spill or blaze at the refinery. Among them are new fire detection equipment, hydrants, fire monitors, safety showers and piping.

But the review says the project presents hazards that may be hard to deal with.

"In the unlikely event of an oil spill along the BNSF Railway mainline tracks," the document states, "there may be no oil spill containment or cleanup equipment immediately available, and it may take some time for emergency response teams to mobilize adequate spill response equipment."

Dallas-based Alon wants to reconfigure the mothballed, 70,000-barrel-a-day plant so it can process crude from one mile-long unit train every day. Oil from the other daily trainload would be shipped by pipeline to other refineries in the state.

Project costs have not been disclosed. The company has declined to comment on its project.

Alon's project is one of two that together would draw four unit trains, for a total of 12 million gallons per day, into the Bakersfield area. The other project, by Dallas-based Plains All American Pipeline LP, would not refine the oil but ship it by pipeline to other California refineries. The county did not require an environmental review of the Plains project, which is under construction.

While both projects could take any kind of crude, the expectation is that they would initially receive oil from the Bakken shale formation in and around North Dakota.

Bakken crude is believed to be especially volatile and has been implicated in several fiery train accidents over the past year. Federal and state regulators have responded by taking a number of steps to prevent or better respond to such accidents.

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