Crude-by-Rail Volume to California Spiked Almost 800% Last Year

All but 10% of the CBR went to Southern California refineries, though Bay Area shipments grew by 57% and provoked the largest outcry. The Northern California deliveries are mostly from North Dakota, with 12.5% from Colorado.
March 20, 2014, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Thanks to rail, crude from North Dakota's Bakken field, estimated at one million barrels daily, now makes it to both coasts. While California deliveries may not yet match what goes to the Port of Albany, N.Y and the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, it's growing rapidly to the dismay of many in the Bay Area.

"Northern California volume of crude by rail increased 57 percent during 2013, from 74,332 barrels in January to 116,657 barrels in December, according to California Energy Commission statistics. But the bulk of the increase statewide went to Southern California refineries, as total state volume spiked from 155,841 barrels in January to 1,180,662 barrels in December. Only about one tenth of all crude-by-rail imports came to Northern California," writes Robert Rogers.

The California spike is particularly notable when compared to the total increase in CBR shipments last year of 83%. However, that figure refers to carloads, not barrels.

Local agencies and even the state may not be able to do much because the regulation of "rail cargo is typically covered by federal interstate commerce laws," Rogers adds.

"While most railroad safety regulations are under federal purview, Gov. (Jerry) Brown's administration proposed a significant strengthening of the state's ability to respond to emergency oil spills in the January 2014 budget," California Energy Commission spokeswoman Teresa Schilling wrote in an email.

However, as dangerous to communities as these oil trains carrying North Dakota's volatile oil may be, there is an upside, environmentally speaking.

"On the one hand, this (Bakken) crude requires less energy to refine and may have less emissions," Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia said. "On the other hand, it has a lower flash point and so is potentially more flammable and explosive, which raises safety concerns." 

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Published on Monday, March 17, 2014 in Contra Costa Times
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