December 6, 2016

Explosive crude oil may be coming to a train track or a refinery near you

That lonesome train-whistle may be a nostalgic reminder of times past. But what if that passing train is carrying volatile and explosive crude oil through your community in substandard tanker cars?

That’s why the Sierra Club is working to keep these oil trains out of our cities, in the Bay Area and nationwide, and to strengthen federal rail-safety regulations.

Richmond lawsuit

On March 28 the Sierra Club and its allies filed suit challenging a Bay Area Air Quality Management District decision allowing Kinder Morgan to convert its existing ethanol storage facility in Richmond to a crude storage and transfer facility that would rail in volatile Bakken crude and load it on trucks to Bay Area refineries. The District failed to notify the public or conduct any environmental review before issuing the permit. The lawsuit asks the court to rescind the permit, to require the District to evaluate the full impacts of transporting this fracked oil, and to halt all crude transport activities until the analysis is complete and the public has had a fair opportunity to comment on the proposal.

Richmond, home to the Chevron refinery, is already burdened by intense pollution caused by the fossil-fuel industry.

Earthjustice filed the complaint and injunction request on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco Superior Court.

Working with cities

Comments by the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program on the  WesPac facility in Pittsburg CA, which proposes to bring in up to 20% of the state’s crude-oil supply by rail and marine vessels, contributed to a decision by the Pittsburg City Council to recirculate the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for further analysis of the proposal’s impacts and the risks of rail accidents to communities along rail routes. WesPac’s site is next to a residential community and Pittsburg’s recently revived downtown.

The Program’s technical comments achieved a similar result for a proposed rail terminal at a refinery in Santa Maria CA that would bring in five 80-car trains of volatile crude each week. Trains heading to the complex would travel through several major California towns and cities, including Sacramento, Davis, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose, before continuing south along the state’s treasured central coastline. San Luis Obispo County supervisors sent the project’s EIR back to the drawing board, noting that the overwhelming number of substantive public comments brought to light new information about the hazards associated with train emissions and the risk of train crashes.


The Program is also working at the federal level, urging lawmakers to strengthen federal rail-safety regulations, including the retirement of outdated DOT-111 rail tank cars, and a process to ensure that state and local governments are fully informed of the hazardous fracked crude being transported through their communities.

adapted from blog by Devorah Ancel, staff attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program at; and press release by Earthjustice at

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