RICHMOND (KPIX 5) – We have seen how fracked crude oil can explode when trains derail. And Bay Area residents have made it clear that they don't want them here and several projects to bring in crude by rail are on hold because of it.
But KPIX 5 discovered it's already happening, in an operation so hush hush that even the state's energy commission didn't know about it.
A unit train, 100 cars long, is designed to deliver 70,000 barrels of crude cross country in one single run. It's the same kind of train that derailed and exploded in Quebec, and the same kind of train that Bay Area residents have been fighting to keep out of their towns.
So what is the train doing in a rail yard in Richmond? "I was very surprised," said energy consultant Ian Goodman.
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Goodman found out about it in an investor publication for Kinder Morgan. The energy company operates pipelines and terminals across the U.S.
"They were very proud of the fact that they were the only unit train terminal to unload crude in California," he told KPIX 5. "My impression was there were no existing unit train unloading facilities in California."
That's apparently what state officials thought too. "At this point we don't have any of those facilities operating in California," said Gordon Schremp with the California Energy Commission.
After KPIX 5 showed him our video Schremp revised that. "It's certainly a recent change that you know, we haven't been made aware of that," he said.
He said Kinder Morgan's Richmond terminal has been receiving ethanol on 100 car trains for years. But what about receiving explosive Bakken crude?
KPIX 5 asked Schremp: "Is that something that maybe should be monitored? Put out to the public, so that people are aware that this is running through that area?"
"Well I think it would depend. If the crude oil is just in rail cars and is just temporarily stored there in rail cars, then there should be no need to do an Environmental Impact Report," he said.
But our camera captured much more than that. After talking to the state, we went back to Richmond and saw this: Bakken crude oil getting unloaded from the train cars onto tanker trucks.
KPIX 5 followed one of those tanker trucks to the Tesoro refinery in Martinez.
So we wondered, where's the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)?
"Our agency would not necessarily require an EIR to be done," said Jim Karas at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Karas said Kinder Morgan just applied for a change of use, because their terminal is already set up to receive ethanol trains.
So even though it's now Bakken crude, key agencies involved don't seem to care. "This would not be something that would be a significant concern to us," said Karas.
KPIX 5 called the city of Richmond to see if they approved the project. They said Kinder Morgan leases the rail yard from Burlington Northern Railroad, which is under federal jurisdiction. Bottom line they said they have no control.
Kinder Morgan confirms it is receiving the trains and is in compliance with air quality district permits. In a statement to KPIX they said : "Kinder Morgan is committed to public safety, protection of the environment and operation of our facilities in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations. It is our goal to work openly and cooperatively with all stakeholders regarding environmental, health and safety (EH&S) issues. Among other related EH&S programs, policies and procedures (including annual EPA compliance and ethics training for employees) to help us achieve that goal, we integrate Kinder Morgan EH&S employees into each business unit, where they actively participate in the overall operating success of the organization."
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