BAKERSFIELD, Calif. Jan. 15, 2019 — The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted today to rescind approval of Alon USA Energy, Inc.’s plan to bring scores of tanker-train cars filled with explosive Bakken crude oil to the Central Valley. Today’s vote is the result of a settlement reached with Alon by local residents, environmental groups and health and safety advocates who sued to stop the company’s plan.
Alon’s Crude Flexibility Project would have enabled the company’s shuttered Bakersfield refinery to reopen and unload crude from more than 200 tanker cars per day, allowing it to import up to 63.1 million barrels of crude per year.
“By stopping this project we have avoided significant increases in particulate and NOx emissions from the numerous diesel locomotives pulling these oil trains in and out of town every day,” said Tom Frantz, president of the Association of Irritated Residents. “That is a real health win for the residents of Kern County.”
The trains would have transported crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to the Bakersfield refinery. Bakken crude poses a higher risk of explosion, in the event of a rail accident, than heavier crudes. Every day two trains, each a mile long, carrying the crude would have snaked along treacherous routes through the Sierra Mountains, past numerous Central Valley communities and right past Bakersfield High School.
In 2013 a derailment and subsequent explosion of a train carrying Bakken crude in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec destroyed much of downtown and killed 47 people.
“Sending these bomb trains barreling through Central Valley communities would have posed catastrophic risks,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “On top of being one derailment away from a potential explosion, the trains would have worsened the region’s already dangerously dirty air.”
Refining Bakken crude emits high levels of volatile organic compounds that lead to ozone pollution, which in turn causes respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Bakersfield already ranks second worst nationally for ozone pollution, according to the American Lung Association. One in 6 children in the San Joaquin Valley has asthma — twice the national rate and the highest in California.
“Families throughout Kern County can breathe easier knowing that this ill-conceived, extremely dangerous project has been stopped,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, an attorney at Earthjustice.
Despite the risks of explosions and air pollution, the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved the Crude Flexibility Project in September 2014.
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On Oct. 9, 2014, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in the Kern County Superior Court on behalf of the Association of Irritated Residents, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club against Kern County over the county’s failure to fully assess the project’s risks and disclose them to the public.
On Nov. 21, 2017, California’s 5th District Court of Appeal sided with the coalition, ruling that Kern County’s environmental impact report underestimated the likelihood of release of hazardous materials by rail accident and ignored the air pollution from rail transportation. The court sent the case back to the Kern County Superior Court and ordered the environmental impact report to be set aside and for a new one to be drafted that complies with the law.
Since today’s decision prevents the project from moving forward altogether, the coalition has agreed to dismiss its petition in the Kern County Superior Court.
“We are pleased that we won’t have these potentially explosive 100-car oil trains coming into central Bakersfield and further polluting our region’s already compromised air quality,” said Gordon Nipp, vice chair of the Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter.