Appeals Court blocks Kern County refinery expansion
November 21, 2017
• Says environmental report about transporting Bakken crude was factually wrong
• “The EIR must be corrected”
The environmental impact report clearing the way for daily trains of Bakken crude oil to roll into Bakersfield from North Dakota to be refined has been tossed out by the California 5th District Court of Appeal.
The decision says there were fatal flaws in the EIR.
“The EIR contains factual error in its description of federal railroad safety data. It erroneously used the total number of ‘accident/incidents’ reported for a 10-year period as the number of ‘train accidents’ …. This error tainted the EIR’s calculations of the risk of a release of hazardous materials due to a mishap during the rail transportation of crude oil to the refinery. The error caused the EIR to underestimate the risk of a release by fivefold.”
The appellate court also says the EIR erroneously stated federal law preempted California Environmental Quality Act review of certain environmental impacts of off-site rail activities.
“Consequently, the EIR must be corrected to include a disclosure and analysis of those indirect effects of the project.
We therefore reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings,” says the court.
A coalition of citizens, environmental groups, and health and safety advocates challenged the approval of the massive Alon Bakersfield Refinery Crude Flexibility Project, contending that it will further harm air quality in the San Joaquin Valley and subject residents in several states to “catastrophic risks” of a derailment involving scores of tanker cars filled with explosive Bakken crude oil.
The approval by the Kern County Board of Supervisors would have enabled the refinery to unload crude from over 200 tanker train cars per day, allowing it to import up to 63.1 million barrels of crude oil per year.
The lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Association of Irritated Residents, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club said that Kern County’s certification of an environmental impact report failed to meet its legal duty to fully assess the project’s risks and disclose them to the public.
The crude oil being transported to the Alon Bakersfield Refinery from the Bakken formation in North Dakota poses a higher risk of explosion in the event of a rail accident than heavier crudes.
The county’s EIR was set aside by the Court of Appeal requiring a new one to be drafted and certified.
"We have the worst air quality in the nation. It is not fair for Alon to go through a permit process that did not reveal all of the impacts related to the transportation of crude oil by rail into Kern County," says Association of Irritated Residents President Tom Franz.
Earthjustice Attorney Elizabeth Forsyth says the people of Kern County “deserve better than to have their air further degraded, and to be placed at greater risk of danger and tragedy due to an accident from a dangerous method of crude oil transportation.”