Kern County Derails Refinery Expansion Plan

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) – The Kern County, California, Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to rescind approval for a project that would have allowed a Bakersfield refinery to process up to 63 million barrels of volatile Bakken crude oil a year.

In this Jan. 16, 2015 photo, a person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The vote reflects a settlement reached with Alon Energy USA, local residents, and environmental groups.

“By stopping this project we have avoided significant increases in particulate and NOx (nitrous oxide) emissions from the numerous diesel locomotives pulling these oil trains in and out of town every day,” Tom Frantz, president of the Association of Irritated Residents, said in a statement. “That is a real health win for the residents of Kern County.”

In October 2014, the Association of Irritated Residents, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity sued the county for approving the massive refinery and rail expansion project without properly analyzing the health and environmental risks involved with shipping and processing Bakken crude oils.

Bakken crude comes from northern Montana and North Dakota, and Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada. Much of it is extracted by hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking.”

The stuff is highly explosive. In July 2013, a train carrying Bakken crudes derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying much of the downtown area. 

If the expansion plan in Kern County had gone through, two mile-long trains a day would have traveled through downtown Bakersfield and right by a local high school, according to a statement from Center for Biological Diversity.

Bakersfield, population 380,000, is the ninth-largest city in California. Located at the halfway point between Fresno and Los Angeles, the region produces more oil than any county in the state and boasts the fourth-largest agricultural output.

It also has some of the worst air in the nation, ranking second for ozone pollution.

This image of smog blanketing Bakersfield appeared in a 2015 article about new research from the University of California, Davis.

Approximately 1,500 Kern County residents die prematurely each year from exposure to toxic air pollution, which also accounts for “$3 billion to $6 billion in health costs and lost productivity annually,” according to the groups’ complaint.

Refining Bakken crude, which emits levels of the toxic compounds responsible for creating ozone pollution, would only exacerbate the problem, the plaintiffs claimed.

In November 2017, California’s Fifth Appellate District ruled the environmental impact report for the project did not adequately assess air pollution concerns and underestimated the likelihood of a train derailment. The court remanded the case to the county with orders to draft a new impact report that complies with the California Environmental Quality Act.

With Tuesday’s rejection of the project, the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their suit against the county.

“Families throughout Kern County can breathe easier knowing that this ill-conceived, extremely dangerous project has been stopped,” Earthjustice attorney Angela Johnson Meszaros said in a statement.

%d bloggers like this: