Groups sue to block California refinery expansion

Environmental groups have petitioned a California superior court to stop Alon USA Energy Inc. from moving forward with a plan to expand existing receiving and processing options for North American shale light crude oils at its 70,000-b/d Bakersfield refinery.

Environmental coalition Earthjustice, on behalf of Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Sierra Club, and Association of Irritated Residents, filed a lawsuit on Oct. 9 against California’s Kern County Board of Supervisors (KCBS) prejudicially abused its discretionary power under state statutory law when it certified an environmental impact report (EIR) for Alon Bakersfield Refinery Crude Flexibility Project (OGJ Online, Sept. 10, 2014), CBD said in a statement.

The suit alleges the EIR that KCBS prepared and used to approve permitting for Alon’s proposed project violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) on five counts, which include:

• A failure to define the proper baseline from which to measure whether the project’s impact may be environmentally significant.

• An inaccurate project description.

• A failure to adequately disclose and evaluate the project’s significant environmental impacts.

• A failure to provide sufficient information to the public regarding the basis upon which KCBS concluded the project will not have significant environmental impacts.

• A failure to consider, discuss, and adopt mitigation measures to minimize significant environmental impacts of the project.

In addition to its requests that the EIR be voided and approval of the project invalidated, the suit also has asked the court to direct KCBS, Alon, and Alon subsidiary Paramount Petroleum Corp. from advancing any part of the expansion project unless and until all requirements under CEQA have been satisfied.

Alon’s plan to expand the Bakersfield refinery’s rail infrastructure to receive increases shipments of light crudes from North Dakota’s Bakken shale and other Midcontinent locations is a particularly contentious aspect of the project for the environmental groups.

“This dangerous plan would send huge trains full of explosive crude through California communities completely unprepared to cope with a devastating rail accident,” said Kassie Siegel, senior counsel for CBD.

“Kern County supervisors broke the law by rushing to approve a project that will pollute the Central Valley’s air and put thousands of unsuspecting people in the path of these hazardous bomb trains,” according to Siegel.

Should the project proceed, the Bakersfield refinery would enable the refinery to import up to 63.1 million bbl/year of crude that would be unloaded from more than 200 tanker cars/day, CBD said.

While the groups’ concerns stem from a series of high-profile derailments and explosions involving Bakken crude (OGJ Online, Aug. 12, 2013), recent studies commissioned by North Dakota Petroleum Council, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the US Department of Transportation Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have indicated crude sourced from Bakken shale does not pose a greater risk to transport by rail than other crudes and transportation fuels (OGJ Online, Aug. 5, 2014; May 15, 2014).

Following KCBS’s Sept. 9 approval of the Bakersfield flexibility project, Alon said it planned to begin detailed engineering work and expected construction of the expanded rail terminal to be completed by yearend 2015.

Contact Robert Brelsford at rbrelsford@ogjonline.com.

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