A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by environmental groups that sought to halt rail shipments of volatile Bakken crude oil into Richmond. Judge Peter J. Busch ruled that the lawsuit was filed too late.
The plaintiffs, which included the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), had challenged a permit issued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) allowing Kinder Morgan to receive rail shipments and transfer them to trucks, which haul the oil to Tesoro’s Golden Eagle refinery in Martinez.
After the hearing, representatives of the four groups said that the decision allows the oil industry to imperil public health by transporting highly flammable Bakken crude oil near homes and schools.
“Any community along the rail line is vulnerable to derailment and explosion,” said Andres Soto, a member of CBE. “But Richmond, being the place where materials are off-loaded from rail cars to trucks, creates more opportunities for both mechanical and human errors.”
Since early 2014, Kinder Morgan, the fourth largest energy company in America, has been transporting crude oil by trains, then by tanker trucks to the Tesoro refinery. The BAAQMD issued the permit back in 2013, allowing Kinder Morgan to switch from unloading ethanol to Bakken crude oil fracked in North Dakota. The permit was issued ministerially, which bypasses public environment review.
Judge Busch said that the legislature is clear that an agency such as BAAQMD is not required to give notice to the public for a permit. He said that the plaintiff’s suit came after a 180-day statue of limitations expired.
“We’re now at two hundred and sixty (days) since it was filed,” a lawyer representing Kinder Morgan during the hearing. “Kinder Morgan has been operating on that site in total and complete alignment on the permit that has been issued.”
But environmental groups and residents who attended the hearing were dissatisfied with the ruling, and said the implications for public health were too dire to ignore. Around 50 people gathered in front of the Superior Court an hour before the hearing, rallying against the permit. They held signs and handed out bumper stickers to pedestrians.
The rail lines by which the crude oil is transferred and the transfer facility are sandwiched between a few Richmond neighborhoods, including Point Richmond and the Iron Triangle, which together house tens of thousands of people.
“The facility is just half a mile from the elementary school,” said Suma Peesapati, an attorney with Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the four environmental groups. “If there were a derailment, god forbid, it’s dangerously close to where children live.”
Bakken oil, which is lighter and more flammable than conventional crude blends, has been linked to a spate of derailments and explosions in North America. In July 2013, a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and caused multiple tanks to explode in a town located in a Canadian province of Quebec. The resulting fire killed more than 45 people and destroyed half of the downtown area.
In April 2014, a train carrying crude oil derailed and erupted into flames in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Lawyers from both Kinder Morgan and BAAQMD did not comment after the trial.