Supporting Oakland’s Opposition to Oil and Coal Trains

Jun 18, 2014

Baykeeper advocated in support of a resolution unanimously passed on June 17 by the Oakland City Council to oppose rail shipments of hazardous crude oil, coal, and petroleum coke (a toxic by-product of oil refining) through Oakland.

Fossil fuel industries are pushing hard to expand the export of oil and coal from Bay Area ports. Refineries are seeking new permits for terminals to import extremely dirty crude oil from Canadian tar sands and the Bakken fields in North Dakota. The crude oil will come here by train. Coal exporters want to bring coal here in mile-long trains with open-top cars running through densely populated Bay Area neighborhoods. Once processed, both the oil and coal will then be loaded onto ships in the Bay and sent out the Golden Gate.

In advocating in favor of the resolution, Baykeeper Program Director Jason Flanders told the city council committee that more oil coming into the Bay Area by rail will increase the risk of accidents that could spill oil into San Francisco Bay and its watershed. More than a million gallons of crude oil was spilled in rail accidents in the US last year. Past oil spills in the Bay have been very harmful to the ecosystem, but trains bringing in crude oil aren’t covered by even the basic safety regulations that tanker ships must meet.

Coal shipped by rail also poses dangers. It is usually shipped in open cars that typically lose hundreds of pounds of coal as they travel, spreading highly toxic coal dust into surrounding areas.

Moreover, parts of the Bay Area are at increased risk for flooding due to sea level rise caused by global climate change. Expanded refineries and oil and coal storage facilities could be flooded by rising Bay levels, causing even more pollution in the Bay. The coal and oil slated to be shipped here for export are also extremely dirty; when they are burned as fuel, it will worsen global warming.

In addition to opposing the shipment of oil and coal by rail through the city, the Oakland resolution also urges the Oakland City Administrator to actively oppose new permits for fossil-fuel transport projects. Cities can’t ban shipment of coal and oil by train outright because only the federal government can regulate railroads.

Baykeeper is working with the Sierra Club, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Communities for a Better Environment in this effort to oppose the expansion of fossil fuel export in the Bay Area. In March, our advocacy helped convince the Port of Oakland to reject a developer’s proposal for a new coal export facility at the port. Berkeley and Richmond have also gone on record opposing the shipment of coal and oil by rail through their cities. We will continue working to oppose fossil fuel industry plans to expand the processing and export of coal and oil from the Bay Area.

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