Earthquake probed as a possible cause of California fuel fire

fire nustarBy the Associated Press  — October 16, 2019

CROCKETT, Calif. (AP) — Officials were trying to determine Wednesday if a 4.5 magnitude earthquake triggered an explosion at a fuel storage facility in the San Francisco Bay Area that started a fire and trapped thousands in their homes for hours because of potentially unhealthy air.

The earthquake struck about 15 miles (24 kilometers) southeast from the NuStar Energy fuel storage facility in the Bay Area community of Crockett 15 hours before the Tuesday fire that consumed thousands of gallons (liters) of fuel. Aftershocks in the same area were still being felt Wednesday, including one with a 3.4 magnitude.

State and local inspectors were investigating the fire that shut down the facility, which according to the company has 24 tanks capable of holding more than 3 million barrels of different kinds of fuels.

The seven-hour blaze erupted in towering, stubborn flames Tuesday afternoon at the facility in Crockett, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of downtown San Francisco.

A firefighter was injured and was treated at a hospital, said Contra Costa Fire Department spokesman Steve Hill, who had no details about the firefighter’s injuries.

Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, told KQED News that Tuesday’s earthquake caused malfunctions at two nearby oil refineries operated by Shell and Marathon oil.

Emergency sirens blared and a column of thick black smoke that could be seen for miles prompted Contra Costa County public health officials to order people in Crockett, neighboring Rodeo and part of Hercules to stay inside with fans and air conditioners off and to seal their windows and doors with tape or wet towels.

The concern was that hazardous particulates might be spewing from the fire.

County health officials late Tuesday lifted a shelter in place order affecting about 12,000 people. But at least four schools in the area closed on Wednesday as a precaution.

Contra Costa County health department spokesman Karl Fischer did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

The fire began at about 2 p.m. at the tank farm, one of several refining and fuel storage facilities in the Carquinez Strait, a major shipping thoroughfare and a key oil hub.

Video footage of the fire showed flames leading up to an explosion so strong it blew the lid of one of the tanks high into the air.

The fire badly damaged or destroyed two tanks containing about 250,000 gallons of ethanol, a gasoline additive. The facility also stores gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels, according to NuStar Energy LP.

About 200 firefighters fought the flames with foam and water, trying to prevent it from spreading to other tanks containing jet fuel and ethanol. They would knock down the flames but they kept reigniting in the spilled fuel.



October 2019: Crockett Nustar Fuel Tank Fire Raises Questions About Refineries On Fault Lines

fault line

By Wilson Walker  October 17, 2019. KPIX news

CROCKETT (KPIX 5) — The cause explosion and fire at the NuStar Energy facility in Crockett is still unknown, but on Tuesday it was revealed that the Monday night earthquake in Pleasant Hill was part of that investigation.

Just the possibility of a connection has neighbors of the region’s fuel infrastructure wondering about the seismic threat along this stretch of San Pablo Bay.

“We have the Hayward fault, the Calaveras-Concord Fault, and then we have the Greenville Fault,” explains Brad Aagaard, a Research Geophysicist with the USGS in Menlo Park. “So we have a series of faults.”

The region is, of course, earthquake country. And while they usually happen along those major faults they really can pop up all over the place.

“Really, anywhere in the Bay Area could be right on top of an earthquake that’s large enough to cause shaking and moderate damage,”  Aagaard says.

But the Hayward Fault, suspected to be the most likely source of a major earthquake in our area, doesn’t just run beneath Oakland and the Berkeley Hills. It continues north, and just south of the very infrastructure the region watched burn on Tuesday.

“The Hayward stretches all the way up, and we’ve mapped it onshore, all the way through Point Pinole.” Aagaard says of the fault. “Recent work has mapped it across San Pablo Bay and connected to the Rodgers Creek Fault on the other side of the bay.”

Tuesday’s fire, on the heels of the earthquake, was a second shake-up for people living near the NuStar facility.

“The street, it was blocked off,” says Armon Hebert of Rodeo “You couldn’t get back and forth. Traffic was backed up, a lot of smoke up in the air.”

Hebert saw the aftermath of the NuStar incident on Tuesday. He said the fire and the quake have people talking, and thinking about the neighbors.

“If you have an earthquake and it’s shaking, obviously everybody’s affected,” explained Hebert. “So if anything shakes or rattles or gets too bad, things could happen. I mean we all have to look at that and wonder, ‘What if?’”

The fuel refinery and storage facilities on San Pablo Bay are just some of what straddles the Hayward Fault all the way down to Fremont.

“Those industrial facilities — transportation facilities, electrical utilities, water — all those things cross and in many cases run along the Hayward fault in various locations,” said Aagaard.


October 15, 2019 Tank Explosion: NuStar Workers Fled Tank Fire Without Activating Fire Suppression System

nustar sign

By Jaxon Van Derbeken

Published Oct 17, 2019 at 5:58 PM | Updated at 6:50 PM PDT on Oct 17, 2019  NBC Bay Area News

Firefighters who rushed to battle the raging fire at the NuStar tank farm in Crockett found the front gate locked, and the employees had scattered without activating the facility’s automated fire suppression system, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has learned.

“Clearly there was a problem here,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who was briefed Thursday on the NuStar probe and company response by fire officials.

Based solely on the basic details of what fire officials told him, Gioia said the company clearly wasn’t prepared for the emergency, with management unable to answer key questions at the scene.

Firefighters who rushed to battle the raging fire at the NuStar tank farm in Crockett found the front gate locked, and the employees had scattered without activating the facility’s automated fire suppression system, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has learned.

“Clearly there was a problem here,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who was briefed Thursday on the NuStar probe and company response by fire officials.

Based solely on the basic details of what fire officials told him, Gioia said the company clearly wasn’t prepared for the emergency, with management unable to answer key questions at the scene.

“Apparently the NuStar personnel that were on scene, couldn’t immediately identify what kind of product was in a particular tank,” he said, adding that such knowledge is critical for firefighters.

“The facility should know pretty immediately what was in that tank,” he said, “and that of course helps the firefighters in fighting that fire as safely as possible.”

Contra Costa County fire officials late Thursday confirmed the broad outlines of Gioia’s concerns related to the management’s lack of knowledge about what was in some of the tanks at the facility.

They also confirmed that the workers fled, leaving a locked gate, and failed to activate the automated fire suppression system on their way out. But they declined to go into further detail, citing the pending investigation.

Those questions come as federal court documents show the facility had a troubled history going back to before NuStar acquired it in 2004.

Federal prosecutors accused the company’s on-site manager of bypassing air pollution control equipment between 2003 and 2006.

The equipment traps smog-causing ozone vapors during truck loading, but the company bypassed that system and, federal authorities alleged, repeatedly lied about complying with air quality rules.

Shore Terminals, LLC, the NuStar subsidiary, paid a total of $2.5 million in fines and penalties in 2009.

NuStar told us Thursday that after it acquired Shore Terminals it “discovered operational infractions, which had been established under the previous ownership, which resulted in the false certifications.”

NuStar said it changed procedures, improved training and changed management.

NuStar released a statement Thursday addressing how its workers handled Tuesday’s fire:

“While all our employees are very familiar with the products in our tanks, the combustion happened so quickly and so unexpectedly, that there was some initial confusion about which tanks were impacted.

“Similarly, our employees are well-trained on the protocol of how and when to activate our fire suppression equipment. Unfortunately, in this case, given the speed, intensity and particular location of this combustion, the suppression equipment for that part of the facility was inaccessible until first responders arrived to cool the area down with water.

“Once we confirmed the two tanks involved, we were able to identify the product and the volume immediately and we notified firefighting personnel accordingly.”






Agencies investigate yet another spill at the Phillip 66’s Rodeo marina

By Ted Goldberg (The California Report, KQED)                      Sept. 5, 2017


kqed photo

Monday’s accident is evidence that 66 has not improved its operations since the last year’s oil spill.  The 2016 spill was the impetus of over 1,000 befouled air complaints in Vallejo.  Over 100 people sought medical treatment.

As per Baykeepers Choksi-Chugh in an interview Tuesday:   “This spill is definitely another black mark for Phillips 66 in their proposal to expand.”

Read the full story here:

Update: “P66 Rodeo Marina Infrastructure breakdown:  Corroded pipes cited as cause for recent crude oil spill”

By Ted Goldberg, KQED                                                                                        Sept. 8, 2017

“A corrosive pipeline indicates the marine terminal’s infrastructure is getting old and could allow future spills,” according to Sejal Choksi-Chugh, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper.

If the P66 Marine terminal expansion is approved, accidents like this will be the new normal.

Read the updated story here:


Waters of SF Bay at risk: P66 Marine Terminal Expansion will double the number tankers bringing in Tar Sands

By Jean Tepperman, East Bay Express (August 23, 2017)

Vallejo residents remember the 2016 P66 marine spill as if it were yesterday.  It sent over 100 people to hospital emergency rooms.

Environmentalist worry about spills.  Heavy tar sands oil oil sinks into the water, making impossible to skim it off like a regular oil spill and simply stays embedded in the environment.

tanker atlantic

Read the story here

Shell Oil pulls the plug on the crude-by-rail expansion project in Acacortes, Washington

By Seattle Times Staff (October 6, 2016)

Thursday delivered a sweet “two-fer”  to West Coast communities downtrack from proposed crude-by-rail projects.
Following the P66 “No” in San Luis Obispo, Shell oil quietly withdrew its crude-by-rail up in Anacortes, Washington.
Kristen Boyles, an attorney at Earthjustice who represented conservation groups in their legal challenge of the project, called the decision to stop the project an extraordinary victory for the people of Skagit County and Washington state.
“Having a full and transparent public process exposed everyone — including apparently Shell itself — to the risks and harms of this project.”

Above:  Protestors march near oil refineries in Anacortes, Washington, on May 14, 2016, as part of a series of global actions calling on people to “break free” from dependence on fossil fuels.  The Shell and nearby Tesoro refineries were the targets of a three-day protest in May. Fifty-two people were arrested and charged with criminal trespass for blocking BNSF Railway lines.  (Photo credit:  Scott Terrell of the Skagit Valley Herald)  

Read more about the action here:

San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission Rejects P66 Proposal

BY CYNTHIA LAMBERT, San Luis Obispo Tribune (October 5, 2016)

To a standing ovation by opponents of Phillips 66 Co.’s oil-by-rail plan, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission voted Wednesday to reject the project that had gained statewide attention.

Commissioner Eric Meyer read an impassioned five-page statement explaining his opposition, including the need to move away from fossil fuels and the massive opposition the project has garnered statewide.


Oil tanker berthed at Rodeo P66 refinery suspected as source of oil spill in San Pablo Bay

Oil spill containment booms oil tanker Yamuna Spirit Phillips 66 Refinery Rodeo

Oil spill containment booms surround an oil tanker the Yamuna Spirit docked at a marine terminal belonging to Phillips 66 Refinery on San Pablo Bay in Rodeo, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

On Tuesday night, the Vallejo Fire Department received more than 800 calls from residents complaining of a strong smell of natural gas, gasoline and rotten eggs. An estimated 120 patients went to Solano County hospitals, with complaints of headaches, nausea and dizziness, according to the Solano County Health Department.   The tanker, now surrounded by hazmat booms,  was involved  in  spill in Nigeria in February.

  • Karina Loffee of the East Bay Times first broke the story (Weds, Sept 21st):

  • KQED followed up the next day and in this post gives a time line of events and an update on the investigation (Thursday, Sept. 22)

  • CBS also tracked the story:  Public frustrated with lack of information regarding the oil spill (Thursday, Sept. 22)

Huge victory across the Carquinez Strait: Benicia City Council votes “No!” on the same day that the Surface Transporation Board denies federal exemption status for the Valero refinery expansion project


Caption by environmental college, Ethan Buckner:  “This is what Democracy looks like!”  

By Roger Staw, Benicia Independent, September 21, 2016

This was a stunning victory after a 3.5 year long Davey and Goliath fight. Valerio went down in a one-two punch.  The  council’s 5-0 “NO!”  note and the U.S. Surface Transportation Board stinging rebuke of Valero’s claim of federal pre-emption status both happened on the same day.

The San Francisco Chronicle sees this decision affecting oil projects elsewhere in the county. Indeed Phillips 66 has been trying to do an end run around our communities of Contra Coast Coast and San Luis Obispo Counties claiming federal pre-emption defence in its two lawsuits.

Back in New York, Albany County executive Dan McCoy called the federal ruling “a victory for the community there and upholds that the municipality was not asserting undue influence on transportation by rail carriers and was not preempted by federal law from regulating such activity.”