Report: Transporting oil by rail could result in high emission levels

June 24, 2014

As this blog has mentioned in the past, the oil industry is increasingly relying on rail transportation to move its product. Though rail is a slightly more expensive method of travel than oil pipelines, the journey can be completed faster. In addition, trains allow a level of flexibility that static pipelines cannot match.

However, this is not to say that transporting oil by rail does not have its own set of problems. Recently, for example, Bloomberg News reported that Valero Energy's plan to unload up to 70,000 barrels per day from trains at its Benicia, California refinery may significantly increase emissions in the state, possibly affecting chances of the plan being approved.

"Project-related trains would generate locomotive emissions in the Bay Area Basin, the Sacramento Basin, and other locations in North America," a recent environmental assessment by the city of Benicia read. "The city has no jurisdiction to impose any emission controls on the tanker car locomotives; therefore, there is no feasible mitigation available to reduce this significant impact to a less-than-significant level."

Valero argues that refining in the western part of the U.S. is challenging, due to the difficulty of getting crude oil from sources in the middle of the country. Often, profit margins are close to break-even levels. Still, Benicia officials may not allow the project to go through if they believe that the environmental impact will be too great. To improve their chance of getting approved, Valero may want to consider working with an environmental consultant, which can help create a plan to lessen air pollution and ensure compliance with pertinent regulations.