SAN FRANCISCO, April 16 (Reuters) - California imports of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota on barges totaled a record 1.5 million barrels last year, 27 percent greater than the amount that reached the state by rail, the California Energy Commission told Reuters on Thursday.
The transport of Bakken crude by rail is controversial, with fiery derailments in recent years prompting safety and environmental concerns. In California, 15 cities and towns have passed resolutions opposing the trains in their towns.
But many California refineries do not have the infrastructure necessary to unload crude oil trains. Attempts to add rail extensions to those refineries have in some cases been delayed due to opposition from environmental groups.
To get the low-cost Bakken crude to California refineries, producers load it onto trains in North Dakota bound for transport terminals in the Pacific Northwest. From there it is loaded onto barges bound for California refineries, which are better equipped to receive crude from sea vessels.
David Hackett, president of Stillwater Associates, a refining consultancy, said the Global Partners LP transport terminal in Clatskanie, Oregon, is a key departure point for barges carrying Bakken to California.
The facility, on a small canal that feeds into the Columbia River, began quietly transshipping oil from trains to barges in 2012 and is now receiving so-called “unit trains”, mile-long trains that only carry crude oil.
Global Partners did not respond to a request for comment.
Hackett said refineries such as Tesoro Corp’s facility in Carson, California, are likely destination points for the barges.
Tesoro declined to discuss its movements of crude oil, saying the information is commercially sensitive.
Hackett noted that imports of Bakken either by rail or barge represent only a fraction of California’s total crude imports. California imported nearly 300 million barrels of crude from foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq last year, he noted.
But Bakken transported on water poses unique risks since it is lighter and more volatile than other crudes, environmentalists say.
“An oil barge accident in San Francisco Bay or off the coast of Los Angeles would be catastrophic,” said Matt Krogh, a director at environmental group ForestEthics.
“Bakken is simply too dangerous to move by barge or train and we don’t need this extreme oil,” he said. (Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ken Wills)