oiltrain

One hundred tanker cars formed a mile-long train waiting to be unloaded in this 2014 file photo at the Bakersfield Crude Terminal near Taft. The train carried about 70,000 barrels of oil, or about 3 million gallons. The facility was designed to handle two such trains per day. A similar oil-train terminal was approved in 2014 for the former Big West refinery on Rosedale Highway but never built.

A pair of controversial oil projects killed years ago by poor market conditions was finally declared dead last week by the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

The projects, valued at $170 million, were supposed to transform the former Big West refinery on Rosedale Highway, in one case by turning it into a rail terminal that was supposed to take in two mile-long trains, or 150,000 barrels, per day of crude from across the continent. The related project would have upgraded the 67,000-barrel-per-day refinery, which has not operated since 2012.

After the board voted unanimously to approve the project Sept. 9, 2014, the plan came under legal attack by environmental groups that considered it polluting and dangerous. Prior to the vote there was a series of rail accidents in which trains carrying oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded, in one case killing nearly four dozen people in Canada. The Bakersfield project wasn't limited to receiving only oil from North Dakota, which was considered uniquely volatile.

The environmentalists ultimately prevailed in court and, as part of a settlement released Sept. 19, a judge ordered the board to rescind its approval of the projects. Supervisors did so Tuesday by signing off on a consent-agenda list that included the oil projects.

Refining industry observers have said the projects likely would not have proceeded anyway. When oil prices plummeted in 2014, there was no longer enough operating margin — and apparently still isn't — to cover the cost of transporting huge amounts of oil across the country. Separately, the company that proposed the project, Houston-based Alon USA, now part of Delek US Holdings Inc., headquartered in Tennessee, opted not to move forward with a broader overhaul of the refinery.

Environmental groups said the projects' official end ensures local residents won't be harmed by refining emissions or oil-train explosions.

"Families throughout Kern County can breathe easier knowing that this ill-conceived, extremely dangerous project has been stopped," Angela Johnson Meszaros, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, said in a news release.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com to receive free newsletters about local business.

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