Weekly News Roundup – October 21, 2014

benindylogo08a(150px)[Editor:  Crude-by-rail news was a tiny dot on the national media map when I started covering it last January.  The dot has ballooned, and I can no longer keep up.  This Weekly News Roundup will allow me to post a larger number of links (see below) without taking time to upload full postings and commentary.  A smaller number of individual stories will still warrant their own posting, so check out the Recent Posts column at left.  This is an experiment – I’ll hope to do this every week for awhile.  Let me know if you like this – or don’t.  – Roger Straw, rogrmail at beniciaindependent dot com]

Valero: The Refiner To Weather The Oil Price Storm
Seeking Alpha, Nov. 20, 2014
Investors are looking for good stocks to weather the oil price storm and Valero is a good pick for this purpose….When compared to its competitors, Valero competes well with comparable fundamental metrics and is significantly undervalued when compared to its peers. …

Lawyer: Benicia mayor rail views may conflict
Argus Media, 20 Nov 2014
Statements and communications by Benicia’s mayor could lead a court to invalidate the California city’s deliberations on a proposed railed crude offloading project, an attorney for the city has warned.
(See additional articles on this subject, and download the attorney opinions here on The Benicia Independent.)

Davis voices concerns over new oil-by-rail proposal
The Davis Enterprise, November 21, 2014
Uprail residents have until Monday at 4:30 p.m. to send comments on the Phillips 66 Rail Spur Extension Project at the Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo County. Letters may be sent to Murry Wilson at P66-railspur-comments@co.slo.ca.us.

Guest column: Addressing the unacceptable risks from Bakken crude-oil trains
The Seattle Times, November 19, 2014
The risk of oil spills is too great to proceed so quickly with plans for expanded crude oil rail transportation throughout Puget Sound and Washington state, writes guest columnists Peter Goldmark and 10 tribal leaders.

What Happened When a Hazardous Substance Train Derailed on a Puget Sound Beach
Sightline.org, November 21, 2014
True story from 2011 raises questions about railroad’s ability to manage oil trains….

First responders learn how to handle railroad tank car accidents
NJ.com, November 19, 2014
Crude oil from North Dakota shipped by train wasn’t a major safety issue until the catastrophic derailment and explosion of a train of 80 tanker cars in …

MMA Railway bankruptcy trustee casts wide net for corporations to pay Lac-Megantic victims
Bangor Daily News,  Nov. 21, 2014
First responders fight burning train cars after a train derailment and explosion in … The unmanned train with 72 tank cars full of crude oil roared into …

Edelman’s TransCanada Astroturf Documents Expose Oil Industry’s Broad Attack on Public Interest
DeSmogBlog, November 17, 2014
Documents obtained by Greenpeace detail a desperate astroturf PR strategy designed by Edelman for TransCanada to win public support for its Energy East tar sands export pipeline. TransCanada has failed for years to win approval of the controversial border-crossing Keystone XL pipeline, so apparently the company has decided to “win ugly or lose pretty” with an aggressive public relations attack on its opponents….

What the Frack (video trailer)
Vice News, November 19, 2014
The UK government is going ahead with its plans to commence fracking across more than half of the country, hoping that it will boost the economy and provide an abundant supply of natural gas.  Critics of the process argue ….

A Highly Flammable Situation: Crude Oil Rolls into the Region
League of Women Voters Bay Area, 31 July 2014
On May 31, 2014, some 60 people gathered at the gates of a rail yard on Richmond’s industrial edge, protesting “bomb trains.” Trains handled there by energy company Kinder Morgan hold crude oil, not TNT, but their contents may still be both physically and politically explosive. Stretching over a mile, a train of 100 tank cars carries 600-700 barrels of crude oil, or up to 3 million gallons. These trains represent a controversial change in both the type of crude oil supplying the region’s refineries, and the way it gets here….

Volatile Express: Is the Chicago area prepared for a crude oil disaster?
ABC7 News, Chicago, November 18, 2014
The ABC7 I-Team investigated hazardous oil trains that speed through Chicago and the suburbs every day. Would firefighters be able to keep you safe if one of them exploded?  …The answer is probably not….

GBW Railcar Services: Well Positioned To Profit From New Safety Standards
Seeking Alpha, Nov. 18, 2014
Greenbrier and Watco LLC’s GBW Railcar Services is strategically positioned to profit greatly from significant new safety regulations for the transport of crude by rail….Independent of significant new regulations, GBW Railcar Services’ expansive network of repair and maintenance shops will provide critical recertification and maintenance services to the significant number of aging DOT-111 cars….

Oil trains in San Jose: Phillips 66 refinery expansion could imperil downtown
Special to the Mercury News, 11/18/2014
For generations of Americans, the rhythmic sound of a distant freight train has inspired dreams of freedom and possibility. But the trains rolling through Northern California communities may soon carry massive charges of highly toxic tar sands crude. Rather than hopeful dreams, these trains could bring nightmarish catastrophes to the heart of San Jose’s downtown neighborhoods.
Oil giant Phillips 66 is agitating to upgrade its Santa Maria refinery near San Luis Obispo to build a rail spur that will enable it to begin receiving oil trains carrying massive loads of noxious tar sands crude. If approved, these oil trains will roll through thousands of California communities, including downtown San Jose, threatening our safety, air, water and climate. Even Phillips 66 admits transporting this oil will result in “significant and unavoidable” levels of toxic air pollution to the towns along the route….

The Role of Reid Vapor Pressure in the Bakken’s Future
Bakken Magazine, November 19, 2014
If the North Dakota Industrial Commission chooses to adopt new Bakken crude conditioning standards and regulatory practices, the term Reid Vapor Pressure will soon be a common and well-known term to any entity focused on the Bakken.

Rail shipments of oil and petroleum products through October up 13% over year-ago period
US Energy Information Admin, Nov. 13, 2014
U.S. rail traffic, including carloadings of all commodity types, has increased 4.5% through October 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. Crude oil and petroleum products had the second-biggest increase in carloadings through the first 10 months of this year, with these shipments occurring in parts of the country where there is also strong demand to move coal and grain by rail. In response to shipper concerns over the slow movement of crude oil, coal, grain, ethanol, and propane, federal regulators are closely tracking service among the major U.S. freight railroad companies….

Business Forum: Oil trains are disasters-in-waiting
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Fred Millar, November 16, 2014
The knee-jerk reaction in Minnesota and elsewhere to the spate of North American crude oil disasters — beefing up emergency capabilities — is predictable, but dead wrong. The glum, vivid consensus from fire chiefs and emergency managers, at the April 2014 high-level expert National Transportation Safety Forum on Ethanol and Crude Oil Transportation, is that derailments of 100-tanker oil trains are “way beyond our current capabilities.” Following long-standing, prudent U.S. Transportation Department “Orange Book” guidance, fire chiefs testified that “even if we had an infinite amount of foam” they can only do defensive firefighting, pulling back at least one-half mile and letting the explosions and fires happen….

James River Advocacy Group to Host Conversation About Risks to River
Williamsburg Yorktown Daily , November 16, 2014
Six months have passed since a train derailed in Lynchburg and deposited about 20,000 gallons of crude oil in the James River, an event that highlighted one of the numerous threats the river faces, according to the James River Association….

Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean Aquifers
NBC Bay Area, Nov 14, 2014
State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation….Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA….

The Environmental Factor Linked to Huge Rise in ADHD
PSYBLOG, November, 2014
Rising air pollution in urban areas could be linked to the rapid increase in diagnosis in ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), a new study suggests.
The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, finds that prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a component of air pollution, increases the chances of children developing ADHD by five times (Perera et al., 2014)….

FracMapper
by The FracTracker Alliance on FracTracker.org, Nov. 2014
http://maps.fractracker.org/latest/?appid=103e9e75d36e4bfc95724c33a42b321e

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Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson comes under fire, will stand firm

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

Benicia’s Mayor, Elizabeth Patterson, has been accused of a conflict of interest and asked to recuse herself from all comment and action regarding Valero Benicia Refinery’s crude by rail proposal.

Two City Council members, Mark Hughes and Christina Strawbridge, disclosed Tuesday that they initiated the inquiry with Benicia City Attorney Heather McLaughlin, acting on concerns of unnamed constituents that the Mayor is biased.  McLaughlin is said to have advised that California’s Fair Political Practices Commission would not be an appropriate venue to seek advice or action, in that there is clearly no material conflict of interest (financial gain).  McLaughlin then contracted with an outside consulting attorney,  Michael Jenkins, to write an opinion on common law grounds for recusal.

Jenkins’ opinion is inconclusive, but offers case law on bias, and suggests that it would be best for the City if Mayor Patterson would choose to recuse herself and cease all e-alerts and commentary on anything related to the issue.  “…in our opinion, a court likely would find that Mayor Patterson’s oft-expressed skepticism about transportation of crude oil by rail evidences an unacceptable probability of actual bias. The evidence is sufficient to warrant her preclusion from participation in the decision.”

In her defense, Mayor Patterson contracted the services of attorney Diane Fishburn, whose legal opinion, states in summary, “With respect to the application of the common law doctrine of conflict of interest, it is our view…that there is no evidence that you have a personal bias based on either a substantial pecuniary or personal interest in the outcome of the matter. As a public official, you certainly not only have ‘a right but an obligation to discuss issues of vital concern’ to your constituents and to state your ‘views on matters of public importance.’”

Fishburn also wrote a letter to City Attorney Heather McLaughlin, stating even more boldly the Mayor’s freedom of speech in the matter: “We have reviewed the matter with our client, and it is our opinion based on the Supreme Court’s decision in City of Fairfield v. Superior Court of Solano County (1975) 14 Cal.3d 768 that she does not have a common law conflict of interest in this matter, and that she not only has First Amendment rights as a citizen and public official, but she also has the right and duty as an elected official to participate in the public and City discussions regarding this important matter. Equally importantly, she has First amendment rights to communicate freely with her constituents and the public in general on any and all issues of public policy and concern, and any attempt by the City or city officials to curb those rights would be an unlawful restraint of her speech under the U.S. and state Constitutions.”

Mayor Patterson says she will not recuse herself, and will continue to exercise her constitutional freedoms and her responsibilities as Mayor.  In an email, she offered the following comment: “Right.  Seeking rail safety is biased?  Free speech becomes bias even before there is any action before city council?  And having an opinion about public safety, health and welfare is a mind made up?  …The message is that I should not do my job.”

Two local news media have covered this story.  For more see The Benicia Herald and the Vallejo Times-Herald.  For more background see Local Media Coverage.

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