Crude oil by rail discussed at Solano County Town Hall Meeting

Repost from The Reporter, Vacaville, CA

Crude oil by rail discussed at county Town Hall Meeting keeps Valero Benicia Refinery project in mind

By Melissa Murphy, 09/29/2014

A community conversation Monday night attracted about 50 people from the public, county staff and elected leaders to explore the topic of rail safety along the 73 miles of railway in Solano County, in particular as it relates to proposed increases in crude oil shipments.

Solano County Supervisor Linda Seifert said the evening was aimed at having a community conversation about the county’s preparedness and the potential impacts from any incident along local railways.

County officials said the timing of the event was two-fold. September is National Emergency Preparedness Month. In addition, the city of Benicia is considering an application that would allow Valero Refinery to receive and process more crude oil delivered by rail.

While instigated by the Valero proposal, that project, according to Solano County Supervisor Linda Seifert, is being thoroughly vetted and Solano County leadership does not have a say in the outcome.

Still, Seifert explained Valero isn’t the only refinery interested in the transportation of crude oil by rail so it’s still appropriate to discuss the possibility in Solano County.

“Hazardous materials travel through Solano County daily,” she said, adding that the government has had very little to say about the movement of that type of material by rail. “This reduces, significantly, the local ability to impose its own constraints.”

She explained that the earthquake in August that rocked the Vallejo and Napa region is just one example of how prepared and how ready the county’s first responders are when needed.

“We know emergency responders from across the county, including the Hazardous Materials Response Team, are prepared for a wide array of potential incidents,” Seifer has said. “Proposals to process crude oil delivered by rail will change the mix of materials coming into and passing through Solano County. It is only prudent for us to explore how to increase our capability to handle the risks associated with these changes.”

Chris Howe, Valero Benicia Refinery’s director of Health, Safety, Environment and Government Affairs, explained that the proposed crude by rail project would be a third means to deliver crude oil. So far, Valero receives the crude oil by marine deliveries and pipeline.

Howe explained that there are no other production changes proposed at the refinery.

“This project has the environmental benefit of lowering annual emissions including a reduction in greenhouse gases,” he said. “This project will provide flexibility to reduce the import of foreign crudes and increase the use of domestic crude oil.”

He added that preventing accidents is a “top priority” and that Valero already has exemplary safety programs, that they train for emergencies and are prepared today for emergencies inside and outside of the refinery.

Solano Office of Emergency Services also is prepared for emergencies and disasters. They already operate with a Emergency Operations Plan and Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan, according to Don Ryan, emergency services manager. Those documents are available on the county’s website,

Meanwhile, Antonia Juhasz, an author and investigative reporter, shed light on the actual impacts of a derailment of train cars transporting crude oil.

Photo after photo was shown of major accidents, fires and oil spills caused by crude oil train derailments.

The biggest in the country was an Alabama derailment that spilled 750,000 gallons of crude oil in November 2013 and the biggest in the world was a 1.6 million gallon spill after a derailment in Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people.

Juhasz said while transporting crude oil is a relatively new problem, it’s a serious problem. She said the crude oil coming from North Dakota is more flammable and combustible, a lot like gasoline, with a tendency to explode when derailed.

She said problems can be attributed to the train cars that are prone to puncture and the trains themselves.

The sticking point, she said, is the government doesn’t know how to regulate it. She also noted that Valero could expect a derailment every two years, with a major accident happening every 10 years. She also pointed to three derailments, two of which were carrying petroleum coke, since Nov. 4 2013 at the Valero refinery in Benicia.

Lois Wolk, D-Solano, also continues to push for increased rail safety.

“The volume of crude oil being imported into California has increased over 100-fold in recent years, and continues to increase,” Wolk said in a press release and noted that Valero’s plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil a day would be through the heart of her district. “The recommendations I propose would help California keep in step with the growing risk to California’s citizens and environment posed by the significant increase in shipments of these dangerous materials.”

She has proposed reducing the recommended speed of trains carrying hazardous crude from 40 to 30 mph through all cities to reduce the risk of crashes. Wolk also proposes increasing the thickness of the shell of the car, adding top-fitting protections that can sustain a rollover accident of up to 9 mph, and installing Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brake systems to ensure faster braking for train cars.

Seifert said she was pleased with Monday’s turnout and reiterated the need for education about crude oil by rail.

“This was an opportunity for the public to learn and to start promoting the regulatory process,” she said and added that it also is an opportunity to make sure Solano County’s plan around emergency preparedness is sound.”

“This wasn’t about stopping the project, but to ensure the safety of the community,” Seifert added.

Grant Cooke: Big Oil’s endgame has begun

Repost from The Benicia Herald
[Editor: Benicia’s own Grant Cooke has written a highly significant three-part series for The Benicia Herald, outlining the impending fall of the fossil fuel industry and concluding with good advice for the City of Benicia and other cities dependent on refineries for a major portion of their local revenue stream.  This is the first of three parts.  Read part part two by CLICKING HERE and part three by CLICKING HERE and .  – RS]

Grant Cooke: Big Oil’s endgame has begun

September 28, 2014 by Grant Cooke

Editor’s note: First of three parts to run on consecutive Sundays.

P1010301“THE STONE AGE CAME TO AN END, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil,” said Sheikh Ahmed-Zaki Yamani. The former Saudi oil minister is arguably the world’s foremost expert on the oil industry. In 2000, he introduced this extraordinary observation with an even more prescient one — to wit, “Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil — and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground,” he told the UK’s Telegraph.

A decade and half later, we are coming to the end of Big Oil, and the domination of the world’s geopolitics and economy by the fossil-fuel interests for the past century. Correspondingly, the carbon- and nuclear-powered centralized utility industry that was started by Thomas Edison in 1882 when he flipped the switch at the Pearl Street substation in Manhattan has begun its decline.

Over the years, Big Oil and its related industries and supporters have disrupted the way humans manage their affairs, and wreaked havoc on our environmentally fragile planet. Today, the loss of a major section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from global warming caused by excessive carbon-generated heat appears unstoppable.

That hasn’t stopped the dead-enders from fighting on. In February, North Carolina’s Republican governor turned his administration into a joke with a clumsy attempt to help Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility, avoid cleaning up 39,000 tons of coal ash that was spilled into the Dan River. The Duke ash coal spill came a month after 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanols, or MCHM, spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River, ruining the water supply of Charleston, the state’s capital. A second chemical, a mix of polyglycol ethers known as PPH, was part of the leak, the company involved, Freedom Industries, told federal regulators. The company uses the chemicals to wash coal prior to shipping for coal-powered utilities. More than 300,000 West Virginians were impacted and several hundred residents were hospitalized with various symptoms.

Closer to home in Northern California, we had the massive 2012 Chevron fire that sent toxic chemicals billowing into the air and caused respiratory problems for 15,000 Richmond residents. Chevron admitted to negligence as the cause of the fire. In 2010, PG&E’s neglect led to the horrific San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes. The California Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $2.5 billion, the largest fine in U.S. utility history. PG&E now faces federal charges that it violated the U.S. Pipeline Safety Act.

For several years, U.S. oil oligarchs Charles and David Koch have made a mockery of American democracy by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into smear campaigns against scientists, environmentalists and liberal politicians. More than any others in recent memory, the Koch brothers have manage to replace consensus and compromise with vitriol and dysfunction in U.S. politics.

Oil madness is not a strictly U.S. disease. Vladimir Putin, channeling the ghost of Joseph Stalin, recently swept up a huge chunk of Ukraine and threatened an astonished Europe that if it opposed him, the result would be a shutdown of the Russian natural gas that many see as vital to the EU’s economic recovery. And the world seems to have grown accustomed to Mideast mayhem, where the biggest transfer of wealth in world history — from the oil users to the oil suppliers — has led to social and political chaos, repression, suffering and death.

* * *

EVEN AFTER A CENTURY OF SUPPORT, the U.S. federal government grants the oil industry, the world’s richest, with about $4 billion a year in tax subsidies, and Exxon Mobil Corporation (the largest grossing company in the world) minimizes the taxes it pays by using 20 wholly owned subsidiaries in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands to legally shelter cash from its operations in Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi.

The coal industry is also favored with tax breaks, public land loopholes and subsidized railroads. A 2013 Harvard University study concluded that the total real economic costs from U.S. coal amounted to $345.3 billion, adding close to 17.8 cents per kilowatt hour to the cost of electricity generated from coal. Called “external costs, or externalities,” these costs are borne by the U.S. public.

Now the carbon-based industries, which include coal, oil, natural gas and related industries like centralized utilities and transmission line companies, are coming to the end of their socially useful cycle. Their resources are aging beyond economic justification and their business models are too inflexible to adapt to a new industrial era with a different energy model.

This new era of energy generation, storage and sharing is upon us. We call it the Green Industrial Revolution, and it is emerging as the next significant political, social and economic era in world history. As it takes hold, it will result in a complete restructuring of the way energy is generated, supplied and used. It will be a revolutionary time of extraordinary potential and opportunity, with remarkable innovations in science and energy that will lead to new ones in sustainable, smart and carbon-less economies powered by nonpolluting technologies like wind, geothermal, wave, river and solar, with their advanced technologies like flywheels, regenerative and maglev systems, and hydrogen fuel cells.

Community-based and on-site renewable energy generation will replace massive fossil fuel and nuclear-powered central plant utilities. New advances in efficient recyclable batteries and fuel cells will store energy for when it is needed. Smart green grids will share electricity effortlessly. Additive manufacturing will minimize wasted resources, and new sciences like nanotechnology will have a profound impact on business, careers, human health and the global economy.

This new era encompasses changes in technology, economics, business, manufacturing, jobs and consumer lifestyles. The transition will be as complete as when the steam-driven First Industrial Revolution gave way to the fossil fuel-driven Second Industrial Revolution. It is a monumental shift that is already under way and spreading rapidly around the world.

Industrial revolutions occur when a new energy source intersects with a new form of communication. In the First Industrial Revolution, steam was the energy source and the printing press provided the means to disseminate new ideas that accelerated scientific breakthroughs and the adoption of inventions. In the Second Industrial Revolution, the fossil fuel-driven internal combustion engine was the power source and analog communication provided the channel for new ideas and technologies.

Today, the digital age, with Internet access to almost all scientific knowledge and Facebook and Twitter-led social media, has intersected with renewable energy generation, hydrogen storage and smart grids. While vast fortunes were made in the fossil-fuel era by extracting natural resources and despoiling the environment, wealth in this new green era will come from digital and IT breakthroughs, intelligent machines and a host of environmentally sensitive inventions.

Many factors are coming together to hasten the Green Industrial Revolution. Putin’s march on Ukraine shocked Europe and stirred the region’s efforts to generate more renewable energy and cut ties to fossil fuel. Forty percent of Scotland’s domestic electricity generation comes from renewable sources, mostly tidal and wind. Denmark and other Nordic nations intend to generate 100 percent of their energy by mid-century. Germany’s Energiewende (Energy Transformation), which aims to power the country almost entirely on renewables by 2050, is accelerating.

Almost daily, scientists in university and national research laboratories are making breakthroughs in developing non-carbon energy sources. The chemistry department of the University of California-Davis recently figured out how to make carbon-less gasoline from straw. Advancements in nanotechnology are making electricity usage much more efficient.

China is considering a ban on new cars that run on fossil fuels, and major cities across the globe have limited the use of autos in downtown areas. Several nations — and California, too — are creating hydrogen highways. Norway, Sweden and Germany have them; California will open its hydrogen highway in 2016. Daimler, Honda, Chevrolet and most other major automobile manufacturers have hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars ready to go.

Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is co-author, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Woodrow Clark, of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics,” to be released in October by Elsevier, of which this column is excerpted.

Solano County hosts community meeting on oil train safety issues [Mon. 9/29. 6pm, Fairfield]

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor:  Regrettably, Solano County invited Valero Benicia Refinery and Union Pacific Railroad to make panel presentations at this “Community Conversation,” but did not invite Benicia’s officially recognized grassroots opposition organization,  Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC) to present.  Benicia is one of seven cities in Solano County.  Language used by the County in its original announcement of this “discussion” presumed an inevitable permitting of crude by rail in our area, even as permitting is being hotly debated here.  The updated announcement is clearer, but still used the verb will rather than would: “Proposals to process crude oil delivered by rail will change the mix of materials coming into and passing through Solano County.”  Under pressure to invite an environmentalist, the County invited oil and energy analyst, author, journalist and activist Antonia Juhasz to join the panel.  Juhasz has written three books: The Bush Agenda, The Tyranny of Oil, and Black Tide.  Oddly, the County’s recently updated publicity does not mention Juhasz.  BSHC and The Benicia Independent encourage everyone to attend.
…See also the news release on the Solano County website, and a similar article in The Benicia Herald and a better one in The Vacaville Reporter.  – RS]

Solano County to host community meeting on oil train safety issues

Times-Herald staff report, 09/26/2014 

FAIRFIELD >> Solano County will host a public meeting Monday to discuss risks posed by plans to increase oil train shipments through the region.

The meeting follows concerns raised by state, regional and local government officials about plans to ship two 50-car oil trains daily from Roseville to Benicia’s Valero refinery.

The information session will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at the County Administration Center, 675 Texas St. in Fairfield.

Last week, county officials sent a letter to Benicia asking for added measures to prevent train derailments in rural areas and protected wetlands. Also, state and Sacramento regional officials have called on the city to redo its safety analysis, saying the city has overlooked the risks of increased oil train traffic through other parts Northern California and beyond.

“The evening is about having a community conversation about our preparedness and the potential impacts from an incident along our railways,” Supervisor Linda Seifert said in a press release.

Seifert said the event format — a series of brief presentations and breakout groups — will be a facilitated discussion designed to raise awareness of the existing safety measures and identify potential gaps.

Invited speakers include representatives from the Solano County Office of Emergency Services, the Solano County Fire Chiefs Association, the Valero Benicia refinery, Union Pacific Railroad, local air quality management districts and the offices of U.S. Rep. John Garamendi and state Sen. Lois Wolk. A community perspective also will be incorporated into the lineup of speakers, county officials said.

Comment period ends 9/30/14 on new federal rules for oil trains – send your thoughts now!

Repost from The Hill
[Editor: The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing new rules for oil train transport. You can post a comment online here.  The proposed rules, including instructions for submitting comments, can be downloaded here.  – RS]

Comment period starts for oil train rules

By Timothy Cama – 08/01/14

The Obama administration Friday formally published proposals in the Federal Register to stiffen safety rules for trains carrying crude oil and other fuels, kicking off a two-month period in which the public can comment.

The proposals were prompted chiefly by the increase in oil shipped by rail from the Bakken region of North Dakota, which Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last week necessitates “a new world order on how this stuff moves.” A train carrying crude derailed in Quebec last year, setting off an explosion that killed 47.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed phasing out old rail cars for oil and other flammable liquids like ethanol, implementing new speed and braking standards for the trains and establishing a new testing and classification system for the fuels. Foxx called the rules “the most significant progress” in protecting the country from explosions caused by trains carrying Bakken crude.

DOT said it wants comments on three different possible rules for speed limits and three different options for the thickness of steel on cars.

DOT also said it was not likely to extend the comment period beyond the 60-day standard, “given the urgency of the safety issues addressed in these proposals.”

For safe and healthy communities…