SACRAMENTO BEE – critical review of Benicia Valero RDEIR

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

Sacramento oil spills would be risky but rare, new report says

By Tony Bizjak, August 31, 2015

• Valero Refining Co. wants to send two 50-car oil trains daily through central Sacramento
• A report says project presents risks to humans and the environment, but says spills are rare
• Sacramento and NorCal leaders have called for more safety steps to reduce the spill and fire risks

A train travels near the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley.
A train travels near the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley. Jake Miille Special to The Bee/Jake Miille

Benicia city officials have concluded a proposal to transport large amounts of crude oil daily on trains through Sacramento and Northern California would create a “potentially significant” hazard to the public, but say a spill is probably only a once every few decades occurrence.

In a revised environmental impact report issued Monday, officials in the Bay Area city contend spill risks are unavoidable and there is nothing that the city or the Valero Refining Co. can do to mitigate them, given that the federal government controls how rail shipments are handled. The report makes a point of saying that federal and state governments have taken recent steps to make crude oil rail transports safer.

Valero, which operates a major oil refinery in Benicia, is asking for city approval to ship two 50-car crude oil trains daily from north American fields through California to the Bay Area, replacing marine oil shipments.

Oil train shipments have come under the spotlight nationally after a handful of crashes that caused spectacular explosions and fires. One crash two years ago resulted in the deaths of 47 people in a Canadian town; others have forced evacuations and spilled oil into waterways.

Benicia officials conducted the latest analysis after critics, including Sacramento regional leaders, complained earlier risk assessments were inadequate. They have called on Benicia and Valero to take more safety steps.

Cities on the rail line include Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis, Dixon, Vacaville, Fairfield and Suisun City. The oil train route through rural Northern California remains uncertain. Trains could enter the state from Oregon and pass through the Dunsmuir area, or through the Feather River Canyon, or via Donner Summit.

Benicia’s initial environmental report, published last year, had said spill damage hazards are “less than significant.” The new report is based on a deeper analysis of an expanded geographic area.

The Benicia report cites federal data showing that less than 1 percent of train accidents cause releases of hazardous materials. But it also notes that trains to Benicia would have to travel through mountainous areas that have higher derailment rates. It projects that an oil spill of more than 100 gallons – described in the report as a small spill – might be expected to happen once every 20 to 27 years. A larger spill of 30,000 gallons is listed as a once-every-38-to-80-years event, but could cause injuries and deaths.

The release of the new report sets in place a 45-day public comment period. Benicia officials said they will respond to those comments, then set a Planning Commission review and vote on the project. The date for that hearing has not been set.

Valero officials, who have complained that Benicia’s vetting process has gone on too long, said in a brief email statement Monday that they are looking forward to participating in the Planning Commission discussion of their project. Officials with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the regional entity that has been monitoring the project, could not be reached for comment Monday.

A copy of the report can be found under “Revised Draft EIR” on the city of Benicia’s website.


    VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: City releases revised report on Valero’s Crude-By-Rail project

    Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

    City releases revised report on Valero’s Crude-By-Rail project

    By Irma Widjojo, 08/31/15, 6:50 PM PDT

    Benicia >> The revised draft environmental impact report for the proposed Valero’s Crude-By-Rail project was released Monday.

    The new version of the draft includes “potential impacts that could occur uprail of Roseville, California (i.e., between a crude oil train’s point of origin and the California State border, and from the border to Roseville) and to supplement the (draft environmental impact report) DEIR’s evaluation of the potential consequences of upsets or accidents involving crude oil trains based on new information that has become available since the DEIR was published,” according to a City of Benicia press release.

    The draft of the report was first released June 17, 2014. However, due to a number of public comments and concerns, the city decided to revise portions of the report and recirculate them back to the public.

    The updated parts are subject to another round of a 45-day public comment period.

    The Planning Commission will hold a formal public hearing to receive comments on the RDEIR (revised draft environmental impact report) on Sept. 29.

    In anticipation of the number of speakers, additional Planning Commission meetings to receive comments on the RDEIR are scheduled for Sept. 30, Oct. 1, and Oct. 8. These additional meetings will only be held as necessary to hear public comment. All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, Benicia City Hall, at 250 East L St.

    No action on the projects will be taken at these meetings, staff said.

    Comments on the RDEIR may be provided at the public hearing, or may be submitted in writing, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15.

    Written comments should be submitted to or Principal Planner Amy Million at the Community Development Department.

    If the project is approved, Valero Benicia Refinery will be allowed to transport crude oil through Benicia via two 50-tanker car trains, rather than shipping the crude oil by boat. It will not replace the crude that is transported by pipeline.

    According to reports, the project has a potential “to result in significant impacts to the environment in the following subject areas: Air quality and greenhouse gases, traffic and transportation, hazards and hazardous materials, biological resources, energy conservation, geology and soils, hydrology and water quality, cultural resources, land use and planning, and noise.”

    An environmental analysis also indicated that there would be “a significant and unavoidable impact associated with air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, and biological resources.”

    Valero Benicia Refinery applied for a permit to extend Union Pacific Railroad lines for the crude transportation in early 2013, and has since garnered public concerns about rail safety and environmental impact.

    Valero officials have contended that the railroad addition would make the refinery more competitive by allowing it to process more discounted North American crude oil.

    For further information about the RDEIR and the public hearing contact Million at 707-746-4280.

    The report can be reviewed at the Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St.; the Community Development Department, 250 East L St.; or online at


      Valero Benicia Crude by Rail: RDEIR now available, links here

      Project Documents: Valero Crude by Rail

      By Roger Straw, Benicia Independent Editor, 8/31/15
      UPDATED September 4, 2015

      Here you can download documents from the City of Benicia’s website.  They are the official documents submitted by Valero and/or prepared by City consultants, including the Report itself, eight appendices and ninety (!) reference documents.  (Documents submitted by citizens and others commenting on the proposal may be found on our Project Review page.)  Caution: many of these are huge downloads.

      The Recirculated Draft EIR – released August 31, 2015