An Ethical Case Against Valero Crude By Rail

By Roger D. Straw, Benicia Herald Editor
October 30, 2015

Roger D. StrawIn June of 2013, I wrote a guest opinion for the Benicia Herald, “Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?” I had just learned that the City of Benicia staff was proposing to give Valero Refinery a quick and easy pass to begin construction of an offloading rack for oil trains carrying “North American crude.” Valero was seeking permission to begin bringing in two 50-car Union Pacific trains every day, filled with a crude oil. Valero and the City would not disclose where the oil was coming from, but everyone knew of the boom in production in Canada (tar-sands crude) and North Dakota (Bakken crude).

At that time, my most pressing concern was that Benicia, my home town, not be the cause of destruction elsewhere. Tar-sands oil strip mining is the dirtiest, most energy-intensive and environmentally destructive oil production method in the world. It struck me then, and it still does, as a moral issue. Our beautiful small City on the Carquinez has a conscience. We have a global awareness and a responsibility to all who live uprail of our fair city. Our decisions have consequences beyond our border.

My article, and my conscience-driven concern, came BEFORE the massive and deadly oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. That wreck and the many horrific explosions that followed involving Bakken crude oil and tar-sands “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) became the sad poster children of a movement to STOP crude by rail. It became all too easy for Benicians to base our opposition on a very legitimate self-protective fear. Not here. Not in our back yard. No explosions in OUR Industrial Park, in our town, on our pristine bit of coastal waters.

But fear mustn’t deaden our heart.

I was encouraged to read in the City’s recent Revised Draft EIR, that the document would analyze environmental impacts all the way to the train’s point of origin, including North Dakota and Canada:

“In response to requests made in comments on the DEIR, the City is issuing this Revised DEIR for public input to consider 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 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.” [emphasis added]

Sadly, the City’s consultants never made good on their intention. Our moral obligation to those uprail of Benicia extends, according to the consultants, to our neighbors in Fairfield, Vacaville, Davis, Sacramento, Roseville and to the good folks and mountain treasures beyond, but ONLY TO CALIFORNIA’S BORDER. What happens at the source, in Canada where boreal forests and humans and wildlife are dying; what happens in North Dakota where the night is now lit and the earth is polluted wholesale with oil fracking machinery – what happens there is of no concern to Benicians. Too far away to care. Their air, their land, their water is not our air, land and water. Evidently, according to our highly paid consultants, this is not, after all, one planet.

Or is it?

Our Planning Commissioners have more than a civic duty. They and we are called morally and ethically to understand our larger role in climate change and to protect the earth and its inhabitants. Our decision has consequences.

Together, we can STOP crude by rail.

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