Crude by rail unsafe; Valero should withdraw its applicationTo the Editor of The Benicia Herald, and published there on Mar. 12:
Many thanks to Dr. James Egan for his thoughtful letter of March 10, “Timely decision on crude by rail warranted: Deny Valero’s application.” His local voice amplifies a growing national sentiment, that crude by rail is simply too dangerous at this time.
As Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity wrote this week, “Before one more derailment, fire, oil spill and one more life lost, we need a moratorium on oil trains and we need it now. The oil and railroad industries are playing Russian roulette with people’s lives and our environment, and the Obama administration needs to put a stop to it.”
Even as officials in Washington DC are dealing with this crisis (much too slowly), Benicia has a powerful role to play. We can do our part by denying Valero’s permit. In fact, Valero can do its part – by acknowledging the horrendous piling up of recent derailments and explosions, the failing infrastructure and the unsafe tank cars, and withdrawing their application for the time being. That would show real leadership in the oil industry.
Dr. Egan covered most of the issues extremely well, but didn’t mention that the tar-sands crude produced in Alberta Canada has proven volatile on trains as well, with two recent derailments resulting in spills and huge fires within 23 miles of each other outside Gogama, Ontario. Tar-sands crude starts out as a sticky thick bitumen, and must be diluted with volatile and toxic fluids in order to be pumped into rail cars, a mix that can explode and burn just as Bakken crude explodes and burns when a tank car is ruptured. The first train exploded outside Gogama on Feb. 14, and the second on March 7. Those poor folks in Gogama are holding their breath, as the track runs right through town, and the First Nation people who live even closer to the derailments are in shock. Valero has admitted that it wants permission to ship Bakken crude and tar-sands dilbit by train.
In addition to those two crashes in Ontario, we have seen conflagrations in West Virginia on Feb. 16 and in Illinois on Mar. 5. You can’t have missed those. Four “bomb train” explosions in three weeks!
In January 2014, I started a personal blog to keep an eye on crude by rail in the news. At first, there wasn’t much beyond our local efforts to stop Valero’s proposal “in its tracks.” Increasingly, the regional and national media have awakened to the health and safety issues that can destroy communities along the rails. You can’t imagine the absolute flood of media coverage this last three weeks. I can’t keep up anymore. I’m picking and choosing which stories to repost [at BeniciaIndependent.com].
The economy of Benicia may very well take a tumble if Valero’s proposal is permitted: housing values may fall and businesses may look to safer locations and relocate. According to Valero’s own analysis, the few jobs created by introducing oil trains here will be taken up by residents of other Bay Area towns. New hires will spend most of their money where they live, not here in Benicia.
We need to take the long view – Valero can continue to process crude oil brought in on ships. The multi-billion dollar industry will weather this minor setback.