Berkeley Vice Mayor: more crude oil trains to cross Benicia Bridge enroute to Southern California

[The Berkeley resolution: “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley]

Several times over recent months, I have been urged to pay attention to a Santa Maria Refinery rail project in San Luis Obispo County.  Phillips 66 wants to import Bakken and tar-sands crude oil into their Santa Maria Refinery on trains with up to 80 tank cars per day.  Community activists there are organizing to oppose that project just as we are here in Benicia.  Until now, I have resisted paying much attention to their efforts.  I have been intentionally Valero-Benicia-focused, given my limited time and resources.

But I was very interested to learn today that Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio has crafted a resolution for the Berkeley City Council “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley.”  Vice Mayor Maio acknowledges that local regulation will not be easy: “Mitigating the impacts of transporting crude and other commodities by rail has been a challenge, as the railroads claim they are subject to federal law but not to California law.  They are asserting federal pre-emption and arguing that other agencies have no authority to mitigate the impacts.  However, this is not correct.  Every permitting agency — cities, counties, and air districts — has the authority to deny land use and other permits if the applicant refuses to mitigate impacts.”  She goes on to offer a number of steps the Berkeley Council can take, including the resolution mentioned above.

An impressive effort.  We should take similar action here in Benicia.

Downloading the Maio/Berkeley materials, I noticed maps and text describing Union Pacific tank cars traveling along the Capitol Corridor and right through Benicia to Berkeley and beyond: “The crude oil trains would enter northern California via Donner Pass, through Auburn, Rocklin, and Roseville, proceed along the Sacramento River through Sacramento and Davis to Benicia and along the San Francisco Bay through Martinez, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland.  From Oakland the trains would use the Coast Line via Hayward, Santa Clara, San José, Salinas and continue along the Pacific Coast into San Luis Obispo County.  The same tracks are used by Amtrak for passenger transport.”  (see p. 2 of 8)

Capitol Corridor Route MapI really hope Vice Mayor Maio is NOT right about the route of these trains – in a brief search, I could not verify the route on the San Luis Obispo County website.  I am not certain, but it seems there might also be routes that pass southward through Stockton and then westward to Pittsburg and beyond, avoiding the Suisun Marsh and the Benicia Bridge.  But if Maio is right, Benicia is not only preparing for Valero’s 100 cars/day to stop and unload, but another 80 cars/day that would pass right through and over the Benicia Bridge, along the Carquinez Strait to the East Bay and beyond.  This is game-changing and highly significant to those of us who are primarily Benicia-focused.  The cumulative impacts of the crude by rail boom will be huge and many-faceted if we don’t band together statewide.

Stay tuned.  I’ll keep you informed if I can get clear on the route the Santa Maria trains will travel.

Roger Straw
Editor, The Benicia Independent

    NRDC Scientist calls for comprehensive state review

    Repost from NRDC Switchboard – Diane Bailey’s Blog

    Crude Oil Train Boom Headed to California

    March 19, 2014

    Oil train.jpgCalifornia’s Senate Committees on Environmental Quality, and Natural Resources and Water are holding a joint hearing on Emergency Response to Rail Accidents today to talk about oil spill response in the event of a crude oil train accident.  This is important given the spate of crude oil train accidents over the past year as oil rail transport has boomed, and as California faces the prospect of new oil rail terminals and up to 25% of crude oil coming to this coastal state by rail (see here, here and here).

    It’s good to see the state improving oil spill response planning and resources, including the Governor’s proposal to collect fees from oil rail transport for potential clean-ups.  But we need the state to do more than just mop up oil spills after accidents.  We need a comprehensive review of the public safety implications of all of the new oil terminal proposals before they are built and a focus on human health (in addition to wildlife).

    First, does it make sense for the state to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure like oil rail terminals, when petroleum product use is in decline?  A recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report predicts a 13 percent drop in gasoline and diesel used in California by 2020 despite a growing population.

    Second, if we’re going to bring in crude oil by rail, should we allow new terminals in densely populated areas right next to homes and schools?  That is what’s proposed right now, despite National Transportation Safety Board recommendations for crude oil trains to avoid urban areas.

    Third, should the state disclose what these crude oil trains are carrying, how much of it, how often they run and exactly which rail routes they take?  The public has a right to know when mile long trains filled with hazardous cargo are passing by their front porches.

    Fourth, if we have choices about which crude oil we import and refine in California, should we make an effort to avoid the very dirtiest and most dangerous crudes?  The California Energy Commission (CEC) and Energy Information Administration report record imports of dirty tar sands to California in recent months.

    Fifth, if a rail yard suddenly decides to take 100 car unit trains of crude oil, shouldn’t there be a public process and government oversight to determine whether that is safe and appropriate?  Last week a news report revealed that the Kinder Morgan rail terminal in  Richmond was quietly permitted by the Bay Area Air District to receive mile long crude oil trains every day without any public disclosure whatsoever.  Even the CEC didn’t know about it until a news station broke the story.  In the same story, the Air district stated cavalierly that they’re not concerned about this terminal, which happens to be in the middle of Richmond, a city that has endured significant historic and ongoing pollution from the Chevron refinery and other industrial activities.

    These questions should be discussed at the rail safety hearing today. It’s easy to dismiss the public concern over crude by rail safety before an accident happens.  In fact, the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec, may not have been concerned about crude oil trains running through it until the day one derailed, exploded and wiped out the downtown area taking 47 lives last July.

    Given that terrible tragedy in Quebec last summer and all the fiery crude oil train derailments since then, the thought of 100 tanker car trains filled with highly volatile, explosion-prone Bakken crude oil going through the densely populated Bay Area ought to give some pause to government authorities. Communities all along crude oil rail routes are waking up to this new reality and they’re concerned.

    It’s encouraging to see some steps to address oil rail risks in other regions.  Albany, New York just placed a moratorium on the expansion of the processing of crude oil at the Port of Albany pending a public health investigation by the Albany County Health Department. The City of Seattle passed a resolution last week urging adoption of state legislation and federal regulations; state assessment of risks; railroad company restriction of petroleum transport through Seattle; and update of City incident response plans to address the potential safety, environmental, and economic impacts of petroleum transport by rail.  Similar efforts are under way in Spokane.

    A few weeks ago the Mayor of Benicia called on the Governor to issue an executive order to ensure that the state is prepared to deal with the highly flammable and explosive Bakken crude oil from North Dakota coming into California.  That would be a great starting place for California to get out ahead of the looming oil by rail safety crisis in this state.


    Additional note: Visiting a Southern California rail yard today, watching trains get built, plenty of DOT-111 tanker cars were in the mix.

    tanker cars in Colton 2.JPG

    tanker cars in Colton.JPG

      KPIX coverage of California Senate hearing on crude oil train safety – State not ready

      Repost from CBS San Francisco, KPIX News 5

      Note – The Benicia Independent is searching for a transcript of this Senate hearing.  Meanwhile, check out:

      – BenIndy editor Roger Straw

        For safe and healthy communities…