Tag Archives: Air Quality

Benicia Herald Op Ed: My Dream for Benicia, by Sue Kibbe

Repost from The Benicia Herald
[Editor: Sue Kibbe also submitted her “Dream for Benicia” to the Benicia Planning Commission as a comment for the record on Valero Crude By Rail.  – RS]

My dream for Benicia

I HAVE A DREAM THAT ONE DAY BENICIA WILL RISE UP and be known across the nation as the Little City that said “No” to Big Oil, putting human life and environmental stewardship above human greed and the insatiable quest for increased profits. What a proud day it would be if Benicia said the risk to the thousands living up-rail is too high a price to pay.

Because it is too high a price to pay. The effect on the environment from a spill or explosion would be an unmitigated disaster, a fire that cannot be extinguished, a toxic slick destroying every living thing.

Crude-by-rail has been called “a disaster in the making” by more than one expert. A railway safety consultant has warned, “We’ve got all kinds of failings on all sides, inadequacies that are coming to light because trains are blowing up all over the place.” The Federal Railroad Administration is able to inspect only two-tenths of 1 percent of railroad operations each year. With 140,000 rail miles across the nation, regular inspection of the tracks is impossible.

The Department of Transportation has yet to provide regulations for crude-by-rail transport. Expect pushback from the rail industry. Safety measures such as “positive train control” (PTC) were recommended 45 years ago, yet the technology operates on only a tiny slice of America’s rail network. The railroads have preempted local control and can make routing decisions without public disclosure.

Meanwhile, aging rail trestles and lines such as the one through Feather River Canyon — lines that were never constructed for such heavy traffic — continue to be used with greater frequency. The New York Times reported last month that “400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail last year . . . up from 9,500 in 2008. . . . From 1975 to 2012, federal records show, (railroads) spilled 800,000 gallons of crude oil. Last year alone, they spilled more the 1.15 million gallons.”

Scott Smith, a scientist whose work has focused on oil spills, has studied samples of the Bakken crude oil from three accident sites. He may be the only expert outside the oil industry to have analyzed this crude. All the samples he studied share the same high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and alkane gases in exceptional combinations. Smith says 30 percent to 40 percent of Bakken crude is made up of toxic and explosive gases. “Any form of static electricity will ignite this stuff and blow it up,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal, based on its own analysis, reported that Bakken has significantly more combustible gases and a higher vapor pressure than oil from other formations. Basically, its flash point is dangerously low, and a chain reaction from tank car to tank car is inevitable.

Examining the draft environmental impact report (DEIR)

Pay attention to the wording in Valero’s proposal: “The Project would not increase the amount of crude oil that can be processed at the refinery . . .” It never says the amount of crude oil that “is being processed” at the refinery. In the DEIR, page 3-2, it says: “The Refinery’s crude oil processing rate is limited to an annual average of 165,000 barrels per day (daily maximum of 180,000 barrels) by its operating permit.” That is a huge increase from the 70,000 barrels per day that it says are processed now. With the 70,000 by rail per day, add 18 vessels shipping 350,000 barrels per vessel — that equals 6,300,000 barrels, a total of 31,850,000 barrels per year — thus an increase in processing, and hence in emissions.

We have read in a Bay Area newspaper that “Valero was named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year as one of California’s top distributors of dangerous substances. It was second to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo as the most profligate disseminator of poisons in the Bay Area, releasing 504,472 pounds of toxic substances into the air, water or ground. It was the 10th biggest source of chemicals and pollutants in the state, according to (a) report released in January.

“Almost half of the violations cited by the (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) between 2011 and 2012 involved excessive short-term emissions and valve leaks on tanks.”

According to the DEIR, Section 4.1-23: An unmitigated, significant and unavoidable air quality violation, with a net increase in Nitrogen oxides and ozone precursor emissions would result from transporting crude by rail through the communities up-rail within the Sacramento Basin: in the Yolo-Solano, Sacramento Metropolitan and Placer County Air Quality Management Districts.

How can we, in good conscience — or even legally — violate the air quality of our neighbors to the north by authorizing these shipments? And not only would we affect their air quality, we also would authorize the transport of a highly toxic, corrosive, flammable material in 36, 500 tank cars, each weighing 143 tons when loaded with crude oil — an annual total of 1,460 locomotives weighing more than 7,150 tons when loaded — through these communities, over rails that were never built for and have never carried such heavy traffic, all for the sole purpose of satisfying human greed?

Valero’s net income rose 28 percent in the first quarter of 2014; net income to shareholders jumped to $828 million, while revenues rose to $33.6 billion. If you are telling me that Valero needs this project to stay competitive, you haven’t looked at the facts.

A closer look at ‘job creation,’ one of the claimed benefits to the community from crude-by-rail

The addition of 20 full-time jobs at the refinery will be the result of switching from crude by vessel to rail delivery. There will be 72 fewer vessel deliveries, in which crude is pumped directly from a ship at the dock into pipes and storage tanks in one operation. Instead, there will be 36,500 tank cars per year to be emptied at the refinery, coupling and uncoupling 100 tank cars per day.

Let’s be clear, these are HAZMAT jobs. Not only would you be unloading one of the most toxic substances on the planet, breathing in toxic “fugitive emissions” from the tank cars, you also would be in direct contact with the toxic emissions from 730 locomotives per year. The only thing appealing about these new jobs will be the “good pay” (they are never described as “good jobs”), because they are hazardous, arduous, truly nasty jobs.

Section 4.6.5 Impacts and Mitigation Measures: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Another one of the project’s “benefits” much proclaimed by Valero is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Valero states that crude by rail would “improve air quality in the Bay Area.” They are not lying — this is a carefully worded deception. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is a huge area encompassing every county that touches the Bay, the entirety of every county except for Sonoma and Solano counties. This is the area in which they can legally claim to improve air quality.

The mitigating factor here is the reduced number of oil tankers traversing the Bay. What they calculated were the emissions from 72 ships that will no longer be sailing across 49.5 miles — from the sea buoy outside the Golden Gate to the Valero dock in Benicia and back out again. (That’s 99 miles total for each of the 72 tankers.) They were allowed to subtract those Bay Area emissions from the direct emissions that will be generated right here from construction of the rail terminal, the unloading of crude oil and the 730 locomotive engines moving through the Industrial Park.

This, then, gives Valero a “less than significant” increase in emissions (DEIR Table 4.1-5) — but in reality, while reducing emissions out in the Bay they will be increasing them right here where we live and breathe by 18,433 metric tons per year (DEIR Table 4.6-5). This may be legal in terms of the permitting process, and good news for sailboats on the Bay, but for the people of Benicia and especially for any businesses located in the Industrial Park, it is a terrible deal.

What people need to understand is that this “mitigation” in the “Bay Area” has been used to offset the very real pollution that will happen right here in our city. That pollution is not reduced by one particle, except on paper. To tell us that this is a “benefit” to Benicia is hugely hypocritical and a manipulation of the facts. Do not be deceived. Know that the pollution in this city will increase as a result of crude by rail, and the “mitigation” out in the Bay actually works against us. And if you have a business in the Industrial Park, you will be in the thick of it.

Further emissions and omissions

The DEIR, page 4.1-21, states: “. . . locomotives generate more emissions than marine vessels per mile, per 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil delivered each year, of ROG (reactive organic gas), NOx, (nitrogen oxide), CO (carbon monoxide), PM10 and PM25 (particulate matter of differing micron size).” Estimates are vague regarding all this pollution. We are supposed to take comfort, however, in the decrease in marine emissions from fewer oil tankers traveling from Alaska, South America and the Middle East, which according to this document is supposed to offset all but the lethal NOx from the trains. It’s fancy figuring, subtracting what is happening on the ocean blue from the reality of emissions from 1,460 locomotives, each traveling more than 1,500 miles, that would be added to the terrestrial U.S., directly to hundreds of communities, farms and forests along the railways. The impact would, in fact, be “significant and unavoidable.”

But all this is avoidable — if Benicia declares a moratorium on crude by rail.

I have a dream today . . . that could all too easily become tomorrow’s nightmare.

Sue Kibbe is a longtime resident of Benicia’s Highlands district.

Lynne Nittler of Davis, CA: Take Action!

Repost from The Davis Enterprise

Exercise the power of public comment

by Lynne Nittler, August 10, 2014
oil train
Oil tanker cars travel by rail through Davis on a recent evening. Valero oil refinery in Benicia wants to expand its oil shipments to 100 tank cars per day. Jean Jackman/Courtesy photo

The story of crude-by-rail in California is not a done deal. As new developments unfold almost daily in this remarkable drama, it is clear that public input can make a significant impact.

For example, last January, fierce community opposition — plus a letter from state Attorney General Kamala Harris urging further scrutiny on air quality and the risk of accidental spills — led city leaders in Pittsburg to reopen the public comment period on its draft environmental documents.

The WesPac Petroleum project had called for an average of 242,000 barrels of crude — the equivalent of 3.5 trains per day — to be unloaded daily and stored in 16 tanks before being piped to the five Bay Area refineries. Now, it appears WesPac may never reapply. An alert public can bring about change.

Valero in Benicia is a long way from giving up on the rail terminal that will allow it to import 100 tank cars of crude by rail daily, most likely from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken Crude shale of North Dakota. These two extreme forms of crude — Bakken crude is highly volatile and proven explosive and tar sands bitumen is toxic and impossible to clean up in a spill (Kalamazoo spill, July 2010) — are already being processed in some Bay Area refineries.

The California Energy Commission predicts within two years that California will receive 25 percent of its crude by rail, mostly from these two extreme crudes that emergency workers currently are not prepared to deal with in the event of a spill or accident. For the Sacramento region, that will mean five to six trains of 100 cars per day by the end of 2016!

Your input now may make a significant difference. The draft environmental impact report for the Valero proposal is open for public review until Sept. 15. A printed copy is at the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St. in Davis, and is available online at www.beniciaindependent.com. Every letter submitted becomes part of the public record and must be addressed in the final EIR.

Frankly, the draft EIR focuses on impacts to Benicia, and just glances at uprail communities like Davis. But two 50-car trains coming across the Yolo Causeway and the protected Yolo Basin Wildlife Area; passing high-tech businesses along Second Street; rolling into town through residential neighborhoods, where the vibrations will be felt from each heavy car; following the unusual and therefore dangerous 10 mph crossover just before the train station; passing through the train station, putting the entire downtown within the blast zone; and skirting the edge of UC Davis, including the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts; puts many people at serious risk.

If you have concerns such as whether the tank cars are safe enough, whether the volatility of the Bakken crude should be reduced before it is loaded into tank cars, who is liable in the event of an accident, whether the trains will be equipped with positive train control to improve braking, how Valero plans to mitigate the increased air and noise pollution, how Valero can claim that accidents happen only once in 111 years, etc., then you can help.

While our city of Davis, Yolo County, Sacramento, Roseville, Fairfield, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the Sierra Club Yolano Group are writing their own responses to the Valero draft EIR, letters from private citizens are equally powerful.

Public workshops are planned in August and September to help residents craft their letters. They workshops will provide background on the oil train situation, discuss the California Environmental Quality Act and EIR process and offer helpful resource materials. Participants will find topics, gather evidence, write their letters and then share drafts for feedback.

Workshops are planned from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 9; 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21; and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7. All will take place in the Blanchard Room at the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St. in Davis. The room is accessible to people with disabilities.

The draft EIR and mailing directions are posted at www.beniciaindependent.com. For more information, contact me at lnittler@sbcgloball.net or 530-756-8110.

Bring a friend! Every letter adds to the impact!

— Lynne Nittler is a Davis resident.