Tag Archives: Bay Area

New map shows California emergency teams not in best position for oil train response

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: This interactive OES map, “Rail Risk and Response” is an incredibly detailed resource – as you zoom in, additional features appear.  Hazards shown on the map include geologically unstable areas, proximity to dense population centers, proximity to waterways, schools and hospitals, pipelines, sensitive species or habitat, etc.  The story in the Sacramento Bee does not contain a link to the map.   Here’s the intro page for the interactive map.   And here’s the map itself.  – RS]

New map shows California emergency teams not in best position for oil train response

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Newspapers, Jul. 4, 2014

A map put together by multiple state agencies in California shows that the location and capability of emergency response teams don’t always align with the biggest risks presented by an expected increase in crude oil shipments by rail in the coming years.

The map shows that the state’s largest population centers, including Sacramento, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, have the most robust emergency response capabilities.

But rural stretches of California’s rail network, including locations with a history of derailments, have the least equipped and least trained emergency response teams, according to the map produced by the Interagency Working Group on Oil by Rail Safety.

The map shows large concentrations of hospitals, schools and neighborhoods around many rail lines through California cities. Additionally, it shows that the state’s rail network frequently intersects with fault lines, rivers and streams and sensitive wildlife habitats.

California has some of the best-trained and best-equipped emergency response teams in the country, according to some experts, but they’re not always where they’re needed.

“Proximity matters,” said Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services.

Since Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a shift in state oil spill and prevention resources in his budget in January, members of the California Legislature have held hearings and offered legislation to improve the state’s preparedness.

“Everyone recognizes this is a critical need throughout the state,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.

Starting next year, California will begin imposing a 6.5-cent-a-barrel fee on oil transported to the state by rail to fund oil spill response and prevention efforts. State lawmakers have introduced another bill to levy an additional fee to train and equip firefighters who may be called to respond to a rail incident.

California officials soon expect the state to receive as much as a quarter of its oil supply by rail, which means more frequent train movements through the state’s highest-risk areas.

“It makes what we’re doing that much more important,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

The map was presented last week by the state Environmental Protection Agency at a workshop on crude oil trends at Berkeley City College. It shows a dearth of response capability in locations where derailments have occurred more frequently, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

These include the Cantara Loop on the upper Sacramento River, the site of a 1991 train derailment that released thousands of gallons of pesticide, killing fish along a 40-mile stretch of the river.

They also include the Feather River Canyon, which according to documents released last week by OES, is the route of a twice-monthly train of Bakken crude oil. The trains, operated by BNSF, pass through Sacramento on their way to a rail terminal in Richmond.

“A spill into these sources of water makes it even more problematic,” Pavley said.

Another vulnerable site: Cuesta Grade, a steep, serpentine stretch of track north of San Luis Obispo. A proposed crude-by-rail terminal at the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria, south of San Luis Obispo, would bring five 80-car oil trains a week over the line, operated by Union Pacific.

Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said that the railroad had reached out to fire departments across California in the communities where it operates and has offered “comprehensive” hazardous materials training to first responders around the state.

“We annually train local, state and federal first-responders on protocols to minimize the impact of a derailment in their communities,” he said.

BNSF, the railroad that hauls more crude oil than any in North America, is offering hazardous materials training for hundreds of firefighters, including some in Sacramento, according to spokeswoman Lena Kent.

Trains transporting crude oil are not new in California. From 1983 to 1997, Southern Pacific Railroad operated one such train every day between Bakersfield and South Los Angeles over the Tehachapi Pass.

But that oil was thicker California crude that doesn’t ignite easily, and it was also transported in specially designed tank cars. Much of the crude oil coming into the state today is lighter and more flammable, and it’s loaded into a fleet of tank cars with a long record of failure in derailments.

“In light of new risks, it’s essential for first responders to have the right training and equipment to prepare for and respond to accidents,” said Curtis Brundage, a hazardous materials specialist with the San Bernardino Fire Department, in a state Senate hearing last month.

The worst accident occurred a year ago, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. An unmanned Bakken crude oil train broke loose and derailed in the center of town. Massive fires and explosions killed 47 people and leveled entire blocks of buildings.

More derailments followed, though none fatal, as the railroads and the federal government initiated a series of safety improvements. Emergency response officials from all over the country have testified in Washington in the past few months that local fire departments lack the resources to confront large fires from trains carrying 3 million gallons of oil.

In a report last month, OES made a dozen recommendations to improve the safety of California communities, including increased track inspections, stronger tank cars, more funding for emergency response and better notification of hazardous shipments from the railroads.

Hill gives the railroads credit for taking the issue seriously with stepped-up track inspections, new operating procedures, orders for stronger tank cars and offers to train emergency personnel. But he added that state lawmakers and agencies were right to push for more before a trickle of oil shipments by rail to California turned into a steady stream.

“We saw what happened elsewhere,” he said. “This is just to make sure California is prepared.”

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    Bakersfield High School worst-case derailment scenario

    Repost from the Bakersfield Californian
    [Editor: this is a MUST READ article, a comprehensive and graphic description of first-responder requirements and readiness.  Someone needs to interview first responders in each of our Bay Area refinery towns, ask every single question referenced in this article, and lay out similar scenarios for the all-too-imaginable catastrophes that threaten our communities.  – RS]

    Increased oil train traffic raises potential for safety challenges

    By John Cox, Californian staff writer  |  May 17, 2014
    Bakersfield High School is seen in the background behind the rail cars that go through town as viewed from the overpass on Oak Street.  By Casey Christie / The Californian
    Bakersfield High School is seen in the background behind the rail cars that go through town as viewed from the overpass on Oak Street. By Casey Christie / The Californian

    First responders think of the rail yard by Bakersfield High School when they envision the worst-case scenario in Kern County’s drive to become a major destination for Midwestern oil trains.  If a derailment there punctures and ignites a string of tank cars, the fireball’s heat will be felt a mile away and flames will be a hundred feet high. Thick acrid black smoke will cover an area from downtown to Valley Plaza mall. Burning oil will flow through storm drains and sewers, possibly shooting flames up through manholes.

    Some 3,000 BHS students and staff would have to be evacuated immediately. Depending on how many tank cars ignite, whole neighborhoods may have to be cleared, including patients and employees at 194-bed Mercy Hospital.  State and county fire officials say local 911 call centers will be inundated, and overtaxed city and county firefighters, police and emergency medical services will have to call for help from neighboring counties and state agencies.

    While the potential for such an accident has sparked urgency around the state and the country, it has attracted little notice locally — despite two ongoing oil car offloading projects that would push Kern from its current average of receiving a single mile-long oil train delivery about once a month, to one every six hours.

    One project is Dallas-based Alon USA Energy Inc.’s proposed oil car offloading facility at the company’s Rosedale Highway refinery. The other is being developed near Taft by Plains All American Pipeline LP, based in Houston.

    Kern’s two projects, and three others proposed around the state, would greatly reduce California’s thirst for foreign crude. State energy officials say the five projects should increase the amount of crude California gets by rail from less than 1 percent of the state’s supply last year to nearly a quarter by 2016.

    But officials who have studied the BHS derailment scenario say more time and money should be invested in coordinated drills and additional equipment to prepare for what could be a uniquely difficult and potentially disastrous oil accident.

    Bakersfield High Principal David Reese met late last year with representatives of Alon, which hopes to start bringing mile-long “unit trains” — two per day — through the rail yard near campus.

    He said Alon’s people told him about plans for double-lined tank cars and other safety measures “to make me feel better” about the project. But he still worries.

    “I told them, ‘You may assure me but I continue to be concerned about the safety of my students and staff with any new (rail) project that comes within the vicinity of the school,'” he said.

    Alon declined to comment for this story.

    Both projects aim to capitalize on the current price difference between light crude on the global market and Bakken Shale oil found in and around North Dakota. Thanks to the nation’s shale boom, the Midwest’s ability to produce oil has outpaced its capacity to transport it cheaper and more safely by pipeline. The resulting overabundance has depressed prices and prompted more train shipments.

    There are no oil pipelines over the Rockies; rail is the next best mode of shipping oil to the West Coast. Kern County is viewed as an ideal place for offloading crude because of its oil infrastructure and experience with energy projects. Two facilities are proposed in Northern California, in Benicia and Pittsburg; [emphasis added] the other would be to the south, in Wilmington.

    A local refinery, Kern Oil & Refining Co., has accepted Bakken oil at its East Panama Lane plant since at least 2012. The California Energy Commission says Kern Oil receives one unit train every four to six weeks.

    NATIONAL CHANGES

    Shipments of Bakken present special safety concerns. The oil has been found to be highly volatile, and the common mode of transporting it — in quick-loading trains of 100 or more cars carrying more than 3 million gallons per shipment — rules out the traditional safety practice of placing an inert car as a buffer between two containing dangerous materials.

    The dangers of shipping Bakken crude by unit train have been evident in several fiery derailments over the past year. One in July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings when a 74-car runaway train jumped the tracks at 63 mph.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation said 99.9 percent of U.S. oil rail cars reached their destination without incident last year. Two of its divisions, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, have issued emergency orders, safety advisories and special inspections relating to oil car shipments. New rules on tank car standards and operational controls for “high-hazard flammable trains” are in the federal pipeline.

    Locally operating companies Union Pacific Railroad Co. and BNSF Railway Co. signed an agreement with the DOT to voluntarily lower train speeds, have more frequent inspections, make new investments in brake technology and conduct additional first-responder training.

    Until new federal rules take effect next year, railroads can only urge their customers to use tank cars meeting the higher standards.

    “UP does not choose the tank car,” Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt wrote in an email. “We encourage our shippers to retrofit or phase out older cars.”

    The San Joaquin Valley Railroad Co., owned by Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming Inc., is a short line that carries Kern Oil’s oil shipments and would serve the Plains project but not Alon’s. A spokesman said SJVR is working with the larger railroads to upgrade its line, and the company inspects tracks ahead of every unit train arrival, among other measures designed just for oil shipments.

    STATE LEVEL PROPOSALS

    Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a big change in the way California protects against and responds to oil spills.

    His 2014-15 budget calls for $6.7 million in new spending on the state’s Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund to add 38 inland positions, a 15 percent staffing increase. Currently the agency focuses on ocean shipments, which have been the norm for out-of-state oil deliveries in California.

    To help pay for the expansion, Brown wants to expand a 6.5 cent-per-barrel fee to not only marine terminals but all oil headed for California refineries.

    “We’ll have a more robust response capability,” said Thomas Cullen, an administrator at the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, which is within the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    A representative of the oil trade group Western States Petroleum Association criticized the proposal March 19 at a legislative joint hearing in Sacramento. Lobbyist Ed Manning said OSPR lacks inland reach, and that giving such responsibilities to an agency with primarily marine experience “doesn’t really respond to the problem.”

    WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd has emphasized the group has not taken a position on Brown’s OSPR proposal.

    Also at the state capitol, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has forwarded legislation requiring railroads to give first responders more information about incoming oil shipments and publicly share spill contingency plans. The bill, AB 380, would also direct state grants toward local contingency planning and training. It is pending before the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

    LOCAL PREPARATIONS

    In recent years Kern County has conducted large-scale, multi-agency emergency drills to prepare for an earthquake, disease outbreak and Isabella Dam break. There has not been a single oil spill drill.

    Emergency service officials say that’s not as bad as it sounds because disasters share common actions — notification, evacuation, decontamination.

    Nevertheless, State Fire and Rescue Chief Kim Zagaris, County Fire Chief Brian Marshall and Kern Emergency Services Manager Georgianna Armstrong support the idea of local oil spill drills involving public safety agencies, hospitals and others.

    Kern County is well-versed at handling hazardous materials. Some local officials say an oil accident may actually be less dangerous than the release of toxic chemicals, which also travel through the county on a regular basis.

    There have been recent accidents, but all were relatively minor.

    Federal records list 18 oil or other hazardous material spills on Kern County railroads in the last 10 years. No one was injured; together the accidents caused $752,000 in property damage.

    Most involved chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid. Only two resulted in crude oil spills, both in 2013 in the 93305 ZIP code in the city of Bakersfield. Together they spilled a little more than a gallon of oil.

    But the risk of spills rises significantly as the volume of oil passing through the county grows.

    “The volume is a big deal,” Bakersfield Fire Chief Douglas R. Greener said. “Potentially, if you have a train derail, you could see numerous cars of the same type of material leaking all at once.”

    Kern County firefighters are better prepared for an oil spill than many other first responders around the state. They train on an actual oil tanker and have special tools to mend rail car punctures and gashes. The county fire department has several trucks carrying spray foam that suffocates industrial fires.

    But Chief Marshall acknowledged a bad rail accident could strain the department’s resources.

    He has been speaking with Alon about securing additional firefighting equipment and foam to ensure an appropriate response to any oil train derailment related to the company’s proposed offloading facility.

    What comes of those talks is expected to be included in an upcoming environmental review of the project.

    “We recognize the need to increase our industrial firefighting program,” Marshall said.

    Chief Zagaris said Kern’s proximity to on-call emergency agencies in Tulare, Kings and Los Angeles counties may come in handy under the Bakersfield High spill scenario, which is based on fire officials’ assessments and reports from several similar incidents over the past year.

    He and Marshall would not estimate how many people would require evacuation in the event of a disaster near the school, or what specific levels of emergency response might become necessary.

    But Zagaris said local public safety officials would almost certainly require outside help to assess injuries, transfer people in need of medical care, secure the city and contain the spill itself.

    “I look at it as, you know, depending what it is and where it happens will dictate how quickly” outside resources would have to be pulled in, he said.

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      Martinez to Benicia: Oil Refinery Protest Draws About 100 Demonstrators

      Repost from the East Bay Express
      [Editor: Many thanks to the East Bay Express for excellent coverage of this colorful and important event (below).  Benicia old timers were heard to say that sleepy little Benicia has probably NEVER seen a protest demonstration like this.  Check out two facebook pages for great photos of the day: facebook.com/stopcrudebyrail AND facebook.com/events/220829548127114/?ref=22.  – RS]

      East Bay Oil Refinery Protest Draws About 100 Demonstrators

      Jean Tepperman —  Mon, May 19, 2014

      Accompanied by a four-kayak flotilla and a fifth-generation Martinez resident on horseback, about one hundred environmental activists marched seven miles from Martinez to Benicia on Saturday to protest the local toxic pollution and global climate impact of Bay Area oil refineries. The march was spearheaded by a Bay Area group affiliated with Idle No More, an organization of Canadian First Nations people fighting development of the tar sands oil fields in Alberta and other environmentally destructive projects on their traditional lands.

      refinery_walk1_5-17.jpeg

      Kelly Johnson

      Specific targets of the protest were proposed expansion projects at the Chevron (Richmond), Valero (Benicia), and Phillips 66 (Rodeo) refineries, a crude oil transportation terminal in Pittsburg planned by energy infrastructure company WesPac, and the major investment of Shell (Martinez) in the Canadian tar sands mines. The Saturday march was the second of four planned Refinery Corridor Healing Walks — the first, from Pittsburg to Martinez, was held in April, and future walks are planned for June and July, ending up at Chevron in Richmond. The series of walks aims to “connect the dots” to “bring awareness to the refinery communities, invite community members to get to know one another, and to show support for a just transition beyond fossil fuels,” according to the group’s website.

      At a gathering at the Martinez Regional Shoreline before the march, a winner of this year’s Goldman environmental prize, South African Desmond D’Sa, described the high rates of leukemia, cancer, and asthma in his home town of Durban and the community’s struggles against Shell Oil there, urging the crowd to “fight them (refineries) wherever they are.” Penny Opal Plant, of the East Bay Idle No More group, said she only recently began to conceive of the refinery corridor as a total area suffering from the “immense devastation” caused by oil refineries.

      Richmond residents have long protested pollution from Chevron, most recently the toxic explosion that sent 15,000 seeking medical treatment in August 2012. Benicia residents have also organized to oppose environmental hazards. In the last year, local groups have also formed in Pittsburg, Crockett-Rodeo, and Martinez to protest refinery expansion and transportation plans, including major increases in the amount of crude oil to be carried by rail through the Bay Area and beyond.

      Describing the dangers of mining, refining, and transporting oil, and looking ahead to a future free from fossil fuel, Opal Plant said, “We are Mother Earth’s immune response awakening. We’re born at this time to do this thing.”

      refinery_walk2_5-17.jpeg

      Kelly Johnson

      The group’s route first went through the Shell refinery, then over the bridge to Benicia, with a view of the Valero refinery there. From a hilltop vista point next to Carquinez Strait, Benicia activist Marilyn Bardet pointed out refineries and planned oil industry project sites, as well as the environmentally Suisun Marsh. Railroad tracks leading to the Valero refinery, she said, go right through the marsh. A spill of tar sands crude oil, she added, would be impossible to clean up because the oil is so heavy it would sink and cause irreparable damage.

      The next Refinery Corridor Healing walk is scheduled to go from Benicia to the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo on June 14.

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        Benicia Herald: Release date of Valero DEIR, background

        Repost from The Benicia Herald
        [Editor: Note in the concluding paragraphs: “Million said city staff and refinery employees have been in conversation as the review draft has been prepared….This is typical of any application…’We work with an applicant to get them on board.'”  This should not be news, nor surprising, but it underscores the impression among citizen-opponents of the project that our City is a willing partner with Valero.  It will be interesting to see what mitigations and conditions have been written into the DEIR so as not to stand as “deal breakers” for the “applicant.”  – RS]

        Crude-by-Rail plan review to be released June 10

        May 1, 2014 by Donna Beth Weilenman

        The draft of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) being prepared for the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project will be released by June 10, Principal Planner Amy Million announced Thursday.

        The long-awaited document will be given a 45-day public review, during which people may submit their comments, she said.

        That review period ends July 25.

        “We have been notified that the City’s independent evaluation and Draft Environmental Impact Review (DEIR) of Valero’s Crude-by-Rail project will be available for public comment by June 10,” Chris Howe, Benicia Valero Refinery director of health, safety, environment and government affairs, said in an email Thursday.

        Those interested will be able to read the draft EIR on the city’s website, www.ci.benicia.ca.us, by clicking on the Department of Community Development, Planning and Current Projects links under “City Departments.”

        They also will be able to examine paper copies at the Community Development Department desk at City Hall and at Benicia Public Library, Million said.

        Should a member of the public request it, she said, the city would make CD copies available as well.

        The Planning Commission will accept public comment on the matter during a hearing at its July 12 meeting at City Hall, Million said. However, no vote will be cast that night, she said.

        Once the comments are received, the city will prepare its response to those observations.

        Those comments and any changes to the environmental review will be incorporated into the draft when the city produces the final version of the EIR. “There could be additional information,” Million said.

        Should those comments and responses mean the draft needs to be “substantially modified,” the review would be rewritten and undergo a complete recirculation, she said.

        Otherwise, if the comments and modifications aren’t considered substantial, the final version of the review would be sent to the Planning Commission for its review and vote as part of the refinery’s use permit request for its rail project.

        The commission’s decision would be final, unless an appeal is filed, Million said. Should that happen, the City Council would hear the appeal and render a decision, she said.

        The refinery applied for a use permit early in 2013 to extend Union Pacific Railroad’s tracks into Valero property so crude from North American sources can be brought into the plant.

        Refinery officials in their application stated that the crude brought by train would not be in addition to the oil that arrives by tanker ships or pipelines, but would be substitutions. Up to 70,000 barrels would arrive daily by rail car, supplanting the same volume Valero currently receives by other methods.

        Valero officials, declining to provide what they called proprietary information to competitors, have been reluctant to say where the crude is being drilled. Unlike some oil companies, Valero drills no wells of its own, but buys its crude.

        Various company officials, speaking on multiple occasions, have stressed that the raw product would be similar to what it receives at its own local port.

        Some opponents to the project, however, have warned that the rail cars would bring in Canadian tar sands, which is a heavier substance made “sour” by a larger percentage of sulfur. Others have suggested the source would be the North American Bakken oil fields, described as much lighter and sweeter.

        Bakken crude also has a lower flash point than many oils, and has been associated with several explosions that have occurred after train car derailments.

        The most recent accident happened Wednesday in downtown Lynchburg, Va., after breaches apparently developed on some of the crude-carrying rail cars on a CSX train.

        A fireball shot 200 feet into the air, according to some observers. Oil was reported leaking into the James River.

        Though no injuries were reported initially, at least 300 people were evacuated and neighboring cities were told to switch to alternate water sources, according to reports describing the incident.

        It was the latest in a series of fiery accidents on crude-carrying trains, though none is reported to involve Union Pacific, a company that, along with the Valero refinery, continues to stress its safety record. North American rail delivery of crude has increased dramatically in the last couple of years. In the third quarter of 2013 alone, trains delivered 66 million barrels of crude, much from the Bakken fields of North Dakota.

        That amounts to approximately 900 percent of what was delivered during all of 2008.

        Last July, 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, died when an unmanned parked oil tanker train came loose, derailed and caught fire. People were evacuated in Edmonton, Alberta, last October after another derailment.

        Thousands of barrels of oil contaminated an Alabama marshland after an oil train spill last November. A month later, two trains in Casselton, N.D., collided. One carried soybeans; the other, a BNSF train, spilled about 400,000 gallons of crude when 18 tank cars  ruptured and caught fire.

        In February, BNSF announced it was seeking vendors to deliver up to 5,000 tanker cars that are stronger than those currently in use. That’s an unusual move for a large carrier, which usually requires clients to buy or lease rail cars. The railroad said it would use the reinforced cars not only for crude but also for carrying ethanol.

        At a March public meeting organized by its community advisory panel, Valero officials said the refinery also would use the stronger cars to bring crude to Benicia.

        Unlike the U.S. Department of Transportation, Transport Canada announced April 23 that it would remove Department of Transportation-111 unpressurized tank cars from what it called “dangerous service,” saying they didn’t meet standards for carrying dangerous fuel.

        In the United States, railroads are federally regulated, a fact that has worried some residents when they learn that state, county and city officials are limited in the controls they can impose on that industry.

        The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that federal regulators upgrade requirements for oil-carrying cars, most of which are the DOT-111s.

        The Association of American Railroads, freight carriers and Amtrak, has endorsed the upgrade. DOT officials have said they have met resistance to that change from those in the oil industry.

        In the interim, the AAR and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx have announced a series of voluntary operating practices for crude-by-rail shipments that began last February. By April, rail lines promised increased track inspections and upgraded braking systems on trains with 20 or more carloads of crude oil.

        Railroads said by July they would be using the Rail Corridor Risk Management System to determine which routes would be safer for trains with 20 or more crude-carrying cars, reduce those trains’ speeds and install more wheel-bearing detectors, among other measures.

        Originally, Valero employees had hoped the Crude-by-Rail Project would be wrapped up within a year of filing the application in February 2013.

        But once the project was announced, City Hall received heavy public input.

        Opponents that included both residents and parties outside the city expressed concern about hazards associated with rail delivery of crude, the trains’ impact on traffic near Interstate 680 and inside Benicia Industrial Park, dangers to nearby environmentally sensitive wetlands, the threat posed to Benicia’s neighbors from explosions and spills, and the cumulative impact of rail delivery of crude to other Bay Area refineries.

        Proponents said the project would create construction jobs while it was being built, add jobs to Valero once it was complete and equip the local refinery to compete with industry rivals.

        The project has received support from Valero’s neighbors, including AMPORTS, which operates the Port of Benicia, and members of the board of the Benicia Chamber of Commerce.

        Residents and others packed several city meetings on the project, including a July 11, 2013, Planning Commission meeting at which 31 people spoke.

        During such hearings, every chair in the Council chamber has been filled; people lined walls and sat on the floor, waiting to speak or to hear what others said.

        Speakers usually were split, with about half speaking passionately in favor of the project and the same number just as determined in their opposition.

        The city initially issued a notice of intent to adopt a mitigated negative declaration for the project, which launched a 30-day comment period that ended July 1, 2013. During that time, the city received 34 written comments, some of which were substantial in length. After the closing date, 27 more written comments arrived; comments continue to be sent to City Hall.

        The Benicia-based Good Neighbor Steering Committee organized a meeting last year at which a variety of speakers opposed to the project, including Diane Bailey, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, described hazards associated with the import of tar sands crude from Canada.

        Because of the volume of comments, the city notified the Office of Planning and Research, Sacramento, Aug. 9, 2013, that it would prepare an Environmental Impact Report, a much lengthier examination than the mitigated negative declaration, to comply with California Environmental Protection Act requirements.

        Valero officials said they concurred with the decision.

        “We consulted with city staff and agreed to work with them to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Crude-by-Rail Project,” Sue Fisher Jones, Valero Benicia Refinery public affairs manager, said at the time.

        Even after the city announced its intent to have the have the EIR written, proponents and opponents continued to have meetings about the project.

        Bailey returned to Benicia last March for a meeting organized by the Steering Committee of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community. Joining her were Andres Soto, who has organized Communities for a Better Environment that opposes the increased delivery of crude by rail in the Bay Area; Damien Luzzo of Davis, who expressed worries about dangers to cities such rail cars would pass or go through; and, by video, Marilaine Savard, a resident of Lac-Megantic who described how the explosion devastated her home town.

        At Valero’s own public meeting in March, speakers included refinery safety officers and environmental managers; Liisa Lawson Stark, director  Union Pacific public affairs; and Phillip Daum, an engineer who has participated in investigations of recent rail explosions, including the one at Lac-Megantic.

        Valero Benicia Refinery officials won’t get to see the draft EIR any sooner than anyone else, Million said.

        “We will receive the document at the same time it is available to the public,” Howe concurred. “We will have the same opportunity to provide comments as anyone else during the public comment period.”

        He said his company anticipates arranging another public meeting once the draft EIR is released, and “the details for the meeting will be determined” then.

        Million said city staff and refinery employes have been in conversation as the review draft has been prepared.

        “They have been an integral part, because they have in-house expertise to answer technical questions,” she said. “They have a grasp of what the document says.”

        This is typical of any application, she said, and Valero isn’t being treated differently from the way another individual or business that applies for a use permit or variance would be treated.

        “We work with an applicant to get them on board,” she said of the way her department interacts with anyone filing an application.

        Applicants also are given “a head’s up” about an environmental report’s developments, she said, adding that some applicants decide certain conditions are deal breakers.

        The mitigations and conditions of approval for permits “are what the city feels is needed,” she said. “Ultimately, the comfort level is with the city.”

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