Tag Archives: Benicia Industrial Park

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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    OPEN LETTER: Oppose Valero Crude By Rail

    Letter received by email from the author, Lawrence (Larnie) Reid Fox

    To the Benicia City Planning Commission and City Council:

    By Larnie Fox, October 12, 2015

    I’m writing to request that you oppose Valero’s Crude Oil by Rail project.

    The Revised Draft EIR states that:

      • Potential train derailment would result in significant and unavoidable adverse effects to people and secondary effects to biological, cultural, and hydrological resources, and geology.
      • Impacts to air quality would be significant and unavoidable because the Project would contribute to an existing or projected air quality violation and result in a cumulatively considerable increase in ozone precursor emissions.
      • Impacts to greenhouse gas emissions would be significant and unavoidable because the Project would generate significant levels of GHG and conflict with plans adopted for reducing GHG emissions.

    What more do you need to know?

    There have been more crude-by-rail explosions and spills in the last two years than in the previous 40 years. The new crudes are demonstrably more hazardous than the crudes that have been processed in our community in the past, and have led to many horrendous accidents in other parts of North America. Accidents can and will happen.

    The Revised Draft EIR states that Valero proposes to use non-jacketed Casualty Prevention Circular (CPC)-1232-compliant tank cars.

    The National Transportation Safety Board has said that the CPC-1232 standard is only a minimal improvement over the older tank DOT-111s. NTSB officials say they are “not convinced that these modifications offer significant safety improvements.”

    There is overwhelming and passionate opposition to the project here in Benicia. There is also strong opposition from hundreds of individuals who live up-rail and from all over our state, and also from government entities including the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and our state’s Attorney General.

    If there is a spill or an explosion and fire, I for one, do not want my community to be culpable. We need to show the state and the world that we stand for safety and environmental responsibility, even if it cuts into corporate profits and tax revenues.

    The bottom line is that fossil fuels are going away, sooner or later, and Benicia will need to adapt, sooner or later. We need to take a longer-term and wider-scope view of the issue. We may reap short-term local gains by approving this project, but the cost is unacceptably high. In doing so, we would be putting our Industrial Park at risk, and inconveniencing them with the long trains. This area should be the economic engine for the next 100 years. We would be ignoring the legitimate concerns of communities up-rail from us. We would be responsible for putting environmentally sensitive areas at risk. We would be contributing to global warming and thus sea level rise, which poses a clear threat to our community and the rest of the world as well. We would be contributing to decimation of the old-growth forests in Northern Canada.

    It’s up to us to guard our own welfare, and also, as a City, to be responsible citizens of California, the USA and our fragile planet.

    Sincerely,

    Lawrence (Larnie) Reid Fox

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      LETTER: Is “Crude by Rail” Good for Benicia?

      Is “Crude by Rail” Good for Benicia?

      By Craig Snider, September 23, 2015
      [A version of this letter appeared in the Vallejo Times-Herald on 10/5/15.]

      I’d like to share a few thoughts about Valero’s “Crude by Rail” project.

      To recap, the proposal consists of constructing a depot at the Valero refinery to offload crude oil. The crude would come from fracking of shale in South Dakota or from the mining of tar sands in Canada. The shale oil is especially flammable and prone to explosion if derailed. The tar sand oil is extremely toxic. According US Department of transportation regulations, such trains are referred to as “High Hazard Flammable Trains” or HHFT’s. Two trains (100 tank cars total) per day would pass through a portion of the Benicia Industrial Park en route to the new depot. A decision is needed by the City of Benicia whether to allow construction of the depot at the proposed refinery site, or require that the depot be built outside the city and piped into the refinery, or deny the project altogether.

      According to the City Manager, the industrial park is the “engine of Benicia” and the best way to generate additional revenue is to “diversify.”   In fact, according to Benicia Strategic Plan, Issue #3 – “Strengthening Economic and Fiscal Conditions,” strategies include “Strengthen Industrial Park Competitiveness” and “Retain and Attract Business.” Yet businesses are already leaving the industrial park for sites that better meet their needs.   I ask: If you wanted to locate your business in an Industrial Park, are you more likely to choose one clogged with 100 tank cars of High Hazard Flammable crude each day, or one without it? Would your customers be comfortable in the presence of such a hazard or would they take their business elsewhere?   Remember, this is the same type of crude that caught fire in 2013, exploded (leaving a .62 mile radius blast zone), and killed 47 people and destroyed the entire downtown of Lac Megantic, Quebec. Most areas of the industrial park and the NE corner of Waters End subdivision would be at risk from a similar blast zone. Would you be more, or less likely to buy a home in a community with the daily presence of HHFTs?

      Valero claims that despite chronic violations of air quality, they place a high value on safety. But remember, Valero’s responsibility and control of the HHFT’s begins and ends at the refinery gate. Valero has repeatedly attempted to distance itself from any responsibility for rail shipments of crude. They have cited state and federal law in an effort to wash their hands of any responsibility for accidents that occur beyond their gates. (See Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR) appendix H). Yet, the freight railroad business remains virtually unregulated and their safety practices are largely secret. In fact, the Federal Railroad Administration doesn’t know how many rail bridges there are because there is no public inventory of them. Railroads inspect and maintain their own tracks and determine what condition to keep them in, but keep that information secret. And, when state or local emergency managers get information from railroads about oil trains, the railroads ask the government agencies to promise to keep the information from the public.  Why would we want 100 tank cars of highly flammable (and explosive) crude oil rolling through our town each day with no analysis or transparency regarding the safety systems employed by the railroad?

      I understand that Valero contributes a major portion of the tax base for our community. Many of our citizens depend on income from Valero. But isn’t it time for all of us to begin weaning ourselves from our fossil fuel addiction? Many of us were sickened by the specter of ISIS militants shelling ancient temples and other World Heritage sites. Yet these acts pale in comparison to the tar sand mining destruction in Canada, which will supply some or all of Valero’s crude by rail. Tar sand mining destroys Boreal forests, leaving a wasteland of toxic chemicals and groundwater pollution that seeps into rivers and streams. Why decry the ISIS destruction, but ignore the vast destruction of natural systems associated with crude by rail? How can an activity that is so destructive to our world be considered “Good for Benicia”? How can unchecked greenhouse gas production, global warming, and the ruin of our planet for future generations be “Good for Benicia”? How can putting the future of our industrial park and our livelihoods at risk be “Good for Benicia”? And finally, what does it say about a community that is willing to profit from such destruction?

      Maybe it’s inevitable that the city will approve the project. Shame on us if we do. But if it must be done, the best solution is Alternative 3: Offsite Unloading Terminal. Alternative 3 keeps HHFTs out of Benicia, while allowing Valero to get their crude by rail.   We need to diversify the Industrial Park and make it more (not less) attractive to other businesses. We want an inviting community, not one whose safety is compromised by ill-conceived means of procuring crude oil. It’s one thing to live in the shadow of an oil refinery with it’s own inherent hazards and pollutants. Why up the ante when we don’t have to?

      If you would like to voice your concerns about Valero’s Crude by Rail project, attend the Planning Commission meeting scheduled for September 29 at 6:30 pm at the City Council Chambers or send in comments on the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report before October 16th. For more information contact Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community at safebenicia.org.

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        The Fight to Stop a Boom in California’s Crude by Rail

        Repost from The Huffington Post
        [Editor: Our friend here in Benicia, Ed Ruszel, has been featured in numerous online blogs and news outlets in this story by Tara Lohan.  This is an abbreviated version.  The article mistakenly gives a link to The Benicia Independent rather than Benicians for a Safe and Healthy CommunityBSHC can be found at SafeBenicia.org.  – RS]

        The Fight to Stop a Boom in California’s Crude by Rail

        By Tara Lohan, 01/08/2015

        Ed Ruszel’s workday is a soundtrack of whirling, banging, screeching — the percussion of wood being cut, sanded and finished. He’s the facility manager for the family business, Ruszel Woodworks. But one sound each day roars above the cacophony of the woodshop: the blast of the train horn as cars cough down the Union Pacific rail line that runs just a few feet from the front of his shop in an industrial park in Benicia, California.

        Most days the train cargo is beer, cars, steel, propane or petroleum coke. But soon, two trains of 50 cars each may pass by every day carrying crude oil to a refinery owned by neighboring Valero Energy, which is hoping to build a new rail terminal at the refinery that would bring 70,000 barrels a day by train — or nearly 3 million gallons.

        And it’s a sign of the times.

        Crude-by-rail has increased 4,000 percent across the country since 2008 and California is feeling the effects. By 2016 the amount of crude by rail entering the state is expected to increase by a factor of 25. That’s assuming the industry gets its way in creating more crude-by-rail stations at refineries and oil terminals. And that’s no longer looking like a sure thing.

        Valero’s proposed project in Benicia is just one of many in the area underway or under consideration. All the projects are now facing public pushback–and not just from individuals in communities, but from a united front spanning hundreds of miles. Benicia sits on the Carquinez Strait in the northeastern reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, about 20 miles south of Napa’s wine country and 40 miles north of San Francisco, the oil industry may have found a considerable foe.

        2015-01-08-16000050785_df993da9dc_z.jpg

        Photo by Sarah Craig

        A recent boom in “unconventional fuels” has triggered an increase in North American sources in the last few years. This has meant more fracked crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale and diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands.

        Unit trains are becoming a favored way to help move this cargo. These are trains in which the entire cargo — every single car — is one product. And in this case that product happens to be highly flammable.

        This is one of the things that has Ed Ruszel concerned. He doesn’t think the tank cars are safe enough to transport crude oil in the advent of a serious derailment. If a derailment occurs on a train and every single car (up to 100 cars long) is carrying volatile crude, the dangers increase exponentially. In 2013, more crude was spilled in train derailments than in the prior three decades combined, and there were four fiery explosions in North America in a year’s span, the worst being the derailment that killed 47 people and incinerated half the downtown in Lac Megantic, Quebec in July 2013.

        Public Comments

        In Benicia, a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) regarding the Valero project was released in June 2014 and promptly slammed by everyone from the state’s Attorney General Kamala Harris to the local group Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community because it left out crucial information and failed to address the full scope of the project.

        One of the biggest omissions in Valero’s DEIR was Union Pacific not being named as an official partner in the project. With the trains arriving via its rail lines, all logistics will come down to the railroad. Not only that, but the federal power granted to railroad companies preempts local and regional authority.This preemption is one of the biggest hurdles for communities that don’t want to see crude-by-rail come through their neighborhoods or want better safeguards.

        The DEIR also doesn’t identify exactly what kind of North American crude would be arriving and from where. Different kinds of crude have different health and safety risks. Diluted bitumen can be nearly impossible to clean up in the event of a spill and Bakken crude has proved more explosive than other crude because of its chemical composition. It’s likely that some of the crude coming to Valero’s refinery would be from either or both sources.

        Public comments on the DEIR closed on Sept. 15, and now all eyes are on the planning department to see what happens next in Benicia.

        But the Valero project is just the tip of the iceberg in California.

        In nearby Pittsburgh, 20 miles east of Benicia, residents pushed back against plans from WestPac Energy. The company had planned to lease land from BNSF Railway and build a new terminal to bring in a 100-car unit train of crude each day. The project is currently stalled.

        But Phillips 66 has plans for a new rail unloading facility at a refinery in Nipomo, 200 miles south of the Bay Area in San Luis Obispo County, that would bring in five unit trains of crude a week, with 50,000 barrels per train.

        Further south in Kern County in the heart of oil country, Plains All American just opened a crude by rail terminal that is permitted for a 100-car unit train each day. Another nearby project, Alon USA, received permission from the county for twice as much but is being challenged by lawsuits from environmental groups.

        Closer to home, unit trains of Bakken crude are already arriving to a rail terminal owned by Kinder Morgan in Richmond. Kinder Morgan had been transporting ethanol, but the Bay Area Air Quality Management District allowed Kinder Morgan to offload unit trains of Bakken crude into tanker trucks.

        2015-01-08-15812706088_224545d0cb_z.jpg

        Photo by Sarah Craig

        With all this crude-by-rail activity, some big picture thinking would be helpful. As Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote about the Benicia project, “There’s no consideration of cumulative impacts that could affect public safety and the environment by the proliferation of crude-by-rail projects proposed in California.”

        A longer version of this story appeared on Faces of Fracking.

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