Tag Archives: Berkeley CA

DAVIS ENTERPRISE: Area agencies oppose Valero oil train petition

Repost from the Davis Enterprise

Davis joins regional agencies in opposing Valero oil train petition

By Felicia Alvarez, July 10, 2016

In the latest addition to the turbulent saga of Valero Refining Company’s proposal to expand a crude oil-by-rail train route through the Sacramento-Davis region to a refinery in Benicia, the City of Davis, Yolo County, and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments have submitted formal letters opposing the Valero’s latest moves to approve the project.

The local agencies are joined by a formidable coalition opposing Valero’s project, including State Attorney General Kamala Harris, the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, and a number of air quality management districts.

The letters oppose Valero’s most recent steps to push through the crude-by-rail proposal and expansion of their Benicia refinery.

Last February saw the Benicia Planning Commission unanimously vote down the project’s environmental impact report. Valero decided to take it to the federal level, petitioning the Surface Transportation board for a federal preemption [by] the railroads.

Preemption would allow the company to expand its operations to transport oil through Davis along Interstate 80 toward the refinery in Benicia. It would also include routes that travel to San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, and several other projects in Oregon and Washington.

The route of the most local concern would see 100-car trains travel through Old East Davis, downtown Davis, and the south end of UC Davis each day.

Last Friday, the City of Davis delivered its own letter to the Surface Transportation Board opposing Valero’s proposal. The city signed alongside Yolo County, Oakland, Berkeley and SACOG.

Fighting to maintain local control of planning and zoning management of the proposal in the interest of public safety, the letter states:

“Valero’s complaints do not actually pertain to rail operations at all. They pertain to the operations of oil refineries within California, refineries that wish, for their own financial benefits, to be exempted from compliance with state and local environmental and planning laws.”

The local agencies go on to argue that granting preemption is outside of the role of the board to rule on an oil refinery’s obligations.

The Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District decried Valero’s petition as well, drafting a letter alongside the Butte, Sutter, Placer, Sacramento, Shasta and Bay Area air quality management districts. 

The letter points to the project’s revised draft environmental impact report, which lists the additional air quality impacts that would be felt across multiple air districts if additional railcar trips were made across the region.

” … federal preemption prohibits the mitigation of project emissions either directly from locomotives or indirectly through the purchase of emission offsets,” the letter states, adding that this is what prompted the air quality districts to oppose the petition.

Yolo Solano AQMD’s letter goes on to echo the city’s argument that Valero is not a rail carrier, and therefore is not eligible to receive a preemption on the railroads from the Surface Transportation Board.

The Benicia City Council is slated to give the oil train proposal another hearing in September.

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    Pittsburg CA: Critics blast proposed oil terminal, even without Bakken crude trains

    Repost from The Contra Costa Times
    [Editor:  Significant quote: “WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.”  – RS]

    Pittsburg: Critics blast proposed oil terminal, even without Bakken crude trains

    By Sam Richards, 04/07/2015 12:31:04 PM PDT

    PITTSBURG — Train loads of Bakken crude oil are no longer in the plans for a proposed oil storage terminal near the waterfront, but that does not mean the project is being welcomed to town with open arms.

    The City Council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve amending the environmental report for WesPac Midstream LLC’s proposed Pittsburg Terminal Project, which would renovate and modernize a long-dormant PG&E tank farm between West 10th Street and the Sacramento River waterfront.

    The key change is that the five previously planned 104-car trains of domestic oil, mostly the volatile Bakken crude, are no longer part of the project. The new EIR will reflect that.

    Councilman Sal Evola stressed that the vote reflected the council’s desire for “the process” to play out and fully vet the proposal.

    “Every project at least deserves its fair process,” Evola said. “I’m all for preserving our industrial base, but we have to do it safely, and fair process is needed.”

    Others were less interested in process, saying the WesPac proposal to bring an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily from ships and from pipelines, and stored in 16 tanks on 125 acres, is a problem for various reasons.

    Speakers told the council that vapors from the storage tanks, the possibility of spills into the Sacramento Delta and the danger of the tanks exploding — all near hundreds of downtown homes — are potential issues, and that the project should simply be rejected.

    “The only way you can mitigate this project is not do it,” said Willie Mims, representing the NAACP and the Black Political Association.

    And though some at the meeting Monday night are grateful that WesPac that no longer plans to bring crude oil to the terminal by rail, others told the council that leaving out rail shipments doesn’t come close to salvaging the project. Some 30 people holding up “No WesPac” signs or wearing similar T-shirts crowded the council meeting.

    Without the trains, the Pittsburg Terminal Project would now take oil from ships and a pipeline from the Central Valley and store it for later processing by refineries in Martinez, Benicia, Rodeo and Richmond.

    Pamela Aranz of Antioch, representing the group Global Community Monitor, was one of several speakers who criticized the WesPac proposal as a dinosaur — old-fashioned, with increasingly outmoded technology. Others said the oil terminal would be at cross purposes with a nicely developing downtown area. Developing wind and/or solar power on that land, Aranz and others said, would make better sense.

    Plans for the Pittsburg Terminal Project, first proposed in 2011, had been dormant for the past year, after local groups like Pittsburg Defense Council had protested the prospect of trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil rolling in to the city. Communities across the United States — including Pittsburg, Richmond and Berkeley — have come out in opposed to crude by rail shipments through their cities after several high-profile derailments, including one in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed part of that city.

    The new environmental report, to be paid for by WesPac, will replace an earlier one that was criticized in 2014 by the state Attorney General’s office because it did not suitably analyze air pollution impacts, address the risks of accidents involving storing and moving oil, consider the project’s climate change impacts, and consider a “reasonable range of alternatives” that could reduce impacts. WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.

    If the needed approvals come at a typical pace, renovation work at the old PG&E tanks could begin in early 2016, and likely would take between 18 and 24 months.

    Representatives from several area labor union locals supported moving ahead with the environmental study. Some said Monday night they wanted the jobs, both to rebuild the terminal and to operate it. Others said they favored the environmental process determining whether the terminal would be a safe place for union workers to be.

    That, Evola said, is one benefit of continuing the process. “We want to be overly transparent,” he said.

    That is fine with Lisa Graham and other members of Pittsburg Defense Council.

    “We’ll be shining a bright spotlight on the project in the coming months,” she said.

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      Concerns of communities heard at meeting of the Cal Energy Commission in Crockett CA

      Repost from The Contra Costa Times

      Contra Costa residents pushing for more information on crude by rail

      By Karina Ioffee, Bay Area News Group,  03/27/2015 05:22:01 PM PDT

      CROCKETT — With plans in the works to transport crude oil by rail through Contra Costa County cities to a Central California refinery, local residents say they want assurances that state and federal agencies are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

      Less than 1 percent of crude that California refineries received in 2014 came by rail, but the negative perception of transporting oil by train has grown sharply because of highly publicized accidents. A derailment in Quebec in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed parts of a town; another in West Virginia contaminated local water sources and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

      Tanker cars sit on railroad tracks near the Shell Refinery in Martinez on May 6, 2013.
      Tanker cars sit on railroad tracks near the Shell Refinery in Martinez on May 6, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

      If the Phillips 66 plans are approved, an estimated five trains a week, each hauling 80 tank cars, could travel through Contra Costa cities, then Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose along the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, before arriving at the refinery in Santa Maria.

      At a community meeting here Thursday, residents peppered a representative from the California Energy Commission about what kind of emergency plans were in place should a train derail and explode, what timelines the federal government had for new and improved tanker cars, and whether railroad companies have enough insurance in case of a catastrophic event.

      Many came away unsatisfied with what they heard, saying they were terrified by the prospect of rail cars filled with Bakken crude from North Dakota, which is lighter and more combustible than most types of petroleum.

      “The oil companies are getting all the benefits and the communities who live near them are taking all the risk,” said Nancy Rieser, who lives in Crockett and is a member of Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, a community organization.

      Her group is pushing the railroad industry to release its risk-assessment information, required for insurance purposes, to better understand what kind of plans companies have in an event of an emergency and whether their insurance policies would cover a large incident. Railroad companies have so far declined to release the information.

      “You need to have hospitals at the ready, you need to have first responders, so if you keep it a secret, it’s as if the plan didn’t exist,” Rieser said. “You can’t be coy with the communities.”

      Regulations about rail safety are written and enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration, and the California Public Utilities Commission focuses on enforcement in the state, employing inspectors to make sure railroads comply with the law. There is also an alphabet soup of state agencies such as the Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM), California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).

      But to what extent the agencies are working together to prepare for crude-by-rail transports and how they’re sharing information remains unclear. Last year, an Interagency Rail Safety Working Group, put together by Gov. Jerry Brown, produced a report recommending that additional inspectors be hired to evaluate tracks, rail cars and bridges; more training for local emergency responders; and real-time shipment information to local firefighters when a train is passing through a community. According to the report, incidents statewide involving oil by rail increased from three in 2011 to 25 in 2013.

      Many at Thursday’s meeting said the only way to prevent future accidents was to ban the transport of crude by rail completely, until all rail cars and tracks had been inspected.

      “These trains are really scary because we live so close to them and we feel the effects deeply through emissions and air pollution,” said Aimee Durfee, a Martinez resident. Statewide, Californians use more than 40 million gallons of gasoline each day, according to the California Energy Commission.

      Bernard Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said railroad companies are already shifting to new cars — outfitted with heat shields, thicker tank material and pressure-relief devices — although the process is gradual because of the sheer volume of the fleet, estimated at more than 25,000. New rulings specifying tanker car standards and timelines about phasing in updated technology are also expected this May.

      “No human activity is completely risk-free,” Weinstein said, adding that the spill rate for trains transporting crude was roughly four times higher than accidents involving pipelines.

      “Communities are resistant to crude by rail and they are against pipelines, but they also want to go to the pump and be able to fill up their car.”

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