Tag Archives: Sutter County CA

DAVIS ENTERPRISE: Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites

Repost from the Davis Enterprise
[Editor:  I know Lynne as a strong advocate against Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal.  Her fair-minded coverage of both sides of the debate in this article is amazing and admirable.  A good overview of the hearing on Monday.  – RS]

Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites

By Lynne Nittler, April 06, 2016

BENICIA — Davis was well-represented at a Benicia City Council hearing Monday for Valero Oil’s crude-by-rail project. Of the approximately 48 people who spoke, 12 came from Davis or Dixon, and another six were from Sacramento.

The speakers voiced their opposition to the oil company’s proposal to expand its refinery and accept 100 rail cars daily full of North American crude oil on a route that comes directly through downtown Davis.

The hearing continues with more public testimony tonight plus April 18 and 19 at the City Chambers in Benicia.

The evening began with a rally of those opposed to the project counter-balanced by a gathering of Valero workers and supporters of the project. A busload of 23 people from Sacramento stopped to pick up seven more in Davis, arriving just as the hearing began in the packed chambers.

Officials were allowed to speak first, beginning with Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, who also represented the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. He traced Yolo County’s effort over the past three years to communicate the serious safety concerns and to offer possible mitigation measures that were acknowledged but not addressed in the EIR.

He said 500,000 of the 2.4 million residents in the SACOG area — the counties of Yolo, Sacramento, Sutter, Yuba, Placer and El Dorado — live in the blast zone of the railroads, i.e., within a quarter-mile radius of the tracks. Of those, 260,000 are residents, 200,000 work in the area and 28,000 are students.

While acknowledging that Valero and its jobs are important, Saylor emphasized that this project “requires a shared commitment to protecting public safety.” He said the project should not be approved until the safety concerns are resolved.

Matt Jones of the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District represented all seven districts that have responded jointly in writing to three versions of the environmental impact report for the Valero project. He said the EIR documents the impacts correctly, but fails to offer or respond to any mitigations, even when the Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD offered staff time to work out an off-site mitigation plan.

Jones reminded the Benicia council that San Luis Obispo County is examining a similar crude-by-rail proposal, and Phillips 66 has voluntarily offered such off-site mitigations.

Eric Lee, a city of Davis planner, made a plea for Benicia council members to uphold the decision of their Planning Commission, which voted on Feb. 11 not to certify the final environmental impact report and denied Valero’s permit.

He added that Davis believes that legally, the local jurisdictions are not pre-empted by federal rail regulations and that up-rail cities are entitled to have their comments addressed in the EIR.

He concluded by saying that the city of Benicia has a legal obligation to safeguard the public.

“I continue to be concerned about the Valero crude-by-rail project regarding the significant air quality impact,” state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, wrote in a letter to the Benicia council, read by her representative, Alex Pader. Wolk recommended specific steps, and if said they cannot be met, then the project should not move forward.

She reminded the council members that her own obligation is to protect the public from harm, which she has done with two pieces of legislation on oil-train safety, and said their obligation to safeguard the public is no less.

Marilyn Bardet, spokeswoman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, encouraged the council members to use their ethical judgment, and read all the material from the past years, plus what is pouring in now, to inform themselves at this crucial juncture in the decision-making process. She urged them to uphold the decision of the Planning Commission.

After a break, a mix of speakers pro (12) and con (16) spoke for up to five minutes each.

One Valero proponent said America has a tremendous thirst for oil; therefore, don’t we have a responsibility to produce it?
Jasmine Powell, a resident of Benicia, said Valero never risks its outstanding safety record as indicated by its high OSHA ratings.

Michael Wolfe, senior vice president of an engineering services firm, said California crude is increasingly scarce and Alaskan crude is running out as well. Valero is seeking to purchase North American oil to avoid importing more foreign oil. California already imports more foreign crude than any other state, Wolfe said.

Seven other Valero workers and supporters spoke of their trust in Valero’s high safety standards.

On the other side, Frances Burke of Davis spoke of the Planning Commission’s work as “epic,” and made an eloquent plea for the up-rail communities not to be dismissed as collateral damage.

Don Mooney , an environmental lawyer from Davis, said in his 25 years in environmental law, he had not seen a case with more uniform opposition, where so many have stood opposed for the same reasons.

Katherine Black simply read the list of officials and organizations opposing the project for five minutes, including all seven air quality management districts, all 22 cities and six counties who belong to SACOG, the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California attorney general.

The Benicia City Council will hear more testimony tonight.

Please share!

Sacramento leaders question Benicia’s crude oil rail project

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: The SACOG letter can be viewed here.  (Note that this download is in draft form, but the letter was approved as is.)  Of interest also is this 10-page Union Pacific letter addressed TO the SACOG Board, encouraging no action.  A recording of the Board meeting  is available here.  – RS]

Sacramento leaders question Benicia’s crude oil rail project

By Tony Bizjak, Aug. 28, 2014
Tracks lead to Benicia’s Valero refinery. Sacramento area leaders have drafted a letter saying a Benicia report doesn’t take major oil train risks into account. | Manny Crisostomo

Sacramento leaders will send a letter to Benicia today formally challenging the Bay Area city to do a better job of studying train derailment risks before it approves an oil company’s plans to ship crude oil on daily trains through Sacramento-area downtowns to a Benicia refinery.

Acting collectively through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities and six counties, Sacramento representatives say they are protecting the region’s interests in the face of a proposal by Valero Refining Co. to transport an estimated 2.7 million gallons of crude oil daily on trains through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis. Valero officials say the oil will be refined into gas for cars in California, as well as diesel fuel and jet fuel.

“We are not taking a position on whether the project should proceed,” said Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor and SACOG member. “We are pointing out, as we have the responsibility to do, the public safety issues in our region. There are ways those issues can be identified and mitigated.”

Benicia officials have been collecting public comments and questions about their environmental review of the Valero project plans, and said they will respond to all comments after the comment period closes Sept. 15.

The SACOG group also is drafting a letter to federal regulators, encouraging them to make hazardous materials transport on rail safer, particularly shipments of volatile crude oil produced in North Dakota’s Bakken region. Crude oil train shipments have increased dramatically in recent years, leading to several derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 in a Canadian town last year.

Railroad officials nationally say derailments are very infrequent. A study commissioned by Benicia determined that a derailment and spill would be a rare occurrence on the line between Roseville and Benicia. But Sacramento leaders contend Benicia has underplayed derailment possibilities, and has not adequately studied the consequences of a spill and fire.

“We think there are serious safety concerns that should be addressed by Benicia, not downplayed,” said Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn, chairman of the SACOG board.

The Benicia trains would travel on tracks just north of downtown, through the downtown Sacramento railyard, and over the I Street Bridge.

Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis was one of two SACOG members who voted to oppose sending the letter. “I thought it is a little outside our scope. It’s a slippery slope,” he said.

SACOG’s main role is to serve as the region’s transportation planning agency and to administer a portion of the region’s federal transportation funding allotment.

Sutter County Supervisor James Gallagher also voted against sending the letter, saying many safety issues are in the federal government’s purview, not Benicia’s. He said he doesn’t want to discourage production of domestic oil that creates jobs and reduces reliance on foreign oil.

Sac Bee: More Information

Please share!

Region north of Sacramento sees 200-300 tank cars carrying crude oil on a given day

Repost from The Appeal-Democrat (Sutter & Yuba counties in California)

Tracking trouble: Recent accidents highlight the dangers of transporting flammables on trains – including crude oil through Marysville

June 29, 2014, by David Bitton

It might be scarier to know how much of anything is being hauled through the Yuba-Sutter region via railroad. But it might be for the best to know exactly how much crude oil is going through; and it might help to put it into perspective.

Crude oil has been on the minds of communities with rails running through them since the booming of oil exploration and drilling in North Dakota. There have been a few high-profile accidents involving trains pulling tankers full of the crude oil.

It is now public record that Burlington Northern Santa Fe tank cars carrying North Dakota Bakken crude oil pass through Marysville about once a week. The information was released this past week from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Railroad companies sought to to restrict such information to just emergency responders, citing security concerns, but the state, after some time, went ahead and released the information.

The transporting of crude oil from the Bakken Fields in North Dakota has come under greater scrutiny in the past year, with fears over the potential problems with the crude oil that is more volatile and flammable than oil from other regions.

There have been fiery derailments in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama and Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, all involving Bakken crude oil.

The likelihood of a train derailment in Yuba-Sutter isn’t any greater or different than much of the rest of the country, area emergency responders agreed. But that doesn’t mean accidents don’t happen — they do. And due to those accidents, state and federal agencies are scrambling to tighten regulations.

Much of the concern comes from the ever-increasing quantity of crude oil entering the state by rail.

Crude oil heading to California refineries via rail has spiked in recent years from 498,000 barrels in 2010 to 6.3 million barrels in 2013, according to the California Energy Commission (a barrel contains 42 gallons of crude oil).

And by 2016, as much as 150 million barrels of crude oil, or 25 percent of total imports, could be coming into the state on rail, according to the California Energy Commission.

Less than 1 percent

Despite the increases, Aaron Hunt, director of corporate relations and media for Union Pacific, said crude oil entering California currently accounts for less than 1 percent of its business.

“Though we ship more grain, cement and timber than crude oil, Union Pacific has safely moved crude oil on behalf of our customers for decades,” Hunt said. “Seeking energy independence, U.S. companies have enthusiastically developed crude oil resources and rail has played a role in getting those resources to the right markets.”

Both Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific move commodities through Yuba-Sutter ranging from fruits and vegetables to sulfuric acid, anhydrous ammonia, chlorine and crude oil.

U.P. does not currently move crude oil in California originating from the Bakken region, Hunt said. But the rail company does move crude from other areas through this region.

The quantity is hard to pin down as Union Pacific isn’t releasing figures, but Bill Fuller, chairman of the Region 3 local emergency planning commission, which includes 13 Northern California counties and falls under the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, was told by the Union Pacific that as many as 200-300 tank cars carrying crude oil could be moving through Yuba-Sutter on a given day.

Well-traveled lines

Lt. Aaron Easton, deputy chief of the Marysville Police Department, said the two Union Pacific rail lines that pass through Marysville are well traveled.

“Amtrak’s passenger lines come through twice each day in the pre-dawn hours,” Easton said. “The cargo lines pass numerous times at all hours of the day and night,” he said. “Cargo includes large volumes of fuels, chemicals, and a variety of other potentially hazardous types of cargo.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation ordered the railroad carriers to notify the State Emergency Response Commission when a single train is transporting more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil into their state.

Railroad companies including Union Pacific support more stringent standards for tank cars, which are used to transport flammable liquids, including crude oil.

Tank cars are owned or leased by the companies shipping products, not by the railroad companies.

The Association of America of Railroads has standards for tank cars that currently exceed the federal requirements and have been pressing the Department of Transportation to upgrade.

Existing tank cars would need to be retrofitted or phased out, Hunt said.

“The new standard requires a thicker, more puncture-resistant shell, jacket, and thermal protection,” Hunt said. “It also requires extra-protective head shields at both ends of the tank car and additional protection for top fittings.”

Y-S ready in case of emergency

The stories are scary and run the gamut.

In April, a fire erupted after more than a dozen tanker cars carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Va. No one was injured.

But last July, 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, were killed when a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and erupted in flames that destroyed part of the downtown area.

Though a derailment and fire of that magnitude isn’t likely in Yuba-Sutter, emergency procedures are in place in case of a train derailment.

The Yuba-Sutter Hazmat Response Team, which was formed in 2012, is made up of six fire agencies — Marysville, Linda, Olivehurst, Wheatland, Yuba City and Sutter County.

Many of its members are hazardous materials technicians or specialists and have received training on rail car emergencies including leaks, spills and derailments.

“The concept was to pool the resources of local hazardous materials response teams for better protection of Yuba and Sutter Counties,” said Sutter County Fire Chief Dan Yager. “A large-scale incident involving any release of known or unknown substances would trigger the activation of this team.”

The six agencies agreed that their immediate course of action would be to determine the scope of the incident, call for mutual aid and help those in need.

“Our mission is to protect life, the environment and property, in that order,” Yager said.

If a large-scale evacuation is necessary, Yuba County Undersheriff Jerry Read said his department and the California Highway Patrol have worked together to create routes based on the scenario.

A unified command structure would be established with fire, law enforcement, county office of emergency services and railroad representatives working together, said Linda Fire Chief Richard Webb.

“Continued training and planning are the mechanisms we will continue to use in an effort to mitigate the risks associated with a derailment,” Webb said. “The projection is for Bakken crude oil shipments by rail to spike up dramatically over the next several years, which would increase the risk of a derailment possibilities.”

Please share!