Category Archives: Benicia City Council

Valero Benicia appeals Planning Commission’s unanimous decision

By Roger Straw, February 29, 2016 2:25pm PT

City Council will review Valero Crude By Rail on Tuesday, March 15

Valero Benicia Refinery dropped off its appeal at City Hall this afternoon, Monday, February 29, 2016.  The City posted the following announcement on its Valero Crude By Rail webpage today:  “It is anticipated that the City Council will hear the appeal on March 15, 2016.”  I’m told that this will only be a formal setting of dates for public hearings on the matter. Still, you may want to show up to send a signal.  Sometime in late March or late April, the City Council will hold a series of hearings much like those recently held by the Planning Commission.  Stay tuned for those dates and plan to attend.

The 1-page Formal Appeal was accompanied by a hard-hitting 11-page letter by Valero’s attorney, John Flynn of Nossaman LLP.  The letter details Valero’s position, and is posted on the City’s website.  The letter tears into Benicia’s Planning Commission for its unanimous Feb. 11 decision to deny the project.

Stop Crude By Rail yardsign

It’s official – our work is not done!  STOP CRUDE BY RAIL!


    Valero Crude By Rail: All about extreme crude (Canadian Tar Sands diluted bitumen)

    Repost from the Sunflower Alliance

    Valero Crude By Rail: Extreme Crude as Extreme Threat

    By Charles Davidson, Hercules CA, February 20, 2016
    Lynne Nittler of Davis, CA

    Like many other fossil fuel infrastructure expansions in the Bay Area, the Valero Crude by Rail project is a key part of the transition to greater processing of extreme crudes. Yet another project poses significant, yet unnecessary public health hazards—this time to Benicia, the Bay Area, the Delta ecosystem and all communities up-rail from Benicia.

    Valero’s recently completed Valero Improvement Project, or VIP, was designed to facilitate the processing of much higher sulfur and heavier crudes than the refinery’s former crude oil slate. The VIP permitted the Refinery to process heavier, high sulfur feedstocks as 60% of total supply, up from only 30% prior to the VIP.  The project also raised the average sulfur content of the imported raw materials from past levels of about 1 – 1.5% up to new levels of about 2 – 2.5% sulfur.

    Now, Valero’s proposed Crude by Rail Project is specifically designed for the importation into Valero of so-called “mid-continent, North American” crudes, which would be either very lightweight, highly flammable shale oil from Bakken ND or extra heavy tar sands from Alberta Canada.  However, because the Valero Crude by Rail Project combined with the VIP are related parts of a single expanded heavy oil project, the Crude by Rail Project is most likely for the delivery of tar sands (bitumen).

    Tar sands is open pit mined as a solid; it does not start out as a liquid. The Bitumen mined in Northern Canada needs to be heated to several hundred degrees before it can be diluted with chemical solvents and made to flow into railroad tank cars. According to the recent Carnegie Endowment study, Know Your Oil: Towards a Global Climate-Oil Index, tar sands refining produces three times the climate-changing greenhouse gases in order to make gasoline, compared to traditional lighter crudes.

    Worse, in a 2007 US Geological Service study, it was reported that tar sands bitumen contains 102 times more copper, 21 times more vanadium, 11 times more sulfur, six times more nitrogen, 11 times more nickel, and 5 times more lead than conventional heavy crude oil. Sulfur and nitrogen oxide pollutants contribute to smog, soot, acid rain and odors that affect nearby residents. Because of these considerations, Benicia could likely experience an increase in local air pollution, and the refinery’s equipment could suffer enhanced sulfur corrosion, leading to potential accidents, such as documented for the 2012 Richmond Chevron fire.

    The tar sand diluent itself adds significant risk: it is a highly flammable solvent that tends to separate from the heavier mixture during travel.  In a derailment this could cause an explosive fire with a uniquely hazardous tar sands smoke plume. The diluted tar sands mixture would tend to rapidly sink very deep into the soil, with the diluent eventually evaporating and then leaving the tar sands bitumen deep underground.

    A significant tar sands spill, in places like the environmentally sensitive Feather River Canyon, the Delta or the Suisun Marsh would be impossible to clean up.  This was proven in Michigan’s 2010 Kalamazoo River Enbridge pipeline rupture, which will never be remediated, despite the spending of over 1 billion dollars to date. Nearby public infrastructure needs to be considered from a public health perspective; for example, East Bay MUD and others are doing a brackish delta water desalination pilot study near Pittsburg.

    We must deny Valero the CBR permit and help keep the world’s absolutely dirtiest oil in the ground. To do so would comply with the expressed wishes of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments composed of six counties and 22 municipalities up-rail from Valero who have also asked that this project be denied. Our massive turnout at the Planning Commission hearings achieved our first step in this goal with a unanimous vote of the Planning Commission to deny the land use permit.  Now we must continue our opposition to insure the full Benicia City Council follows this path.

      Huffington Post: Benicia Planning Commissioners Unanimously Reject Valero’s Oil Train Proposal

      Repost from the HuffPost Green and the Sierra Club

      Benicia Planning Commissioners Unanimously Reject Valero’s Oil Train Proposal

      By Elly Benson, Sierra Club attorney, 02/19/2016 07:49 pm ET

      Benicia is a small waterside city near San Francisco that is perhaps best known for briefly serving as the California state capital in the 1800s. But last week, six planning commissioners in this quiet community dealt a blow to the oil industry when they unanimously rejected oil giant Valero’s proposal to transport crude to its local refinery in dangerous oil trains. Valero’s plan to receive two 50-tanker oil trains each day at the Benicia refinery is emblematic of broader industry efforts to ramp up transport of oil — including dirty tar sands crude from Canada and explosive Bakken crude from North Dakota — in mile-long trains to refineries along the West Coast.

      The 6-0 vote came shortly before midnight on Thursday, February 11th — after four consecutive nights of public hearings that lasted until 11 pm or later. When the hearings began at Benicia City Hall on Monday evening, more than 150 people had signed up to speak and the crowd filled the hearing room, several overflow rooms, and the building’s courtyard. The commissioners heard from scores of concerned Benicia residents — and also from residents of “up-rail” towns and cities (including Sacramento and Davis) who would be endangered by the oil trains rolling through their communities on the way to the Valero refinery. Oil train derailments and explosions have increased dramatically in recent years — including the July 2013 oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada that tragically killed 47 people.

      Benicia City Hall was still packed at 11:30pm on night 3 of of the Planning Commission hearings.

      In denying the project, the commissioners went against City planning staff’s recommendation to approve Valero’s proposal. Staff recommended approval despite concluding that the benefits do not outweigh the numerous “significant and unavoidable” impacts on up-rail communities (including derailments, oil spills, and explosions). The staff report insisted that federal regulation of railroads means that the legal doctrine of preemption prohibits the City from mitigating — or even considering — any of the serious risks that oil trains pose to communities and sensitive environments along the rail line.

      During the public hearing, the contract attorney hired by the City repeatedly told the commissioners that they unquestionably lack any authority to deny the permit based on these rail impacts — and went so far as to say that mere disclosure of these impacts could be unlawful.

      Attorneys from the Sierra ClubNatural Resources Defense Council, and the Stanford Law School clinic testified at the hearing, refuting this expansive interpretation of the preemption doctrine and urging the commissioners to reject it. Before voting to deny the project, several commissioners expressed skepticism that they are legally required to turn a blind eye to the grave dangers that oil trains pose to up-rail communities. One commissioner told the contract attorney that his interpretation of the preemption issue is “180 degrees different” from the view expressed by other attorneys. (Using more colorful language, another commissioner noted: “I don’t want to be the planning commissioner in the one city that said ‘screw you’ to up-rail cities.”)

      Linda Maio, Vice Mayor of the City of Berkeley, California, speaking to the Benicia Planning Commission.

      For years, the Sierra Club and our partners have pushed back against Valero’s attempts to conceal the true impacts of its oil train proposal. The City initially tried to approve the project without conducting full environmental review. In 2013, we submitted comments challenging that course of action, which contributed to the City’s decision to circulate an “environmental impact report” (EIR) for the project. We then submitted comment letters identifying major flaws in the the draft EIR (2014), revised draft EIR (2015), and final EIR (2016). Our allies in these efforts include Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, NRDC, ForestEthics, Communities for a Better Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, Sunflower Alliance, and SF Baykeeper, among others.

      The Attorney General also weighed in on the inadequacies of the City’s environmental review — specifically noting the failure to adequately analyze impacts on up-rail communities. And the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 6 counties and 22 cities, characterized the City’s environmental review as “a non-response” to its public safety concerns about oil trains traversing the Sacramento area.

      After voting to deny the project, the Planning Commission issued a resolution identifying 14 deficiencies in the final environmental impact report. The resolution also concluded that “Staff’s interpretation of preemption is too broad….” (Notably, just a few days before the Benicia hearings, hundreds of people converged on San Luis Obispo to urge county planning commissioners to reject a similar oil train proposal at a Phillips 66 refinery. In direct contrast to the position adopted by the Benicia planning staff, the San Luis Obispo county planning staff recommended denial of the project — due in large part to the environmental and health impacts along the rail line. The San Luis Obispo planning commissioners are expected to vote on the Phillips 66 proposal in March.)

      Valero has until February 29th to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the Benicia City Council.

      Benicia residents came to City Hall to voice their opposition to Valero’s oil train project.