Category Archives: Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community

Benician Roger Straw: Growing opposition to Valero Crude by Rail

Repost from The Benicia Herald

For Benicia’s sake, stop Crude by Rail

March 27, 2014 – by Roger Straw

MANY THANKS TO THE BENICIA HERALD for its detailed coverage of Valero’s presentation earlier this week on its Crude-by-Rail Project. Donna Beth Weilenman’s lengthy report presented the very best in understanding Valero’s message.

I was somewhat disappointed, however. A small but growing segment of Benicia residents and business owners attended Valero’s meeting, offering a peaceful presence and an alternative view on crude by rail. Other news sources, including a nearby newspaper, two TV stations, two radio stations and a couple of blogs included references to the strong public opposition to Valero’s proposal at that meeting. Ms. Weilenman’s report virtually ignored the public’s input on that night.

Benicians need to hear Valero’s point of view, but a variety of voices made “news” at the actual event, and folks need to know about that as well.

The residents and businesses of Benicia have been waiting since last July for Valero to present its facts and to sell its proposal to bring North American crude oil by railroad tank car into our community. We can expect highly financed and professional messaging to promote their plan. Thanks to a recent paid ad in a local magazine and this week’s community meeting, we now know how Valero will focus our attention — and in some cases, misdirect our legitimate concerns.

We learned at this meeting, finally, that Valero clearly does not rule out importing train cars full of highly volatile Bakken crude oil and the world’s dirtiest crude from the tar sands of Canada.

After its presentation, when Valero opened the meeting for questions and answers, I must admit that I was surprised by the preponderance of questions expressing deep concern for the health and safety of Benicia. Well over 80 percent of the questions asked were cautiously skeptical and highly concerned about safety and the environment. I took notes on each of the approximately 24 questions asked, with the following results: Nine were about emergency spills and explosions, four were about the source and crude oil content of Valero’s rail shipments, two were about failure-prone DOT-111 tank cars, and one each concerned train routing, traffic in the Industrial Park and permitting of the proposed project.

Following each question, a panel member or representative of Valero or Union Pacific gave a brief answer. Many in attendance, including myself, felt that some of the answers were almost glib, and all were calculated to smooth over every public concern.

We were assured over and over again that Valero’s excellent safety record, thorough planning, and yet-to-be passed new federal and state regulations would protect us from a catastrophic spill or explosion. This in the face of recent news reports on the massive increase in crude-by-rail shipments and the inevitable skyrocketing numbers of horrific explosions and spills over the last year.

We were assured over and over again that no additional or adverse pollution would result, supposedly because trains give off fewer emissions than ships. This totally ignores easily available background on the environmentally destructive methods of crude oil extraction in the Bakken region of North Dakota and tar sands mining in Canada, and the excessive corrosive effects and additional toxic emissions when refining extreme crudes. No one asked Valero at this meeting to address the 100 connect-disconnect operations every day on tank cars as opposed to a single connect-disconnect of a docked ship once a week. How will these repetitive operations add to what are known as “fugitive emissions,” not to mention a massive increase in risk for spills and accidents?

I usually call myself a liberal. In this instance, I am a deeply conserving skeptic. Please, Valero — I know that you work for Texas executives who guide your actions here, but as you mentioned at your meeting this week, 50 percent of your management and more than 100 Valero employees live here in Benicia. You are our neighbors. Please help us protect our lives and our city, and stand with us on behalf of communities uprail and downwind of Benicia. Ask Valero’s Texas executives to rethink their strategies for the future of energy production. Valero could lead the way in the oil industry. Everyone knows that refining of crude oil is a dying enterprise. In the next 50 years Valero will need to retool to produce energy in cleaner and safer ways. There is no need to grasp at the last, most dirty and dangerous barrels of crude to make a quick buck.

Listen to concerned Benicians and folks from communities uprail and downwind of here — stop the Crude-by-Rail Project.

More information is available at SafeBenicia.org and BeniciaIndependent.com.

Roger Straw is a Benicia resident [and editor of The Benicia Independent].

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Vallejo Times-Herald covers Valero meeting

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald

Valero addresses Benicia concerns about crude-by-rail project

By Irma Widjojo/Times-Herald staff writer
Published By Times Herald, 03/25/2014

BENICIA – For the first time the public attended an informational meeting Monday about Valero Benicia Refinery’s proposed crude-by-rail infrastructure improvement project.

About 150 people packed the Ironworkers Union Local 378 hall to have questions answered about the controversial project. The meeting was hosted by the Valero’s Community Advisory Panel.

The project was unveiled early last year, but has been delayed pending city’s environmental impact report.

The project seeks to add three rail tracks and an off-loading track on Valero’s property to allow crude oil to be transported into the refinery. Currently, crude oil is delivered into Valero Benicia through pipeline and ships.

During the meeting, officials presented the project to the audience and answered submitted questions.

Many residents have expressed rail-safety and environmental concerns about the project. Company officials contend that the railroad traffic — up to 100 tank cars per day — would not affect the region’s air quality, and safety standards would be met.

Officials also said that the railroad addition would make the refinery more competitive by allowing it to process more discounted North American crude oil.

“It would not increase crude delivery, just make it more flexible,” John Hill, vice president and general manager of the refinery, told the crowd.

Another point of contention was the type of crude oil that would be transported into Benicia by rail.

An opposition group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, said the project will allow the delivery of the highly flammable Bakken crude from North Dakota. Concerns also have been raised about the possible use of Canadian tar sands oil, regarded as more polluting than other crudes.

However, officials said there will be no change in the delivered type of crude. They said the refinery can, and will be able to, handle any blend of crude oil as long as it meets density and sulfur requirements for its facility. They did not disqualify Bakken crude as a possible part of a blend.

The California Environmental Quality Act review finds there are a few factors that need mitigation to eliminate impacts, according to the presentation. For example dirt control during construction, avoiding construction during nesting season, storm management plans, and prohibition of crude rail crossing during lunch hour and peak hours.

The city’s draft environmental impact report is due to be released to the public next month. Following that, Valero will invite the public to another meeting.

Monday’s informational meeting left a few people unsatisfied.

Diana Walsh, a Benicia resident since 1998, said she came to the session, “hoping to be reassured.”

However, she said she didn’t find any new information.

“I’m very afraid (of the project),” Walsh said. “All we need is a tiny explosion. … I don’t want to live near that.”

“I wanted to feel relieved. But I think they were dismissing, or minimizing our concerns,” she added.

Jan Cox Golovich, of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, said she was hoping the company would “acknowledge that there are things up in the air.”

The group has launched a website, SafeBenicia.org, and organized events to voice concerns over the project.

Like Walsh, Cox Golovich said the officials did not answer questions to her satisfaction.

“They’re just pushing through the project,” she said. “Have some respect for the community.”

Whatever their sentiment might be, many said they are looking forward to participating in the next meeting after the release of the report draft.

For more information on the project, contact Valero at 707-654-9745, or info@beniciaCBR.com.

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