Category Archives: donner

Sacramento Bee: Area leaders accuse Benicia of failing to take steps to help protect cities

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento officials challenge Benicia oil train project

By Tony Bizjak, February 5, 2016 11:30AM

HIGHLIGHTS
•  Valero Refining company wants to ship two 50-car oil trains daily through Northern California
•  The trains would pass through downtown Sacramento and other local cities
•  Sacramento area leaders say Benicia has failed to respond to rail cities’ safety concerns

This train is a crude oil train operated by BNSF. The train is snaking its way west through James, California just outside of the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley. Photo taken June 5, 2014 by Jake Miille
This train is a crude oil train operated by BNSF. The train is snaking its way west through James, California just outside of the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley. Photo taken June 5, 2014 by Jake Miille

Sacramento leaders this week accused the city of Benicia of failing to take any steps to help protect cities against potential oil spills from daily train shipments an oil company wants to run through Northern California.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, representing six local counties and 22 area cities, sent a letter Thursday to Benicia, saying that city’s environmental impact analysis of a rail plan by Valero Refining Co. is inadequate and represents “a non-response” to Sacramento’s safety concerns.

The challenge comes the week before the Benicia Planning Commission is scheduled to hear Valero’s controversial request for a permit to make changes at its Benicia refinery to allow it to receive two 50-car trains a day of crude oil from North America fields. The train shipments will replace current oil deliveries via ocean vessels.

The trains would travel through Rocklin, Roseville, downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis and other rail cities en route to the the refinery. It is not clear which route the trains will take east of Roseville, but potential routes include the Feather River Canyon, Donner Summit and via Oregon through Dunsmuir and Redding.

As more and larger crude oil shipments have ramped up in the United States in recent years, the number of oil spills and fires has increased as well. Several have produced major fires, including one that killed 47 people in a Canadian town two years ago. Cities along rail lines across the United States have been demanding more protections.

Benicia recently released an environmental analysis that concluded the trains would create a “potentially significant” hazard to the public from oil spills and fires, but said a spill is likely to only occur once every few decades.

Benicia city planning department officials wrote that they believe federal rail regulations prohibit the city from denying the project or placing restrictions because of concerns about rail safety. City officials also noted that Valero is the city’s largest employer and that it provides “a large source of revenue for the city.”

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, who signed the SACOG letter, said Sacramento officials are not asking Benicia to reject the plan, only to take legal steps to require the shipments are handled as safely as possible, including requiring rail companies use stronger tanker cars with safety mechanisms, and that the trains use new computer safety controls called “positive train control.”

Saylor pointed out that local emergency responders apparently will not be allowed to know when the trains are coming through.

“Our concern is about the 500,000 people in the 6-county area that live within a half mile of the rails, people who are exposed to potential risk,” Saylor said.

Sacramento officials and officials in other rail-line cities nationally have also called for requirements that companies take more steps to “stabilize” volatile North Dakota oil before it is shipped.

Benicia city officials have declined comment pending upcoming city hearings on the subject. Officials have set aside several nights in a row, beginning Monday, Feb. 8, for public comment on the plan. Those hearings are expected to be heavily attended by people arguing for and against the proposal.

Benicia’s approach contrasts with the way San Luis Obispo County is handling a similar crude oil train project. County officials there have recommended the county’s Planning Commission reject a proposal from Phillips 66 for changes at its local refinery that would allow it to bring oil trains on site. Those shipments would go through both Northern and Southern California, including the Sacramento area. The Phillips refinery currently receives oil via pipeline.

In a report, San Luis Obispo planning staff wrote they do not believe the economic and other benefits from the proposed project outweigh the unavoidable negative environmental impacts the project would cause. County officials listed the potential for elevated cancer risk from added air pollution near the tracks in the county and elsewhere in California.

“The project would be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the public and the residents of San Luis Obispo County due to the increase of hazardous accidents as a result of the project,” the county planning staff wrote in a report issued on Monday.

Hearings are ongoing over that project. SACOG sent a letter this week as well to San Luis Obispo County saying that –if the project is approved –the county should imposed “a full complement of mitigation measures addressing our safety concerns.”

Phillips 66 recently announced it will reduce the number of annual train shipments it plans to make from 250 to about 150.

    Davis Enterprise Editorial: Benicia washes its hands of us

    Repost from the Davis Enterprise

    Our view: Benicia washes its hands of us

    By Our View | November 15, 2015

    The issue: Bay Area city can’t see past its own back yard on refinery project

    The city of Benicia — the only entity capable of exerting any control over the crude-oil shipments set to arrive at a planned expansion of a Valero oil terminal — has shown in a draft environmental impact report that any impact the terminal has on communities farther up the train tracks is none of its business.

    THE PROPOSED project would allow Valero to transport crude oil to its Benicia refinery on two 50-car freight trains daily on Union Pacific tracks that come right through Davis, Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City on their way to Benicia. The rail shipments would replace up to 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil currently transported to the refinery by ship, according to city documents.

    The original draft EIR, released in 2014, didn’t adequately address safety and environmental concerns. Local governments — including the city of Davis, Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments — weighed in on the draft, urging Benicia to take a second look.

    Benicia withdrew the draft and went back to work, and the new document acknowledges the risks of pollution, noise and, oh yes, catastrophic explosions from oil trains, the likes of which leveled Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013.

    Disappointingly, having recognized the issues involved, the report simply says there’s no way to mitigate them and recommends moving ahead. With a bureaucratic shrug of the shoulders, the concerns of communities from Roseville to Suisun City are dismissed.

    NATURALLY, SACOG disagrees, and so do we. While it’s true that there’s not a lot Benicia can do itself to mitigate the impact of its project, it can force Valero to do something about it.

    SACOG urges a raft of measures that are within Valero’s control: advanced notification to local emergency personnel of all shipments, limits on storage of crude-oil tanks in urban areas, funding to train emergency responders, cars with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, money for rail-safety improvements, implementation of Positive Train Control protocols and, most importantly, a prohibition on shipments of unstabilized crude oil that hasn’t been stripped of the volatile elements that made Lac-Mégantic and other derailments so catastrophic.

    Due to federal laws, cities along the railway lines have no ability to control what goes through. Only Benicia, now, while the project is still on the drawing board, has the authority to set reasonable limits and conditions on a project that puts millions of people along the railroad in harm’s way.

    We urge the Benicia City Council to use its discretionary authority in this matter to protect those of us who have no say in the process.

      “Uprail” government agencies critical of Valero Benicia environmental report

      Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

      Safety still a primary concern with Valero rail transport plan

      By Kevin W. Green, November 07, 2015
      The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia.  (Steve Reczkowski/Daily Republic file)
      The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia. (Steve Reczkowski/Daily Republic file)

      FAIRFIELD — Most of those who provided formal comments on the revised draft environmental impact report for the Valero crude-by-rail project in Benicia focused on a need for increased safety and possible mitigation measures.

      The city of Benicia Planning Department received plenty of input leading up to last week’s deadline for submitting written comments on the revised report.

      The proposed project would allow Valero to transport crude oil to its Benicia refinery on two 50-car freight trains daily on Union Pacific tracks that come right through downtown Davis on their way to Benicia. The trains also pass through Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City.

      The rail shipments would replace up to 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil currently transported to the refinery by ship, according to city documents. The Valero refinery would continue to receive crude by pipeline, the city said.

      Among the written comments submitted on the revised impact report was an eight-page response from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. The agency responded on behalf of the 22 cities and six counties in its jurisdiction, including the city of Davis and Yolo County.

      “Our earlier letter expressed grave concern that the DEIR concluded that crude oil shipments by rail pose no ‘significant hazard’ to our communities, and we urged the city of Benicia to revise the DEIR to fully inform decision-makers and the public of the potential risks of the project,” SACOG said in its remarks.

      The agency’s response included a list of eight measures its board of directors indicated that, at a minimum, should be followed.

      Those directives include advance notification to county and city emergency operations offices of all crude oil shipments; limits on storage of crude oil tank cars in urbanized areas of any size; and appropriate security for all shipments.

      Other directives outlined need for support, including full-cost funding for training and outfitting emergency response crews; and use of freight cars with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, rollover protection and other features that mitigate what the agency believes are the risks associated with crude oil shipments.

      Finally, the agency calls for the implementation of Positive Train Control to prioritize areas with crude oil shipments.

      Solano County Resource Management Director Bill Emlen, a former Davis city manager, noted in his response that he had no specific comment on the revised report, but that the county stands behind its initial remarks about the original draft report.

      In those remarks, dated Sept. 8, 2014, Emlen said the county wanted more done to address potential derailments.

      The original draft EIR admitted the project “could pose significant hazard to the public or the environment,” but minimized the chances of that happening.

      “Although the consequences of such a release are potentially severe, the likelihood of such a release is very low,” the report said.

      Emlen disagreed that the accident risks associated with the crude-by-rail proposal are “less than significant” without mitigation.

      Valero plans to use a type of tank car designated as CPC-1232 to transport oil between Roseville and Benicia and there will be a 40 mph speed limit through federally designated “high-threat urban areas,” including cities along the route, according to the draft report.

      Emlen said it appears Valero’s use of the CPC-1232 tank cars is voluntary, rather than mandatory. He also pointed out that the federal designation for high-threat urban areas extends only 10 miles east of Vallejo and 10 miles west of Sacramento, which leaves out most of Solano County.

      Emlen cited a derailment and spill that took place in Virginia with a train using CPC-1232 tank cars and traveling 23 mph.

      “Therefore, the use of CPC-1232 tank cars at low speeds does not alone mitigate the potential impact from a train derailment,” he said.

      Other cities that submitted a written response on the revised draft included Davis, Albany, Gridley and Briggs. Other counties that responded included Yolo, Placer and Nevada counties.

      An original draft EIR was issued for the project in June 2014. Benicia said it issued the revised draft EIR in response to requests made in that original report. The city released the revised document Aug. 31 for a 45-day review period. It later extended the deadline for submitting written comments from Oct. 16 to Oct. 30.

      The Benicia Planning Commission also gathered public input on the revised document at a Sept. 29 meeting.

      The Valero project involves the installation of a new railcar unloading rack, rail track spurs, pumps, pipeline and associated infrastructure at the refinery, according to a city report. The crude would originate at sites in North America.

      Union Pacific Railroad would transport it using existing rail lines to Roseville, and from there to the refinery, the city said.