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Davis City Council finds Valero crude-by-rail impact report lacking

Repost from The Davis Enterprise
[Editor: Breaking news … DAVIS, CA – On Tuesday evening, 9/2/14, the Davis City Council approved the letter as written (but with minor editorial changes) and directed staff to submit it to the City of Benicia for the record.  The DRAFT letter can be seen here.  – RS]

City Council finds Valero crude-by-rail impact report lacking

By Elizabeth Case, September 3, 2014

The Davis City Council has released a draft of the letter it plans to send to the city of Benicia in response to the Valero crude-by-rail project’s draft environmental impact report.

The project would build out the Valero refinery’s capacity to unload oil from rail cars, increasing shipments to about 70,000 barrels of oil a day in two, 50-car-long shipments, likely from Roseville to Benicia along the Capitol Corridor rail line. That line passes right through downtown Davis.

Draft environmental impact reports are required for projects that could have significant impacts on their surroundings. Notably, this report found the risk of an accident — a derailment and spill — to be an insignificant risk, while the additional trains would have a significant air quality impact.

The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Community Chambers at City Hall to vote on the language contained in the letter. The letter, as it stands, argues that the assessment is both misleading and incomplete, and focuses on a few main concerns:

* The report’s failure to address a May emergency order and an August notice from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The former requires railroads transporting more than 35 cars, or 1 million gallons, of North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil in a single shipment to notify state emergency response commissions. The latter includes a report about improving vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

* A request that Benicia mandate the use of the newer 1232 tank cars. These have thicker shells and other improvements over “legacy” — DOT 111 — cars, which have been involved in most of past decade’s oil-by-rail accidents.

However, 1232 cars were involved in at least one derailment in Lynchburg, Va., in April. Benicia cannot legally require Valero or Union Pacific to use a specific type of car, since railroads fall under federal jurisdiction.

Valero spokesperson Chris Howe has previously confirmed that the company would use only the 1232 cars to transport oil.

* A lack of information on where and how Valero might store the crude oil, if it isn’t used right away. Specifically, Davis is concerned that the siding between Interstate 80 and Second Street in Davis could, and might already, be used for the storage of crude oil.

In addition to the above concerns, the Davis City Council requests an investigation into the current conditions of the railroad line from Roseville to Benicia.

The letter also alleges that the EIR fails to account for fire or explosions in its assessment of damage caused by release of hazardous materials, that it fails to take a magnitude of such a spill into account, and that it does not assess all the possible routes for the crude oil to be shipped to the Valero refinery.

The letter also requests that advance notice of shipments be made to city of Davis and Yolo County authorities — information oil companies have been tight-lipped about, citing terrorism concerns.

If Valero is importing Bakken crude at amounts specified in the transportation department’s order, it will have to inform the state commission. Assembly Bill 380, which was approved Friday, would require flow data and other information to be submitted about a company’s top 25 hazardous materials, including oil from the Bakkens, though it would continue to keep the information out of the public realm.

Davis’ comments draw strongly from those already filed by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and Yolo County.

Davis City Council member Lucas Frerichs, who also sits on SACOG’s Rail Ad Hoc Committee, said the council understands the need for oil imports, but doesn’t believe the environmental assessment adequately assesses potential dangers.

“It’s going to come in by rail, we just need to make sure it’s done safely,” Frerichs said. “(But the report) absolutely needs to be adjusted in order to protect the safety of citizens up and down the rail corridor.”

The council passed a unanimous resolution in April opposing oil by rail until safety issues, like better warning signs about speed changes, have been addressed.

“Our read of it — even if the risk is only once in every 111 years, if there was a catastrophic explosion, especially in our downtown, it would obviously have a great impact on our community, on lives on our property,” said Mike Webb, the city’s community development and sustainability director and author of the letter.

“Even if that was only once in 111 years, that’s once too much.’

If the Benicia Planning Commission acknowledges the concerns voiced by Davis, it would require a reissue and recirculation of the EIR, delaying the project. Representatives for the commission could not be reached before deadline.

“It would slow the process down, but I don’t think that would necessarily be a bad thing,” Webb said,” because we’re asking for more information and disclosure about what the project is.”

Interested parties have until Sept. 15 to submit a comment on the EIR before the Benicia Planning Commission begins its review.

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    Yolo County Supervisors send letter to Benicia critical of Draft EIR

    Repost from The Sacramento Bee
    [Editor: This story is also covered on the Woodland Daily Democrat.  – RS]

    Yolo supervisors challenge Benicia on crude oil train plans

    By Tony Bizjak, Jul. 15, 2014
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    Steve Helber / The Associated Press | Several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., in May. Emergency officials are pressing railroads for more information on oil train schedules and routes so they can be prepared.
    ad more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/07/15/6558895/yolo-supervisors-challenge-benicia.html#storylink=cp

    In a letter to be sent this week, Yolo County officials accuse the city of Benicia of failing to adequately review the potential for oil spills and fires resulting from a plan by the Valero Refining Co. to run two daily trains carrying crude oil through the Sacramento region to its Bay Area refinery.

    A recently published environmental report by Benicia concludes the project will not cause any significant negative impact to cities and habitat up the rail line. That finding was based on an Illinois professor’s analysis saying a train incident causing an oil spill might happen only once every 111 years between Roseville and Benicia.

    The Yolo letter, approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, calls that analysis inaccurate and irrelevant because it doesn’t explore the potential magnitude of oil spills. A crude oil train crash and explosion last year in Lac Mégantic, Canada, killed 47 people and leveled several blocks of downtown.

    “A catastrophic explosion and spill in a populated area is different from a 100-gallon spill in a shipyard that is quickly cleaned up,” the Yolo letter states. “Without considering the second half of the risk analysis, the (report) cannot conclude that the risk of a spill is insignificant.”

    The Yolo board was split, 3-2, on sending the letter. Yolo Supervisor Matt Rexroad opposed the letter, saying he believes the risk of a spill is small and the county should focus its time on issues where it will have more impact. “There is only so much we can have an impact on,” he said. “You allocate resources (based on) how big you think risks are. I don’t know this one is worth fighting.”

    Board Chairman Don Saylor took the opposite tack, saying the issue presents clear safety concerns for communities, businesses and people alongside the railways. “The fact is that a single spill or fire in Yolo County in areas such as downtown Davis, the campus of UC Davis or the many other communities in our region could result in significant property damage and injuries,” Saylor wrote in an email to The Sacramento Bee.

    Other local cities and counties are expected to issue comments challenging the Benicia rail plan environmental analysis, which was published last month. Benicia officials have set a Sept. 15 deadline for receiving reactions. If its plans are approved, Valero officials have said they plan to begin train shipments early next year. The transports are among the first of what California officials say is an expected boom in crude-by-rail shipments through the state, prompted by the lower cost of North Dakota and Canadian crude.

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      KQED: Benicia Extends Public Comment Period on Bay Area Crude-by-Rail

      Repost from KQED Science

      Benicia Extends Public Comment Period on Bay Area Crude-by-Rail

      Molly Samuel, KQED Science | July 11, 2014

      Benicia city officials are giving people more time to comment on a proposal to bring crude oil by rail to Valero’s refinery there. The Benicia Planning Commission made the decision on Thursday night after hearing two hours of testimony. All but three speakers were in favor of extending the comment period, citing summer vacations and the complexity of the project’s draft environmental impact report.

      Valero is looking to take advantage of the North American oil boom by bringing the crude in by rail, instead of overseas by ship.

      The Valero refinery in Benicia is one of five refineries in the Bay Area. (Craig Miller/KQED)

      The project has raised safety concerns in the community. There have been several fiery oil train derailments in other parts of the country in the past year, and last summer a train carrying crude oil exploded in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

      “That is not going to happen here,” said Dan Broadwater, business manager for the Napa and Solano County electrical workers union. He pointed out that Valero’s Benicia refinery is one of only two refineries in the state that are recognized by the California Voluntary Protection Program for its safety record. (The other is Valero’s refinery in Wilmington, a neighborhood near Long Beach.)

      Other speakers said that it’s not just about safety at the Valero plant.

      “We believe this is actually a regional issue,” Lynne Nittler, of Davis, told the commission. “Your decision here has a profound impact on those of us who live up-rail.”

      If the project is given the go-ahead, two 50-car trains a day would travel on Union Pacific tracks through the Roseville rail yard near Sacramento. Combined, they would deliver up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the Valero refinery, offsetting crude delivered by ship. The refinery also receives crude from the San Joaquin Valley via pipeline.

      Valero representatives have said the trains will be scheduled so that they don’t interfere with traffic in Benicia during rush hour. Union Pacific is responsible for dispatching trains on its tracks, including Amtrak’s Capital Corridor trains, which travel the same route.

      Valero has also said it will use upgraded tank cars, rather than older cars that have been involved in the explosive derailments.

      The public comment period on the project now ends on September 15, a 45-day extension. Comments can be submitted to Amy Million, principal planner: amillion@ci.benicia.ca.us.  Fax and snail mail address are available here.

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