Category Archives: Suisun Marsh

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.


    Two historic derailments, just uprail from Benicia

    Repost from The Fairfield Daily Republic

    A tale of 2 train derailments

    By Tony Wade  |  October 18, 2013
    Derailment in Fairfield, CA at 6:30 am on May 29, 1978, Memorial Day.

    At 6:30 am on May 29, 1978, Memorial Day, a thunderous noise that neighbors later described as sounding like an earthquake, nuclear explosion and the end of the world all at once occurred.

    I was 14 years old and evidently enjoying my exquisite recurring Lynda Carter dream because I heard absolutely nothing.

    The deafening din was the derailment of a Southern Pacific train on the tracks that ran right behind my family’s Davis Drive home. The westbound train had 24 of its 66 cars (each 93 feet long and weighing more than three tons) jump the tracks when the rear wheel assembly on the lead car broke.

    When we looked out over our back fence, there were rail cars and debris scattered everywhere. With houses abutting the tracks on both sides, it was a miracle no one got hurt. It did knock down a power line, which caused both a blackout for more than 2,600 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers for more than an hour and sparked a 200-square-foot grass fire.

    I have several photos from back then. My favorite is one of me playing basketball against my dad in the backyard and peeking over the fence are the wrecked cars. A couple of days later, my best friend Wayne Thomas and I sneaked inside one of them and rode our bikes down its length.

    Since that derailment happened literally in our backyard, it is memorable for me personally, and others who lived near it, but it had nothing on a derailment that happened in Solano County in 1969.

    I am not usually one given to sensationalism, but in this case it is warranted. The other derailment involves: The FBI! U.S. Navy SEALs! White Phosphorus! Sabotage! Really!

    At approximately 1 a.m. on March 19, 1969, a southbound 40-car train derailed in a remote area near Chadbourne Road adjacent to the Suisun Marsh. Thirty-one cars went a-flyin’ and unfortunately two of them contained 90 tons apiece of liquid white phosphorus, and they ruptured.

    White phosphorus ignites when it comes into contact with the air and the resultant firestorm was fierce. The Solano Fire Protection District was aided in the firefight by U.S. Navy SEAL underwater frogmen from Mare Island who happened to be training nearby when the derailment occurred.

    Once the flames were extinguished, there was still the matter of what to do with the two cars nearly filled with white phosphorus that were half-buried in the mud. Twenty-eight hours after the derailment, the decision was made to bury them there and cover them with an unreinforced concrete cap and fence it off with obvious warning signs.

    By the way, a third car was buried as well, but it only had corn in it.

    After a preliminary investigation by the Solano County Sheriff’s Office and Southern Pacific, foul play was suspected and (cue the Efrem Zimbalist Jr. show’s music) . . . the FBI was notified.

    Evidence that the track had been altered was found. Rails on the track were disconnected and a heavy object had been placed on them. The FBI called it “an intentional derailment.”

    It looked like a case of (cue the Beastie Boys’ song) . . . Sabotage.

    It could have been much worse because that track was Southern Pacific’s main line for passenger trains entering and leaving San Francisco. No one was ever caught for the crime.

    Meanwhile, the phosphorus train cars (and the harmless corn one) remained buried for decades. In fact, they are still there.

    I was intrigued when I learned about the white phosphorus crash site and went directly from the microfilm machine at the Civic Center Library to the site at the end of Chadbourne Road. You just keep going past where the road is no longer paved and come to a dead end and you will see the fenced-in area with the signs warning of white elemental phosphorus.

    The site is monitored annually and in 1998 a deed restriction was recorded that bars it from ever being developed. It lists specific things that can never be built there just in case someone gets a wild hair to plant a day care center, school or hospital in a marsh area, right next to the train tracks where white phosphorus is buried.