Category Archives: Valero Crude By Rail

Standing Room Only – community meeting in Benicia – Stop Crude by Rail!

Repost from the Benicia Herald
(Click here for the video presentations – please be patient, the videos will be a bit slow to load)

Rail plan opponents pack library

March 11, 2014 by Donna Beth Weilenman


More than 100 hear of dangers of crude oil shipments by train

More than 100 people packed the Doña Benicia Room of the Benicia Public Library on Monday night to hear a panel of authors, scientists and organizers urge opposition to the proposed Valero Crude-By-Rail project that is currently undergoing environmental review.

Filmed testimony by Marilaine Savard, a survivor of the July 6, 2013 derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, came early in the program. Savard had spoken Feb. 26 at a similar event in Martinez.

Her views of the tragedy that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the town’s business area were echoed by such activists as Benicia residents Marilyn Bardet and Andres Soto, author Antonia Juhasz and Damien Luzzo, a Davis environmental business owner.

They urged Benicia residents to join neighbors in other refinery cities who object to transporting crude oil by train.

No one from Valero Benicia Refinery, nor anyone who supports its Crude-By-Rail project, spoke Monday.

The meeting was one of many rallies, gatherings and activities planned to galvanize opposition to the proposal to deliver domestic crude to Valero Benicia Refinery by train, said Jan Cox Golovich, a member of the steering committee of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Environment, one of the groups that organized Monday’s “call to action” meeting.

The panelists reminded their audience that while Benicia city officials are considering a project proposed solely to bring in 50 rail cars of oil twice a day into the local refinery, the San Francisco Bay Area has other cities with refineries that also could bring crude from North Dakota’s Bakken fields into the area.

The problem with the Valero project, as with delivering Bakken fields crude to refineries in Richmond, Rodeo, Martinez and Pittsburg, they said, is that the North Dakota crude has properties similar to gasoline.

It is more flammable than heavier “sour” crude such as that obtained from Canadian tar sands. Poured into a glass, Bakken crude resembles light beer, Bardet said, and has a low flashpoint under pressure.

In contrast, another panelist, Diane Bailey, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Canadian tar sands from Alberta looks like dark, goopy coffee grounds or peanut butter.

That heavier crude has its own dangers, Bailey said. It, too, can spill, polluting environmentally sensitive lands. It’s dirtier than lighter crudes, with more heavy metals and a higher percentage of other toxins.

Valero officials have said repeatedly the Benicia refinery isn’t equipped to process tar sands oil, but Bailey said such crude can be diluted with solvents — chemicals like benzene that pose their own health threats.

Juhasz said the ability to drill horizontally and use the same fracking technique that is used to obtain natural gas has opened the Bakken oil fields.

A significant amount of that oil is moved by rail, she said, since pipelines aren’t available and the oil fields are nowhere near navigable waters — which has led to a dramatic increase in the number of spills.

More barrels of oil were spilled in 2013 alone than were spilled from 1975 to 2012, Juhasz said.

Not only do the fracking process and the spills worry her, she’s also concerned that there is little regulation that protects public safety.

In fact, Juhasz noted, the National Transportation Safety Board has been asking for better crude-carrying rail cars for 20 years. While some individual railroad companies, such as BNSF, have announced they aren’t waiting for federal regulators to require better oil cars, Juhasz said stricter regulation of the rail delivery of crude “is practically nonexistent.”

The country’s older pipelines aren’t much better, and have burst, sending crude into sensitive wetlands, panelists said.

The Bakken fields have made North Dakota the biggest oil-producing state except for Texas, Juhasz said. Yet, noted the author of “The Tyranny of Oil and “The Bush Agenda,” the increase in domestic crude hasn’t lowered gasoline prices because much of the oil is being sold outside the United States.

Ed Ruszel, whose woodworking company sits next to rails that belonged to the Southern Pacific Railroad when he first purchased his company’s land in the Benicia Industrial Park, said the much shorter trains that operate near his business tie up traffic for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

Those are 15-car trains. Ruszel said the 50-car trains proposed as part of the Valero Crude-By-Rail project would have a greater impact on Industrial Park traffic.

Nor does he expect that the Union Pacific Railroad would limit the trains to 50 cars each twice a day. He said he suspects the railroad would bring even more rail cars in during the weekend and let them sit, stored on Industrial Park tracks.

Andres_SotoSoto, an activist who has moved to Benicia, his parents’ hometown, after working for years in Richmond, said because crude by rail doesn’t just affect Benicia, residents should join their neighbors to prevent train delivery of oil to Conoco Phillips, Shell, Chevron and other Bay Area refineries.

He also asked the audience to monitor the Bay Area Air Quality Management District as it looks at the cumulative effects of the change to rail deliveries. “It’s caving to industry pressure,” he said. Residents should tell the agency to do “our will” or get a new staff.

If cities with oil refineries have worried residents, municipalities where those trains would pass through also have concerns, said Damien Luzzo, who asked Benicians to object to the Valero project not only for themselves but also for “uprail” cities like Davis.

An explosion the size of the one last year in Quebec “would incinerate half of our town,” he said of Davis, which he described as a city with environmental awareness.

“We’re wondering what we can do,” Luzzo said. “We don’t have the jurisdiction.”

CALL TO ACTION Monday, March 10, 7pm, Benicia Library

Stop Valero Crude By Rail!
Monday, March 10, 7pm
Dona Benicia Room, Benicia Public Library

 FacebookStopCrudeByOil_cover(LGlogo)Benicia, CA – Benicia residents and business owners, along with concerned citizens of neighboring communities, have been following with growing alarm, the proposal of Benicia’s Valero Refinery to import dangerous crude oil by rail.  The public is invited t join with Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, at a community forum to learn more and raise concerns and questions.  Panel followed by Q&A.

Expert panel of speakers and co-sponsors – see below.
Optional: Sign up on Facebook here.
Help promote: download the flyer, print and distribute – thanks!

A panel of experts and activists will present their concerns:

  • Video: Marilaine Savard, spokesperson for a citizens’ group from Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.  In 2013, a string of exploding crude oil rail cars destroyed the center of town and claimed 47 lives.
  • Marilyn Bardet, Valero refinery watchdog, activist and founding member of Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee: “Where does Valero’s CBR Project Begin and End?”
  • Ed Ruszel, co-owner of Ruszel Woodworks, located right along the tracks in Benicia’s industrial park: “Impact to Local Business & Industrial Park”
  • Antonia Juhasz, oil industry analyst, journalist, and author of several books, including The Tyranny of Oil: “Crude by Rail 101”
  • Andrés Soto, Benicia resident, KPFA’s Morning Mix host and Communities for a Better      Environment Richmond organizer: “Local and Regional Impacts”
  • Diane Bailey, Senior Scientist with Natural Resources Defense Council: “Health and Community Impacts”
  • Damien Luzzo, Davis resident and CEO,  SaveWithSunlight, Inc.: “Valero’s impact on ‘uprail’ communities”

This meeting is open to the public.  Residents, business owners, City officials and the press are all welcome.  After the panel, a brief question and answer period will follow.


Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee, Natural Resources Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, Sunflower Alliance, 350 Bay Area, Pittsburg Defense Council, Pittsburg Ethics Council, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Gathering Tribes – Idle No More.


For a detailed background on Valero’s proposal 2012-present, see Also see{C45EA667-8D39-4B30-87EB-9110A2F9CE13}


Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (
Facebook: Stop Crude By Rail (
The Benicia Independent (


Andrés Soto, (707) 742-3597

Benicia Herald op ed: Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?

Repost from The Benicia Herald

Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?

THE RAVAGES OF tar sands extraction in Alberta, Canada. Sierra Club

By Roger Straw

MANY THANKS TO BENICIA HERALD REPORTER Donna Beth Weilenmann for her detailed report, “Valero rail project: City has no control over oil source” (June 12). It is unfortunate that City Manager Brad Kilger is quoted saying, “The city does not have the authority to control the refinery’s crude sources.”

The source of Valero’s crude is important — here in Solano County, and globally. Since the city can’t control it, perhaps those of us who live here should persuade our friendly giant Valero to stay away from Canadian tar-sands oil of its own volition.

The world is dying, not so slowly, from the burning of fossil fuels. The most polluting of these fuels is mined in Alberta, Canada, where investors are extracting a thick, tar-like substance called “bitumen” from deep layers of sand. This sludge is blasted out of the sand with heated water. Millions of gallons of water are used daily, which first must be heated by natural gas, so the process is not energy efficient and can never be truly competitive with regard to “return on investment” after all costs are factored.

Moreover, additional costs are too often not accounted for — in particular the destruction of miles and miles of pristine northern boreal forests, and in their place the creation of a hellish network of open pit mines, wells, roads, pipes and hundreds of toxic “lakes” from the water used in the extraction process. The destruction has expanded to an area larger than Ohio or Pennsylvania.

Next comes the problem of creating a “blend” of crude oil from the tar-like bitumen that is fluid enough to be transportable by pipeline (Keystone XL), or now by rail. The gazillion-dollar heated railroad cars, we are told by Mr. Kilger, who cites a study paid for by Valero, are “specifically designed not to rupture,” and the city, county, state and feds are all well-prepared to take care of any emergency.

Sure. Tell that to the residents who live near Kalamazoo, Mich., where my daughter was born. We have friends and family nearby there, and their story of leaked tar-sands crude is horrific. After spending more than $765 million on a three-year cleanup there, the Kalamazoo River is still plagued by sunken heavy balls of tar-sands bitumen, threatening habitat, wildlife and human health. For background, see “April Flooding Could Affect Cleanup of 2010 Michigan Oil Spill,” by David Hasemyer:

“Removing dilbit (diluted bitumen) from water is more difficult than removing conventional oil because the chemicals used to thin the bitumen gradually evaporate, while the bitumen sinks to the river bottom.”

Imagine that gunk flowing into our Suisun Marsh after a train derailment — what would that look like? For an idea, read InsideClimate News’ Pulitzer Prize-winning authors’ “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of,” about “a project that began with a seven-month investigation into the million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It broadened into an examination of national pipeline safety issues, and how unprepared the nation is for the impending flood of imports of a more corrosive and more dangerous form of oil.”

We in Benicia — including our neighbors in positions of influence at Valero — need to do some very important homework and ask a lot of questions before this new crude-by-rail project is approved. Imagine a disaster here, or better yet, imagine no opportunity for one. The hearing at the Planning Commission is set for July 11. Comments should be sent by July 1 to City Manager Brad Kilger at City Hall, 250 East L St., Benicia, or by email to

Roger Straw is a Benicia resident.