REUTERS: California planners reject Valero oil-by-rail project

Repost from Reuters – Markets

California planners reject Valero oil-by-rail project

By Kristen Hays, Feb 12, 2016 1:29pm EST

Feb 12 Valero Energy Corp’s proposed oil-by-rail project at its northern California refinery was quashed by local planners this week, the first such facility on the U.S. West Coast to end a years-long wait for permits with a rejection.

The Benicia Planning Commission late Thursday unanimously renounced Valero’s request to build the project at the conclusion of four consecutive public hearings dominated by scores of opponents.

Valero first proposed building the rail facility at its 145,000 barrels per day Benicia refinery to offload up to 70,000 bpd of inland U.S. and Canadian heavy crude three years ago.

Several other West Coast rail projects await such decisions by local or state governments. Those include Tesoro Corp’s proposed 360,000 bpd railport in Washington State – the largest in the nation – and Phillips 66’s newly-trimmed 25,000 bpd facility at its Santa Maria refinery in Arroyo Grande, California.

Others gave up with U.S. crude prices down more than 70 percent since mid-2014 on global oversupply. That decline squeezed discounts of inland U.S. crude to global crudes, eroding oil-by-rail’s profitability.

Global Partners LP last month laid off workers and said the company would drop crude handling at its ethanol terminal in Oregon in the fallout of the oil rout.

Valero can ask the Benicia City Council to override planners and approve a permit for the project. A spokeswoman said on Friday that the company would “evaluate our options for appeal.”

The staff for Benicia’s planners recommended approval.

When Valero first proposed the project, oil-by-rail was growing fast and U.S. and Canadian crudes were much cheaper than global crudes, even with added transportation costs of moving via train. Rail also gave West Coast refiners a way to tap those crudes as no major oil pipelines cross the Rocky Mountains.

Not anymore. Shipments originating on top U.S. railroads fell 23 percent by the third quarter last year from the peak of 1.02 million bpd in the third quarter of 2014, according to the American Association of Railroads.

The Tesoro project remains under review by a state council in Washington, which will hold hearings in June and July.

San Obispo County planners are expected to decide on the Phillips 66 project next month, the company said. Staff for those planners recommended rejecting the facility.

STATEMENT: Benicia Planning Commission Rejects Valero Oil Train Terminal

Repost from ForestEthics (joint statement with Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community)

Statement: Benicia Planning Commission Rejects Valero Oil Train Terminal

Friday Feb 12, 2016, Contact: Eddie Scher, 415-815-7027
[Benicia, CA] Late last night the Benicia Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the land use permit for the proposed Valero oil train terminal. Valero can appeal the decision to the Benicia City Council.

Citizen groups Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community and ForestEthics released the following statements:

“The unanimous vote by the Planning Commission to reject this deeply flawed environmental review is a vindication of the concerns that people in the community have had since this project was first proposed. It took three years of work in the community to build public pressure. The Planning Commission was thorough and methodological in their deliberation. The message to the city council is absolutely clear – they must reject this proposal and reevaluate how much trust they can put in their own staff and city attorney.”

– Andres Soto, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community

“In four days of hearings commissioners faced unrelenting pressure from Big Oil and Big Rail, and a city attorney and city staff who reminded the commission again and again that Valero’s tax contributions make up a quarter of the general fund. But last night, in a powerful display of democratic and thoughtful local governance, commissioner after commissioner ripped apart the Valero’s faulty environmental review and questioned the motives of city staff and the Benicia city attorney. Commissioners affirmed the actual charge of their commission to protect the health and welfare of the community.”

-Ethan Buckner, campaigner, ForestEthics

FORESTETHICS: Benicia Planning Commission unanimously DENIES Valero oil trains project

From an email by Ethan Buckner, ForestEthics

ForestEthics2From: Ethan Buckner
Sent: Friday, February 12, 2016 2:11 AM
Subject: BREAKING: Benicia Planning Commission unanimously DENIES Valero oil trains project

Extraordinary news tonight from Benicia, CA, where the town’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny a land use permit for a proposed oil trains project at the Valero Benicia Refinery.

The decision comes despite immense pressure from Valero, the City Staff & City Attorney who all recommended approval of the project on the basis that federal law preempted the city from even considering rail impacts in making their land use decision.

Tonight’s decision comes at the tail end of four straight nights of public hearings that have lasted past 11pm. Public comment during the hearings reflected the broad-based opposition to the oil trains project fostered by tireless grassroots organizing.

One highlight from tonight’s hearing was a statement from Donald Dean, the Planning Commission’s chair, to the City Attorney & contracted attorney (who happened to have a long history of defending high-profile oil & energy projects). He said, “I understand the preemption issue, on a theoretical legal level, but I can’t understand this on a human level.”

The decision will likely be appealed to the Benicia City Council, who could vote on the project as early as mid-March. Stay tuned for updates, because we have a big fight ahead of us.

Yard signThe lion’s share of credit here goes out to the incredible grassroots leadership of Benicians for a Safe & Healthy Community. These tireless, fierce, and deeply passionate leaders have been fighting Valero tooth and nail for over three years, and have done a tremendous job in a tough industry town to build a campaign to be reckoned with.

Hopefully this momentum carries us forward for a denial at the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission later this month.

Onward together!

Ethan Buckner
Extreme Oil Campaigner

SACRAMENTO BEE: Benicia commission rejects crude oil trains

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

Benicia commission rejects crude oil trains

By Tony Bizjak, February 11, 2016 11:59 PM
A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil at McClellan Park in 2014.
A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil at McClellan Park in 2014. Randall Benton

The Benicia city planning commission, voting unanimously, dealt a dramatic setback Thursday to an oil company’s plans to ship crude oil via train through Northern California, including downtown Sacramento, to its local refinery.

After four successive nights of hearings, commissioners rejected Valero Refining Co.’s request to build a rail loading station so it could import oil on two 50-car trains daily, despite a city staff recommendation for approval.

Several commissioners said they were highly uncomfortable with the plan, based on an analysis that says the trains pose a significant unavoidable health hazard to humans and other environmental risks along the route to the Benicia refinery.

City officials said they expect Valero, the largest employer in town, to appeal the commission’s decision to the Benicia City Council. A Valero spokesman said his company is disappointed and will sit down to discuss next steps.

“Most disappointing was the commissioners disregard for the opinions of a multitude of environmental and legal experts who spent over three years to evaluate this project,” said Valero spokesman Chris Howe.

Valero officials have been pushing for the project for years, saying train shipments will allow them to stay competitive by accessing crude from North American crude oil fields. The refinery currently gets most of its oil via marine shipments, and some by pipeline.

The decision, if upheld by the City Council, would represent a major victory for up-rail cities, and represents a significant setback nationally for the burgeoning but controversial practice of shipping large amounts of crude oil, sometimes on mile-long trains.

Hundreds of individuals, organizations and local government leaders weighed in on the project over the past two years, many opposed to the project. Others argued the fears of environmental damage and human injury from potential mishaps are overblown.

Benicia city staff officials, in their environmental analysis, argued that federal laws on interstate commerce pre-empt any locally imposed safety regulations that would affect the train shipments, essentially prohibiting Benicia from responding in any way to concerns of cities along the rail lines.

Planning commissioners rejected that notion. “That doesn’t make sense from a human point of view,” commission chair Donald Dean said.

After listening to more than 70 members of the public testify on the issue over four nights, the six voting members of the commission unanimously declined to approve the city’s formal environmental impact report on the project, calling it inadequate on numerous points. They also declined to give their OK for a project permit.

Several said they feel they need to look out for up-rail cities, such as Sacramento and Davis. “I don’t want to be the planning commissioner in the one city that said screw you to up-rail cities,” said Susan Cohen Grossman.

“I don’t want to be complicit with what has become a social nightmare across the country,” George Oakes said, referring to oil trains, several of which have crashed and exploded. “What we are talking about here is some additional profit for a couple of companies.”