Vallejo Times-Herald: State officials say Benicia underestimated oil train risks

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald

State officials say Benicia underestimated oil train risks

Officials urge city to redo Valero refinery project safety analysis
By Tony Burchyns, 09/25/2014

State officials say Benicia has underestimated the risks of running oil trains through Roseville and other parts of Northern California to the Valero refinery.

In letter to the city last week, officials from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the Public Utilities Commission called on the city to redo its safety analysis before allowing the refinery to receive two 50-car oil trains a day.

The letter follows similar critical comments from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the cities of Davis and Sacramento and the University of California at Davis. Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and San Francisco Baykeeper also have sent letters to Benicia expressing concerns about the project.

The state officials’ letter said that total potential derailments attributable to the plan, including those outside California, should be considered in the risk study. Officials also said that the city’s draft environmental impact report paid insufficient attention to train accidents other than derailments.

“The analyses of environmental impacts, including the risk and consequences of derailments, should not be limited to the section of track between Roseville and Benicia, and track at the refinery itself,” officials wrote. “The analyses should also cover the many miles of track, the distance of which will vary depending on entry point into the state, between the state border and Roseville.”

Valero’s project description identifies North America, Texas and other locations as possible sources of crude, but direct routes through Southern California and other areas of the state and country are not analyzed.

City officials have said their analysis was limited to the Union Pacific line between Benicia and Roseville because the other rail routes are unknown or haven’t been disclosed.

The letter also criticized the city’s finding that the risk of train spills of more than 100 gallons between Rosville to Benicia would be once in 111 years. Critics have said the analysis is flawed because it relies on rail safety data that predates the nation’s crude-by-rail boom.

The letter asserts that the city’s derailment and accident rate calculations are problematic and the legal enforceability of Valero’s commitment to use tank cars that meet that highest safety standards is unclear.

Benicia has declined to comment thus far on the numerous letters received during the report’s public comment period that ended Sept. 15. However, the city plans to respond to the comments before the project’s next public hearing, which has yet to be set.