Tag Archives: Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)

Activists In Richmond Halt Oil Tankers

Repost from Popular Resistance
[Editor: See this story also on the Richmond Standard, the San Francisco Bay Guardian. and the Sacramento Bee.  – RS]

Citizens Risk Arrest to Halt Operations at Richmond Oil Train Terminal: Call on Air Quality Agency to Reverse Illegal Permit, Protect Public Health

By Eddie Scher, risingtidenorthamerica.org, September 4, 2014

1stopoil[Richmond, CA] Today more than a dozen Bay Area citizens chained themselves to a gate at the Kinder Morgan rail terminal in Richmond to stop operations. The citizens risked arrest to protest mile-long oil trains that threaten the safety of area residents and are a massive new source of air and carbon pollution in the region.

Among the demonstrators were residents of Richmond, Rodeo, Martinez, and Benicia, all towns that currently see dangerous oil trains moving through residential areas. Earlier this year the regional air quality agency, known as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, changed an existing permit to allow oil trains at the rail facility. Demonstrators contend that the agency broke the law when it modified the existing permit without additional environmental and safety review.

On Friday the San Francisco Superior Court will hold a hearing on a lawsuit filed by groups challenging the legality of the permit change and asking for a halt to oil train operations at the facility.

“I work with Richmond residents who already struggle with cancer, asthma and other devastating health impacts of pollution. Now they are living with bomb-trains full of explosive Bakken crude oil driving through their neighborhoods. By allowing this to happen, BAAQMD is failing to protect us and choosing Kinder Morgan’s profits over our safety,” said Megan Zapanta, Asian Pacific Environmental Network Richmond Community Organizer.

“People in Richmond are angry that the Air District, who are supposed to protect us, instead has put our community at catastrophic risk along with all the uprail communities. This irresponsible behavior must be stopped NOW!” said Andres Soto, organizer with Communities for a Better Environment.

“It’s unacceptable and illegal that the Air District allowed Kinder Morgan to bring explosive Bakken oil by rail from North Dakota without going through the processes established by state law to protect air quality and the safety of families in Pittsburg, Martinez, Crockett, Rodeo, Benicia, and Richmond. We demand that all operations related to oil by rail at Kinder Morgan stop immediately,” says Pamela Arauz, on behalf of Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition.

“The law in the State of California requires public agencies like the Air District to inform the public of projects like the Kinder Morgan Bomb Train operation.  Not only that, the law requires an environmental review and public input into the process of issuing permits.  The Air District broke the law when they secretly approved this dangerous project,” stated Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor.

“As the Bay Area Air District and other government agencies are failing to protect the health and lives of communities from the reckless shipments of crude oil by rail, the people are taking action to protect our communities,” said Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

“The Air District took a reckless, illegal shortcut that puts our families at risk. We’ve seen what happens when one of these trains derails and catches fire, we can’t let that happen here,” said Ethan Buckner, US organizer with ForestEthics.

“Climate disruption is bearing down on us even faster because of the extreme extraction of tar sands and shale oil. With Bomb Trains carrying millions of gallons of that dangerous crude rolling on Bay Area rails, all of our lives are on the line. Instead of the alarming dead-end expansion of the fossil fuel industry we need a rapid transition to renewable energy now,” said Shoshana Wechsler of the Sunflower Alliance.

“To be sure, we take the oil refineries’ contempt for fenceline communities for granted. But frankly, it was shocking to see how covertly BAAQMD threw our public health under the bus,” said Nancy Rieser, Co-founder, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.)

Examiner Op Ed: Our fight to stop the bomb trains traveling through our backyards

Repost from The San Francisco Examiner

Our fight to stop the bomb trains traveling through our backyards

By Suma Peesapati, August 28, 2014
Casselton, N.D.
Bruce Crummy/2013 AP file photo | An oil train derailed on Dec. 30 in Casselton, N.D. It was one of a handful of recent incidents of rail cars carrying crude oil exploding and going up in flames.

“This issue needs to be acted on very quickly. There is a very high risk here that hasn’t been addressed. We don’t need a higher body count before they move forward.”

It was a mark-my-words moment from National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman at her farewell appearance before stepping down from the position in April.

She was speaking about the explosive growth of the use of unsafe tanker cars to haul crude oil extracted from the Bakken reserve in North Dakota and Montana to refineries across our nation. When involved in derailments, many of these cars carrying the highly volatile fossil fuel are vulnerable to puncture and explosion upon impact. They were the cars that were involved in explosions in Aliceville, Alaska, in November, Casselton, N.D., a month later and, of course, last summer’s horrific reckoning in Lac Megantic, Quebec.

Not two weeks after Hersman made her remarks, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Lynchburg, Va., igniting a roaring blaze and prompting the evacuation of the entire downtown. The tankers involved, however, weren’t the cars that the former chairwoman was warning about. They were a tougher, supposedly safer car tank car that the rail and oil industry is slowly moving toward adopting. It begs the question, though, are these newer cars going to be safe enough?

This question recently hit home when a local news station exposed a clandestine crude by rail-loading operation in Richmond, here in the Bay Area, that had been flying under the radar for months. After making a backroom deal with the local air district, Kinder Morgan secured approval to introduce this highly explosive fracked crude through urban Bay Area neighborhoods without any public notice or environmental review.

Within two weeks after the story broke, Earthjustice sued the air district and Kinder Morgan, demanding a full public airing of the project’s risks to public health and safety. A hearing on the merits of this case is scheduled for Sept. 5 in San Francisco Superior Court. While we await our day in court, Kinder Morgan is unloading its crude just a half-mile from Washington Elementary School, in a low-income community of color that the air district recognizes as already overburdened by the very same carcinogenic toxic air contaminants released by handling Bakken crude.

Piling on to this environmental injustice, this crude is being loaded onto tanker trucks that are not certified by California. Those trucks then travel on Bay Area roadways until this dangerous commodity reaches its ultimate destination — the Tesoro refinery in Martinez.

Tesoro Martinez is also accepting Bakken crude from similar rail-to-truck crude transfer operations in Sacramento, thereby compounding the risk of accident. With some of the most treacherous mountain passes in the country, and a dilapidated railway system that was never designed or upgraded to transport such dangerous cargo, these trains are ticking time bombs.

The anemic response from state and federal regulators has been disappointing. Fortunately, our state and federal environmental laws gives private citizens a voice demand more than “business as usual.”

Suma Peesapati is an attorney for San Francisco-based Earthjustice.

Big oil: influence peddling in California and the Bay Area

Repost from Air Hugger
[Editor:  Global Community Monitor‘s excellent blog, Air Hugger, has been around since early 2010.  Tamhas Griffith’s piece is a thorough exploration of the oil industry’s influence over local, regional and California government officials.  See especially his expose on the behavior of Jack Broadbent, Chief Air Pollution Control Officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.  – RS]


By Tamhas Griffith, August 14, 2014

Recently I have been spending more time in city and county meetings where the topic is theoretically how local government will regulate the activity of a local refinery – which is actually a multi-national multi-billion dollar entity with a local franchise.  Somehow during these meetings the regulation of health and safety of the community always seems to take a back seat to jobs and money.

We all know  one thing that these big oil companies have is a lot of MONEY. For example, the 2013 profits for the BIG 5 oil companies, you know, BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell­­­­­­ – were $93.3 billion last year! That’s $177 G’s  per minute.

Admittedly, Big Oil companies do have some expenses. But where they are spending this money Top 5 oil co graphmay surprise you.

Over the past 15 years, Big Oil spent $123.6 million to lobby Sacramento and $143.3 million on California political candidates and campaigns. I wouldn’t know from experience but I’d bet you can make a lot of friends with that much money dropping out of your pockets, year after year.

These friends might attach more importance to Big Oil’s concerns about over-regulation than they would to a resident who might not have the funds to contribute to anyone’s campaign fund.

A recent report by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute (ACCE) and Common Cause, “Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California’s Oil Companies Funnel Funds into the Legislature,” speaks to the extreme power of the Oil and Gas Lobby, as well as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) in Sacramento.

Dan Bacher, California Central Valley reporter for IndyBay, in his review of the report, noted that the

“fact that the oil industry is the largest corporate lobby in California, one that dominates environmental politics like no other industry“ makes California “much closer to Louisiana and Florida in its domination by corporate interests.”

Another way oil companies grease the wheels of influence is through their charitable giving in local oil and gas lobbycommunities. Where I live in Martinez, the yellow Shell refinery logo is on virtually all city events including our local Earth Day celebration located at the historic home of iconic environmentalist John Muir.  In Richmond, Chevron ladles out millions of dollars to local social services nonprofits working with low-income Richmond residents while simultaneously polluting their community.

These kinds of donations seem  to  reduce  short term costs for the local government, but there is a very real long term cost as well.

And one of the most insidious dynamics is that city budgets are structurally reliant on tax revenue from refineries.   According to the Contra Costa Times, “tens of millions in Chevron tax revenue bolster the [Richmond] city budget, providing police and other services that similarly sized cities in Contra Costa County can only dream about.”

It certainly seems like Big Oil has a stranglehold on California politics and regulatory agencies. Recently, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) came out in favor of Chevron’s expansion project.  After being advised by members of the Stationary Source committee that the appropriate behavior would be to merely answer questions at the Richmond meetings, BAAQMD Chief Air Pollution Control Officer, Jack Broadbent, chose to sign up as a speaker at both Richmond public meetings. He spoke in favor of the Chevron project and formally stated that there was no scientifically feasible way to mitigate condensable particulate matter for the Chevron project. This kind of emission from refineries is composed of carcinogenic particles about 1 micron in width that can lodge deep down in your lungs – see reference below.


Prior to the two Richmond meetings, it had been clearly spelled out for the BAAQMD Stationary Source committee by multiple experts (with Broadbent present) that there was a mitigation technique (SCAQMD FEA Rule 1105.1) that would lessen pollution in Richmond by some 56 tons of the worst stuff you can breathe per year. And it has been mitigated since 2003 in the South Coast Air Quality Management District. So, choosing not to mitigate the really dangerous stuff pouring out of Chevron, like cancer-causing condensable particulate matter, is an impossible conclusion to reach by the authority charged with air quality control. Especially when you know otherwise. This is a 56 ton stain on the BAAQMD board and staff. And 56 tons of micron sized particles are unnecessarily heading for the lungs of the men, women, children, and animals that live or work in Richmond over the next year.

Is anyone at these BAAQMD meetings pushing for cleaner air except the community rights advocates?  What influence removes the teeth from the bill, waters down the regulation at the last minute, and causes people to lose their most basic moral compass?  A healthy community and environment should always be the priority.  And nothing should influence you to believe otherwise.

-Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group, August 14, 2014.

Benicia Herald – Significant impact to air quality from crude by rail

Repost from The Benicia Herald

‘Significant’ impact to air quality from crude by rail

Long-awaited environmental report addresses, dismisses some concerns over Valero proposal, but says effect on area air would be ‘unavoidable’
June 18, 2014 by Donna Beth Weilenman

After months of investigation and more than one delay, Benicia released the draft of an environmental report on the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project on Tuesday.

The city chose to have the report drafted to meet requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act after Valero Benicia Refinery sought a permit last year to add more Union Pacific Railroad track onto its property so it could bring in North American crude oil by rail car.

The report “discloses to the public and the city’s decision-makers the environmental consequences” of Valero’s proposed project, citing minimal impacts in several areas but “significant and unavoidable” impacts on air quality.

In addition to the project as proposed by Valero, the draft report (DEIR), written by San Francisco-based firm ESA, examined four alternatives, ranging from not doing the project at all to modified versions, including one that proposes cutting the rail delivery of crude oil to the refinery in half.

“The main issue to be resolved in the EIR is which among the alternatives would meet most of the basic project objectives with the least environmental impact,” the report said. “Balancing sometimes competing environmental values can be challenging because it rests on assumptions of relative value,” the report said, explaining that city officials who will be deciding whether to adopt the final environmental report and issue a use permit may have to balance the relative value of those environmental resources.

In doing so, they may resolve the issues that have been examined in the report and reach different conclusions than those reached by ESA.

The DEIR examined and assessed the direct, indirect and cumulative environmental impacts of the construction, operation and maintenance of the project. The analyses are based on information submitted by Valero in its application for the use permit; the consultants made no recommendation how the matter should be decided.

The report analyzed in detail the project’s impact on air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, energy conservation, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise and transportation and traffic.

The consultants determined that in 10 of those 11 areas, the project could result in no or less-than-significant impacts. But the project would have “significant and unavoidable” impacts to air quality, particularly outside the Bay Area.

The project

The Crude-by-Rail Project as proposed by Valero would provide an alternate means of delivering crude oil to the refinery. Up to 70,000 barrels of day of North American-sourced crude oil would arrive daily by rail, replacing marine vessel delivery of the same amount.

The report noted ways the project could be put in place while reducing its environmental impacts through mitigation methods. It said the project would not change existing refinery operations, and said the plant would continue to meet requirements of existing rules and regulations governing oil refining, including the state of California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

The project wouldn’t increase the amount of oil the refinery receives, nor allow the refinery to produce more than the limits it already has on its output, the report said. But it does change how the refinery would get its raw materials.

Assuming that the average ship holds 350,000 barrels, the project would displace as many as 73 ship deliveries a year, the report said. It could displace the total quantity of crude oil delivered by marine vessel to the refinery by as much as 25,550,000 barrels in a 365-day year.

Based on the deliveries from Dec. 10, 2009 to Dec. 9, 2012, annual marine vessel deliveries would be reduced by as much as 82 percent, the report said.

The refinery has a dock between the Benicia-Martinez Bridge and the Port of Benicia wharf. The refinery’s marine terminal currently receives and ships bulk cargo by marine vessel.

But it already has some existing Union Pacific Railroad rail tracks that provide access to the refinery and the Benicia Industrial Park. The refinery already uses tank cars to receive chemicals used in refining and to ship refined products out, the report said.

The project would install a new tank car unloading rack capable of unloading two parallel rows of tank cars, one on each side, and transferring that crude oil to the refinery.

This would be on the northeastern part of the main refinery property, between the eastern side of the lower tank farm and the fence adjacent to Sulphur Springs Creek.

The new tank car unloading facilities would include a liquid spill containment sump with the capacity to contain the contents of at least one tank car. In addition, the existing liquid spill containment for tanks abutting the tank car unloading facilities would be modified to allow installation of the unloading facilities.

Part of the existing containment berm for the tank field would be removed and a new concrete berm would be built about 12 feet west of the existing earthen berm, the report describes.

The project would install about 8,880 track feet of new track on refinery property — three new track turnouts and one crossover — and would realign about 3,560 track feet on refinery property. New rail spurs and parallel storage and a departure spur would be built between the east side of the lower tank farm and the west side of the fence along Sulphur Springs Creek.

Also part of the project are crude oil offloading pumps and pipeline, and associated infrastructure, spill containment structures, a firewater pipeline, groundwater wells and a service road. It also would include the construction of 4,000 feet of 16-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline.

Should the project be approved, construction is expected to take 25 weeks, involving about 121 construction employees working daily until the project is finished. Afterward, it would provide jobs for 20 more employees or contractors, the report said.

If built, the refinery would be able to accept up to 100 tank cars of crude oil a day in two 50-car trains entering refinery property on an existing rail spur that crosses Park Road. The crude would be pumped to existing oil storage tanks by a new offloading pipeline that would be connected to existing piping within the property.

“Valero would ask UPRR to schedule Valero’s trains so that none of them cross(es) Park Road during the commute hours of 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” the report said.

Valero would operate the project components 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year.

The North America-sourced crude would arrive in Benicia through Roseville, where cars would be assembled into a train specifically for shipment to the refinery. Valero would own or lease the tank cars (a common practice), and Union Pacific would own the locomotives that pull the train.

Existing rules

Under regulations adopted by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), crude oil shipped by rail must be shipped in tank cars built to the DOT-111 specification.

But in 2011, the Association of American Railroads voluntarily imposed more stringent standards on the design of the DOT-111 tank cars, and the sturdier tank cars are numbered 1232.

DOT-111 cars ordered after Oct. 1, 2011 are supposed to meet the new standards; the older ones that aren’t as strong are called “legacy” DOT-111 tank cars.

“Valero has committed that, when the PHMSA regulations call for use of a DOT-111 car, Valero would use 1232 tank cars instead of one of the ‘legacy’ cars,” the report said.


The report looked at alternatives to the project as the refinery described what it wanted to do in its application. Those include a “no project alternative,” wich “would result in higher emissions of criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases within California.

“Global greenhouse gas emissions would be higher with the no project alternative,” the report said. “Valero would not be able to achieve most of its project objectives.”

The DEIR covered two other alternatives. One would limit cars to a single 50-car train delivery a day, and the other proposed two 50-car trains arriving at night.

While the first alternative would reduce the amount of emissions coming from trains, it also would mean that Valero would be unable to reduce as much emissions that come from tanker ships making deliveries.

However, it might reduce impacts to local traffic at Park Road during peak traffic times, the report said.

Union Pacific has taken the stand that limits on volume of product shipped or frequency, route or configuration of the shipments would be preempted under federal law. “Thus, Alternative 1 may be legally infeasible,” the report said.

A second “reduced project” alternative would require trains crossing Park Road to do so only between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The report found the noise generated at night would be “less than significant,” but noted that having all the trains arrive and depart at night might be noisier than the way the project originally is proposed.

Another alternative would have the receiving terminal accepting the train’s oil to be built offsite, and would involve a third party. The oil would be transferred either by tanker ship or a new pipeline. This would cause greater impacts than the original proposal, the report said.

The original project “is environmentally superior” to the alternative that would cut deliveries in half, a version that probably would be declared illegal anyway, the report said. In addition, that alternative “involves 50 percent more emissions of those same pollutants from marine vessels.”

The report looked at eight areas of concern noted during extensive public comment, particularly during the coping phase of the environmental report Aug. 9 to Sept. 13, 2013.

Those involved the properties and parameters of crude oil to be transported and refined; the relationship of the project to the Valero Improvement Project; effects of train operations on local and interstate traffic; effects of construction, operation and transportation on air quality; how the project would affect plant and animal ecology at Sulphur Sprints Creek and Suisun Marsh; what hazardous materials would be released during an accident, and how such accidents would be handled; and the range of potential effects from the time crude is extracted until it’s delivered in Benicia.

“Where significant impacts are identified, feasible mitigation measures are proposed that would reduce each of these potential impacts to a less-than-significant level,” the report said.

What isn’t included

Based on the results of the initial studies made before the city chose to have the EIR drafted, the report doesn’t examine the project’s relationship to agriculture, forests, minerals, aesthetics, population and housing, public services, recreation, utilities and service systems, which the project either wouldn’t affect or have less than significant impact.

The EIR also doesn’t include seven items Valero considers confidential business information.

Under CEQA, a lead agency — in this case, the city of Benicia — may require an applicant to submit data necessary to making a decision on the project, but if the information is considered “trade secrets” as defined by government code, the information isn’t included in an EIR.

Those topics are the specific North American crudes Valero plans to buy, publicly defined as “light, sweet” crude; the weight, sulfur content, vapor pressure and acidity of specific crude blends processed at the refinery; data bought by Valero that shows those properties of various crudes; detailed information about the crude blends suitable for the Benicia refinery based on its unique configuration; and detailed daily measurements of weight and sulfur content of crude blends processed at the local refinery in the past.

The city agreed to keep that information confidential because of its “competitive value,” or because disclosure could allow other refiners to claim violation of antitrust laws.

However, the document noted that based on the refinery’s operation, the optimum range of weight and sulfur for crude blends is narrow, between 24 and 29 degrees American Petroleum Institute gravity, with a sulfur content ranging from .08 percent to 1.6 percent.

The report noted that light, sweet crude is available from Canada, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, Utah and New Mexico. Light, medium and heavy sour crude comes from Canada.

Valero today

Valero Benicia Refinery produces 10 percent of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) gasoline used in California, and 25 percent of the CARB gasoline used in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it also produces jet fuel, liquefied petroleum gas, heating oil, fuel oil, asphalt, petroleum coke and sulfur.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District permits Valero to process up to 180,000 barrels of crude oil a day, though it averages 165,000 barrels daily.

It exports petroleum coke and liquid petroleum gas, and already uses rail cars to move products off refinery property to the AMPORTS Benicia Terminal.

Materials then are stored in silos until they’re loaded onto marine vessels.

Refinery emissions

The report said substituting rail cars for maritime crude delivery of the crude would eliminate 11,707 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from ships every three years.

The 6,726 metric tons of carbon dioxide released in a year in association with the project is below the annual “conservative significance threshold” of 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide, it said.

The report said that delivery of crude oil by large line haul tank cars would reduce overall emissions outside California when compared to delivery of crude oil by ships.

According to the report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and a variety of other pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and acid rain, as “criteria pollutants” because standards have been established to meet public health and welfare criteria.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), which has a monitoring station on Tuolumne Street in Vallejo, records those pollutants and notes the meteorological conditions that can affect air quality.

The report said that station is close enough to Benicia to have similar background pollutant concentrations, an assumption confirmed by an air monitoring study conducted 2007-08 just west of the refinery.

The report looked past the Bay Area district to a lesser degree to the Sacramento Basin, Yolo-Solano, Sacramento Metropolitan and Placer County air management or pollution control districts to determine the long-term operational impact of the project. However, those impacts “are indirect and difficult to predict, given the speculative nature of the exact rail routes that would be used.”

However, the report said the project wouldn’t conflict with or obstruct implementation of any applicable air quality plan.

The report noted that the refinery is in an industrial district and owns 470 acres of mostly undeveloped property that buffers two sides of the refinery campus. It has general industrial use neighbors on its other two sides.

Past Valero’s buffers are residential neighborhoods, and the closest homes to the project would be in neighborhoods no closer than 2,100 feet northwest of the northernmost part of the new unloading racks.

The report, which used three-year averages from December 2009 to November 2012 for its calculations, said emissions from the refinery wouldn’t increase as a result of the project.

During public review, the report said, “some commenters opined that the project would result in emissions increases from existing, permitted refinery equipment. This is not the case.”

In fact, the report said, “Taking into account the increase in locomotive emissions and the reduction in maritime emissions, the net effect of the project would be to reduce air emissions within the Bay Area Basin.”

The report found the project complies with the BAAQMD Bay Area 2010 Clean Air Plan (2010 CAP).

While the new unloading rack and piping could generate 1.88 tons annually in fugitive reactive organic gas (ROG) emissions, the project’s only direct operational air quality emissions, it said that would be more than offset by reduction in maritime ROG emissions once the project becomes operational.

“The project would not have any other direct operational impacts on air quality,” the report said. There would be no changes in the refinery’s operations, nor increased emissions from processing because of the refinery’s narrow range of weight and sulfur content of the crude it processes, it said. Nor would storage tanks contribute to any emissions.

Even the construction segment, which had potential to interfere somewhat with Bay Area air quality, could be mitigated with the air district’s basic control measures, the report said.

Locomotive emissions

However, long-term emissions from locomotives could contribute to air quality violations in the Sacramento Basin, because reduction of maritime emissions wouldn’t be available to provide compensation, the report said.

Again, since locomotive emissions are regulated at the federal level, Benicia can’t impose any emission controls on tanker car locomotives. “The impact would be significant and unavoidable,” the report said, with no available mitigation.

The report noted that even if railroad-caused emissions increase in North America as crude travels to Benicia, maritime emissions from ships traveling from Alaska, South America, the Middle East and other parts of the world would decrease. However, “These emissions can be described only in general terms because it is impossible to identify and quantify emissions across the vast range of possible routes,” the report said.

Protecting the area

Any impacts on the surrounding environmentally sensitive areas and such inhabitants as nesting birds and threatened or endangered species could be prevented through mitigation measures such as buffers, storm water pollution prevention, care about light placement and other measures, the report noted.

Inhabitants of the federally protected Suisun Marsh already are acclimated to the sounds of rail traffic, it said, and while additional rail traffic may briefly disturb them they also would become used to the sounds.

If any of the 730 trains traveling through the marsh annually caused an oil spill in the vulnerable marsh, the report said that could be “a significant impact,” especially on special-status species.
However, the report said, the risk of releasing greater than 100 gallons along the route “is very low … an estimated frequency of once per 262 years.”

The Federal Railroad Administration requires railroads to meet or exceed national safety standards, including those dealing with earthquakes, and the California Building Code also would come into play, the report said.

The report didn’t examine hazards associated with transporting flammable liquids beyond Roseville, because it called those impacts “speculative.”

Instead, it focused on homes and businesses near the refinery’s rail unloading area, those along the transportation route and around the environmentally sensitive Suisun Marsh from Roseville to Benicia.

Federal and state regulations require annual reports of hazardous chemical inventories, and Solano County companies such as the refinery must comply with local and county regulations as well, the report noted.

Recent accidents, and planned responses

In response to several rail accidents involving crude oil and ethanol, federal regulatory agencies and the Association of Railroads (AAR), an industry trade group, have collaborated to reduce risks.
It took the NTSB until 2012 to note that the DOT-111 tank cars were inadequate, and the board’s report said the track structure was washed out by a flash flood. The board began urging PHMSA to adopt stricter specifications for tank cars that carry ethanol or crude oil.

Instead of waiting for PHMSA to act, the DEIR said, AAR voluntarily imposed more stringent standards for the tank cars, requiring thicker tank shells and heads; higher tensile strength; normalized steel to reduce damage to cars during an accident; protective steel head shields at both ends of the cars; consolidated top fittings beneath a “robust” steel protective housing; and a re-closing pressure relief device to reduce the likelihood of over-pressure if the car is involved in an accident or pool fire.

The report also addressed the fatal derailment near Quebec, Canada that occurred last year.

A train carrying Bakken field crude oil that derailed in Lac-Megantic, Canada, July 6, 2013 was using 72 of the DOT-111 “legacy” cars. In addition, the engineer and crew left the lead locomotive engine idling while the train was unattended.

Someone reported a fire on the locomotive, which was tended by emergency responders.

Left unattended again, the train began to move, gather speed and traveled 7.4 miles out of control down a grade until it derailed at 60 to 70 mph, spilling 1.5 million gallons of crude oil, which ignited and killed 47 people, destroyed 30 buildings and forced 2,000 people to evacuate.

Legacy tank cars filled with sweet Bakken crude were part of a Nov. 8, 2013, derailment in Aliceville, Ala.; in the April 30, 2014 derailment in Lynchburg, Va., the DEIR noted that some of the cars were legacy DOT-111s, and the others were 1232 tank cars.

The accidents “raise the concern that a release of Bakken crude is more likely to result in a fire or explosion because of its low flash point,” the report said. The Bakken oil field is one available source of North American crude Valero may purchase, and “it is important to consider these incidents,” the report said.

The report said the FRA has responded to these accidents by issuing an order Aug. 2, 2013, to increase requirements before trains are left unattended. With PHMSA, FRA issued an advisory that same day about increased safety procedures. Since then, those DOT departments have issued additional safety requirements, some at the prompting or cooperation with AAR.

The report also described regulations governing accidental release prevention, storage of flammable liquid and compressed gas, worker safety and emergency response.

In Solano County, it noted, the emergency safety plan is administered by the California Emergency Management Agency, which coordinates the response of multiple agencies. In addition, Union Pacific has its own hazardous materials (Hazmat) response team in addition to a mandated emergency response plan.

If a train were to derail between Roseville and Benicia, consequences could be minor in the case of a small spill, to “significant” if the spill were great or ignited, particularly in a residential or commercial area, the report said.

Benicia hired Dr. Christopher Barkan to conduct a quantitative assessment about the probability of accidental release of crude oil from a Valero-bound train. The professor and executive director of the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provided an appendix to the report that noted the expected occurrence of a crude oil train release incident exceeding 100 gallons is about .009 a year, or once in 111 years.

The DEIR called Barkan’s figures conservative, saying “they probably overstate the actual risk,” and said a motor vehicle accident between the two cities was 22 times higher than the risk of a Valero train oil release.

Valero’s own emergency response procedures already are on file in its emergency procedures manual, which has been included in the report. The refinery has its own fire department, and has agreements with Benicia and its fire department, the report noted.

In case of an accidental spill or release of oil outside the refinery, its incident command system would be activated, in cooperation with such other agencies as the U.S. Coast Guard, California Office of Spill Prevention and Response, U.S. EPA, Solano County Department of Environmental Management and other emergency responders.

Because of this, the report said, no other mitigation is needed.

Comments and concerns

The Planning Commission accepted additional public comment July 11. Based on those comments, the city sent notice Aug. 9, 2013, that it would seek an EIR instead, and accepted public comments for 30 days about the scope of the report.

The Planning Commission met Sept. 12, 2013 to hear public comment on the EIR scope to assure that areas that concern residents would be covered. Written comments were accepted through Sept. 13, 2013. During that time 18 people submitted written documents and eight oral comments were received, the report said. More comments were submitted after the deadline.

The bulk of those comments aired concerns about the geographic area and potential indirect impacts of the project; the source of the crude feedstock; potential changes in the quality of that feedstock and how that would affect refinery operations and emissions; the relationship between this project and the Valero Improvement Project; the operational safety of railroads and trains hauling hazardous materials, including tank car specifications; and the cumulative effects of this project and similar ones planned elsewhere in California.

The Valero Improvement Project (VIP), the bulk of which was finished in 2011, allows the refinery to process heavier, sourer crude — up to 60 percent, compared to the 30 percent maximum before the VIP project was undertaken. The project also let the refinery reduce the use of gas oil as feedstock and increase maximum crude oil throughout, the DEIR said.

The refinery has permits through December to build a hydrogen plant associated with the VIP plans, but company officials told the DEIR consultants that the plant has enough hydrogen to meet the refinery’s needs.

Next steps

The Valero Benicia Crude By Rail Project Draft Environmental Impact Report is available to the public on the city’s website by clicking here.

The public currently has 45 days to review and comment on the project, though the Planning Commission may decide to extend that period, since the group Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, organized to block the project, has asked for a 90-day review period.

Comments also may be made before the Planning Commission July 12 in a hearing at which no vote is scheduled to be taken.

After comments are received, the draft will be modified to address those concerns, and will be sent to the city as a final document to be circulated. If the final EIR is approved, Valero will receive its city permit to proceed, though the refinery must obtain permits from other agencies before construction would begin.

The project requires an approved Authority to Construct from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, but doesn’t affect the refinery’s operating permit or its emissions limit.

Those interested may request a copy on CD by calling the Community Development Department, 707-746-4280. Print copies are available at the department at City Hall, 250 East L St., and the Benicia Public Library, 250 East L St.