Tag Archives: Benicia Herald

Benician Roger Straw: Growing opposition to Valero Crude by Rail

Repost from The Benicia Herald

For Benicia’s sake, stop Crude by Rail

March 27, 2014 – by Roger Straw

MANY THANKS TO THE BENICIA HERALD for its detailed coverage of Valero’s presentation earlier this week on its Crude-by-Rail Project. Donna Beth Weilenman’s lengthy report presented the very best in understanding Valero’s message.

I was somewhat disappointed, however. A small but growing segment of Benicia residents and business owners attended Valero’s meeting, offering a peaceful presence and an alternative view on crude by rail. Other news sources, including a nearby newspaper, two TV stations, two radio stations and a couple of blogs included references to the strong public opposition to Valero’s proposal at that meeting. Ms. Weilenman’s report virtually ignored the public’s input on that night.

Benicians need to hear Valero’s point of view, but a variety of voices made “news” at the actual event, and folks need to know about that as well.

The residents and businesses of Benicia have been waiting since last July for Valero to present its facts and to sell its proposal to bring North American crude oil by railroad tank car into our community. We can expect highly financed and professional messaging to promote their plan. Thanks to a recent paid ad in a local magazine and this week’s community meeting, we now know how Valero will focus our attention — and in some cases, misdirect our legitimate concerns.

We learned at this meeting, finally, that Valero clearly does not rule out importing train cars full of highly volatile Bakken crude oil and the world’s dirtiest crude from the tar sands of Canada.

After its presentation, when Valero opened the meeting for questions and answers, I must admit that I was surprised by the preponderance of questions expressing deep concern for the health and safety of Benicia. Well over 80 percent of the questions asked were cautiously skeptical and highly concerned about safety and the environment. I took notes on each of the approximately 24 questions asked, with the following results: Nine were about emergency spills and explosions, four were about the source and crude oil content of Valero’s rail shipments, two were about failure-prone DOT-111 tank cars, and one each concerned train routing, traffic in the Industrial Park and permitting of the proposed project.

Following each question, a panel member or representative of Valero or Union Pacific gave a brief answer. Many in attendance, including myself, felt that some of the answers were almost glib, and all were calculated to smooth over every public concern.

We were assured over and over again that Valero’s excellent safety record, thorough planning, and yet-to-be passed new federal and state regulations would protect us from a catastrophic spill or explosion. This in the face of recent news reports on the massive increase in crude-by-rail shipments and the inevitable skyrocketing numbers of horrific explosions and spills over the last year.

We were assured over and over again that no additional or adverse pollution would result, supposedly because trains give off fewer emissions than ships. This totally ignores easily available background on the environmentally destructive methods of crude oil extraction in the Bakken region of North Dakota and tar sands mining in Canada, and the excessive corrosive effects and additional toxic emissions when refining extreme crudes. No one asked Valero at this meeting to address the 100 connect-disconnect operations every day on tank cars as opposed to a single connect-disconnect of a docked ship once a week. How will these repetitive operations add to what are known as “fugitive emissions,” not to mention a massive increase in risk for spills and accidents?

I usually call myself a liberal. In this instance, I am a deeply conserving skeptic. Please, Valero — I know that you work for Texas executives who guide your actions here, but as you mentioned at your meeting this week, 50 percent of your management and more than 100 Valero employees live here in Benicia. You are our neighbors. Please help us protect our lives and our city, and stand with us on behalf of communities uprail and downwind of Benicia. Ask Valero’s Texas executives to rethink their strategies for the future of energy production. Valero could lead the way in the oil industry. Everyone knows that refining of crude oil is a dying enterprise. In the next 50 years Valero will need to retool to produce energy in cleaner and safer ways. There is no need to grasp at the last, most dirty and dangerous barrels of crude to make a quick buck.

Listen to concerned Benicians and folks from communities uprail and downwind of here — stop the Crude-by-Rail Project.

More information is available at SafeBenicia.org and BeniciaIndependent.com.

Roger Straw is a Benicia resident [and editor of The Benicia Independent].

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.”

Valero CBR top Benicia news story in 2013

Letter to the editor, The Benicia Herald
Friday, February 07, 2014
By Sabina Yates

In your Jan. 30 edition of the Benicia Herald, the top 13 stories of 2013 starts with No. 13, “Community pitches in to save beaten dog,” and ends with No. 1, on page 5, ”Valero Crude-by-Rail project delayed.”

You should put the top story on page one.

First things first! The Valero-Crude-by-Rail project is something that will affect Benicia far more than a beaten dog. There has been an increased number of derailments and fires around the country because of the huge increase in rail transport of crude. Union Pacific, which would be hauling the Valero crude, has not been involved in any of these fiery rail accidents – but have their older tank cars been upgraded to new safety standards proposed by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board many times over the past years?

These measures would include requiring double-hulled cars that are more puncture resistant. However, the companies that actually would be responsible for most of the costs associated with improving rail car safety are the oil companies themselves.

In a recent New York Times article, the American Petroleum Institute states that ”the first step is to prevent derailments by addressing track defects and other causes of all rail accidents.” Sounds like “buck-passing” to me. And what about local and regional emergency response plans to alleviate the risk to public safety? There are a lot of reasons why the Valero Crude-by-Rail project rightfully deserved the top priority of the Benicia news of 2013, but isn’t this where there could have been more “inches” of type? And not on page 5.

-Sabina Yates