Tag Archives: Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG)

Sacramento Area Council of Governments to comment on Valero Benicia DEIR

Thanks to an alert from Lynne Nitler of Davis for the following information.  – RS

Sacramento Area Council of Governments to meet, will consider draft letter critical of Valero Crude By Rail

We learned last week that the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) will meet on August 21 to consider a staff proposal that would level a stinging critique of the City of Benicia’s Draft EIR on Valero Crude By Rail.  Valero is proposing twice-daily rail shipments of 70,000 barrels of crude, and the DEIR claims that Valero’s 100 tank cars every day will pose no significant threat to Benicia and other cities along the rails, including Davis, Sacramento and Roseville.

SACOG is a planning agency for the region’s six counties and 22 cities.

A draft of the SACOG letter was made public on August 5.  It finds the Benicia report “fundamentally flawed” and calls for a revision and recirculation of the DEIR.

The 12-page letter is in draft form, and needs to be reviewed by the entire SACOG Board on August 21 before it will be finalized and sent to Benicia.

Because the letter is very strong in its position that the DEIR is inadequate in its present form, a number of Valero and Union Pacific representatives showed up at a SACOG committee meeting last week.  They tried to dissuade the committee from passing the letter and offered to talk out the problem areas so no letter would be necessary.  They were not successful in their attempts.

SACOG Board of Directors
August 21, 2014, 9:30 a.m.
1415 L St #300, Sacramento, CA


Sacramento leaders: Risk of oil train explosions must be acknowledged

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento leaders: Risk of oil train explosions needs to be acknowledged

By Tony Bizjak, Aug. 5, 2014
An oil train derailment and explosion in Quebec last July prompted Canadian officials to impose tougher safety regulations. | Paul Chiasson / AP/Canadian Press

Sacramento area leaders say the city of Benicia is failing to acknowledge the risks of explosions and fires that could happen if the Bay Area city approves Valero’s plan to run crude oil trains through Northern California to its refinery.

The accusation, in a draft letter released Tuesday by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, comes in response to a Benicia report that said twice-daily rail shipments of 70,000 barrels of crude will pose no significant threat to cities on the rail line, such as Roseville, Sacramento and Davis.

The Sacramento group is calling that finding “fundamentally flawed,” and points out that the federal government issued an emergency order in May saying new volatile crude oil shipments are an “imminent hazard” along rail lines.

“I don’t know how you can conclude there is not a significant hazard,” said Kirk Trost, an attorney for SACOG, a planning agency of the region’s six counties and 22 cities. “The (environmental report) never looks at the risk of fire and explosion in one of these situations.”

Trost said the letter has not yet been endorsed by the SACOG, but was written by SACOG staff in consultation with regional leaders.

It urges Benicia to redo its analysis and provide a clearer picture of the risks the project imposes on up-rail cities. It also says the project, proposed by Valero Refining Co., should not be approved without new funding to train firefighters to deal with oil spills and for rail safety improvements.

It also calls for limits on the amount of time crude oil tank cars are stopped or stored in cities. “Our view is they should not be stored in any of our communities along the line,” Trost said.

Valero, which receives most oil at its Benicia refinery via ship, plans to begin taking deliveries by train from various sites in North America, including potentially from the Bakken fields of North Dakota. Bakken trains have been involved in several recent explosive fires, including a derailment in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic that killed 47 residents. Federal officials said last month that studies show Bakken oil is more volatile than other crude oils. The oil industry disputes that assertion.

The Benicia report concluded that an oil spill between Roseville and Benicia can be expected to happen once every 111 years. It acknowledges “if a release in an urban area were to ignite and/or explode, depending on the specific circumstances, the release could result in property damage and/or injury and/or loss of life,” but doesn’t expand on that statement. Instead, it says rail transport is becoming safer.

The SACOG letter challenges the once-in-111-years figure, noting it was calculated using data from 2005 to 2009, and disregards a dramatic surge in crude oil rail spills and fires in the last two years. Benicia city planners did not respond to a Bee request for comment.

Benicia’s analysis stops at Roseville. Several local officials, including Plumas County supervisor Kevin Goss, say they want it to include likely routes to the north and east, including the Feather River Canyon and the Dunsmuir areas, both of which have been designated by the state as high-hazard areas for train derailments.

“I think it should be studied all the way out to where (the shipments) originate,” Goss said.

Benicia officials have said they did not study beyond Roseville because they do not know which route crude oil trains might take beyond that point.

Several attorneys, unassociated with the case, say state environmental law lays out what cities should study, but has gray areas.

Environmental law attorney Andrea Matarazzo, a partner with the Pioneer Law Group in Sacramento, says case law makes it clear that a city can’t draw a line around its project and study only local impacts. But she said the city can make a judgment call on where to stop, if it has a reasonable explanation.

Another environmental law attorney, Jim Moose, partner at Remy, Moose, Manley in Sacramento, said that CEQA does not require a city to look at the “Armageddon” or worst-case scenario, but cities are obligated to look at reasonably foreseeable impacts. “It seems to me a good EIR would lay out the consequences and not just say the probability of it, especially since the time frame in question is not all that long” from a legal perspective. “But it is a gray area of the law.”

SACOG attorney Trost said the draft letter will be reviewed by the SACOG board later this month. Benicia has set a Sept. 15 deadline for receiving comments and questions to its environmental analysis. Yolo County sent Benicia a similar complaint letter last month.

Benicia OKs Sacramento request for more time to review crude oil rail shipment plans

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Benicia OKs Sacramento request for more time to review crude oil rail shipment plans

By Tony Bizjak, Saturday, Jul. 12, 2014
Family and friends cross the railroad track along the crash site after a memorial service early Sunday, July 6, 2014 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, for the 47 victims of last year’s devastating oil train derailment (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, /Paul Chiasson

Benicia has granted a request by Sacramento officials and others for extra time to review a plan by Valero Refining Co. to run two trains daily carrying crude oil through downtown Sacramento, Roseville, West Sacramento and Davis to its Bay Area refinery. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents local cities and counties, had requested extra time, saying they are concerned about the project’s safety risks. The new response deadline is Sept. 15, officials said.

Valero is asking the city of Benicia for an OK to begin receiving daily crude-by-rail shipments, including possibly the more volatile oil from the North Dakota Bakken fields. Federal officials issued a warning this year about that fuel after several train explosions, including one that killed 47 people in Canada.

The Valero plan, involving two 50-car trains a day through Sacramento, is among the first of what California officials say is an expected boom in crude-by-rail shipments through the state, prompted by the lower cost of North Dakota and Canadian crude.

The draft environmental report, issued last month by Benicia, included an analysis that says a derailment and spill might happen only once every 111 years. That analysis was authored by a University of Illinois professor, Christopher Barkan, who formerly worked for the American Association of Railroads and does research supported by the association. Barkan, an expert on hazardous rail transport, said in an email that his work for Benicia was not influenced by his association with the railroad association.

Local officials say they plan to issue written responses to that assessment this summer. City of Davis official Mike Webb has challenged the report risk assessment, saying, “It only needs to happen once to be a real problem.”

Also on Friday, a coalition of activists who oppose rail shipments of crude oil called on the state Legislature or the governor to ban or place a moratorium on construction of any more crude rail terminals similar to the one Valero is proposing.

The state Office of Spill Prevention and Response announced it will conduct a series of public workshops later this month soliciting opinions on how it should expand its work to inland areas, including along rail lines. The new state budget includes funding, from oil refinery fees, for the spill office to deal with the expected increase in crude oil shipments by rail. The agency will release information on its “legal and regulations” Web page on Friday.

Sacramento region deeply concerned about Valero Crude By Rail

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: A MUST READ – excellent background piece.  Note multiple references to uprail communities’ concerns about Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal.  – RS]

Crude oil rail transports to run through Sacramento region

By Tony Bizjak, June 7, 2014
A crude oil train operated by BNSF travels just outside the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley. Jake Miille / Special to The Bee

Sacramento’s history as a rail town is long and rich. A potential new chapter, however, is creating concern: The city may soon become a crude-oil crossroads.

As part of a national shift in shipping practices, several oil companies are laying plans to haul hundreds of train cars a day of flammable crude through the region on the way to coastal and Valley refineries, passing through neighborhoods and downtowns, and crossing the region’s two major rivers. Saying they’ve been told little about the transport projects, area leaders are scrambling to gather information so they can advocate for local safety interests as several of the rail shipment proposals move forward.

“This is a real issue,” Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui said this week after holding a recent conference call with fire officials. “Sacramento’s downtown and many neighborhoods sit next to the tracks. The feedback I received on that call is that our locals are not receiving the information they need to be ready for an incident.”

Several of the planned crude-oil trains will share tracks with Capitol Corridor passenger trains. Notably, Capitol Corridor chief David Kutrosky said last week he was not aware of the plans until informed by The Sacramento Bee.

Some of the trains are expected to carry Bakken crude, a North Dakota oil mined with fracking technology. Federal hazardous materials officials recently issued a warning that Bakken crude may be more flammable than traditional oil, citing derailments that resulted in fires, including a catastrophic explosion last year that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and leveled half of that city’s downtown.

Subsequent derailments in North Dakota and Virginia, though not fatal, caused fires and evacuations and showed disaster could strike again.

Kirk Trost, an attorney and executive with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, a coalition of six counties and 22 Sacramento-area cities, said he will ask the SACOG board this month to issue a regional statement of concern about the potential rail projects. Trost and other local officials say they want to push oil and railroad companies to be more open about their plans and to work more closely with local leaders on safety issues.

“We’re not trying to stop the movement of crude through the region,” he said. “But if it comes, we want the safety interests of the region to be addressed.”

Those concerns are being echoed across the country as cities, many with downtown rail lines, react to the oil industry’s rapid evolution toward using trains to haul crude oil. The rail shipments spring from increased pumping of inexpensive crude in North Dakota and from tar sands in Canada, which have limited access to oil pipelines.

Federal officials are exploring the ramifications of having so much oil moving by train. The National Transportation Safety Board held April hearings highlighting the inadequacies of the nation’s current fleet of crude oil tank cars. The U.S. Department of Transportation says it plans to propose tougher standards for safer tank cars. Critics like Andres Soto of the activist Communities for a Better Environment group – who calls current crude tankers “rolling beer cans” – say the government isn’t doing enough.

California, with its coastal refineries and huge gasoline consumption, saw its rail shipments jump from 1 million barrels in 2012 to more than 6 million in 2013, according to the state Energy Commission. Those numbers still represent a small portion of crude oil shipments, but energy officials say they expect them to grow.

‘All flammable’

In response, the Governor’s Office has proposed more funding to deal with rail oil spills, and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, is pushing legislation to require rail carriers to communicate information about the movement and characteristics of crude oil and other hazardous materials, and maintain a 24-hour, seven-day communications center.

Union Pacific railroad officials insist they’re taking action. They say the company has agreed to reduce crude oil train speeds in large cities such as Sacramento, and have spent millions of dollars on safety efforts, including expanded inspections and technology use, such as lasers and ultrasound, and real-time train tracking via track-side sensors.

“We take this very seriously,” UP spokesman Aaron Hunt said. Representatives of Union Pacific and BNSF, another major freight carrier in California, say they conduct ongoing training with local first responders on dealing with hazardous materials.

The railroads, however, are fighting to keep some train movement data from becoming public.

The Federal Department of Transportation issued an emergency order last month requiring railroads currently running trains with large amounts of Bakken oil to notify state emergency responders about train movements. That deadline is this weekend.

Railroads have said they want states to sign a nondisclosure agreement to keep the information confidential, shared only with emergency personnel. California state officials say they will not sign that agreement, but said Friday they do not know what level of information they may receive from the railroads, and are not sure how much information they would make public.

“We want to keep as much information as public as possible. Anything of concern to the public we want to be available to the public,” said Brad Alexander of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “Since we haven’t received information yet, we don’t know if there is certain national infrastructure risks to (some of the information) being public.”

BNSF officials said on Friday they will submit information to the state. Union Pacific said it does not currently ship Bakken in the state.

Some information about potential future crude-oil rail movements is becoming public. Valero Refining Co. of Benicia in the East Bay plans to run 100 train cars a day carrying crude oil through Sacramento on the Union Pacific rail line starting early next year, according to Benicia city documents. Company officials have been silent on how much of it will be Bakken, simply saying it will be North American crude. Two 50-car crude oil trains will be assembled daily in the Roseville railyard, then run through Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis to the refinery.

Valero spokesman Chris Howe said his company is focused on safety, and that derailments causing crude oil spills are rare. “We think some of the concerns voiced about transport of particular crudes by rail are a little exaggerated,” Howe said. “There is nothing inherently more dangerous about one crude than another. They are all flammable, and need to be handled carefully.”

He pointed out that the rail transport of less expensive oil from North America will save money and reduce the chance of ocean spills by allowing Valero to cut back dramatically on imports from Africa, the Middle East and South America.

Farther south in California, the Phillips 66 oil company plans to run up to 80 train cars of crude oil daily to its Santa Maria refinery, mainly through Sacramento and the Bay Area. Phillips spokesman Dennis Nuss said rail shipments will keep its refinery competitive as California oil sources diminish. He said the crude will come from a variety of locales, but is not expected to be Bakken. He estimated the trains likely will start running in 2016.

Roseville to Benicia

Two facilities in Kern County – one run by Alon USA, the other by Plains All American Pipeline LP – also plan rail upgrades to allow deliveries of more than 100 tank crude cars a day. Alon did not respond to Bee requests for information, but, according to Kern County environmental documents, trains to the Alon facility will share tracks with the San Joaquin passenger rail service, which runs from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Plains All American Pipeline spokesman Brad Leone confirmed that his company is building a station to handle 104 crude cars daily, with plans to start shipping later this year, but said he did not know what rail lines would be used.

Sacramento already is home to one crude-by-rail transfer station. Sacramento-based InterState Oil has been transferring crude-oil shipments from train cars to trucks headed to Bay Area refineries at the former McClellan Air Force Base in north Sacramento since last September. The company started crude transfers before getting the necessary air-quality permit, local air quality officials said, and Sacramento-area fire officials said they were not initially told about the crude transfer operations.

Local leaders in Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis say their front-burner concern is Valero’s plan to run two crude oil trains a day through the area. The city of Benicia, the permitting authority for Valero’s plan to build a rail spur to handle more trains, is scheduled to release a draft environmental impact report on the project Tuesday. Trost of SACOG and Davis official Mike Webb said Sacramento area representatives will dig through that report to see how definitively it addresses potential impacts, including derailment and spill risks, on the “up-rail” cities and counties between Benicia and Roseville.

The Sacramento group already has compiled a list of steps it wants taken, and says it hopes to use the moment to make the case that railroads and oil companies must work more closely with cities as the stakes rise.

Trost said the local group will call for a detailed advanced notification system about what shipments are coming to town. Those notifications will help fire agencies who must respond if a leak or fire occurs. Local officials say they also will ask Union Pacific to keep crude-oil tank cars moving through town without stopping and parking them here. The region’s leaders also want financial support to train firefighters and other emergency responders on how to deal with crude oil spills, and possibly funds to buy more advanced firefighting equipment. Sacramento leaders say they will press the railroad to employ the best inspection protocols on the rail line.

So far, the Davis City Council is the only entity in Sacramento that has formally spoken out about the shipments. It recently passed a resolution saying the city “opposes using existing Union Pacific rail lines to transport hazardous crude oil through the city and adjacent habitat areas.”

Davis officials point out that the existing Union Pacific line comes through downtown on a curve that must be taken at reduced speeds. Mike Webb, Davis director of community development and sustainability, said the city of Davis wants to push UP to employ computerized control of train speeds through town, rather than rely on a conductor to reduce speeds manually.

“The city is not opposed to using domestic oil, and the job creation that goes with that,” he said. “We want to be reasonable. Our primary concern is to ensure the highest degree of safety for our community. If trains carrying Bakken crude oil are coming through our community, we want it to be done in the safest way possible.”

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/2014/06/07/3378435/crude-oil-rail-transports-to-run.html#storylink=cpy