Repost from the Redding Record Searchlight [Editor: Mr. Elias mentions the Phillips 66 San Luis Obispo oil train proposal but fails to takes note of the Valero Crude By Rail proposal in Benicia. His argument is magnified by the potential addition of two 50-car oil trains traversing the rails every day in Northern California on their way to and from Benicia. – RS]
Light rail doing fine but high speed train plan may derail
By Opinion Columnist Thomas Elias, March 21, 6:00 pm
A little more than one month from now, the Metro Expo Line’s final portion will open for business, making it possible to take trains from the far eastern portions of Los Angeles County to the often-crowded beach in Santa Monica. This will come barely two months after a new section of Metro’s Gold Line opened, allowing a simple, cheap 31-mile jaunt from downtown Los Angeles to Azusa.
Meanwhile, in Sonoma and Marin counties, test trains are running on another light rail line, between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, with high hopes of relieving some of the heavy traffic on parallel route U.S. 101.
Barely any protests have afflicted any of these projects, which together will have cost many billions of dollars.
Meanwhile, protests are vocal and persistent wherever the state’s High Speed Rail Authority plans to build bullet train tracks, bridges or stations, even where it plans to share rights-of-way with other trains, as on its planned course on the San Francisco Peninsula.
There’s also massive resistance to a plan for running up to five freight trains weekly through the East Bay area and Monterey County to a Phillips 66 oil refinery in Santa Maria, which supplies much of the Central Coast.
These trains would bring crude oil to the refinery, something Houston-based ConocoPhillips insists is needed because of declines in production of California crude oil. Oil trains would run from the Carquinez Strait near Benicia through much of the East Bay, raising fears of derailments and hazardous waste problems in populous areas. So far this year, there have been at least three derailments of oil trains in other parts of the nation, with hundreds of temporary evacuations resulting. Another train derailed only last month in the East Bay.
Loud as those protests are, they lack the potency of the opposition to the plans of the High Speed Rail Authority, headed by former Pacific Gas & Electric executive Dan Richard, who also spent years as an aide to Gov. Jerry Brown.
The most prominent current anti-HSR push is a proposed November ballot initiative sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bob Huff of San Dimas and state Board of Equalization member George Runner, which seeks to switch almost $10 billion in remaining, unsold, bonds from the bullet train to water projects, including new reservoirs and desalination plants.
That initiative, which appears likely to make the ballot, is in large part the result of the High Speed Rail Authority’s insistence on a route that makes no sense — meandering north from Los Angeles through the Antelope Valley, then west through the Mojave Desert to Bakersfield before turning north again for a run past and through farms and towns in the Central Valley. When it’s done with all that, the bullet train’s projected path would turn west again over the Pacheco Pass to Gilroy and then veer north to San Jose before heading up the Peninsula along existing CalTrain routes to San Francisco.
It’s a convoluted route that — if built out — will add at least half an hour of travel time to a much simpler route that was available: Heading almost straight north from the Bakersfield area along the existing Interstate 5 right-of-way, where plenty of median land is available for most of the run. Rather than cutting over the Pacheco Pass, it would be far simpler to continue a little farther north to the windswept Altamont Pass, where a turn west could quickly lead to a link with the Bay Area Rapid Transit System and special BART express trains to San Francisco.
That route would cost untold billions of dollars less and be far more direct and faster. But the illogical High Speed Rail Authority opted for the least sensible, most costly route, inviting the lawsuits and public outcries that have now set its timetable back by at least three years. The Huff-Runner measure might just make it extinct.
The difference between the fates of the light rail projects and this ultra-heavy rail couldn’t be clearer: Because the light rail systems heeded where potential passengers want to go and chose direct, non-controversial routes, they are being completed on time, or close.
Meanwhile, the bullet train and the old train plans might just pay the price for making little or no sense and/or wasting money: Extinction.
By C.W. Nevius and Peter Fimrite , August 6, 2015 12:54 PM
CLEARLAKE, Lake County — The imminent danger from the devastating Rocky Fire in Lake County diminished Thursday and hundreds of residents began to return to their evacuated homes, but Gov. Jerry Brown made clear in a visit to the area that California is still in danger.
Brown traveled to the scorched hillside at Cowboy Camp, just off fire-ravaged Highway 20, and, as helicopters circled nearby, said the fire illustrates that climate change is both real and destructive.
“California is burning,” he said. “What the hell are you going to do about it?
“This is a wake-up call. We have to start coming to our senses. This is not a game of politics. We need to limit our carbon pollution. These are real lives and real people. This problem cannot be solved year by year.”
Nearly 3,600 firefighters have been fighting the fire, which was 45 percent contained Thursday and had burned 69,600 acres. Full containment is expected by late next week, but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection began letting roughly 800 of the more than 1,400 people who had been evacuated back into their homes.
Evacuation orders were lifted in the Wilbur Springs area on the northeastern side of the fire, off Highway 20. Only residents with identification will be allowed access to Wilbur Springs Road, near the border between Lake and Colusa counties, Cal Fire officials said. Residents on the south side of the fire, east of Highway 29 to West Jerusalem Valley Road, were also allowed to return home, officials said.
Still more evacuees, forced from their homes in the Spring Valley area, would probably be allowed back Friday morning, officials said.
Highways 16 and 20 remained closed Thursday except for a small portion of Highway 20 at Wilbur Springs, which is accessible only coming from the east off Interstate 5, officials said.
“Weather conditions across California are significantly improved compared to last week,” said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire spokesman, who warned that the relief could be just a temporary phenomenon. He said weather forecasters are “expecting changing weather conditions over the next couple of days, with thunder systems moving in across Northern California.”
Red-flag warnings have been issued for dry lightning and gusting winds over the next couple of days, he said.
Brown received a briefing from officials overseeing the blaze, which has been burning for more than a week in Lake County and has spread to Yolo and Colusa counties. Forty-three homes have been destroyed and thousands of others threatened, and hundreds of local residents remained evacuated from their homes Thursday, according to Cal Fire.
While veteran firefighters said their efforts were business as usual, many stressed that this year’s blazes are out of the norm. The persistent drought, extremely hot weather and blustery winds all have the feel of something new and more dangerous.
“We are now in an extreme weather event,” Brown cautioned. “This is not the way these fires usually behave. If it continues year after year, California can literally burn up.”
Brown said he had talked to a resident who said he not only lost his home but also would find it difficult to rebuild because he had no insurance. Apparently, that’s not unusual. Insurance carriers sometimes decline to cover property in the steep, wooded canyons in the area.
The Rocky Fire is so pervasive that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District warned Thursday that smoke from the wildfires might impact areas in Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties. Air quality, however, is expected to be in the “good” or “low moderate” categories and is not expected to exceed air quality health standards.
Although climate change can be a hot-button political issue, Brown continues to use the California fires as an object lesson for climate change deniers. This isn’t theory, he said, gesturing to the moonscape scene behind him.
“This is credible enough to change some minds,” he said.
Mark Repetto, a firefighter from Sacramento’s Metro Fire Department, said the fire was a perfect storm of the worst conditions.
“Hot, dry and windy,” Repetto said. “Today is a little cooler, which means the humidity is higher. Monday the humidity was in the teens. That and hot weather pre-heat the fuel. It’s already hot before the fire gets there.”
Surge still possible
Although fire officials predict the Rocky Fire will be fully contained by next week, another hot, windy, low-humidity day could easily spark another fiery surge. Along Highway 20, hot spots still sent up plumes of smoke.
Brown said the worst is yet to come.
“We have people acting like (if the Rocky Fire is contained) it’s the end,” he said. “Unfortunately, we know that historically August and September are worse than July. So fasten your seat belt.”
Over the weekend, Cal Fire reported more than 100 dry-lightning-sparked fires in remote reaches of Northern California. In Humboldt County alone, 75 blazes have burned more than 4,000 acres since July 31, with just 35 percent containment reported Thursday.
The cause of the Rocky Fire has not been determined. Fire officials fear lightning could prompt additional lands to burn and complicate the suppression effort.
Conditions around California are ripe for a lightning fire after four dry years, said Daniel Swain, a Stanford University researcher studying climate.
“Things will ignite even if they get a little water from the storm,” Swain said. “This is a concern over the next 48 hours.”
San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Hamed Aleaziz and Kurtis Alexander contributed to this report. C.W. Nevius and Peter Fimrite are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers.
Repost from The Benicia Herald [Editor: Sue Kibbe also submitted her “Dream for Benicia” to the Benicia Planning Commission as a comment for the record on Valero Crude By Rail. – RS]
My dream for Benicia
by Sue Kibbe
I HAVE A DREAM THAT ONE DAY BENICIA WILL RISE UP and be known across the nation as the Little City that said “No” to Big Oil, putting human life and environmental stewardship above human greed and the insatiable quest for increased profits. What a proud day it would be if Benicia said the risk to the thousands living up-rail is too high a price to pay.
Because it is too high a price to pay. The effect on the environment from a spill or explosion would be an unmitigated disaster, a fire that cannot be extinguished, a toxic slick destroying every living thing.
Crude-by-rail has been called “a disaster in the making” by more than one expert. A railway safety consultant has warned, “We’ve got all kinds of failings on all sides, inadequacies that are coming to light because trains are blowing up all over the place.” The Federal Railroad Administration is able to inspect only two-tenths of 1 percent of railroad operations each year. With 140,000 rail miles across the nation, regular inspection of the tracks is impossible.
The Department of Transportation has yet to provide regulations for crude-by-rail transport. Expect pushback from the rail industry. Safety measures such as “positive train control” (PTC) were recommended 45 years ago, yet the technology operates on only a tiny slice of America’s rail network. The railroads have preempted local control and can make routing decisions without public disclosure.
Meanwhile, aging rail trestles and lines such as the one through Feather River Canyon — lines that were never constructed for such heavy traffic — continue to be used with greater frequency. The New York Times reported last month that “400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail last year . . . up from 9,500 in 2008. . . . From 1975 to 2012, federal records show, (railroads) spilled 800,000 gallons of crude oil. Last year alone, they spilled more the 1.15 million gallons.”
Scott Smith, a scientist whose work has focused on oil spills, has studied samples of the Bakken crude oil from three accident sites. He may be the only expert outside the oil industry to have analyzed this crude. All the samples he studied share the same high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and alkane gases in exceptional combinations. Smith says 30 percent to 40 percent of Bakken crude is made up of toxic and explosive gases. “Any form of static electricity will ignite this stuff and blow it up,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal, based on its own analysis, reported that Bakken has significantly more combustible gases and a higher vapor pressure than oil from other formations. Basically, its flash point is dangerously low, and a chain reaction from tank car to tank car is inevitable.
Examining the draft environmental impact report (DEIR)
Pay attention to the wording in Valero’s proposal: “The Project would not increase the amount of crude oil that can be processed at the refinery . . .” It never says the amount of crude oil that “is being processed” at the refinery. In the DEIR, page 3-2, it says: “The Refinery’s crude oil processing rate is limited to an annual average of 165,000 barrels per day (daily maximum of 180,000 barrels) by its operating permit.” That is a huge increase from the 70,000 barrels per day that it says are processed now. With the 70,000 by rail per day, add 18 vessels shipping 350,000 barrels per vessel — that equals 6,300,000 barrels, a total of 31,850,000 barrels per year — thus an increase in processing, and hence in emissions.
We have read in a Bay Area newspaper that “Valero was named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year as one of California’s top distributors of dangerous substances. It was second to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo as the most profligate disseminator of poisons in the Bay Area, releasing 504,472 pounds of toxic substances into the air, water or ground. It was the 10th biggest source of chemicals and pollutants in the state, according to (a) report released in January.
“Almost half of the violations cited by the (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) between 2011 and 2012 involved excessive short-term emissions and valve leaks on tanks.”
According to the DEIR, Section 4.1-23: An unmitigated, significant and unavoidable air quality violation, with a net increase in Nitrogen oxides and ozone precursor emissions would result from transporting crude by rail through the communities up-rail within the Sacramento Basin: in the Yolo-Solano, Sacramento Metropolitan and Placer County Air Quality Management Districts.
How can we, in good conscience — or even legally — violate the air quality of our neighbors to the north by authorizing these shipments? And not only would we affect their air quality, we also would authorize the transport of a highly toxic, corrosive, flammable material in 36, 500 tank cars, each weighing 143 tons when loaded with crude oil — an annual total of 1,460 locomotives weighing more than 7,150 tons when loaded — through these communities, over rails that were never built for and have never carried such heavy traffic, all for the sole purpose of satisfying human greed?
Valero’s net income rose 28 percent in the first quarter of 2014; net income to shareholders jumped to $828 million, while revenues rose to $33.6 billion. If you are telling me that Valero needs this project to stay competitive, you haven’t looked at the facts.
A closer look at ‘job creation,’ one of the claimed benefits to the community from crude-by-rail
The addition of 20 full-time jobs at the refinery will be the result of switching from crude by vessel to rail delivery. There will be 72 fewer vessel deliveries, in which crude is pumped directly from a ship at the dock into pipes and storage tanks in one operation. Instead, there will be 36,500 tank cars per year to be emptied at the refinery, coupling and uncoupling 100 tank cars per day.
Let’s be clear, these are HAZMAT jobs. Not only would you be unloading one of the most toxic substances on the planet, breathing in toxic “fugitive emissions” from the tank cars, you also would be in direct contact with the toxic emissions from 730 locomotives per year. The only thing appealing about these new jobs will be the “good pay” (they are never described as “good jobs”), because they are hazardous, arduous, truly nasty jobs.
Section 4.6.5 Impacts and Mitigation Measures: Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Another one of the project’s “benefits” much proclaimed by Valero is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Valero states that crude by rail would “improve air quality in the Bay Area.” They are not lying — this is a carefully worded deception. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is a huge area encompassing every county that touches the Bay, the entirety of every county except for Sonoma and Solano counties. This is the area in which they can legally claim to improve air quality.
The mitigating factor here is the reduced number of oil tankers traversing the Bay. What they calculated were the emissions from 72 ships that will no longer be sailing across 49.5 miles — from the sea buoy outside the Golden Gate to the Valero dock in Benicia and back out again. (That’s 99 miles total for each of the 72 tankers.) They were allowed to subtract those Bay Area emissions from the direct emissions that will be generated right here from construction of the rail terminal, the unloading of crude oil and the 730 locomotive engines moving through the Industrial Park.
This, then, gives Valero a “less than significant” increase in emissions (DEIR Table 4.1-5) — but in reality, while reducing emissions out in the Bay they will be increasing them right here where we live and breathe by 18,433 metric tons per year (DEIR Table 4.6-5). This may be legal in terms of the permitting process, and good news for sailboats on the Bay, but for the people of Benicia and especially for any businesses located in the Industrial Park, it is a terrible deal.
What people need to understand is that this “mitigation” in the “Bay Area” has been used to offset the very real pollution that will happen right here in our city. That pollution is not reduced by one particle, except on paper. To tell us that this is a “benefit” to Benicia is hugely hypocritical and a manipulation of the facts. Do not be deceived. Know that the pollution in this city will increase as a result of crude by rail, and the “mitigation” out in the Bay actually works against us. And if you have a business in the Industrial Park, you will be in the thick of it.
Further emissions and omissions
The DEIR, page 4.1-21, states: “. . . locomotives generate more emissions than marine vessels per mile, per 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil delivered each year, of ROG (reactive organic gas), NOx, (nitrogen oxide), CO (carbon monoxide), PM10 and PM25 (particulate matter of differing micron size).” Estimates are vague regarding all this pollution. We are supposed to take comfort, however, in the decrease in marine emissions from fewer oil tankers traveling from Alaska, South America and the Middle East, which according to this document is supposed to offset all but the lethal NOx from the trains. It’s fancy figuring, subtracting what is happening on the ocean blue from the reality of emissions from 1,460 locomotives, each traveling more than 1,500 miles, that would be added to the terrestrial U.S., directly to hundreds of communities, farms and forests along the railways. The impact would, in fact, be “significant and unavoidable.”
But all this is avoidable — if Benicia declares a moratorium on crude by rail.
I have a dream today . . . that could all too easily become tomorrow’s nightmare.
Sue Kibbe is a longtime resident of Benicia’s Highlands district.