Tag Archives: Valero Benicia Refinery Safety Director Chris Howe

Sacramento Bee: Benicia plans more study of crude-oil train impacts

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: The Bee presents a good summary of uprail critiques of Valero’s plan, quoting City staff, Valero and the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.  Note that organized local opposition has also been strong and persistent.  – RS]

Benicia plans more study of crude-oil train impacts

By Tony Bizjak, 02/03/2015
In this July 24, 2014 file photo, an investigator photographs the scene where a locomotive and cars carrying crude oil went off the track beneath the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle.
In this July 24, 2014 file photo, an investigator photographs the scene where a locomotive and cars carrying crude oil went off the track beneath the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle. Mike Siegel / AP Photo/The Seattle Times

A controversial proposal by the Valero Refining Company in Benicia to run two 50-car crude-oil trains a day through Sacramento and other Northern California cities to its bayside refinery has hit another slowdown.

Benicia officials on Tuesday said they have decided to redo some sections of an environmental impact analysis of the project. The city plans to release a rewritten report June 30 for public review and comment over the summer.

The city’s decision comes after numerous groups, including Sacramento leaders, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and state oil spill prevention officials, called Benicia’s review of the project inadequate.

Those critics said Benicia failed to analyze the potential impacts of an oil spill and fire in cities, waterways and rural areas along the rail line, and also did not analyze the project’s potential impacts east of Roseville in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Feather River Canyon. They also challenged Benicia’s assertion that an oil spill between Roseville and Benicia would be a once-in-a-111-year event.

Crude-oil rail shipments have come under national scrutiny in the last year. Several spectacular explosions of crude oil trains, including one that killed 47 in a Canadian town in 2013, have prompted a push by federal officials and cities for safety improvements.

Sacramento and Davis leaders have called on Benicia to require the Union Pacific Railroad to give advance notice to local emergency responders, and to prohibit the railroad company from parking or storing loaded oil tank trains in urban areas. Local officials want the railroad to use train cars with electronically controlled brakes and rollover protection. Sacramento also has asked Benicia to limit Valero to shipping oil that has been stripped of highly volatile elements, including natural gas liquid.

Valero officials had said they hoped to begin receiving crude oil by trains early this year. In an email to the Bee, Valero spokesman Chris Howe said, “The proposed steps (by Benicia) are part of the process which we expect will allow the city to grant us a use permit for the project.”

In a hearing Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., Jack Gerard, the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, lamented that lengthy reviews were holding up the development of the country’s energy resources, including the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been under review by the State Department for seven years.

Gerard said some opponents were turning the process into a referendum on fossil fuels. “What we’re seeing across the country today is there’s a small group of individuals who are using permitting processes and infrastructure as surrogates to stop economic activity that they disagree with,” he told the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

FOX40 News: Crude Oil Rail Meeting Sparks Questions in Fairfield

Repost from FOX40 NEWS Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto
[Editor – The 2 minute video is MUCH better than the online text below.  Two excellent on camera comments by Antonia Juhasz.  Significant closing statement by Fox40 reporter Ben Deci, “The process in Benicia is moving along pretty quickly.  Valero says it expects to be in front of that [Benicia] City Council before the end of the year.”   (…apologies for the video advertisement.)  – RS]

Crude Oil Rail Meeting Sparks Questions in Fairfield

September 29, 2014, by Ben Deci

FAIRFIELD – Oil is coming out of Middle America and needs to get to refineries somehow. Lots more of it, orders of magnitude more, is moving by rail.

But that means more accidents.

“In 2013 alone, we had more crude oil spills by rail than in every year since 1975 combined — 1.1 million gallons. But thus far in 2014 we’ve already surpassed that,” said Antonia Juhasz, an author and investigative reporter sitting on a panel about oil transport through Solano County.

If Valero gets plans approved for a new refinery complex in Benicia, a lot more oil will be loaded on trains, coming this way.

“Our business is dealing with flammable liquids. We deal with it every day. I’m confident in our preparations,” said Chris Howe, with Valero in Benicia.

For those gathered at today meeting in Solano county who don’t want the crude rolling through their backyards, it’s not clear how much choice they have.

“Freight railroads in the United States are actually required to accept any commodity that is delivered to us by our customers, so long as it’s packaged according to U.S. Department of Transportation regulations,” said Liisa Stark, spokesperson for Union Pacific.

The federal government right now is considering stricter standards for the kinds of train cars the crude can be transported in.

But can the wheels of government keep pace with the wheels on the rail?

“It must. If it’s not going to happen at the federal level, it has to happen at the state level. If it’s not going to happen at the state level it has to happen at the community level. There are communities all across the country that are banning crude by rail,” Juhasz said.

Crude oil by rail discussed at Solano County Town Hall Meeting

Repost from The Reporter, Vacaville, CA

Crude oil by rail discussed at county Town Hall Meeting keeps Valero Benicia Refinery project in mind

By Melissa Murphy, 09/29/2014

A community conversation Monday night attracted about 50 people from the public, county staff and elected leaders to explore the topic of rail safety along the 73 miles of railway in Solano County, in particular as it relates to proposed increases in crude oil shipments.

Solano County Supervisor Linda Seifert said the evening was aimed at having a community conversation about the county’s preparedness and the potential impacts from any incident along local railways.

County officials said the timing of the event was two-fold. September is National Emergency Preparedness Month. In addition, the city of Benicia is considering an application that would allow Valero Refinery to receive and process more crude oil delivered by rail.

While instigated by the Valero proposal, that project, according to Solano County Supervisor Linda Seifert, is being thoroughly vetted and Solano County leadership does not have a say in the outcome.

Still, Seifert explained Valero isn’t the only refinery interested in the transportation of crude oil by rail so it’s still appropriate to discuss the possibility in Solano County.

“Hazardous materials travel through Solano County daily,” she said, adding that the government has had very little to say about the movement of that type of material by rail. “This reduces, significantly, the local ability to impose its own constraints.”

She explained that the earthquake in August that rocked the Vallejo and Napa region is just one example of how prepared and how ready the county’s first responders are when needed.

“We know emergency responders from across the county, including the Hazardous Materials Response Team, are prepared for a wide array of potential incidents,” Seifer has said. “Proposals to process crude oil delivered by rail will change the mix of materials coming into and passing through Solano County. It is only prudent for us to explore how to increase our capability to handle the risks associated with these changes.”

Chris Howe, Valero Benicia Refinery’s director of Health, Safety, Environment and Government Affairs, explained that the proposed crude by rail project would be a third means to deliver crude oil. So far, Valero receives the crude oil by marine deliveries and pipeline.

Howe explained that there are no other production changes proposed at the refinery.

“This project has the environmental benefit of lowering annual emissions including a reduction in greenhouse gases,” he said. “This project will provide flexibility to reduce the import of foreign crudes and increase the use of domestic crude oil.”

He added that preventing accidents is a “top priority” and that Valero already has exemplary safety programs, that they train for emergencies and are prepared today for emergencies inside and outside of the refinery.

Solano Office of Emergency Services also is prepared for emergencies and disasters. They already operate with a Emergency Operations Plan and Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan, according to Don Ryan, emergency services manager. Those documents are available on the county’s website, www.solanocounty.com.

Meanwhile, Antonia Juhasz, an author and investigative reporter, shed light on the actual impacts of a derailment of train cars transporting crude oil.

Photo after photo was shown of major accidents, fires and oil spills caused by crude oil train derailments.

The biggest in the country was an Alabama derailment that spilled 750,000 gallons of crude oil in November 2013 and the biggest in the world was a 1.6 million gallon spill after a derailment in Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people.

Juhasz said while transporting crude oil is a relatively new problem, it’s a serious problem. She said the crude oil coming from North Dakota is more flammable and combustible, a lot like gasoline, with a tendency to explode when derailed.

She said problems can be attributed to the train cars that are prone to puncture and the trains themselves.

The sticking point, she said, is the government doesn’t know how to regulate it. She also noted that Valero could expect a derailment every two years, with a major accident happening every 10 years. She also pointed to three derailments, two of which were carrying petroleum coke, since Nov. 4 2013 at the Valero refinery in Benicia.

Lois Wolk, D-Solano, also continues to push for increased rail safety.

“The volume of crude oil being imported into California has increased over 100-fold in recent years, and continues to increase,” Wolk said in a press release and noted that Valero’s plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil a day would be through the heart of her district. “The recommendations I propose would help California keep in step with the growing risk to California’s citizens and environment posed by the significant increase in shipments of these dangerous materials.”

She has proposed reducing the recommended speed of trains carrying hazardous crude from 40 to 30 mph through all cities to reduce the risk of crashes. Wolk also proposes increasing the thickness of the shell of the car, adding top-fitting protections that can sustain a rollover accident of up to 9 mph, and installing Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brake systems to ensure faster braking for train cars.

Seifert said she was pleased with Monday’s turnout and reiterated the need for education about crude oil by rail.

“This was an opportunity for the public to learn and to start promoting the regulatory process,” she said and added that it also is an opportunity to make sure Solano County’s plan around emergency preparedness is sound.”

“This wasn’t about stopping the project, but to ensure the safety of the community,” Seifert added.

FOX40 News: Valero Tries to Sway Public Opinion at Crude by Rail Meeting

Repost from FOX40 News, Sacramento / Stockton / Modesto
[Editor: Video coverage of Valero’s meeting, including background footage of crude by rail explosions and an interview with Andrés Soto, spokesperson for Benicians For a Safe & Healthy Community.  – RS]

Valero Tries to Sway Public Opinion at Crude by Rail Meeting

By Doug Johnson, 6/30/14

BENICIA – Valero Energy is building its case to transport highly flammable crude oil through northern California, and held a public meeting Monday night in Benicia.

Critics of the plan are worried about the worst-case scenario of a derailment and potential explosion, much like incidents in North Daktoa, Virginia and a deadly disaster in Quebec in 2013.

More than a hundred people came to Monday’s meeting. Valero says the benefits outweigh the risks, but others aren’t sure.

“We believe that there’s sufficient flaws with this draft instrument impact report,” Andres Soto, with Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, said.

Valero’s plan is to transport crude oil through Roseville, Sacramento and Davis to its refinery in Benicia. Soto says Valero isn’t saying how ready first responders would be if a derailment were to happen.

“There’s no real response to the question about the insufficient  capacity of the Benicia Fire Department,” Soto said.

The energy company argues that its own, private fire department will train other departments in cities the trains pass through.

Valero said only four trains a day would pass through Benicia, 20 new, local jobs would be created and there’s an environmental benefit to using trains.

“Having crude delivered by rail versus marine deliveries today will result in lower emissions in the Bay Area and California,” Valero’s Benicia Refinery Safety Director Chris Howe said.

The company also wants rail inspections increased and speeds through populated areas to be lowered.

Soto says that’s not enough.

“Their window looked at a 40 year period when this stuff has only been on the rail for the past two years,” he said.

The City of Benicia will hold a vote once a 45-day public comment  period is up on Aug. 1.