Category Archives: Benicia CA

LOCAL OP-ED – Craig Snider: Three reasons to oppose crude by rail

Repost from The Benicia Herald

3 reasons to oppose crude by rail

by Craig Snider, August 9, 2014

WHEN MY FAMILY MOVED TO BENICIA IN 2003, we spent our first week in the Best Western on East Second Street. During our stay we met several workers visiting from refineries in Texas to assist with projects at local refineries. During breakfast, I mentioned to one of them that we had bought a house in Benicia and were waiting to move in. He replied, “I wouldn’t have my family living within five miles of a refinery,” implying that it was unsafe because of the risk of an accident.

We had already purchased our home and were pleased with the location of the town, the high-quality schools, the quaint downtown and the local arts community. At the time, I judged that the prevailing wind direction and rolling hills would likely buffer our home from the effects of any serious accident, such as the recent Chevron fire in Richmond, and that the many Benicia amenities outweighed any risk the refinery posed.

Now we are faced with the prospect of 100 tank cars of crude oil being hauled into Benicia every day. Valero insists this would be safe and warns that without a new facility to offload the crude oil, local jobs, company profits and charitable contributions would be at risk.

I have no doubt that, if necessary, crude oil could be transported by rail to various parts of the country safely and efficiently. We have the technological and engineering expertise to do amazing things these days, and such expertise could readily be applied to the crude oil transport business.

Some in our community scoff at the risk posed by crude by rail (it’s comforting to some that the Quebec derailment that killed 47 people and the many accidents that have since occurred were caused by human error and could have been prevented). Others are horrified at the thought of a similar accident here or elsewhere. They highlight the fact that this crude oil is more volatile and toxic than other types, that an accident here would wreak havoc on our lives, and they want to stop the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project in its tracks.

As I see it, there are three major reasons to oppose the project at this time.

First, simply put, hauling 100 tank car loads of volatile Bakken crude or toxic Canadian tar sands crude raises the risk of an accident relative to the status quo. Benicians already live in the shadow of a refinery; is it really necessary or desirable to add to this risk to satisfy Valero?

Second, rules governing high-hazard flammable trains need to be thoroughly vetted and approved before the Valero proposal can be approved. Between March 2013 and May 2014, there were 12 significant oil train derailments in the United States and Canada, including the Quebec accident. Crude by rail arriving in California was up 506 percent, to 6.3 million barrels, just last year. In fact, more crude oil was transported by rail in North America in 2013 than in the previous five years combined. Yet it wasn’t until the first of this month that regulations were proposed for dealing with this unprecedented increase in “High-Hazard Flammable Trains” (see Federal Register, Aug. 1, 2014, pg. 45,016).

Apparently the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) expects to issue new regulations governing crude by rail sometime after a 60-day comment period that ends Sept. 30. Oddly, their federal notice includes a brief two-page “environmental assessment” that concludes there will be no significant environmental impacts associated with their proposals. Apparently we are to trust the railroad industry and their minders to do the right thing after they have steadfastly refused to institute train safety mechanisms, such as “Positive Train Control,” that would have saved 288 lives, prevented 6,500 injuries and 139 crashes in the past 45 years. At a minimum, the rules governing high-hazard flammable trains should be subject to a full environmental impact statement as provided by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Such an environmental impact statement might determine that crude-by-rail terminals should be located a minimum distance from residential areas and that crude-carrying trains travelling through metropolitan areas be guided by automated systems that monitor speed, location and rail traffic, so that the potential for human error would be substantially reduced. Such systems currently exist, but have been largely ignored by the railroad companies. These measures need to be studied and decided upon before the Valero proposal is approved.

Finally, what’s the rush? Many would argue that fossil fuel use needs to be curtailed because of greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental havoc caused by ever-more-destructive means of obtaining oil (fracking, tar sands, etc.). Approving the Valero project gives tacit approval to these means, allowing our community to profit at the expense of other people and places. Maybe it’s time to just say no.

Craig Snider is a Benicia resident. He recently retired from the U.S. Forest Service, where he was regional environmental coordinator for the national forests in California from 2003-14.

Oil Train Blast Zones – Interactive map by ForestEthics

Repost from ForestEthics
[Editor: ForestEthics has published an interactive map showing blast zones across the U.S., searchable by zip code or city.  It may be a bit too ambitious in scope.  For instance, details are missing in Northern California and Benicia.  Still, it serves as a visual warning to all who live near the tracks as Big Oil and the railroad industry gear up for crude by rail.  Check it out, and sign their petition while you are there.  – RS]


When oil trains derail we all pay the price. How close are you and your family to a disaster waiting to happen? Use the ForestEthics blast zone map to find out and take action.


Millions of Americans live in the blast zone. Do you?

Every day the oil industry sends millions of gallons of highly flammable crude oil through cities and towns across North America. Our rail system was never built for this dangerous cargo.

It’s time to take action! Sign the petition: Tell the President and Congress to stop the threat of oil train disasters today!

To: US President Obama and Congress

It seems each month another town is facing a terrifying oil train derailment, poisoned drinking water, or a deadly explosion. Our rail system takes these trains through population centers by schools and homes. Safety standards are weak and our emergency responders are not equipped for accidents.

We are not prepared for this threat:

  1. Oil trains are more than a mile-long with 100+ cars, concentrating the risk of an accident that could ignite the three million gallons of crude on a single train.
  2. Oil train traffic has increased more than 4,000 percent in the last five years.
  3. Rail routes run right through major urban areas and cross water supplies. The US rail system was not designed to transport dangerous crude oil.
  4. Dangerous DOT-111 cars, which make up the majority of US oil tanker trains, have serious flaws that make them highly prone to puncture during a derailment.

We have the solution:

  • The first step: Ban unsafe oil tanker cars.
  • We must prepare and equip emergency responders and reroute trains around population centers and away from water supplies.
  • New rail safety rules must be strong and must give citizens the information they need to protect themselves and the power to say no.

We do not need the extreme oil transported by these trains. The crude oil carried by train is more explosive and more toxic than conventional crude oil; it is also more carbon intensive. At a time when our oil use is decreasing and the threat of climate disruption is growing, the risk from oil trains is unacceptable.

Learn More

Benicia Herald and Vallejo Times-Herald on release of Valero DEIR

[Editor: The local news media posted early announcements about the release of Valero’s Draft EIR.  See Benicia Herald and Vallejo Times-Herald stories below.  – RS]

From the Benicia Herald

DEIR for Valero project: ‘Significant’ impact to air quality

According to a summary provided by the city of Benicia for the just-released Draft Environmental Impact Report on the proposed Valero Crude-by-Rail project, “there would be a significant and unavoidable impact associated with air quality.” However, “The impacts associated with all other environmental issues would be reduced to below a level of significance with the incorporation of mitigation measures.”

The report can be downloaded by clicking here.

Stay tuned for a full report.

From the Vallejo Times-Herald

Benicia: Valero crude-by-rail draft environmental impact report released

Project would allow refinery to bring in 70,000 barrels per day by train

By Tony Burchyns  |  Posted:   06/17/2014 11:57:15 AM PDT

BENICIA>> City officials on Tuesday released the draft environmental impact report for the Benicia Valero Refinery’s proposed crude oil rail terminal.

If approved, the proposed project would allow the refinery to bring two 50-tanker car trains of crude oil in and out of Benicia every day, replacing crude shipments by boat.

Valero has said the project is necessary to remain competitive on the West Coast. Opponents, however, have raised concerns about the type of crude that could be coming in those tanker cars, such as highly flammable oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, or Canadian tars sands oil, regarded as more polluting than other crude.

The project would involve the installation of a rail car unloading rack, rail track spurs, pumps, pipeline and associated infrastructure at the refinery at 3400 East Second St. It would allow Valero to receive up to 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil by train.

Union Pacific Railroad would transport the North American-sourced crude using existing rail lines to Roseville, where the tanker cars would be assembled into train shipments to the refinery, according to city planners.

The draft environmental impact report will be circulated for a 45-day public comment period ending on Aug. 1, city officials said.

The Planning Commission is set to hold a public hearing to take comments on the report on July 10. There will be no final action taken at the meeting.

The report may be viewed at the Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St., the Community Development Department at City Hall, 250 East L St., or online at

The proposed project would allow the refinery at 3400 East Second St. to receive up to 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil by rail.

Valero Draft EIR now available for download


Valero Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) now available for download

June 17, 2014, 8:30am

The City of Benicia posted the downloadable version of the Valero Crude By Rail Draft EIR this morning.  The print and digital copies will be made available at the Benicia Planning Department later in the day.

The DEIR can also be downloaded here on The Benicia Independent.

For safe and healthy communities…