Category Archives: DEIR

Sacramento Bee: California state and regional agencies challenge Benicia crude oil train plan

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: to read the State’s letter and others mentioned in this article, check out Project Review.  – RS]

California officials challenge Benicia crude oil train plan

By Tony Bizjak, September 24, 2014

Brown administration officials say Benicia has underestimated the risk posed by oil trains planned to run through Sacramento and other parts of Northern California to the city’s Valero refinery, and is calling on the city to redo its safety analysis before allowing oil shipments to increase.

A letter sent to the city last week by the state’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California Public Utilities Commission expresses concerns similar to those detailed in recent letters to Benicia from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the cities of Sacramento and Davis.

Sacramento regional leaders have accused Benicia of not adequately exploring the explosion and fire risks of a Valero Refining Co. plan to run two 50-car trains daily through downtown Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis and other cities to the Benicia refinery.

Julie Yamamoto, chief of the state spill prevention agency’s scientific branch and a member of the governor’s rail safety team, said state officials felt compelled to push for Benicia to do deeper study prior to project approval.

“We felt the risk analysis was sufficiently flawed and underestimates the risks,” Yamamoto said.

In its draft environmental impact report, issued earlier this summer, Benicia only analyzed oil spill possibilities on the rail line between Roseville and Benicia, even though the trains will travel from other states or even Canada. “That is a pretty big shortfall in not considering the rest of the track to the California border, and even beyond that,” Yamamoto said. State officials also have questions about how Benicia came up with the assertion that a derailed train might spill oil only once every 111 years, and therefore the risk was insignificant.

“The derailment rate looks to us to be low compared to national data,” Yamamoto said.

Benicia city officials declined to respond this week to the concerns raised by the state and local governments, but previously indicated that they limited their spill analysis to the Roseville-Benicia track section because they do not know yet which rail lines the Union Pacific Railroad may use east or north of Roseville to bring the oil into California.

State officials countered that there are only a handful of rail lines that could be used to bring the oil into the state, and all should be included in Benicia’s project risk analysis. The state noted that those rail lines pass through “high-hazard areas” where derailments are more common. In Northern California, those hazard sections are at Dunsmuir, the Feather River Canyon and near Colfax.

By issuing its letter, the state secures legal standing to sue Benicia if that city approves the project without redoing its risk studies. State officials this week declined to address the question of whether they would consider a lawsuit.

The letter from the state is one of hundreds Benicia officials said they received in the past few months in response to their initial environmental study. Benicia interim Community Development Director Dan Marks said the city and its consultants would review the comments and prepare responses to all of them, then bring those responses to the city Planning Commission for discussion at an as-yet undetermined date.

Under the Valero proposal, trains would carry about 1.4 million gallons of crude oil daily to the Benicia refinery from U.S. and possibly Canadian oil fields, where it would be turned into gasoline and diesel fuel. Valero officials have said they hope to win approval from the city of Benicia to build a crude oil transfer station at the refinery by early next year, allowing them to replace more costly marine oil shipments with cheaper oil.

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 residents of a Canadian town last year, have prompted a push by federal officials and cities along rail lines for safety improvements.

SACOG and the cities of Sacramento and Davis have called on Benicia to require UP 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.

Others in the Sacramento region, however, point out that rail safety is a federal issue, not one that cannot legally be dictated locally. In a joint letter, Stanley Cleveland and James Gallagher of the Sutter County Board of Supervisors said SACOG is overreaching, and a better approach would be to work with federal railroad regulators, as well as with Valero and UP, on safety issues.

The Union Pacific Railroad also has challenged the SACOG and Sacramento city perspectives, arguing that federal law pre-empts states and cities from imposing requirements on the railroads. “A state-by-state, or town-by-town approach in which different rules apply to the beginning, middle and end of a single rail journey, would not be effective,” UP officials said in a letter this month to SACOG.

State Sen. Ted Gaines, who represents much of Placer County and other rail areas, said the Valero project has his “full support.” Benicia’s analysis, he wrote, “affirms that this project is beneficial environmentally and economically and can be done safety given the prevention, preparedness and response measures in place by both Valero and Union Pacific Railroad.”

Among other commenters:

•  350 Sacramento, a local climate change group, warned that oil trains would cause an increase in carbon emissions and slow efforts to convert to renewable energies.

•  The Capitol Corridor passenger train authority, which would share tracks with the oil trains, voiced concern about the safety of passengers, crews and communities, saying the Benicia analysis doesn’t look at the impact crude oil trains would have on Capitol Corridor or Amtrak passenger trains.

• The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District said Benicia could ask Valero to fund local mitigation programs to reduce polluting impacts of trains in the region.

•  UC Davis noted that the rail line passes through campus near the Mondavi Center and the UC Davis Conference Center, and called for additional training and equipment for Davis to deal with the possibility of a derailment and fire.

Read more here:


Diane Bailey: Valero’s Promise to Benicia: We’ll only have an environmental disaster once every 111 years

Repost rom NRDC Switchboard, Diane Bailey’s Blog

September 17, 2014

Valero’s Promise to Benicia: We’ll only have an environmental disaster once every 111 years.

Diane Bailey

Actually, that’s kind of worrisome, especially considering that if you don’t experience that disaster yourself, your kids probably will.  This is one of the many absurd elements showing Valero’s cavalier attitude toward public safety in the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for its proposed crude by rail project, for which public comments were due this week.  The hazard analysis in this report is also a serious underestimate, according to the State among many others: The California Public Utilities Commission notes the serious failure of Valero to address the “potential for tragic consequences of crude oil tank car ruptures” from its proposed Crude by Rail Project.

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Valero’s Promise to Benicia: We’ll only have an environmental disaster once every 111 years

This dangerous crude project is so riddled with problems that many communities up-rail are now voicing serious concern.  The City of Sacramento highlights the high concentration of people around the rail freight lines (“more than 147,000 City residents live within ½ mile”) serving the “Valero Benicia refinery [which] is one of two California refineries that are in the process of securing permits to build rail terminals to import Canadian tar sands and Bakken crude oils.” (emphasis added)  And the City of Davis suggests that the “highest levels of protection [be implemented] before disasters such as hazardous material releases and explosions occur [so that] we can avoid having such disasters in the first place.”

Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community explain why the project is fatally flawed with 132 pages of concerns.  Valero’s crude by rail proposal is like so many other projects popping up all over the nation in a mad rush to access cheaper, extreme and dangerous crude oils, with little regard for public health or safety.  This project is a total disaster (based on NRDC, CBE and other comments) because it brings:

  • More Refinery Pollution: Bringing in extreme crudes like tar sands and fracked Bakken crude will only increase refinery pollution.  Valero’s Benicia refinery already releases 70 percent more toxic chemicals than the average for California.
  • Toxic Plumes Along Rail Lines: This thing called “crude shrinkage” happens during transport, where entrained gases escape, leading to a 0.5 to 3 percent loss of crude oil.  It’s a big problem for volatile crude oils like Bakken, and coupled with the high benzene levels found in some North American crudes (up to 7%), it creates a serious toxic plume around rail lines.  For instance, we estimate over 100 pounds per day of excess benzene emissions from the Valero proposal in the Bay Area (or 1800 times more than the draft EIR reports).
  • Extreme Crudes are Dangerous: Valero and other oil companies pretend that they can mix extreme crudes like tar sands and fracked Bakken into the ideal “Alaskan North Slope look-alike” crude, which sounds great, except that it doesn’t work that way in reality.  Both Bakken and tar sands carry their dangerous properties into any crude oil blend making it more volatile, toxic, and corrosive.
  • CBR Terminals at Refineries Amplify the Hazard: Valero proposes to site its crude by rail unloading facility within 150 feet of a number of very large refinery tanks that store highly flammable and potentially explosive material.  If a derailment occurred at the terminal, it could set off a chain reaction of fire and explosions at the refinery.  And there have been three derailments in Benicia outside the Valero refinery in the past year; luckily those trains were carrying petroleum coke, not crude oil.
  • Risk of Catastrophic Accidents All Along the Rail Route:  Valero’s “Barkan report” that estimates a release only every 111 years from the proposed 100 daily tank cars carrying crude is absurd for many reasons.  Most egregious is that it fails to consider recent data, like the six major crude oil train accidents over the past year that have resulted in massive fireballs and destruction, including 47 casualties in Lac Mégantic. The safety risks to tens of thousands of people living around these freight rail lines remains grave.

The oil industry has been promoting “look-alike” crudes that attempt to mimic conventional crude by blending extreme bottom of the barrel crudes.  The mile-long trains laden with these extreme crudes are a Trojan horse that puts millions of Californians at risk and threatens to undo several decades of environmental progress.  We need a moratorium on all new crude by rail projects, including Valero-Benicia, until the state can assess the cumulative impacts of these projects, make sure environmental impacts are fully mitigated and assure communities that they will be safe.

Benicia Planning Commission & public weigh in on Valero CBR

The Benicia Planning Commission completed the third of its public hearing sessions on Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal last night, and closed the hearing at a decent hour, around 10:15pm.  Thanks to everyone who attended and contributed!

In an unusual move, the Commission chose to hear from Commissioners first, then the public.  City staff refused to allow commissioners to engage the EIR consultant or staff in questions and answers.  Commissioners’ comments and questions were to be added without response into the public record, just as any member of the speaking public.

(Editor: My review of Commissioner comments appears first.  See farther below for a summary of select citizen comments.)

Those in attendance opposing Valero’s proposal were highly encouraged by the quality and quantity of comments pointing out the many inadequacies and omissions of the Draft EIR.  Every Commissioner asked serious questions, as did members of the public.

The first to speak was Commissioner Steve Young, who read from prepared notes.  The Benicia Independent obtained a copy of Mr. Young’s 14-page written comments, downloadable here.  Young asked 35 penetrating questions covering in detail:

    • Environmental Impacts of Transporting Bakken Shale or Tar Sands oil
    • Possible Increase in amount of oil refined and associated increases in emissions
    • Lack of Disclosure of Documentation for Greenhouse Gas (GHG ) Calculations
    • GHG Emissions in Bay Area vs. GHG Emissions in Benicia
    • Calculation of GHG emissions for trains
    • Air Quality Impacts
    • Cumulative Impacts
    • Traffic Impacts
    • Impact on FAST Transit
    • Emergency Preparedness
    • Emergency Planning and difficulty in fighting oil fires of Bakken Crude
    • Financial responsibility of cleanup
    • Explosiveness of Bakken Crude
    • Rail Cars, Tracks and Positive Train Controls
    • Rail Cars – Positive Train Controls
    • Likelihood of Oil Spill

With apologies for any errors or misunderstandings to the other Commissioners, I will try to summarize their spoken concerns.

Commissioner Belinda Smith was openly disappointed that she was not allowed to engage the consultant and staff in questions and answers.  She raised questions about

    • the adequacy of the site description
    • the condition of roads on the site
    • groundwater runoff
    • numbers of trains that would share the rails
    • timing of train crossings
    • train deliveries during “turnarounds”
    • numbers of trains carrying other hazardous materials
    • the “no-project alternative”
    • tank car design from North Dakota to Roseville
    • noise impacts on birds and other businesses in the Industrial Park
    • bird count review after impact and mitigations if they don’t return
    • Indirect emissions: definition of “immediate” and “other” vicinities
    • rainwater protection from contamination, runoff and containment
    • Benicia firefighter training for emergencies
    • Lack of detailed analysis of cumulative impacts

Commissioner Suzanne Sprague agreed with many of Young’s and Smith’s comments and questions, adding only that, as an attorney, she had concerns about the DEIR’s omission of analysis of case law regarding outlying communities and federal preemption.

Commissioner Cohen-Grossman raised four issues:

    • What impact will the project have on the new bus hub on in the Industrial Park?
    • Why would the DEIR even mention a possible impact and then not discuss it because of federal preemption?  (Example: the alternate project analyses)
    • Traffic: Benicia’s General Plan calls for level of service D, but the DEIR only uses outlying roads in its analysis.
    • Huge increase in volume of hazardous materials shipments will require emergency readiness.  Sept. 29 Solano County meeting.

Commissioner George Oakes offered comments on financial issues:

    • Financial responsibility – who owns the crude at every step, from its source in the upper midwest to Valero?
    • Who indemnifies the product along the rail lines?
    • Who in the City is indemnified?
    • How much insurance does each person handling the crude (from offloading laborers to executives) need?
    • The railroad in the Lac-Megantic disaster had only $25 million insurance and went bankrupt quickly.  The people are paying.  How to guard against this here?

Commission Chair Don Dean listed several concerns:

    • Regarding cumulative impacts of hazardous materials in the event of accidents: the DEIR (§ 5-17) analyzes two accidents at the same time but doesn’t make sense.  Cumulative impacts are additive  not multiplicative.
    • How can we understand impacts or cumulative impacts without knowing the nature of the material being shipped?  Information in the document is not sufficient even in light of preemption.
    • Biological resources (§ 5-1) has more information in this section about hazardous materials than in the HM section…

Ten citizen comments critical of the DEIR and Valero’s proposal raised significant questions for the project consultant.  The Commission heard from Adela Fernandez, Charles Davidson, Greg Karras (Communities for a Better Environment), Dr. Jim Stevenson, Shiela Clyatt, David Jenkins, Paul Reeve, Shoshana Wechsler (Sunflower Alliance), Donna Wapner (public health educator) and Linda Lewis (local realtor).  Especially significant comments included the following:

Greg Karras, for 30 years Senior Scientist for Communities for a Better Environment:

    • The proposed offloading racks would be located too close to onsite refinery hazards, for instance, only 50′ from a large storage tank, 100′ from another.  Multiple tank fires would be a possibility.  It is highly unusual these days to see a project proposed with such onsite refinery hazards.
    • False assumption that ONLY marine emissions will be offset by local train emissions.  Offsets not real.  Significant local impacts AND global climate impacts.
    • California pipeline crude will also be replaced by North American crude.  This is a tar sands project with huge impacts, ignored by DEIR.
    • Hidden information on the mix of crude sources.

Dr. Jim Stevenson spoke on the nature of risk.  Risk has to be understood both quantitatively and qualitatively.  The DEIR discusses cumulative risk in quantitative terms but does not analyze the potential for catastrophic (qualitative) impacts, involving chemical releases and massive explosions.

Shiela Clyatt spoke about the economic impacts, including the possibility of businesses leaving the Industrial Park due to traffic congestion issues and safety concerns.  Other economic impacts would include a general drop in property values as Benicia takes on a riskier image for home buyers.

David Jenkins, a business owner in the Industrial Park, spoke very personally about the impact Valero’s proposal would have on his business.  He outlined concerns including possible storage of tank cars while not offloading; traffic congestion; lack of control over Union Pacific (including the distinct possibility of MORE than two trains per day; massive spills and explosions.  He also called for signed warranties by Valero and UP guaranteeing financial coverage of all damages in the event of accidents.

Shoshana Wechsler gave the most inspiring speech of the night, raising significant and detailed technical questions about the DEIR while setting Valero’s proposal and Benicia’s decision-making into a wider global context.  Read it here.

Donna Wapner offered comments from her perspective as a public health educator (Health Science professor at Diablo College).  She highlighted the DEIR’s lack of mention of potential earthquake impacts, and pointed to the massive and lingering economic impacts following Three-Mile Island and Love Canal, mentioning that there are STILL 1000 lawsuits in play today over the Love Canal toxic waste dump disaster.

Linda Lewis, a Benicia realtor, agreed with the comments expressed earlier by Dr. Jim Stevenson, and simply asked, “Can you guarantee I will be safe?  And my community?”

Benicia Planning Commission Hearing on Valero proposal this Thurs., Sept. 11

From an email by

REMINDER: Planning Commission Hearing on Valero Crude By Rail, Thursday, Sept 11

Reminder …
Benicia Planning Commission
Thurs., Sept. 11, 6pm!


WHERE:  Benicia City Hall, 250 East L Street
WHEN: This Thursday, September 11, 2014
PACKED HOUSE: Plan to arrive between 3pm and 7pm


At this hearing, our Planning Commissioners will be asking questions and making their own comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report. This is a very important part of the process. Please attend to hear what our Planning Commissioners have to say.
This will ALSO be the last PUBLIC comment hearing on Valero’s Draft Environmental Impact Report. If you have not spoken before, this is your last chance – you can still speak even if you have not submitted a speaker card before. And if you were at one of the last hearings and submitted your card but they didn’t get to you or you left before they could get to you, you can speak at this hearing.

 PLAN TO ATTEND.  Numbers speak!
For guidelines and suggestions on how to offer comments that are helpful to our Planning Commissioners, see RESOURCES (  For additional background information and resources see LEARN MORE on  Another good source of information is The Benicia Independent.

Bring a friend or family member. See you THIS Thursday!  NOTE: The Planning Commission meeting begins at 6pm to consider another agenda item.  The Crude By Rail hearing begins at 7pm.  It will be another packed house – you will have to arrive early to get a seat.

Note also that the public WRITTEN comment period has been extended until September 15.  If you can’t make the meeting, or have already spoken, there is still time to send in written comments.  Again, see RESOURCES for help on written comments.

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