Rail plan opponents pack library

RESIDENTS at Benicia Public Library sign a petition Monday, showing they oppose Valero’s proposed Crude-By-Rail project. Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

RESIDENTS at Benicia Public Library sign a petition Monday, showing they oppose Valero’s proposed Crude-By-Rail project.
Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

More than 100 hear of dangers of crude oil shipments by train

More than 100 people packed the Doña Benicia Room of the Benicia Public Library on Monday night to hear a panel of authors, scientists and organizers urge opposition to the proposed Valero Crude-By-Rail project that is currently undergoing environmental review.

Filmed testimony by Marilaine Savard, a survivor of the July 6, 2013 derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, came early in the program. Savard had spoken Feb. 26 at a similar event in Martinez.

Her views of the tragedy that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the town’s business area were echoed by such activists as Benicia residents Marilyn Bardet and Andres Soto, author Antonia Juhasz and Damien Luzzo, a Davis environmental business owner.

They urged Benicia residents to join neighbors in other refinery cities who object to transporting crude oil by train.

No one from Valero Benicia Refinery, nor anyone who supports its Crude-By-Rail project, spoke Monday.

The meeting was one of many rallies, gatherings and activities planned to galvanize opposition to the proposal to deliver domestic crude to Valero Benicia Refinery by train, said Jan Cox Golovich, a member of the steering committee of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Environment, one of the groups that organized Monday’s “call to action” meeting.

The panelists reminded their audience that while Benicia city officials are considering a project proposed solely to bring in 50 rail cars of oil twice a day into the local refinery, the San Francisco Bay Area has other cities with refineries that also could bring crude from North Dakota’s Bakken fields into the area.

The problem with the Valero project, as with delivering Bakken fields crude to refineries in Richmond, Rodeo, Martinez and Pittsburg, they said, is that the North Dakota crude has properties similar to gasoline.

It is more flammable than heavier “sour” crude such as that obtained from Canadian tar sands. Poured into a glass, Bakken crude resembles light beer, Bardet said, and has a low flashpoint under pressure.

In contrast, another panelist, Diane Bailey, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Canadian tar sands from Alberta looks like dark, goopy coffee grounds or peanut butter.

That heavier crude has its own dangers, Bailey said. It, too, can spill, polluting environmentally sensitive lands. It’s dirtier than lighter crudes, with more heavy metals and a higher percentage of other toxins.

Valero officials have said repeatedly the Benicia refinery isn’t equipped to process tar sands oil, but Bailey said such crude can be diluted with solvents — chemicals like benzene that pose their own health threats.

Juhasz said the ability to drill horizontally and use the same fracking technique that is used to obtain natural gas has opened the Bakken oil fields.

A significant amount of that oil is moved by rail, she said, since pipelines aren’t available and the oil fields are nowhere near navigable waters — which has led to a dramatic increase in the number of spills.

More barrels of oil were spilled in 2013 alone than were spilled from 1975 to 2012, Juhasz said.

Not only do the fracking process and the spills worry her, she’s also concerned that there is little regulation that protects public safety.

In fact, Juhasz noted, the National Transportation Safety Board has been asking for better crude-carrying rail cars for 20 years. While some individual railroad companies, such as BNSF, have announced they aren’t waiting for federal regulators to require better oil cars, Juhasz said stricter regulation of the rail delivery of crude “is practically nonexistent.”

The country’s older pipelines aren’t much better, and have burst, sending crude into sensitive wetlands, panelists said.

The Bakken fields have made North Dakota the biggest oil-producing state except for Texas, Juhasz said. Yet, noted the author of “The Tyranny of Oil and “The Bush Agenda,” the increase in domestic crude hasn’t lowered gasoline prices because much of the oil is being sold outside the United States.

Ed Ruszel, whose woodworking company sits next to rails that belonged to the Southern Pacific Railroad when he first purchased his company’s land in the Benicia Industrial Park, said the much shorter trains that operate near his business tie up traffic for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

Those are 15-car trains. Ruszel said the 50-car trains proposed as part of the Valero Crude-By-Rail project would have a greater impact on Industrial Park traffic.

Nor does he expect that the Union Pacific Railroad would limit the trains to 50 cars each twice a day. He said he suspects the railroad would bring even more rail cars in during the weekend and let them sit, stored on Industrial Park tracks.

ANDRES SOTO. Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

Soto, an activist who has moved to Benicia, his parents’ hometown, after working for years in Richmond, said because crude by rail doesn’t just affect Benicia, residents should join their neighbors to prevent train delivery of oil to Conoco Phillips, Shell, Chevron and other Bay Area refineries.

He also asked the audience to monitor the Bay Area Air Quality Management District as it looks at the cumulative effects of the change to rail deliveries. “It’s caving to industry pressure,” he said. Residents should tell the agency to do “our will” or get a new staff.

If cities with oil refineries have worried residents, municipalities where those trains would pass through also have concerns, said Damien Luzzo, who asked Benicians to object to the Valero project not only for themselves but also for “uprail” cities like Davis.

An explosion the size of the one last year in Quebec “would incinerate half of our town,” he said of Davis, which he described as a city with environmental awareness.

“We’re wondering what we can do,” Luzzo said. “We don’t have the jurisdiction.”

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  1. Benicia Dave says

    I think I would be more concerned if these rail shipments were moving through Vallejo and American Canyon on what appears to be poorly maintained tracks. But we are talking about Union Pacific and BNSF (across the bay) moving these railcars on well-maintained tracks with well-maintained equipment. Both rail companies have commendable safety records. Both companies have a vested interest in the safe transport of all of its cargos. Valero is one of the safest refineries in California.
    The oil is coming. On the news this morning, they were talking about the EIR filed by Philips 66, not for their Rodeo Refinery, but for one near San Luis Obispo, making us, “up rail”.
    Tank car regulations are coming from the Obama administration. New cars being purchased by Valero (some 2000) will have to meet these new standards as they become effective.
    Valero is a well regulated business. They cannot just arbitrarily increase emissions. I think someone tried to say they would purposefully vent crude vapors.
    A lot of “what ifs” are being thrown around in this discussion.
    What if Valero were to idle the Benicia Refinery? What if they sold it to the Chinese National Oil Company? Who else would buy it? Exxon? What about the loss of a thousand jobs (employee and contractor) and a blow to the tax base in Benicia. What about the loss of 25% of the Bay Area’s gasoline supply. Diesel for the trucks that deliver your food and jet fuel for your vacations and national defense.

    • Nancy Rieser says

      Well THAT was an interesting slip. Alberta is a petro-state for China. Most of the products from the Bay Area refineries are destined for the Chinese market which makes us, for all intents and purposes a petro colony for China, thanks to NAFTA. So Bob…have the Chinese ….(….anticipating a successful passage of the TTP trade agreement,,,.) made a bid for the refinery you work for?

  2. says

    Thanks to everyone who worked so hard planning the forum, and to the panelists and to all who attended (especially those who had to stand!). Thanks to the Benicia Herald for covering this incredibly important subject, and giving voice to those in our community whose questions and reservations have blossomed into outright opposition. Like almost everyone, I am respectful of Valero’s record when compared to other refineries; I am thankful for Valero’s community spirit and generosity in charitable giving; I mean no offense to Valero workers and their families … but ALL of us need to wake up and study the health and safety risks that are posed by introducing crude by rail into east Benicia and communities uprail and downwind of here. Stay tuned, and speak out. More at http://www.SafeBenicia.org and http://www.BeniciaIndependent.com.

  3. Martin MacKerel says

    It’s also worth pointing out that the Valero refinery, along with other Bay Area refineries, *will* close in the next decade or two. We need to and we will rapidly move away from fossil fuels. Benicia and other refinery towns need to start thinking about how to plan for the future – what will energy and production look like in 2020? 2030? 2050? Cause it certainly won’t be dead dinosaur guts shipped around the world and cooked in refineries.

  4. Robert Livesay says

    The organizers of ,this meeting it appears are all anti fossil fuel folks. Which would mean they are also against the retrieving and delivery of fossil fuel. Very anti fracking and any delivery system. Not just rail. As talk about tankers and pipelines were also presented. All three delivery types were considered dangerous. So the only deductiion I can come up with is they want all the AREA

  5. Robert Livesay says

    My take on this group is they are anti fossil fuel. They would be very happy if all the refineries left the area. Some have said as much without giving a direct timetable. But they do want them to leave. So they are taking the steps that they think will make that happen. It starts with fracking and then the delvery of the crude. At present they are using rail as the enemy. But they do talk about pipeline and tankler as also being very dangerous. Rail just happens to be in the news because of recent accidents. There is no compromise or solution that interest with this group. Thjey want the prodiction of fossil fuel more specificall crude stopped in its tracks. Even if all the requirements of an EIR are met it will not satidfy this group. All the safety and health regulations will not even make A DENT

  6. Robert Livesay says

    sorry; refineries shut down. Even if the EIR answers all their concerns it will not be ernough for this determined group. Everyone wants safe and healthy concerns addressed and satisfied, not just used as a prop that these issues can never be met. This group is not new to this city and has been around for a long time. I give them credit for all the good things they has done in ,the past and we all should be very pleased with those accomplishments. But the more recent organized group goes back to the election of Mayor Patterson. Look around at this group and you will find many folks that have backed and been involved in her elections. That is ok but at the same time it is agenda and ideal driven without any thought of the the other residents. I ask this question of this group. Will you be satisfied if all your concerns are answered and met with the EIR? It also appears they could be looking for candidates to stack the City Council. Who knows whAT

  7. Will Gregory says

    More crude-by-rail news the community can use—

    From the above article:

    “More than 100 hear of dangers of crude oil shipments by train”

    From the pertinent article below: more information for our elected leaders past and present to consider…

    “Seattle Council to Governor: Protect this City (And the Climate) from Oil Trains”

    “Beyond the dangers of derailment and explosions, Seattleites are worried about oil-by-rail shipping’s effect on the climate. Here’s what they did about it.


  8. Robert Livesay says

    their ultimate desires are . But it does appear to me they mwant stack the council and the commissions with folks that agree with ,their agenda. But it is for sure is a local one using North America as one of their props. Yes they are anti fossil fuel which means no refineries. That is their short/lomg term desire. Move the refineries out and leave ,the ,rest ,of ,the ,residents to deal with ,the loss of revenue. So as you see it is more ,than just crude ,being delivered by rail. Its is anti fossil fuel agenda driven ideals. Stand up to this type of bullying. Sorry for any typos and not comnnected sentences. This new thing drives me batty. I know you think I am already batty. Not so just A VERY concerned resident that does care very much ,about,this city.

    • Pat Toth-Smith says

      Robert Livesay is wrong on many fronts..especially the one about being the same old group.. I am a recent home owner in Benicia who lives in town and I do not know the mayor. I became concerned about the crude by rails project as soon as I found out about it. I immediately e-mailed the city counsel to say, If it is presently working via a ship why do we need to make a change.. With no other answer forthcoming all I could summize is Valero is greedy and wants to maximize their profits.at the expense of us Benicia residents and all other people along the rail route.. I reluctantly became involved as I read about all the dangers of transporting this highly volatile crude and the many explosions that occured in the past year, the pet coke creation when this crude is refined and the potential increase in air pollution and water pollution of Lake Herman that could happen with this project. I am only a concerned Benicia resident with a family, who loves her city and the people in it. .

      • Robert Livesay says

        There is a common cause but with different solutions. Both the opponents and the proponents are concerned about Safety and Health. I am from a two refinery town and know how the residents work with refineries to make it healthy and safe. The desire is the same just a different approach to the solution. I for sure respect your concerns but do not agree with the group and how ,they are presenting their solutiions.. It can be done to satisfy both sides if the opponents are willing to work together. I do see that as their desire.

      • Robert Livesay says

        Reverend your response was expected as usual. You do not like Conservatives and use your condesending attitude to try and put them down. Not working Reverend. Just your usual disrespect for other views. You have tried other thing such as censorship to try and stop local folks from writing and making comments that do not suit your views. Not very Reverend of you Reverend.

          • Robert Livesay says

            Hank do not make statements about me that you know are not true. Remember Hank once a General always a General. Since when is he not a Reverend? I will get back on topic and sure hope you do the same Hank.

          • Hank Harrison says

            “Not very Reverend of you Reverend.” A disgraceful statement. I understand why you would want to move past it.

        • says

          Neither my civility nor lack of civility, nor my post-graduate training, nor my 30 years in ministry, nor my 9 years in retirement … nor Bob’s overabundant comments here on the BH, nor his frequent stated presumptions about the motivations and beliefs of those he considers liberals … are at issue here. What is at stake is the future of Benicia and parts beyond. Our health and safety are at risk. These trains, if allowed, will rumble through towns, across the marsh and down 680 and PAST Valero almost to the Benicia Bridge, then back up into Valero’s offloading racks. This puts the bridge, AMPORTS and the historic Arsenal District, the Clocktower and Camel Barn Museum all at risk of a catastrophic accident. Will Valero’s liability insurance go up astronomically? This is only one of many concerns expressed at Monday’s Call To Action. Nearly 100 have signed the petition so far – add your name here: http://safebenicia.org/?page_id=45

          • Robert Livesay says

            You are correct on one thing Reverend. At stake is the future of Benicia. Your wrong about me. I am also concerned about safety and health. The EIR will bring all that out. Reverend if all issues are addressed and fixed would you support the Three Rail Project by Valero? That is an importantant question thATAlso reverend would you support fracking, rail cars, piplines and tankers if they met your standards of health and safety? I beleive very strongly your group is very anti fossil fuel. Prove me wrong.

          • Robert Livesay says

            Reverend you are right on thing, the future of Benicia. We just see it differently You are wrong about me. I also care about safety and health. The EIR will address all the concerns on both sides of this important project. If all your groups concerns are answered to their satisfaction and the project goes forward will you and your group then support it? That question is very important for your group to answer. Does your group want to stop this project even if the groups concerns are answered without any other reason except what IF. My concern has always been what will it take for your group to get behind this Valero Three Rail Project? Your group has never addressed that possibility. I think it is time to tell the public exactly what you will do even if all concerns are answered. I do hope you will respond.

          • says

            Yes Bob, we ARE ALL concerned about health and safety. That is THE issue here. I am not against Valero, but fossil fuels have themselves become a health and safety concern, especially when shipped overland in vulnerable rail cars. Read what I wrote above again: “Like almost everyone, I am respectful of Valero’s record when compared to other refineries; I am thankful for Valero’s community spirit and generosity in charitable giving; I mean no offense to Valero workers and their families … but ALL of us need to wake up and study the health and safety risks that are posed by introducing crude by rail into east Benicia and communities uprail and downwind of here.” Valero itself is surely planning ahead for a post-fossil-fuel future. We are saying that the time has come to take that planning seriously rather than trying to squeeze the oil well dry. P.S. – there is no such thing as a 3 rail project. The official Valero-named designation is Valero Crude By Rail. And I like to say that it’s not even a “project” yet – I refer to it as a proposal, one which I hope goes down to defeat. I’m done monitoring this comment page. Get updates on my blog at http://www.BeniciaIndependent.com

            • Robert Livesay says

              Reverend am I correct in assuming the EIR is of no importance to your group. If that is the case, why did your group want one. Reverend I do understand agenda driven ideals and this is one of them. This Valero Three Rail Project must be addressed and resolved one way or the other. IReverend is your group ready to file an appeal if the PC approved it and send it to the council for a final vote. Is your effort iolely to try and convince ,the PC and the council that your concerns are of all residents. Just how far is your group willing to go to stop this issue even if all your concerns are answered. I woul;d like to hear your groups answer to that. No disrespect Reverend but it has been called the Three Rail Project from the out set and has since been changed to your preferred name, put not by all. So be it, I will still use my name.

    • Robert Livesay says

      This whole thing is driven by the Climate change folks. Valero just happens to be near by so they go after Valero. They are pure anti fossil fuel.climate change agendr driven group. Have been very active for the last few years. No regards for cost, jobs, safety or health issues. Why do I say that. Because no matter if all issues are resolved to their satisfaction they will not concede. Use Global Warming as a front for their anti fossil fuel agenda driven ideals. They may be sucessful, but at whos expense? The residents when an EIR will give them the issues and the opportunity to addtress and fix them. That will not matter. They are like concrete. Hard to move and will stop at nothing. Even calling folks names like Hank and echoed by the Reverend. Both only care about their views and no one elses. What happens if you lose this one?

    • Robert Livesay says

      O call it as it is HANK. You do not have the guts to make a comment that is credible about the subject. Start talking facts and your opinion and quit name calling. Show some class, respect and better yet knowledge. Personal attacks will not get the job done. I AT

    • Robert Livesay says

      Hank at least I have the couage to make a comment with my opinion and facts as needed.. You just make attack statemenrs with name calling as your only comment.. Make some earth shattering comments about why you support this group. ,I hope you can. I will respect you when you do and will not call you a name.

    • Robert Livesay says

      Hank I support Valero and all the refineries in the area. I support fossil fuel, fracking and at the same time support health and safety. That is why I do think the EIR will tell the story and it is a good idea. We will not now see the EIR till April maybe. It will be complete with all the concerns addressed. . Addresse it and fix it. I also support regulations that both sides can live with. This issue is not a single sided issue. There are folks like me that believe all these issues can be resolved and safety and health will be the top issue, I am also believe there is a possibility it will fail. I also believe as the crude issue moves forwARD

  9. says

    Railroads place safety as the top priority when it comes to moving goods. Safety should be an integral part of any project from design to implementation. One should be engaged in various railroad associations to keep current with changes in the freight industry; to stay up-to-date on the latest technological advances; and to provide expertise on the most innovative ideas.Rail designs have an economic impact and may need further evaluation of the life-cycle benefit-cost ratio.

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