Oil Train Updates and New Actions

Posted: October 23, 2014 in Rail Transport of Oil
Tags: , , , ,

Benicia Valero Crude-by-Rail Project Update:

We were enormously effective in flooding Benicia with letters from individuals on a whole range of topics to complement the more technical letters submitted by our governmental agencies and environmental groups:  City of Davis, Yolo County, the air quality management districts, SACOG, the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (on the governor’s stationary!), NRDC, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment Legal Comments, Bay Area Baykeeper, Amtrak, 350 Sacramento, Cool Davis, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, and many more!  Check them all out at  http://beniciaindependent.com/project-review/

Comments closed on Sept. 15, and on Oct. 10 Attorney General Kamala Harris sent her letter with strong arguments demanding that the DEIR be rewritten.    That same week, Governor Brown signed many bills into law, including two bills related to oil trains.  Immediately, Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) sued the State of California for the laws that they claim violate federal preemption, and they named our Attorney General as co-defendant in the case.  Also available at http://beniciaindependent.com/project-review/

Federal Department of Transportation Public Comments Update:

Many of the same governmental agencies (city of Davis, Yolo County, SACOG, etc) and environmental groups (ForestEthics, Earth Justice, etc.), and individuals like many of you wrote comments on the proposed DOT regulations on oil train tank cars, brake systems, speed limits, testing of the crude and routing of the trains.  Comments closed September 30.  We shall see how long it takes DOT to consider the comments and come up with their recommendations.  Then we can watch the industry responses and what is finally enacted. 

The most important consideration – stabilizing the Bakken crude (i.e. removing the liquid natural gases before the crude is loaded into tank cars as is required in Texas, for example) so the crude is not volatile – was not put on the table because the oil industry refused to consider this life-saving measure.  Thus, millions of Americans and our waterways and land are at risk every day instead.  Write Assemblyman John Garamendi to encourage him to keep pressing for stabilization.  He called for it in his July 1 letter to DOT.

Comments for the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery Rail Spur Project

We have just 45 days (until Nov. 24) to submit our comments on the REIR (Recirculated Environmental Impact Report) for the Santa Maria Refinery Rail Spur Project that brings a second daily train through Davis.  Although this is a revised report, no uprail communities or agencies have responded before; this is our one chance to submit our comments to the legal document.  Your letters are extremely important for the legal record!

 The recirculated report is available on the San Luis Obispo County Planning Department website at  http://www.sloplanning.org  under “Environmental Impact Reports”.  

Community Letter-Writing Workshop

For Phillips 66 Rail Spur Project, Santa Maria Refinery in SLO

Tuesday, November 18 from 7:15-9:00 p.m.

Blanchard Room at Davis Branch Library (315 E. 14th Street) 

Note: Letters must be submitted by Monday, Nov. 24, 4:30 p.m

 Strategies for addressing Phillips 66 Refinery Rail Spur Project REIR

  1. Read the summary of the project at http://sloplanning.org Phillips 66 has made a huge concession already:  they will not import Bakken crude because of its high volatility!   However, that leaves toxic tar sands with its heavy metals, high sulfur content, and by product of petcoke.
  1. Read the letter from Attorney General Kamala Harris for the Benicia Project. You may also want to review the letters submitted by the City of Davis, SACOG, Yolo County, and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (which is one of the key governmental agencies to respond directly under Gov. Brown!)  All are posted at www.beniciaindependent.com/project-review
  1. Review your own letter for the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project in Benicia.
  1. Topics. Select your same topic again to modify, or address one of Kamala Harris’ concerns.  You may also address any of the proposed mitigations listed in the Phillips 66 table of contents that you read and found inadequate.  Topics might include noise and vibration disturbances if you live near the tracks, air quality concerns, the danger of spills especially over waterways, lack of  liability coverage for spills and accidents, seismic instability near the tracks in Benicia (see Bee article Tues. Oct. 14, 2014), the untrustworthy condition of old rail bridges in CA, the dangers of bringing crude by rail over mountain passes on high-risk railroad tracks (even if UP has now promised to inspect them), the increase in ghg emissions throughout northern CA, increased competing traffic on the tracks with resulting delays for Amtrak and freight and possibly more accidents, etc.
  1. Federal preemption and mitigation. Basically ignore the pervasive warnings throughout the REIR that federal preemption will negate the need for any mitigation, and write as if an adequate mitigation is required.  Point out inadequacies.  Having your statements entered into the legal record is important now and for future litigation.
  1. Resources. I am attaching two documents sent by the Mesa Refinery Watch Group Steering Committee:  1) a newsletter for October 22 with important dates and concerns about this critical time and 2) a Summary of key issues for SLO (San Luis Obispo).  I believe for the most part we will do best to stay with our familiar concerns identified during the Benicia Valero DEIR letter-writing campaign (see #4 above), but you may find articles to support your concerns in these documents.  Another excellent resource for details is 3) www.beniciaindependent.com  where Roger Straw has posted all the pertinent articles for several years.
  1. Group letter for signatures. I plan to compose a group letter that you can both sign yourself and take around to neighbors, colleagues at work, etc. to gather signatures.  I’ll email it as soon.  This can be in addition to your own letters which are very much needed!
  1. Final letters must be submitted by Monday, November 24 at 4:30 p.m.

Address letters to Mr. Murry (no “a”) Wilson of the SLO Planning Dept. at


 In addition send your letters to: 

 -mwilson@co.slo.ca.us (Environmental Specialist)

 – jim@jimirving.com (Planning Commissioner)

 – ktopping@calpoly.edu (Planning Commissioner)

 – frenchbicycles@gmail.com (Planning Commissioner)

 – elcarroll@co.slo.ca.us (Planning Coordinator)

 – rhedges@co.slo.ca.us (Planning Assistant)

 – cray@co.slo.ca.us (Supervisor)

 – bgibson@co.slo.ca.us (Supervisor)

 – ahill@co.slo.ca.us (Supervisor)

 – darnold@co.slo.ca.us (Supervisor)

 – fmecham@co.slo.ca.us (Supervisor)

 – boardofsups@co.slo.ca.us (Board of Supervisors, general address)

In  separate email or BCC, please send a copy to Linda Reynolds, the chairperson of the Mesa Refinery Watch Group at lreynolds151@gmail.com

  • Letters Via U.S. Mail: Send to Murry Wilson, SLO County Dept. of Planning and Building – 976, Osos Street, Room 200, San Luis Obispo, 93408.

Phone or email questions to me at 756-8110 or lnittler@sbcglobal.net

Report on Central Coast Refinery Project that could bring crude oil trains through East Bay cities available for public view

By Tom Lochner        reposted from the Contra Costa Times   10/15/2014

BERKELEY — A revised environmental report for a rail expansion project at a petroleum refinery on the Central California coast that could bring crude oil by trains through densely populated East Bay cities has been published by San Luis Obispo County, the lead agency overseeing the project.

The Phillips 66 Company Rail Spur Extension Project envisions bringing unit trains with 80 tank cars plus locomotives and supporting cars to a new crude oil unloading facility in Santa Maria from the north or from the south along tracks owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.

The approach from the south would be through the Los Angeles area and up the Pacific Coast. An approach from the north would enter California over Donner Pass,  the Feather River Canyon, or Dunsmuir to Roseville, then go along the Amtrak Capitol Corridor from Martinez via Richmond, Berkeley and Emeryville to Oakland, and from there south along the Capitol Corridor or Coast Starlight route via Hayward, Fremont and Santa Clara to San Jose and on to Santa Maria.

The prospect of trains loaded with crude oil has raised concerns of residents and public officials worried about the specter of exploding trains as well as other consequences. There have been several crude oil train explosions in North America over the last two years, including one in Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people.

In March, the Berkeley and Richmond city councils voted unanimously to oppose the transport of crude oil by rail through the East Bay. Days later, the San Luis Obispo County Department of Planning and Building announced it would recirculate the original draft report due to the large volume of comments it had generated, many of them complaining that certain impacts and dangers of the project had not been addressed.









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s