Posts Tagged ‘Valero’

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

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

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  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 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
  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)  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: (Environmental Specialist)

 – (Planning Commissioner)

 – (Planning Commissioner)

 – (Planning Commissioner)

 – (Planning Coordinator)

 – (Planning Assistant)

 – (Supervisor)

 – (Supervisor)

 – (Supervisor)

 – (Supervisor)

 – (Supervisor)

 – (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

  • 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

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.









Attorney General
State ofCalifornia
Via U.S. and Electronic Mail

Amy E. Million
Community Development Department
City of Benicia
250 East L Street
Benicia, CA 94510

October 2, 2014
Telephone: (916) 445~5077

RE: Attorney General’s Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the
Valero Benicia Crude-By-RailProject

Dear Ms. Million:
Attorney General Kamala D. Harris submits the following comments on the Draft
Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Valero Benicia Crude-By-Rail Project (Project).}
The Project proposes improvements to Valero’s Benicia Refinery (Refinery) that, if approved,
will allow Valero to receive and process up to 100 tank cars of crude oil by railway per day from
North American sources.

With this and other projects like it, California is faced with a dramatic increase in the
amount of highly-flammable crude oils proposed to be transported by rail throughout the State,
the result of a recent oil boom from North American sources, including the Bakken shale in
North Dakota and Canadian tar sands. According to the federal government, rail shipments of
certain crude feedstocks, including Bakken shale, represent an “imminent hazard,” such that a
“substantial likelihood that death, serious illness, severe personal injury, or a substantial
endangerment to health, property, or the environment may occur.”  2 Indeed, accidents involving
these trains have already resulted in catastrophic consequences, including one recent calamity
that killed 47 people, incinerated an entire downtown area, and is expected to require the

1}The Attorney General submits these comments pursuant to her independent power and duty to
protect the environment and natural resources of the State. See Cal. Const., art. V, § 13; Gov.
Code, §§ 12511, 12600-12612; D’Amico v. Ed. ofMedical Examiners (1974) 11 Cal.3d 1,1415.
This letter is not intended, and should not be construed, as an exhaustive discussion of the
DEIR’s compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
2 See U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT), Emergency Order: Petroleum Crude Oil.Railroad
Carriers, Docket No. DOT-OST-2014-0067 (May 7, 2014).
Page 2
expenditure of $400 million in taxpayer funds to remediate its disastrous environmental

In the face of this unprecedented risk, it is important that the infrastructure and facilities
transporting and processing these feedstocks are specifically designed to present minimal risk to
life, public and private property, and the environment. In particular, officials entrusted with
protecting public health and safety must ensure that the hazards from these projects are fully and
accurately assessed, and the identified risks are mitigated to the fullest extent possible by law.
Unfortunately, the DEIR for this Project fails to properly account for many of the·
Project’s potentially significant impacts pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act
(CEQA). Specifically, the DEIR:
1. Underestimates the probability of an accidental release from the Project by considering
only a fraction of the rail miles travelled when calculating the risk of derailment, by
relying on a currently unenforceable assumption that newer, safer tank cars will be used,
by failing to adequately describe the potential consequences of an accident resulting in a
release of crude oil, and by improperly minimizing the risk to public safety from
increased rail-use;
2. Improperly asserts that the proper baseline for the Project’s impact on air emissions is
determined by the Refinery’s maximum permitted emissions;
3. Fails to analyze the impacts on air quality from the foreseeable change in the mix of
crude oils processed at the Refinery;
4. Ignores reasonably foreseeable Project impacts by impermissibly limiting the scope of
the affected environment analyzed to only the 69-milestretch from Benicia to Roseville;
5. Fails to consider the cumulative impacts on public safety and the environment from the
proliferation of crude-by-railprojects proposed in California; and
6. Employs an overly broad determination of trade secrets, which results in the
nondisclosure of the types of crude oil to be shipped by rail and refined onsite. As a
result, the DEIR fails to provide sufficient information for an adequate analysis of the
safety risks from transportation or the air quality impacts from refining the new crude.

These issues must be addressed and corrected before the City Council of Benicia takes action
pursuant to CEQA on the DEIR or the Project.
3 Fishell, “Quebec government seeking $400 luillion for Lac-Megantic rail disaster cleanup,”
Bangor Daily News (September 19,2014).
Page 3
Crude-by-Rail in California
From 2012 to 2013, crude-by-rail in California increased from one million barrels
imported to 6.3 million barrels imported, a rise of 506%.4 This surge in the amount of crude-by-
rail imports is replacing crude oil previously transported by ship or pipeline. The trend shows no
sign of abatement, and the California Energy Commission projects that by 2016, the State will
import up to 150 million barrels of crude-by-rail.5
Crude feedstocks from North American sources such as the Bakken shale in North
Dakota and tar sands in Canada have only recently been introduced to refineries, made available
by a combination of new extraction techniques and higher energy prices. Bakken crude is unlike
other crude being produced or shipped in this country, and it presents an “imminent hazard”
because it is more ignitable and flammable and thus more· likely to cause large, potentially
catastrophic impacts from a train crash or derailment.6 On the other end of the spectrum, crude oil extracted from Canadian tar sands is a low-grade, high sulfur feedstock that is not as volatile as light crudes like Bakken but contains chemical properties that make it particularly damaging to the environment when spilled and/or burned.7

This dramatic increase in cnlde-by-rail represents a new potential hazard to public safety
and the environment in part because the crude oil is regularly transported by “high hazard
flammable trains” (HHFT), which are trains comprising 20 or more carloads of flammable
liquids such as crude oil.8  The DOT has determined that derailments of HHFTs will continue to
be more severe, “involve[ing] more cars than derailments of other types of trains” because
HHFTs are uniquely heavier and longer and therefore harder to control and less stable than other
rail traffic.9
4 Interagency Rail Safety Working Group, Oil by Rail Safety in California (June 10,2014) p.l.
5M . .
6 See Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Dept. of Transportation,
Operation Safe Delivery Update (2014) p. 1. See also U.S. DOT Emergency Order, Petroleum
Crude Oil Railroad Carriers, DocketNo. DOT-OST-2014-0067 (May 7, 2014).
7 U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Draft Regulatory Impact Analysis, “Hazardous Materials:
Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains;
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” July 2014 [Docket No. PHMSA-2012-0082] (HM-251), p.81.
8 DOT proposed regulations define a “high hazard flammable train” as a train comprised of 20 or
more carloads of Class Jflammable liquids such as crude oil. 79 Fed.Reg. 45017 (August 1,
9 U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Draft Regulatory Impact Analysis, “Hazardous Materials:
Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains;
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” July 2014 [Docket No. PHMSA-2012-0082] (HM-251), p.24.
Page 4
This boom in crude oil being transported by rail has corresponded with a maj or increase ‘
in the number of accidents involving such trains. In 2013 alone, trains spilled 1.1 million gallons
of crude oil, a 72% increase over the total amount of oil spilled by rail in the nearly four previous
decades combined. 10 Since the beginning of2013, at least nine major accidents related to crude~
by-rail have occurred. Among the most notorious include:
•Lac Megantic” Quebec-On July 5, 2013, a train loaded with 72 tank cars of crude oil being transported from North Dakota to New Brunswick stopped on a track with a descending grade. The train later began rolling downhill toward the town of Lac-Megantic, about 30 miles from the U.S. border. Near the center of town, 63 tank cars derailed, resulting in multiple explosions and subsequent fires. The accident killed 47 people and destroyed substantial sections of the town, causing the evacuation of 2,000 people. It was later determined that the crude oil released was more volatile than the transporter had originally reported to Canadian authorities.
• Aliceville, Alabama-On November 8, 2013, a train hauling 90 cars of crude oil from
North Dakota to a refinery near Mobile derailed on a section of track through a wetland
near Aliceville. Thirty tank cars derailed and a dozen of these burned. The derailment
occurred on a shortline railroad’s track that had been inspected ,and cleared only a few
days earlier. The train was travelling under the speed limit for this track.
• Casselton, North Dakota-On December 30,2013, an eastbound BNSF Railway train
hauling 106 tank cars of crude oil struck a westbound train carrying grain that shortly
before had derailed onto the eastbound track. Some 34 cars from both trains derailed,
including 20 cars carrying crude, which exploded and burned for over 24 hours. About
1,400 residents of Casselton were evacuated.
• Lynchburg, Virginia-On April 30, 2014, 15 cars in a crude oil train derailed in
Lynchburg’s downtown area: Three cars caught fire, and some cars derailed into a river
along the tracks. The immediate area surrounding the derailment was evacuated.11
Crude-by-rail projects employing HHFTs continue to profligate in California, and
economic factors suggest that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. This Project in
Benicia is but one’ of at least twelve other crude-by-rail related projects that are either already
10 Tate, “More oil spilled from trains in 2013 than in previous 4 decades, federal data show,”
McClatchyDC,(January 20, 2014).
11 Crude~by~rail accidents have also occurred in Philadelphia, PA, Vandergrift, PA, and LaSalle,
CO, in addition to the Canadian provinces of Alberta and New Brunswick. Congressional
Research Service, “U.S. Rail Transportation of Crude Oil: Background and Issues for Congress”
(May 5, 2014); Associated Press, “Colorado derailment: Six crude oil tankers jump track” (May
Page 5
operational or being considered in California. In addition to Benicia, crude-by-rail projects exist
in Richmond, Pittsburg,12 Martinez, Santa Maria, Stockton, Los Angeles, Bakersfield (two
projects), Wilmington (two projects), and Sacramento (two projects). 13 If approved, these
projects would cumulatively result in billions of gallons of crude oil being transported by HHFTs
annually throughout California.
The Valero.Benicia.Crude-by-Rail Project
Valero has applied to the City of Benicia for a Use Permit to construct improvements and
install equipment that would allow the existing Refinery to begin receiving and refining crude
feedstocks by rail, at a level of 100 tank cars daily. The crude-by-rail would be delivered in two,
50 car trains each day to the Refinery, totaling 70,000 barrels of North American crudes. The
cnlde-by-rail deliveries would purportedly replace crude oil feedstocks currently arriving by
ship. The significant components of the Project, as presented·in the DEIR, include construction
of offloading racks, rail spurs and new track, and additional supply piping from the rail spur to
the Refinery. (DEIR 3-5).

Comments on the DEIR

TheDEIR fails to adequately analyze the Project’s impacts to up-rail communities.

The DEIR en1ploys improper standards of significance, unenforceable mitigation
measures, and inadequate analyses to conclude that the Project will not have a significant impact
on “up-rail” communities, including those communities located between Roseville and Benicia
through which HHFTs will pass if the Project is approved. This analysis, broken up in the DEIR
into five subsections, is defective in the following areas:

(1) The probability of an accidental release of crude oil from a train

The DEIR employs a flawed quantitative analysis to conclude that the probability of an
accidental release of crude oil from a train is only one in 111 years. (DEIR App. F). First,
because the DEIR limits its analysis to only the 69 mile rail stretch from the Union Pacific
Railroad (“UPRR”) Roseville Terminal to Benicia, it severely underestimates the risk of an
accident related to the Project. The tank cars containing crude oil do not originate in Roseville,
they are delivered by rail from particular sources, including North Dakota and Canada. While
the precise route from these sources throughout North America to the Refinery may be somewhat
indeterminate, the potential rail routes from within the California borders to the Roseville
terminal are limited to a handful of options, and an assessment of these foreseeable impacts using

12 The’Attorney General submitted a CEQA comment letter on the Recirculated DEIR for the
WesPac Pittsburg Energy Infrastructure Project on January 15,2014.
13 Hays, Kristen, “Factbox – California crude slates and oil-by-rail projects,” Reuters (September

Page 6
reasonable assumptions of future crude oil sources should have been performed. This is
particularly true given that, despite claiming that the routes are too speculative to analyze for
purposes of public safety, the DEIR does, in fact, analyze these very routes in its discussion of
both air quality impacts (DEIR 4.1 ..22) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) (DEIR4.6-9).

Second, the DEIR’s risk analysis assumes that Valero will only transport crude oil in
newer model “1232” tank cars, which reduces the estimate of public health risks to up-rail
communities. These newer, presumptively safer tank cars, however, are not required by current
federal regulations. 14 The DEIR presents no evidence to support the assumption that only the
newer tank cars will be used, because Valero only makes a voluntary commitment to upgrade its
tank cars, a commitment that appears to be unenforceable as the Project is now proposed. Such
an unenforceable mitigation measure and/or condition of Project approval is a violation of
CEQA’s requirement that these commitments be “fully enforceable through permit conditions,
agreements, or other legally binding instruments.”15 The City of Benicia itself asserts that it is
preempted from enforcing Valero’s obligation to use the newer and safer rail cars and states that
it “must rely on the federal authorities to ensure that any such risks are mitigated as
appropriate.,,16 (DEIR 4.7-20). But, since DOT regulations currently allow use of DOT-Ill

49 C.F.R. 179. On August 1,2014, the DOT published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
seeking comments on new tank car standards for the transport of materials such as crude· oil and
ethanol. The proposed rules include a variety of options for phasing out the currently.;.used DOT-
111 tank cars in favor of safer tank cars such as the 1232 tank car, or other improved designs. It
is unclear when these new regulations might take effect, but the earliest proposal for the
elimination of DOT-Ill tank cars to transport crude oil is 2017, and oil corporations are
advocating for additional delay due to the increased costs associated with upgraded tank cars and
a shortage of supply of 1232 tank cars. See 79 Fed.Reg. 45016 (August 1,2014).

15 CEQA Guidelines, Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15126.4, subd. (a)(2).

16 We do not express an opinion regarding wheth~r Benicia’s legal analysis is correct. The
extent that federal law, including the Interstate Commerce Termination Act (ICCTA), preempts a
state or local jurisdiction’s ability to minimize impacts associated with rail transportation projects
has not been definitely determined by the courts. “The circuits appear generally, for example, to
find preemption of environmental regulations, or similar exercises of police powers relating to
public health and safety, onlywhen the state regulations are either discriminatory or unduly
burdensome.” Fayus Enters. v. BNSF Ry. (D.C. Cir. 2010) 602 F.3d 444,451. The Ninth
Circuit has most recently determined that, “Generally speaking, ICCTA does not preempt state or
local laws if they are laws of general applicability that do not unreasonably interfere with
interstate commerce.” Association ofAmerican Railroads v. South Coast Air Quality
Management Dist. (9th Cir. 2010) 622 F.3d 1094, 1097-1098. Nonetheless, California law on
rail preemption issues is currently in flux. See Town ofAtherton, et aI., v California High-Speed
Rail Authority (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 314 (request for depublication filed September 22, 2014);
see also Friends ofEel River v. North Coast Railroad Railroad Authority, et aI., (September 29,
2014) First Appellate District, Case No. CIV1103605. Factors relevant to Benicia’s ability to
exercise its police powers to lessen the Project’s significant impacts would likely hinge upon,

Page 7
tank cars for these purposes, there is no reasonable expectation that DOT (or any entity other
than Benicia) would enforce Valero’s commitment to use the 1232 cars. Furthermore, the DEIR
provides no evidence that Valero has enough stock of the upgraded 1232 tank cars (a scarce
commodity) to completely avoid use of the older DOT-Ill legacy cars.17

Finally, the analysis is flawed because it only considers crude oil releases of over 100
gallons as significant, despite the potential for significant impacts due to a crude oil spill of less
than 100 gallons. (App. F-2). Given the volatility and flammability of the crude feedstocks to be
imported, combined with the potential ignition sources during a derailment, the DEIR’s decision
to ignore the impacts associated with a release of less than 100 gallons is unsupportable.

(2) The consequences ofa release

The DEIR’s analysis recognizes that serious, even catastrophic, consequences mayoccur
from a release (and conflagration) of crude oil during a train accident. Among the potential
inlpacts, the DEIR acknowledges that: (1) a release in any area could require a significant
. hazardous materials cleanup; (2) a release in an urban area that were to ignite and/or explode
could result in property damage and/or injury and/or loss of life; and (3) a release into the Suisun
Marsh could result in significant damage to biological resources. The costs borne by the
California taxpayer from such a calamity could be substantial, given the DOT’s recent
acknowledgment that the insurance policies currently carried by crude-by-rail transporters .are
typically insufficient to cover even a moderate crude-by-rail accident, much less a major disaster
involving significant releases. 18 Nevertheless, the DEIR declares these potential consequences to
be insignificant under the flawed, quantitative risk assessnlent discussed above.

Even if the risk analysis were supportable, the DEIR provides no explanation for why the
potential fora major catastrophe involving crude-by-rail, even once every 111 years, is an
insignificant impact. The DEIR, other than a brief mention, gives little consideration to the
potentially serious, even catastrophic, impacts that a release of highly volatile and .flammable
crude oil would have on communities and the environment. The DEIR also gives no
consideration to the public health and safety risks presented by the proximity of 27 schools
located within Yl mile of theUPRR rail line between Roseville and Benicia along which HHFTs

(. .. continued)
amongst other things: (1) whether any proposed condition unreasonably burdens rail
transportation, (2) whether the condition is one of general applicability, and (3) whether the
project proponent is a “rail carrier” subject to federal law.

7 Despite Benicia’s assertion that it ispreempted from enforcing such a mitigation measure,
nothing precludes Benicia and Valero from executing an agreement to convert Valero’s
voluntary cOlnmitment to one that is enforceable under CEQA. Should aenicia and Valero come
to such an agreement, the assumption of use of exclusively 1232 tank cars could become
18 Wolfe, “DOT: Rail insurance inadequate for oil train accidents,” Politico Pro (August 6, 2014).

Page 8
will travel. (DEIR 4.7-23-24). The federal government has declared that the shipment of
Bakken crude represents an “imminent hazard” because it is unlike other materials being shipped
by rail. These particular high-risk characteristics must be considered to adequately support a
determination of no significant impact.

(3) The reduction in the risk of accidental releases from a marine vessel) based on the reduction
in marine trips that would be caused by the Project

The risks associated with a release of crude oil in the ocean are fundamentally different
than the risks associated with crude-by-rail travelling long distances through urban communities
and environmentally sensitive lands. Nevertheless, the DEIR gives qualitative “credit” from the
qecrease in ship miles travelled and uses that “credit” to lower the Project’s overall risk. Any
benefit to up-rail communities from a reduction in ship use 50to 100 miles away is tenuous at
best and can not reasonably be factored into the risk equation for the Project.

(4) The recent history of accidents involving DOT-lll tank cars carrying crude oil

The DEIR implies that since th’e majority of previous major accidents.involving crude-
by-rail involved DOT-111 tank cars, those accidents are comparatively of little significance
because Valero has committed to using only the newer, safer 1232 tank cars. (DEIR 4.7-19).
Setting aside the issue of the enforceability of this “commitment,” the DEIR provides no support a determination that these HHFT accidents would have been of a
substantially smaller scope had 1232 tank cars been used. In fact, as the DEIR recognizes, just a
few months ago, a 1232 tank car ruptured and released crude oil during an HHFT derailment at
low speeds in Lynchburg, Virginia. (DEIR 4.7-19). The safety benefit of using 1232 tank cars
for HHFTs is currently the subject of significant scientific and regulatory debate and should not
be given substantial consideration in a qualitative risk analysis.

(5) The regulatory requirements designed to prevent releases and/or mitigate the consequences
in the event of a release from trains

The DEIR unreasonably relies on both recently promulgated regulations as well as
speculative future regulatory changes as a significant factor for determining that the Project will
. cause no significant impact. The efficacy of new DOT regulations is yet to be determined, and
crude-by-rail accidents continlJe to occur. Furthermore, the DEIR’s determination of no
significance relies in part onfuture DOT HHFT tank car regulations possibly being “more
stringent” than even the 1232 tank car standards, an uncertain result given that the regulatory
changes are not final. 19 (DEIR 4.7-19). In short, future changes made by DOT to regulations for

19 The DOT regulatory proposals are the subject of extensive industry group interest. See
Vantuono, William C., “DOT crude oil NPRM: Will cooler heads prevail?” Railway Age
(August 7,2014) [During a recent crude-by-rail forum, one industry insider declared that he
believed, “the final draft of the [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on High-Hazard Flammable
(continued .. .)

Page 9
crude-by-rail are speculative, and their potential effectiveness is currently the subject of
considerable disagreement amongst various stakeholders.

By.employing an incorrect baseline, the DEIRminimizes potential impacts to air quality.

Under CEQA, the project baseline against which project emissions are measured is
“normally” defined as the physical conditions of the environment as it exists at the time of
publication of the Notice of Preparation (“NOP”) of the project EIR or at the time the
environmental analysis commenced.2o  Courts have held that an agency has discretion to select  an alternative baseline, but only if its choice is supported by substantial evidence, such as when existing conditions are not representative of “generally existing” or “historic” conditions?1  Thus,except in limited circumstances, CEQA does not allow an existing facility to define the project baseline by what it could emit, only what it actually does emit. As the Supreme Court found in Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) v. South Coast Air Quality Management District (2010)48 Cal.4th 310,322, “[a]n approach using hypothetical allowable conditions as the baseline results in ‘illusory’ comparisons .that ‘can only mislead the public as to the reality of the impacts and subvert full consideration of the actual environmental impacts,’ a result at direct odds with CEQA’s intent,”22

Here, the DEIR concludes that the project will have no significant impact on air quality because, even if Refinery emissions were to increase under the Project, those increased emissions would not exceed the maximum emissions allowed under existing permit limits (or”maximum permitted emissions”). Rather than using a baseline describing “existing conditions,” Benicia incorrectly uses the maximum permitted emissions as the baseline, asserting that this is proper because Valero holds permits for the Refinery’s process equipment issued pursuant to a 2003 EIR for the Valero Improvement Project (VIP).23 (DEIR C.1-3).

(. .. continued)
Trains and DOT 111 tank cars] could be more friendly to shippers than the first proposal.”
Railway Age’s Editor-in-Chief stated that this assertion, “helped affirm our view that the final
version of the DOT’s safety rules may include some changes to the ones proposed on July 23.”]

20 See CEQAGuidelines, Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15125, subd. (a).

21 For example, in Fairview Neighbors v. County ofVentura (1999) 70 Cal.App. 4th 238, the court
approved a baseline that reflected maximum permitted use (“daily truck trips”), because there
was record of actual daily truck trips meeting and even exceeding what was allowed under the
current permit. The court reasoned that use of actual traffic counts wOllld be “misleading and
illusory.” Fairview Neighbors, supra, at p. 243.

22 CBE, supra, at p. 322, citing Environmental Planning Information Council v. County ofEl
Dorado (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d 350, 358.

23 The baseline actually used in the DEIR is unclear, since the DEIR alternatively claims that the
baseline is both maximum permitted operations and annual average emissions, depending on the
section. (DEIR 4.1-10-11). This comment addresses the DEIR’s assertion, made repeatedly on
(continued.. .)

Page 10
There is no evidence, however, that the Refinery has ever operated at maximum
permitted ’emissions levels since the VIP was completed, and Benicia does not attempt to justify
that the permitted capacity reflects existing physical conditions. Under well-established CEQA
case law, this approach to baseline emissions is improper.

Further, the DEIR’s discussion of the CBE decision mischaracterizes and misinterprets
the California Supreme Court’s holding. (DEIR C.1-2). The section to which Benicia cites
n1erely allows a projected maximum baseline for projects that were exempt from CEQA review
entirely either (l) as a modification of a previously analyzed project,24 or (2) as the continued
operation of an existing facility without significant expansion of use.25

Benicia has not, nor can it, claim that either of these two exemptions to CEQA apply
here. To the contrary, the Project gives Valero the ability to process a crude feedstock with
chemical properties never contemplated during previous project review that the Refinery, as
currently constructed, cannot readily access. (DEIR 1-1). As inCBE, this qualifies as a new
project subject to CEQA review for the first time. Similarly, Benicia cannot claim that the
Project constitutes the continued operation of an existing facility without significant expansion.
The 2003 VIP DEIR specifically excluded expansion of the refinery to use crude oil feedstocks
delivered by rail from the impact analysis of the project,26 Therefore, pursuant to the CBE
holding, withoutany substantial evidence to support use of a baseline constituting maximum
permitted emissions, the proper baseline froni which to compare air quality emissions is the
Refinery’s existing conditions.

The DEIR fails to adequately ap.alyze the potential air quality impacts from new crud~

The DEIR fails to include supportable analysis that Refinery emissions will not increase
upon Project completion. Although acknowledging that the North American crude feedstocks
that could be delivered upon Project completion may be of higher gravity and sulfur content than
the crudes currently processed, the DEIR nevertheless asserts that the Project will not result in air·
quality impacts, based on the asslJmption that – through blending – the average API gravity and
sulfur levels of the crude slate that would be processed upon Project completion would remain
within the same range as the crude slate previously processed at the Refinery. (DEIR 3-24, 4.1-
(. .. continued)

DEIR 4.1-11 and in Attachments C.1 and C.2, that the proper baseline is maximum permitted
operations and not existing conditions.
24 CEQA Guidelines, Cal.Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15162.
25 CEQA Guidelines, Cal.Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15301.
26 See VIP DEIR 3-52 and 4.8-14. (“Transportation accidents related to railcar shipments of
volatile hydrocarbon liquids can result in fires or explosions. However, the VIP will not increase
the rail shipment of these materials.”)

Page 11
17). This conclusory assertion is not supported by substantial evidence or any analysis. Even if
the crude-by-rail processed by the Refinery is blended to the existing range of gravity and sulfur
content, studies show that certain North American crudes often contain’higher levels of other
pollution-causing chemicals that would persist at higher levels despite blending to meet existing
gravity and sulfur limits.27  The DEIR does not assess this possibility and its effects, nor does it
disclose the composition of the expected crude slate to allow proper public scrutiny. (DEIR 3-

The project as defined in hee DEIR impermissibly limits the geographic scope and ignores
foreseeable, significant impacts that will occur beyond the project’s arbitrary boundaries.

By limiting the analysis to only the 69-mile rail section from the UPRR Roseville
Terminal to Benicia and excluding the thousand-plus mile rail trip from the crude SQurce to
Roseville, the DEIR violates CEQA by not analyzing the Project’s foreseeable impacts,
including impacts along hundreds of miles of track within California. In evaluating the
significance of a Project’s environmental effects, the lead agency must consider not only direct
physical changes, but also reasonably foreseeable indirect physical changes to the environment.
28  CEQA further defines “environment” as “the physical conditions that exist within the area that
will be affected by the proposed Proj ect. ,”29

The DEIR largely ignores the Project’s impacts up-rail from Roseville, claiming that
analyzing the potential impacts along these routes would be “speculative,” because future crude
oil feedstocks could originate from multiple North American sources. (DEIR 4.7-1). However,
it is a certainty, not speculation, that the Project will result in HHFTs traveling long distances
with the potential to create significant environmental impacts before reaching the Roseville
Terminal, and, pursuant to CEQA, an analysis of these potential impacts is necessary. While the
, particular routes may not yet be determined, there are a limited number of potential paths for
trains to travel by rail to the Refinery, and the DEIR elsewhere makes similar projections for the
purposes of studying air quality andGHG impacts, approximating that HHFTs will travel 195
miles from the California border to the Refinery. (DEIR 4.6-9). Instead of limiting the analysis
of impacts along these routes to only air quality impacts, the DEIR should have used
comparable estimates to analyze all of the Project’s potential impacts. By arbitrarily setting the
Project boundary at the UPRR Roseville Terminal, the DEIR fails to analyze reasonably

27 For example, tar sands bitumens contains 102 times more copper, 21 times more vanadium, 11
, times more sulfur, six times more nitrogen, 11 times more nickel, and 5 times more lead than
conventional heavy crude oil. These pollutants contribute to smog, soot, acid rain, and odors that
affect residents nearby. R.F. Meyer, E.D. Attanasi, and P.A. Freeman, “Heavy Oil and Natural
Bitumen Resources in Geological Basins of the World,” U.S. Geological Suryey Open-File
Report 2007-1084 (2007) p. 14, Table 1 (available at:
28 CEQA Guidelines, Cal. Code of Regs., tit. 14, § 15064, subd. (d).
29 Pub. Resources Code, § 21060.5.

Page 12
foreseeable impacts related to the transport of crude oil by HHFTs over those significant

The DEIR fails to consider foreseeable cumulative impacts and risks

The DEIR impermissibly narrows the scope of potential cumulative impacts analyzed.
Under CEQA, a DEIR first considers whether the combined effects from both the proposed
project and other projects would be cumulatively significant. If the answer is affirmative, the
DEIR must consider whether the proposed project’s incremental effects are cumulative
considerable?O Absent this analysis, piecemeal approval of multiple projects with related
impacts could lead to severe environmental harm.31

Despite the “imminent hazard” that the transport of certain crudes present and the
substantial proliferation of crude-by-rail projects throughout California, the DEIR relies on its
flawed analysis, discussed above, to determine that no significant cumulative impacts exist to up-
rail communities from an increased risk of crude-by~railaccidents. The DEIR further declares

[F]or the Project to make a cumulatively considerable contribution to the impact
of hazards, two or more events (from the Project and another cumulative project)
would have to occur at the same time and affect the same places. The likelihood
of such a cumulative accident event would be even smaller than the estimated low
probability of a Project-related accident and spill.” (DEIR 5-17).

This limited analysis of only a so-called “cumulative impact event” involving the Project and
“another cumulative project” ignores the entirety of the cumulative impacts caused by a large
rise in the number of HHFTs traveling through both highly populated and environmentally
sensitive areas and the corresponding increase in the risk of an accident. As the DEIR’s own
analysis demonstrates, the risk of a derailment and accident involving HHFTs escalates with a
corresponding increase in the number of miles travelled and the number of train cars on the
tracks. (DEIR App. F-3). Despite the substantial increase in both of these metrics, the DEIR
dismisses any cumulative impact as irrelevant unless it also directly involves a derailment from
one of the listed projects. But the potential cumulative impacts go far beyond these “cumulative
impact events,” to the combined higher safety risks from increases in other train cars (carrying
crude oil or not) and increases in truck crossings. For example, the 2013 crude-by-rail
derailment and fire in Casselton, ND, was caused when a train transporting grain derailed onto a
second track into the path of an HHFT, which had too little time to stop before crashing into the
grain train. 32 The possible impact of a similar accident is completely ignored in the DEIR’s
cumulative impacts analysis. Only by focusing exclusively on these “cumulative impact events”

30 CEQA Guidelines, Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15130, subd. (a).
31 San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlije Rescue Ctr. v. County ofStanislaus (1994) 27 Cal.AppAth 713,
32 79 Fed.Reg. 45019 (August 1,2014).

Page 13
and not the larger cumulative increased risks to up-rail communities from a dramatic upsurge in
HHFTs and other train traffic does the DEIR determine that the Project will have no significant
cUlTIulative impacts.

The cumulative impacts analysis is also deficient because it fails to consider the severity
of the cumulative impacts, a necessary component of CEQA analysis.33  Here, the extraordinary
flammability and volatility of the crude oil feedstocks merits discussion given the serious,
potentially catastrophic, impacts related to an HHFT accident. As a result, there is no basis for
the DEIR’s conclusion that the project will not cause any significant cumulative impacts.
An ove,rly proad grant oftrade secret protection prevents adequate public review of potel1tial
significant impacts.

An overly broad grant of trade secret protection prevents adequate public review of potential significant impacts.

The DEIR frustrates the purpose of CEQA by not disclosing information regarding the
particular crude oil feedstocks expected to be delivered upon Project completion. Instead, the
DEIR classifies all information regarding the characteristics ofpast, present, andfuture crude oil
refined ansite as a “trade secret” exempt from disclosure under CEQA.34  This missing
information includes the weight, sulfur content, vapor pressure, and acidity of these crude oil
feedstocks, information critical for an adequate analysis of the Project’s hnpacts, particularly
with regard to public safety and air quality.

This broad grant of trade secret protection directly conflicts with recent 2014 decisions
by both the DOT and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) that
infonnation about the specific characteristics of crude oil currently traveling by rail are not
protected trade secrets and should be publicly released.35  Indeed, OES has published disclosures
of crude-by-rail shipments of Bakken crude oil by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad
(BNSF) associated with a different project.36  This failure of transparency in the DEIR is
particularly improper given that, under the same DOT Emergency Order that cOlnpelled BNSF’s
disclosure, Valero must submit to OES the withheld information regarding the properties of
crude feedstocks imported by rail, and OES will then release into the public. Benicia’s

33 CEQA Guidelines, Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15130, subd. (b).
34 SeeDEIR 1-5 and Appendix D: Discussion of Confidential Business Information. Trade
secrets are exempt froln disclosure pursuant to CEQA. (Pub. ResourcesCode,§ 21160).
California law defines a “trade secret” in the Government Code. (See Gov’t Code, § 6254.7,
subd. (d).)
35 See OES website, “Public Records: Bakken Shipment Notices & Correspondence” (available
at:; see also Tate, “Norfolk
Southern sues to block disclosure of crude oil shipments,” Miami Herald (July 27, 2014).
36 Id.

Page 14
nondisclosure of this information deprives both the public and Benicia officials of the informed
decision making process that is the “heart” of CEQA.37

The DEIR’s public disclosure of the crude oil as simply “Alaskan North Slope (ANS)
look-alikes or sweeter” does not allow for an accurate public review of Benicia’s analysis
regarding the significance ofthe Project’s impacts. (DEIR 3-24). The undisclosed properties of
the Refinery’s projected crude feeqstocks are necessary to assess the volatility and flammability
of the particular types of crude-by-‘rail, crucial factors in any determination that nOt significant
impact exists. As the DEIR itself explicitly recognizes, “the consequences of a release of crude
oil for a rail tank car depend on the properties of the crude oiL .. ” (DEIR 4.7-13). In other words,
potential releases associated with transporting and storing crude will vary based on the crude’s
chen1ical composition, including the contaminants it contains, its sulfur content, and whether it is
blended with other chemicals. Nonetheless, and despite this acknowledgment, the DEIR
includes no information regarding the characteristics of the crude oil that could·be transported by
raillJpon Project approval, undermining CEQA’s purpose by precluding any ability by the public
or government officials to assess the true nature of the Project’s risks and impacts.

Furthermore, the failure to disclose the characteristics of the crude oil to be processed at
the Refinery infects the air quality analysis and subsequent determination that the crude-by-rail
will cause no significant impacts to Refinery emissions. As only one example, the determination
that any difference in crude feedstocks created by the Project will not cause a significant impact
is based in part on a comparison of API gravity and sulfur content of “various specific crudes
that Valero has purchased in the past three years.” (DEIR Figure 3-8, 3-13). The DEIR
discloses no information regarding the frequency that these. “various” crudes were processed at
the Refinery or how and why these particular crudes were chosen as representative of Refinery
emissions. Without explanation that these particular cnlde feedstocks are an appropriate proxy
for the crude oil to be processed after Proj ect completion, the determination of no significant
impact is not supported by substantial evidence.

37 Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents a/University a/California (1988) 47 Ca1.3d
376, 392.A

Page 15


We urge the City of Benicia to revise the Project’s DEIR to address the deficiencies
explained in this letter so that the City Council and general public are provided a full and
accurate accounting of the Project’s environmental impacts.

We appreciate your consideration of these comments.

Deputy Attorney General
Attorney General
cc:        Paul King, California Public Utilities Commission
Alice Reynolds, California Environmental Protection Agency
Thomas Campbell, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services

Citizens gather to learn about CEQA and the DEIR process so they can write letters about their concerns with the 1,500 page document by Sept. 15.

Citizens gather to learn about CEQA and the DEIR process so they can write letters about their concerns with the 1,500 page document by Sept. 15.

Public Workshops

Responding to the Draft Environmental Impact Report on

Valero Crude-by-Rail Oil Trains through Davis

Saturday, August 9, 10-12 pm  

Thursday, August 21 – 7-9 pm

Sunday, September 7, 2-4 pm

Blanchard Room at Davis Branch Library (more…)

Map of Davis railroads showing the .5 mile U.S. DOT evacuation Zone and the 1.0 mile U.S. DOT potential impact zone plus schools.

Map of Davis railroads showing the .5 mile U.S. DOT evacuation Zone and the 1.0 mile U.S. DOT potential impact zone plus schools.

Public Workshop 
Responding to Draft Environmental Impact Report on
Crude-by-Rail Oil Trains through Davis

Sunday, July 27, 2-4 pm

The Blanchard Room at the Davis Branch Library

Bring questions, ideas for topics, drafts and laptops

Bring a friend! Every letter adds impact!
Comments are due September 15.

June 9, 2014 by Donna Beth Weilenman

A draft of the city’s environmental impact report (EIR) for the Valero Crude-by-Rail use permit request was due to be released Tuesday, but a last-minute staff decision has delayed the report by a week, Benicia Principal Planner Amy Million said.

“City staff determined that additional information was needed to more completely address potential air quality impacts in the Draft EIR,” Million said late Monday. “As a result, the release of the document has been delayed by one week.” (more…)

The proposed Valero rail terminal Project EIR will be released June 10 for public review.

The proposed Valero rail terminal Project EIR will be released June 10 for public review.

The draft EIR on the Valero Rail Terminal Project was released June 17 for a 45-day public review period.

Download the DEIR here:{FDE9A332-542E-44C1-BBD0-A94C288675FD}

Send your thoughts to the City of Benicia by July 30.

You can make a difference!  Ask questions and voice your continuing concerns. Each letter becomes part of the public record and must be addressed in the final EIR.

Your comments may also be sent to the Planning Commission, City staff and our Mayor and City Council.

Note: When writing to the City Manager and Principal Planner, it helps to open with the phrase, “Please add my comments to the public legal record on Valero’s Crude By Rail Project and incorporate them as part of the review of its DEIR. “   (more…)

The draft EIR for the Valero rail terminal Project in Benicia (70,000 barrels of crude oil per day which equals 100 railcars over 1 mile long) was released for a 45-day public comment period on June 17, with a possible extension to 60 or 90 days.  Download the DEIR at u=e71f94d8547945fe29d370ef9&id=80d4ed4aa3&e=312967d6a3

Our city will submit written comments, and they have invited surrounding jurisdictions to join them. Other organizations and concerned individuals are also encouraged to make written comments during the review period. For information about the project and to begin thinking how to respond, some recommended resources follow.

Suggested Resources:

Overview: and were sent to Governor Brown and every CA legislator the week of the joint house hearings on Crude-oil-by-rail chaired by Fran Pavley and Beth Jackson. They summarize all the key reasons why Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community oppose the proposed Valero Rail terminal Project. The document serves as a summary of all the main developments in the case as well.

• Report minimizes risk from oil trains through Roseville, Sacramento By Tony Bizjak and Curtis Tate     Published: Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2014 – 10:09 pm Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 18, 2014 – 7:40 am Go to and search for “oil trains by Curtis Tate” for many more articles.

• Davis Enterprise op-ed from June 8 gives an overview on developments in Davis. The Exploding Threat of Crude by Rail in California with maps for cities at risk showing at risk areas including school sites and population numbers. New Report: Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude By Rail in North America is the first in a series, exposing North America’s booming crude-by-rail industry. It is published in conjunction with the launch of a unique interactive online map of crude-by-rail terminals and potential rail routes in North America. Charts and photographs that show what is happening in this industry at a glance. A must read! Forthcoming analysis on the safety and regulatory issues as well as the economics of crude-b-rail and its climate change implications.

• Pacific Northwest view: is also a terrific resource for the bigger picture of crude-by-rail and also coal and natural gas export. and

CA and Proposed Valero Project for a Rail Terminal in Benicia – Right-to-Know Find posts of all the official documents related to the proposed project as well as a progression of key articles to support any angle you might want to develop.

• Report: Oil by Rail Safety in California by California Office of Emergency Services. Findings of the Rail Safety Working Group convened by the Governor’s Office January, 2014 and published June 10, 2014. Focus is on getting more rail inspectors, being prepared for spills and accidents, and some prevention. Includes a map of hazmat team locations in CA. Worth opening for the breathtaking photograph of an oil train coming out of the Feather River Canyon.

• A letter of support for the OSPR changes including some recommendations

• A letter from NRDC supporting SB 1319 which expands Oil spill prevention and response program as a good first step, although much more needs to be done to protect public health and safety from the risky practice of transporting crude oil by rail.

Safety Matters
• Rachel Maddow’s May 2, 2014 broadcast, “Public Safety at risk by Oil Train Shipments” will give you an entertaining and comprehensive overview of this aspect of the trains at

• Natural Resources Defense Council letter on safety (20 pages) offers documentation to support many issues. You can quote from it freely! (security risk, preparedness, right-to-know act exemption, unsafe tank cars, hazmat category testing, positive train control, 2-person staffing)

• A short documented research report by Forest Ethics on the health impacts of refining tar sands bitumen, which is what both Valero in Benicia and Santa Maria in San Luis Obispo have in mind. Also visit for a report entitled Off the Rails.

• Document by Attorney General Kamala Harris on safety and health concerns. This can serve as one example of how to respond to the DEIR.

• An article on liability, possibly an angle that will not be addressed adequately in the DEIR.
Gov. Brown added $6.7 million to the Office of Spill Prevention & Response to handle accidents. It won’t go far in a catastrophe.

• More on risk assessment for railroads and who will be responsible for liability.

• Valero’s letter on its liability for rail accidents and spills.

Key areas for up-rail responses
public safety: There is still little coming out of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration or U.S. Federal Railroad Administration or Department of Transportation at the federal level, so states and cities are on their own. Subtopics regarding safety as trains pass along Second Street (businesses), through downtown, past Olive Drive and university residences, across Richard’s Blvd, and under I-80 include:

o Inspections:  Rail tracks and bridges need to be inspected regularly, particularly after extreme weather events, to be sure they are supporting the axel load of the more long, heavy, and frequent oil trains. There is some concern as the heavier updated tank cars with shielded hulls are put into service.
o  Unsafe tank cars:  The 78,000 old, unsafe DOT 111A tank cars are prone to rupture when they derail, and thus far the U.S. has made no ruling to phase them out promptly as Canada has, and even the 14,000 cars that meet the 2011 standards may be prone to rupture.
o The nature of the crude being transported: Bakken crude may be more combustible than most crude (the fire ball was 900 feet high in Casselton); the Alberta tar sands is toxic with high sulfur, high heavy metals, and it sinks in water, making it impossible to clean up a spill, plus the refining process produces the by-product “petcoke” which is worse than coal to burn in terms of particulate pollution and ghg emissions.
o Dangerous curve:  There is a 10mph left-handed cross-over between the main tracks several hundred feet east of the Amtrak station. All other crossovers on the line are rated for 45 mph. Several derailments elsewhere in North America have been caused by human error when a train proceeds through a low speed crossover between two higher speed tracks and failing to reduce speed; one near Chicago and one in Canada caused fatalities. The Davis cross over should be replaced with a cross over with a higher speed rating similar to others on the Capitol Corridor line.

the environmental hazards of spills: The water in the Yolo Bypass is the beginning of the Delta with implications for the whole state in terms of the rice crops, bird migrations, and drought.
• the industry exemption from the Right-to-know laws: This issue is up right now as our state is negotiating with UP and BNSF. They are willing to comply with the voluntary DOT emergency ruling to give emergency responders enough information to do their jobs, but they insist the information cannot be given to the public lest it reveal trade secrets or make us vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Link Right-to-know with the OSPR report. Resources: two letters from environmental groups, led by NRDC. CA decision to honor rail request to keep information secret. DOT statement that rail information is not a security issue.
conflicts of interest for the use of the rails (Capital Corridor commutes) (Curtis Tate projects 5-6 trains a day coming through Sacramento in near future.)
lack of adequate liability coverage for accidents and spills. Two articles and a response from Valero.
the impact on climate change; the focus in CA on spill prevention and response to spills/accidents misses the real danger of the entire process from removing the crude from the ground with the assistance of chemicals, transporting it through communities and sensitive habitats all across the country, refining the crude at enormous expense to meet air quality standards, and finally selling the refined crude on the international market so it can be burned, sending more ghg emissions into the atmosphere and slowing our necessary conversion to renewable energy and conservation efforts! We’re on entirely the wrong path! AB32 goals!

The City of Benicia has to respond to all comments in their final EIR, so the more specific, thoughtful and numerous our comments, the better. Different people can address different areas of concern.

Another opportunity for public response: The Draft EIR for the Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo County for a rail spur for daily oil trains of 80 cars per week may be released this summer or fall. The refinery says they don’t intend to import Bakken crude.

Contact Lynne Nittler at or 530-756-8110 for questions.



Oil Tank cars on Second Street in Davis on January 9, 2014.  If the Valero, Benicia project is approved, 100 oil tank cars per day will more through Davis.

Oil Tank cars on Second Street in Davis on January 9, 2014. If the Valero, Benicia project is approved, 100 oil tank cars per day will more through Davis.

By Lynne Nittler, Milton Kalish, and Matt Biers-Ariel

Cross-posted from the Davis Enterprise, January 12, 2013

North Dakota Bakken crude oil production is booming, and oil companies are desperate for a fast, convenient way to transport their crude oil to refineries across the U.S. A vast network of railroads crisscross the nation, making “unit trains,” long trains of 100 oil tank cars or more, an efficient and flexible method of transportation. (more…)