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Benicia Extends Public Comment Period on Bay Area Crude-by-Rail

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Benicia city officials are giving people more time to comment on a proposal to bring crude oil by rail to Valero’s refinery there. The Benicia Planning Commission made the decision on Thursday night after hearing two hours of testimony. All but three speakers were in favor of extending the comment period, citing summer vacations and the complexity of the project’s draft environmental impact report.

Valero is looking to take advantage of the North American oil boom by bringing the crude in by rail, instead of overseas by ship.

The Valero refinery in Benicia is one of five refineries in the Bay Area. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The Valero refinery in Benicia is one of five refineries in the Bay Area. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The project has raised safety concerns in the community. There have been several fiery oil train derailments in other parts of the country in the past year, and last summer a train carrying crude oil exploded in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

“That is not going to happen here,” said Dan Broadwater, business manager for the Napa and Solano County electrical workers union. He pointed out that Valero’s Benicia refinery is one of only two refineries in the state that are recognized by the California Voluntary Protection Program for its safety record. (The other is Valero’s refinery in Wilmington, a neighborhood near Long Beach.)

Other speakers said that it’s not just about safety at the Valero plant.

“We believe this is actually a regional issue,” Lynne Nittler, of Davis, told the commission. “Your decision here has a profound impact on those of us who live up-rail.”

If the project is given the go-ahead, two 50-car trains a day would travel on Union Pacific tracks through the Roseville rail yard near Sacramento. Combined, they would deliver up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the Valero refinery, offsetting crude delivered by ship. The refinery also receives crude from the San Joaquin Valley via pipeline.

Valero representatives have said the trains will be scheduled so that they don’t interfere with traffic in Benicia during rush hour. Union Pacific is responsible for dispatching trains on its tracks, including Amtrak’s Capital Corridor trains, which travel the same route.

Valero has also said it will use upgraded tank cars, rather than older cars that have been involved in the explosive derailments.

The public comment period on the project now ends on September 15, a 45-day extension. Comments can be submitted to Amy Million, principal planner: amillion@ci.benicia.ca.us. Fax and snail mail address are available here.

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About the Author ()

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.
  • Ron Schalow

    Bomb Trains only exist because Bakken oil producers have deliberately chosen not strip the crude of flammable natural gas liquids (NGL’s), and explosive gases, by a process known as stabilization. It’s not new.

    Why won’t they? Because stabilizing the crude costs money…and the oil companies make more money when they pad the tanker with the NGL’s. Deaths are irrelevant. They will do what they please until they are forced to make the oil safe for transport.

    The people running North Dakota, our spineless elected officials, would rather put their own citizens in danger, than disappoint the oil companies. You can speculate why.

    I can’t get any of them to explain their insane behavior, and our so-called media in ND is too cowardly to ask them why they won’t do their jobs.