Benicia City Council Defeats Oil Train Proposal

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Ricahrd 2nd Street Oil Cars, Davis, CA

(From Press Release) Today, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board denied Valero’s  (NYSE: VLO) request for a ruling that the Benicia Planning Commission’s denial of the company’s permit for an oil train facility was preempted by federal law. This decision came hours before the Benicia City Council voted to kill the project in a unanimous 5 to 0 vote.

The Sacramento Stop Oil Trains Coalition helped to contribute to a big victory for the climate today as the Benicia City Council voted unanimously to deny Valero Refinery the permit to expand their facility. If granted it would have allowed up to 100 rail cars a day filled with explosive crude oil to run through downtown Sacramento on their way to the refinery.

Members of the coalition have been active since 2014 demonstrating solidarity with the victims of Lac Megantic, Quebec; testifying at the CA Legislature, SACOG, Sacramento Unified School District and the Benicia City Council and writing letters to regulators. “All of these actions helped contribute to this win,” said Chris Brown, organizer of the Sacramento  Stop Oil Trains Coalition.

The Sacramento-based coalition worked closely with STAND.Earth, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community and Yolano Climate Action to help defeat this project. Here are some of their statements:

“This is a victory for the right of communities to say no to refineries’ dangerous oil train projects. The federal government has said once and for all that there is nothing in federal law that prevents cities from denying these oil companies’ dangerous rail projects. The oil industry keeps telling communities they have no right to say no to oil trains, but this ruling once and for all refutes this. By denying Valero’s oil train project, the Benicia City Council has demonstrated its commitment to protect public health, safety and our climate in Benicia and beyond. More than anything, this victory belongs to the people of Benicia, who courageously led this multi-year effort to stop Valero’s dangerous project. We call on decision makers in San Luis Obispo, CA, Skagit County WA and other municipalities to recognize that this federal ruling gives them the right to say ‘NO’ to oil companies pushing oil train facilities.”

-Ethan Buckner, Stand.earth Campaigner

“We Benicians are elated that the federal government has our back. The Planning Commission’s denial of Valero’s dangerous crude by rail project was a completely legitimate exercise of land use authority. Valero’s 11th-hour stalling tactic did not work. We’re also incredibly pleased that the Benicia City Council has finally decided to end this four-year nightmare. Benicians and their families can now rest comfortably knowing we will not become the next Lac-Mégantic, Québec, or Mosier, Oregon.”

-Andrés Soto, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community & Communities for a Better Environment

The Sacramento Oil Trains Coalition includes: 350 Sacramento, Sacramento Activist School, ANSWER, STAND.Earth, and The Sacramento Climate Coalition.

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22 thoughts on “Benicia City Council Defeats Oil Train Proposal”

  1. Alan Miller

    This is glorious!  Everyone I spoke to in Benicia expected 3-2 in favor.  It is fascinating to watch the video of the meeting and the reasoning of each councilmember,  and that they are sure they are going to be sued by Valero and did it anyway!

      1. Chamber Fan

        I know you like to be a wise guy, but there is a real problem here as laid out in this very good Fortune article: http://fortune.com/2015/07/02/crude-oil-shipping/

        I don’t see an easy solution.

        1. Alan Miller

          oil by rail should be the safest of all other options after adding speed and collision control systems

          Wrong #Buzzer#

          You might want to add in:

          A bolt shearing protection systems (Mosier, OR)
          An auto-alarm system to alert the engineer not to leave air in his brakes on a hill (Lac Megnatic, Canada)
          A broken rail under a passing train causing a derailment in front of your train multi-armed robot system (Casselton, ND)
          An instant broken-wheel-while-in-motion repair device . . .

          I could go on . . .

        2. Alan Miller

          What is the safest way to transport oil over long distances?

          You have to define what you mean by “safer”, and for all modes, the sample size of number of accidents in which are people directly killed is very small.

          Pipeline are definitely safer than rail.  Rail is like taking a pipeline, sealing the ends in mile-long sections, a transporting both the pipeline and the oil across the land instead of just the oil.  As far as a number of sheer, spectacular explosions, rail wins.  Ships, when they do breach, cause horrific environmental damage, though Mosier and West Virginia rail wrecks did cause oil slicks on adjacent waterways.  It’s all what you are measuring, and if land or sea is to be crossed.  You can’t send Balkan oil from North Carolina by ship, unless you ship it to WA state first.

        3. Frankly

          A bolt shearing protection systems (Mosier, OR)
          An auto-alarm system to alert the engineer not to leave air in his brakes on a hill (Lac Megnatic, Canada)
          A broken rail under a passing train causing a derailment in front of your train multi-armed robot system (Casselton, ND)
          An instant broken-wheel-while-in-motion repair device . . .

          Fascinating.   We fly millions of people and products around dealing with 3-dimensions of movement and the fact that mechanism mishaps would cause them to fall from the sky… and we take a simple track and rail mode that supposedly is the way we should all travel going 90+ MPH on the unfunded bullet train to nowhere… and you make a list of things that justify it as being unsafe for travel.

          Maybe we just need smarter people running the railroads?

        4. Alan Miller

          We fly millions of people and products around dealing with 3-dimensions of movement and the fact that mechanism mishaps would cause them to fall from the sky… and we take a simple track and rail mode that supposedly is the way we should all travel going 90+ MPH on the unfunded bullet train to nowhere… and you make a list of things that justify it as being unsafe for travel.

          You are conflating non-flatables.

          High Speed Rail is not 90mph, it is 220mph, and as of this time there is not a single inch of track laid.  In Japan, there has never been a fatality in 50 years of very heavy service, and fatality rates in other countries are also extremely low.

          Conventional passenger rail is shared with freight.  Freight is very heavy compared to passenger equipment and puts much greater stress on the track, in this case millions of gallons of crude oil on one train.

          One thing about 3-D travel, is once you leave the terminal, the only outside infrastructure is air.  Railroads must constantly inspect rail, wheels, bearing and bolts for wear.

          Thankfully, they do an incredibly good job of this, and as for passenger rail, the statistics show that it is far safer than driving a similar distance.

          Though freight derailments are rare, when they do happen, there is rarely loss of life.  However, as one Benicia City Coucilmember put it (paraphrase): ‘in my business, when we consider risk, we not only consider the probability of an occurrence, but the severity of outcome should something go wrong’.  And his conclusion was, even though the probability was very low, the consequences were so severe that he could not live with it.  ‘Things can and do go wrong’, he said.

          Another Councilmember sited the Moser, OR derailment and oil fire and spill over the summer as “a game changer” for her vote.  She sited that the railroad was Union Pacific, and the cars were of the same ‘safer’ standard that Valero had promised to use, yet they punctured and burned at 26mph.

          So the bottom line is, rail is extremely safe and derailments are very rare.  Untold hundreds of millions of gallons of oil are transported safely every day, sometimes months go by.  But when one does derail, the consequences can be devastating and costly.  Lac Magentic lost their downtown, 47 people, and the cleanup cost so far has exceeded $1 billion.

          The above is why I support rail for both freight and passenger service, but condemn the mass shipment of oil by rail.

        5. Frankly

          ‘in my business, when we consider risk, we not only consider the probability of an occurrence, but the severity of outcome should something go wrong’

          A very foolish comment.  Using this logic we should ban all airline travel because of the potential severity of the outcome of Islamic terrorists flying jetliners into skyscrapers.

        6. Frankly

          So Allan – just crude oil?  How about cooking oil?  Olive oil?  What about chemicals?  Only concerned about flammable stuff?  What about vodka?  Trains do carry vodka you know.

          Is it just the quantity?  Just liquid in tanks?  Is it the length of the train?

          Do you know that dust from grain can be more explosive than gasoline?  Should we outlaw grain transport too?

          There seems to be a lot of things transported that would be bad for the environment if they tipped and spilled.

          What about trucks on the roads now that we said NO to trains?

          It seems to me that the benefits of train freight to society must outweigh the risks… especially given the alternatives.

        7. Chamber Fan

          “A very foolish comment.  Using this logic we should ban all airline travel because of the potential severity of the outcome of Islamic terrorists flying jetliners into skyscrapers.”

          Not really – it’s an extremely low probability event.

  2. Tia Will

    Frankly

    in my business, when we consider risk, we not only consider the probability of an occurrence, but the severity of outcome should something go wrong’”

    A very foolish comment.”

    Well then all doctors must be foolish, because this is exactly the calculation that we make when we assess courses of action. If a person has a serious infection, one thing we always have to weigh is what is the probability that the patient will die of the infection vs the probability that they will die of anaphylactic shock from the antibiotic we choose. For a surgeon, the equation may be, what is the risk that the patient will die if I operate ( with risks of anesthesia, hemorrhage, surgical error) vs the risk if I do not. Both sides of the equation ( probability of occurrence vs severity of outcome) must always be taken into account.

    If your doctor does not make such an assessment and inform you of all of the possibilities, I suggest that you get a second opinion.

    1. Frankly

      I miss-read the comment to mean that he would ignore the probability over the severity of the outcome should something go wrong… and it was a fair mistake on my part given the EXTREMELY low probability.

  3. Biddlin

    “Using this logic we should ban all airline travel because of the potential severity of the outcome of Islamic terrorists flying jetliners into skyscrapers.”

    We did, until we developed protocols to mitigate the risk.

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