In a letter to be sent this week, Yolo County officials accuse the city of Benicia of failing to adequately review the potential for oil spills and fires resulting from a plan by the Valero Refining Co. to run two daily trains carrying crude oil through the Sacramento region to its Bay Area refinery.
A recently published environmental report by Benicia concludes the project will not cause any significant negative impact to cities and habitat up the rail line. That finding was based on an Illinois professor’s analysis saying a train incident causing an oil spill might happen only once every 111 years between Roseville and Benicia.
The Yolo letter, approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, calls that analysis inaccurate and irrelevant because it doesn’t explore the potential magnitude of oil spills. A crude oil train crash and explosion last year in Lac Mégantic, Canada, killed 47 people and leveled several blocks of downtown.
“A catastrophic explosion and spill in a populated area is different from a 100-gallon spill in a shipyard that is quickly cleaned up,” the Yolo letter states. “Without considering the second half of the risk analysis, the (report) cannot conclude that the risk of a spill is insignificant.”
The Yolo board was split, 3-2, on sending the letter. Yolo Supervisor Matt Rexroad opposed the letter, saying he believes the risk of a spill is small and the county should focus its time on issues where it will have more impact. “There is only so much we can have an impact on,” he said. “You allocate resources (based on) how big you think risks are. I don’t know this one is worth fighting.”
Board Chairman Don Saylor took the opposite tack, saying the issue presents clear safety concerns for communities, businesses and people alongside the railways. “The fact is that a single spill or fire in Yolo County in areas such as downtown Davis, the campus of UC Davis or the many other communities in our region could result in significant property damage and injuries,” Saylor wrote in an email to The Sacramento Bee.
Other local cities and counties are expected to issue comments challenging the Benicia rail plan environmental analysis, which was published last month. Benicia officials have set a Sept. 15 deadline for receiving reactions. If its plans are approved, Valero officials have said they plan to begin train shipments early next year. The transports are among the first of what California officials say is an expected boom in crude-by-rail shipments through the state, prompted by the lower cost of North Dakota and Canadian crude.