Benicia plans more study of crude-oil train impacts

In this July 24, 2014 file photo, an investigator photographs the scene where a locomotive and cars carrying crude oil went off the track beneath the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle.
In this July 24, 2014 file photo, an investigator photographs the scene where a locomotive and cars carrying crude oil went off the track beneath the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle. AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Mike Siegel, file

A controversial proposal by the Valero Refining Company in Benicia to run two 50-car crude-oil trains a day through Sacramento and other Northern California cities to its bayside refinery has hit another slowdown.

Benicia officials on Tuesday said they have decided to redo some sections of an environmental impact analysis of the project. The city plans to release a rewritten report June 30 for public review and comment over the summer.

The city’s decision comes after numerous groups, including Sacramento leaders, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and state oil spill prevention officials, called Benicia’s review of the project inadequate.

Those critics said Benicia failed to analyze the potential impacts of an oil spill and fire in cities, waterways and rural areas along the rail line, and also did not analyze the project’s potential impacts east of Roseville in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Feather River Canyon. They also challenged Benicia’s assertion that an oil spill between Roseville and Benicia would be a once-in-a-111-year event.

Benicia planner Amy Million said it’s too early to discuss what parts of the report will be reassessed. “We are still in the process of doing the analysis and making some decisions on how to address some of the comments that were made,” she said.

Crude-oil rail shipments have come under national scrutiny in the last year. Several spectacular explosions of crude oil trains, including one that killed 47 in a Canadian town in 2013, have prompted a push by federal officials and cities for safety improvements.

Sacramento and Davis leaders have called on Benicia to require the Union Pacific Railroad to give advance notice to local emergency responders, and to prohibit the railroad company from parking or storing loaded oil tank trains in urban areas. Local officials want the railroad to use train cars with electronically controlled brakes and rollover protection. Sacramento also has asked Benicia to limit Valero to shipping oil that has been stripped of highly volatile elements, including natural gas liquid.

Valero officials had said they hoped to begin receiving crude oil by trains early this year. In an email to the Bee, Valero spokesman Chris Howe said, “The proposed steps (by Benicia) are part of the process which we expect will allow the city to grant us a use permit for the project.”

In a hearing Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., Jack Gerard, the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, lamented that lengthy reviews were holding up the development of the country’s energy resources, including the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been under review by the State Department for seven years.

Gerard said some opponents were turning the process into a referendum on fossil fuels. “What we’re seeing across the country today is there’s a small group of individuals who are using permitting processes and infrastructure as surrogates to stop economic activity that they disagree with,” he told the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Bee Capitol Bureau reporter Curtis Tate contributed to this report.

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