Friday, June 28, 2013

Valero Benicia's bringing increased mercury pollution and ecocide through it's "crude-by-rail" project...

More information can be found at [], which, beginning 2013-06, according to a note on the website's main page from the editor & publisher Roger Straw, "This new edition of the Benicia Independent asks questions and explores answers related to Valero Benicia's proposed crude-by-rail project".
Media contact for Roger Straw []

Railroad tracks along Goodyear Road near Valero Benicia Refinery. Note the nearby Suisun Marsh.

Some repercussions:
"Greenpeace: This is What It’s Like to Live in an Oil Industry Disaster; Months after the March 29 ExxonMobil oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, residents are still getting sick", posted at []. "Mayflower" []: Testimonials from the first Keystone XL Refugees, of Mayflower, Arkansas

Crude Consensus: A Community Meeting on Valero’s Proposed Rail Terminal
IMPORTANT! Attend the Community meeting on July 9!
Valero's proposed rail terminal could significantly impact the Suisun Marsh, emergency response time, traffic, and noise. Could it also open the door to increase supplies of very high-sulfur, low-quality crude oil from Canada's tar sands to Valero's Benicia Refinery? Join the Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee and the Natural Resources Defense Council to learn more about potential hazards to Benicia residents, and ways to participate in the City's evaluation of the project.
NRDC will present the findings of expert research commissioned by them on potential environmental impacts of the project, including local air pollution.
Snacks and refreshments will be provided.

6:30-8:30 p.m. July 9, 2013
 Benicia Community Center
 370 East L Street
 Benicia, CA 94510

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2013-06-12 "Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?" letter by Roger Straw to the editor of the "Benicia Herald" newspaper []:
MANY THANKS TO BENICIA HERALD REPORTER Donna Beth Weilenmann for her detailed report, “Valero rail project: City has no control over oil source” (June 12) []. It is unfortunate that City Manager Brad Kilger is quoted saying, “The city does not have the authority to control the refinery’s crude sources.”
The source of Valero’s crude is important — here in Solano County, and globally. Since the city can’t control it, perhaps those of us who live here should persuade our friendly giant Valero to stay away from Canadian tar-sands oil of its own volition.
The world is dying, not so slowly, from the burning of fossil fuels. The most polluting of these fuels is mined in Alberta, Canada, where investors are extracting a thick, tar-like substance called “bitumen” from deep layers of sand. This sludge is blasted out of the sand with heated water. Millions of gallons of water are used daily, which first must be heated by natural gas, so the process is not energy efficient and can never be truly competitive with regard to “return on investment” after all costs are factored.
Moreover, additional costs are too often not accounted for — in particular the destruction of miles and miles of pristine northern boreal forests, and in their place the creation of a hellish network of open pit mines, wells, roads, pipes and hundreds of toxic “lakes” from the water used in the extraction process. The destruction has expanded to an area larger than Ohio or Pennsylvania.
Next comes the problem of creating a “blend” of crude oil from the tar-like bitumen that is fluid enough to be transportable by pipeline (Keystone XL), or now by rail. The gazillion-dollar heated railroad cars, we are told by Mr. Kilger, who cites a study paid for by Valero, are “specifically designed not to rupture,” and the city, county, state and feds are all well-prepared to take care of any emergency.
Sure. Tell that to the residents who live near Kalamazoo, Mich., where my daughter was born. We have friends and family nearby there, and their story of leaked tar-sands crude is horrific. After spending more than $765 million on a three-year cleanup there, the Kalamazoo River is still plagued by sunken heavy balls of tar-sands bitumen, threatening habitat, wildlife and human health. For background, see “April Flooding Could Affect Cleanup of 2010 Michigan Oil Spill,” by David Hasemyer []: “Removing dilbit (diluted bitumen) from water is more difficult than removing conventional oil because the chemicals used to thin the bitumen gradually evaporate, while the bitumen sinks to the river bottom.”
Imagine that gunk flowing into our Suisun Marsh after a train derailment — what would that look like? For an idea, read InsideClimate News’ Pulitzer Prize-winning authors’ “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of” [], about “a project that began with a seven-month investigation into the million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It broadened into an examination of national pipeline safety issues, and how unprepared the nation is for the impending flood of imports of a more corrosive and more dangerous form of oil.”
We in Benicia — including our neighbors in positions of influence at Valero — need to do some very important homework and ask a lot of questions before this new crude-by-rail project is approved. Imagine a disaster here, or better yet, imagine no opportunity for one. The hearing at the Planning Commission is set for July 11. Comments should be sent by July 1 to City Manager Brad Kilger at City Hall, 250 East L St., Benicia, or by email to

2013-06-27 "Crude by rail to Benicia? Yes or no? Emergency plans? Sources?"
by Roger Straw []:

Valero Benicia Refinery has proposed a project to transport crude oil for processing by rail cars rather than ships.
In early June, Charlie Knox, former director of Community Development Benicia released a one-page Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration [] for Valero's "Crude By Rail" project along with a 190-page DRAFT Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study [], which will be reviewed and either adopted or rejected by Benicia's Planning Commission on July 11, 2013.
It is vital that everyday citizens of Benicia learn about this project, ask questions and voice their concerns to the Planning Commission before the July 1, 2013 deadline. Read on below, and then send your comments to City Manager Brad Kilger at City Hall, 250 East L St., Benicia, or by email to

In our Benicia Herald:
* 6/5/13, "Public comment open on oil-by-rail project" []
* 6/12/13, "For Valero rail project, city has no control over oil source" []
* Article by Roger Straw, 6/14,13, "Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?" []

Critical documents for review before July 1, 2013:
* Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration []
* Mitigated Negative Declaration & Initial Study (careful - this is a large download, a 190 page PDF) []

Outside perspectives on Valero's crude-by-rail plan:
* Canadian tar sands crude heads to Bay Area refineries, by Matthias Gafni, Contra Costa Times []
* []
* []
* []
* []
* []

All about Tar-Sands strip-mining in Alberta Canada:
* Canadian tar sands crude heads to Bay Area refineries, by Matthias Gafni, Contra Costa Times []
* "In Photos: The True Cost of the Tar Sands” - a talk by conservation photographer Garth Lenz (
* “Game Over for the Climate,” James Hansen []
* “The Biggest Criminal Enterprise in History | Terracide and the Terrarists Destroying the Planet for Record Profits,” Tom Engelhardt []

Valero's and Union Pacific Railroad's Perspective
* See the 3/3/13 Benicia Herald article, "Valero oil plan needs Planning Commission OK" [] and read Valero's Project Description (p. 12-25) in the Mitigated Negative Declaration & Initial Study (careful - this is a large download, a 190 page PDF) []
* See also: Valero's Investor Relations pages, including their First Quarter 2013 Results []

On Global Warming and Climate Change
* “NASA Scientists On 400 ppm CO2” []

2013-06-27 "Review of the Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study; Action to be taken July 11, 2013 at Benicia Planning Commission"
by Roger Straw []:
This is a rough draft of comments I plan to submit to the Planning Commission by July 1.

Overview – Planning in a Wider Context:
Vision - Planning is a future-oriented thing. Our best planning is visionary, and aimed toward a future that improves our overall condition. The Planning Commission must always be asking, “What kind of Benicia do we want to see in a decade, or fifty or a hundred years from now?” and, “How does this application move us toward the future envisioned in Benicia’s General Plan?”
Context - Context is critical. Benicia and Valero do not exist in isolation. At this time in history, the world is transitioning from fossil fuel driven economies to one powered by alternative technologies. The decisions we make together (Benicia and Valero) cannot be short-term decisions, focusing on investments that will pay off in the short run, but long-term decisions, investments that will prepare for a different kind of world – and that will lead the way for other communities to prepare for that different kind of world.

Need for a Public Process:
CEQA / EIR - Valero’s Application, Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study must undergo a thorough CEQA review, calling for a full EIR.  It was premature of the City’s former Community Development Director to recommend approval of a Use Permit and adoption of a Mitigated Negative Declaration based unquestioningly on the accompanying ESA Initial Study prepared for the City and paid for by Valero.
A Public Hearing - The hearing before the Planning Commission on July 11, 2013 is the first – and perhaps the ONLY chance the public will have to question and raise public concerns about this project.  An EIR would greatly increase the City’s chances for avoiding huge and costly mistakes, mistakes that could be huge and costly for not only Benicia, but for the region and indeed the world.

Specific Questions and Concerns:
1. Rail spills and accidents - Public health and safety and environmental impacts associated with potential crude oil spills and accidents along rail routes, will include the protected waters of the Suisun Marsh and areas beyond Valero’s protective berm.  The Initial Study does not weigh the wider context of a possible oil spill, contaminating the protected waters of our Suisun Marsh or the places of business in Benicia’s Industrial Park.  Rail spills have increased dramatically in the U.S. as crude-by-rail shipping has grown in recent years.  A pipeline spill of diluted bitumen near Kalamazoo, Michigan caused an unimagined, unprepared-for nightmare, with chemical separation of the blended crude that led to evaporation of harmful chemicals and, even worse, the sinking of heavy tar-like globs of crude that have been near-impossible – even at great expense – to clean up in a watery environment.  Unique and unparalleled emergency planning for a new kind of spill should be included as a mitigation after a thorough EIR investigation.  The emergency plan should extend beyond Benicia through the Suisun Marsh and including rail lines throughout Solano County.  Costs for such an expensive clean-up should also be predicted, and funding sources identified.
2. Refinery accidents - Valero, the scientific community and the public know a lot more about refining of “sour” crude than we did when Valero was approved in 2002-03 for upgrades that allow for its current processing of such heavy crudes.  The massive explosion at Chevron in Richmond in 2012 has alerted Benicia citizens to the damaging corrosive effects of heavy crude on refinery pipes and equipment.  This unfolding knowledge should be explored in a full EIR, with careful plans and appropriate mitigations.
3. Potential for increase in crude processing - Although Valero states that it currently does not plan to increase its supply of crude oil, the project creates a potential for substantial increase in the supply of heavy, dirty diluted bitumen from North American locations over time.  How can the public know what the potential effects will be 10 or 50 years from now?
4. An open door to tar-sands crude - This project would position Valero, should it choose to do so, to import diluted bitumen from the tar-sands pit mines in Alberta.  The Initial Study designates “crude blends,” but does not spell out the types of blends or the commercial suppliers or their sources.  Questions put to refinery personnel are inconclusive, if not evasive.  The City and its partner corporation have a moral obligation and global responsibility to assure Benicia citizens and the world that opening this door will NOT at some future date result in support for a Canadian-government-supported industry that is stripping the Alberta boreal forests, endangering wildlife and human health there, and contributing at an alarming rate to global warming.
5. Air quality - There is great potential for an increase in air pollutants despite Valero's claim that emissions will remain at current levels.  Benicia needs a full EIR to fully investigate this issue.  A full EIR will examine the project in light of AB32, which governs industrial pollutants, sets goals for reductions in greenhouse gases, and lays out a vision for a sustainable economy.  (Note that nowhere in the Initial Study is California’s AB32 even mentioned.)  An EIR would also much more strenuously measure the project against Benicia’s General Plan, and a full EIR would carefully study how and whether this project contributes to and undercuts Benicia’s goals for reduction of greenhouse gases.  (Benicia’s Climate Action Plan is only mentioned briefly on p. 60 of the Initial Study.)
6. Traffic - There will be increased traffic delays due to increased rail traffic (two 100-car trains per day).  The public needs to hear from Industrial Park owners and workers whose business could be inconvenienced and profits diminished.  Even more importantly, EMS and emergency vehicle access to the Industrial Park could be affected, causing very real safety concerns.  These factors need greater study and additional mitigation strategies.

Thank you for this opportunity to work with you on planning for Benicia’s future and a prosperous, safe and sustainable Valero.

2013-07-06 "Canada train blast: At least one dead in Lac-Megantic"
from BBC News []:
Firefighters set up a perimeter around the blaze as worried residents looked on

Eyewitnesses reported that the town centre was crowded at the time of the blast

Police say at least one person has died after a driverless train carrying light crude oil exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic.    The blast sent a fireball and black smoke into the air, forcing the evacuation of 1,000 people.   
Dozens of buildings were destroyed in the town, about 250km (155 miles) east of Montreal.   
The train's cars reportedly uncoupled from a parked engine and derailed early on Saturday.   
Rail company spokesman Christophe Journet said the train had been immobilised in a neighbouring village before a scheduled crew change, but for an unknown reason had then started rolling downhill into Lac-Megantic.    
Eye witnesses said that by the time the driverless train reached the town it was travelling at considerable speed.   
Local media reported 60 people missing, although police officials have not confirmed this.    
The cause of the derailment was not immediately clear.   
Some 120 fire fighters have been fighting the blaze, which continued for hours after the blast.   
They have been unable to approach the centre of the devastation.   
Eyewitnesses reported that the town centre was crowded at the time of the blast, and that "chaos" ensued.

Explosion fears -
The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train had five locomotive engines and 73 cars filled with light crude oil, and was parked in the village of Nantes - about 7km (four miles) from Lac-Megantic - during an overnight driver shift-change, a company spokesman told Canada's La Presse newspaper.
The cars filled with fuel somehow became uncoupled, causing them to roll downhill into the town and derail, said the spokesman, Joe McGonigle.
"It seems that the brakes were tight on locomotives," Mr McGonigle told La Presse. "We found the locomotives higher up, half a mile (800m) away."
Some of the cars exploded, creating a massive fireball and setting fire to nearby homes and businesses.
A one-kilometre exclusion zone has been set up amid fears of more pressurised containers exploding.
Quebec police spokesman Sergeant Gregory Gomez del Prado told the BBC: "We do fear that there will be fatalities and from now we're trying to locate the people that are still missing."

'Everything gone' -
"When you see the centre of your town almost destroyed, you'll understand that we're asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event," an emotional Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told a televised news briefing.
Resident Claude Bedard described the scene of the explosions as "dreadful''.
"We've never seen anything like it," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
"The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone."
Firefighters from across the border in the US are helping tackle the blaze.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those affected by this morning's tragic train derailment and subsequent fires in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
"We hope evacuees can return to their homes safely and quickly.
"The people of Lac-Megantic and surrounding areas can rest assured that our government is monitoring the situation and we stand by ready to provide any assistance requested by the province."
Some of the train's cargo spilled into the nearby Chaudiere river, said Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette, adding that communities downstream of Lac-Megantic had been warned to take care if using river water.
A mobile laboratory had been set up to monitor the quality of the air, he added.
The train was carrying the crude oil from the Bakken Field in North Dakota. Montreal, Maine & Atlantic owns more than 800km (500 miles) of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.
A lakeside town that is home to some 6,000 people, Lac-Megantic is close to the US border with Vermont and 210 km (130 miles) north of Maine's capital, Augusta.

2013-07-06 "One dead and sixty missing as runaway train carrying hundreds of tons of oil derails and explodes in fireball in Canadian town center"
by Jessica Jerrat from "London Daily Mail" []:
* First confirmed victim of freight train fire
* About 30 buildings destroyed in Lac Megantic
* Force of blaze preventing rescue workers from checking for survivors
* Oil from train cars is spilling into nearby river

The center of a Quebec town has been wiped out, according to the mayor, after a runaway freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a fireball at 1am on Saturday.
One person was killed and about 30 buildings were destroyed as the unmanned train exploded. About 60 people are believed to be missing, but the force of the fire has slowed rescue efforts.
Parts of the town were evacuated in the early hours as fireballs shot several metres in the air, flames spread to nearby homes and thick acrid smoke filled the air in Lac-Megantic, which is close to the Maine border and about 250km from Montreal.
The name of the person killed in the blaze, caused by a runaway Montreal Maine & Atlantic train, has not yet been named.
The train's conductor, who was in a hotel at the town at the time of the crash, is being questioned by police, according to CTV News.
He had parked the train in Nantes, about 12km away, as he waited for someone to take over his shift, when it somehow 'got released', the railway company's vice-president Joseph McGonigle said.
'We're not sure what happened, but the engineer did everything by the book. He had parked the train and was waiting for his relief,' he added.
The train's engine was found about 1km from where the explosions took place, creating what authorities have described as 'a war zone'.
About 30 shops and homes in the town center, including the library and local weekly newspaper's office, were destroyed by the fire, which is being dealt with by firefighters from Quebec and Maine.
'Words cannot tell the damage that had been done,' Sergeant Gregory Gomez del Prado, of Quebec Police, said.  'Many, many buildings have been damaged. It’s a catastrophe for the town of course, but also for the whole province.'
Witnesses said the blast flattened an apartment building and part of a bar, which had a terrace packed with people at the time of the fire, according to CBC.
Yvon Rosa had just left the bar when he saw the runaway train.
'I have never seen a train traveling that quickly into the center of Lac-Megantic,' he said. 'I saw the wagons come off the tracks ... everything exploded. In just one minute the center of the town was covered in fire.'
The ferocity of the blaze has made authorities fear for the safety of many of the lakeside town's 6,000 residents. About 120 firefighters are still trying to contain the fire in the town center.
'When you see the center of your town almost destroyed, you'll understand that we're asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event,' the town's mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche, said.
'We're told some people are missing but they may just be out of town or on vacation,' Lieutenant Michel Brunet, of Quebec police, said.
A Facebook page has been set up to help friends and family check on their loved ones, according to the Toronto Star.
About 250 residents have taken shelter in a Red Cross center set up in the town's high school, and more are expected to arrive there later today.
'Many parents are worried because they haven't been able to communicate with a member of their family or an acquaintance,' Ms Roy-Laroche said.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent his sympathy to the stricken town.
'Thoughts & prayers are with those impacted in Lac Megantic. Horrible news,' he said on Twitter.
Flames could be seen from several miles away as the fire spread to several homes after the 73-car Montreal Maine & Atlantic train, which was heading towards Maine, derailed.
Zeph Kee, who lives about half an hour from Lac-Megantic, told CBC: 'It was total mayhem ... people not finding their kids.'
Resident Anne-Julie Hallee, who saw the explosion, said: 'It was like the end of the world.'
Another resident, Claude Bedard, said: 'It's terrible. We've never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.'
Only 1,000 litres of oil on board the train has been recovered, and firefighters said that all of the 73 cars were on fire, according to a press conference held in the town on Saturday afternoon.
A lot of the oil has leaked into a lake and the Chaudiere River, and plumes of thick smoke could be seen from about 10km away, nearly 10 hours after the blast.  
A 1km section of the town has been cordoned off and boats have been banned from coming close on the river, after flames were allegedly seen in two aqueducts.
'We have a mobile laboratory here to monitor the quality of the air,' Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette said.
'Firefighters are working hard to extinguish that fire, but it’s burning hard because of the crude oil,' Gergeant Gomez del Prado said,adding that it would take a while for the fire to be contained. 
'We also have a spill on the lake and the river that is concerning us. We have advised the local municipalities downstream to be careful if they take their water from the Chaudiere River.'
Firefighters have set up a perimeter around the town as they try to tackle the blaze, which was caused when four of the cars that were pressurized blew up.
'There are still wagons which we think are pressurized. We're not sure because we can't get close, so we're working on the assumption that all the cars were pressurized and could explode. That's why progress is slow and tough,' local fire chief Denis Lauzon said.
The cause of the derailment is not yet known. The railway company's Mr McGonigle, said the middle section of the train had derailed, the Montreal Gazette said.
Investigators are headed to the town to begin gathering information and statements from witnesses.

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