Officials concerned about crude-oil rail shipments

By From page A1 | April 03, 2014

BENICIA — Local and state leaders are raising concerns about a San Francisco Bay Area refinery’s plan to move as many as 100 train cars of flammable crude oil daily through Northern California cities – including Fairfield and Suisun City.

The Sacramento Bee reports the Valero Refining Company in Benicia plans to have trains travel on the Union Pacific line that runs through downtown Suisun City and to Davis and West Sacramento, along the same tracks that carry Capitol Corridor passenger trains between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

The Benicia refinery currently gets most of its crude from pipelines and ships. But Valero and many other refineries also intend to rely more on rail shipments to align with the boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in areas such as North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields.

The trains will pass on the western edge of Suisun City’s Old Town. Suisun City Councilwoman Jane Day lives there in one of the area’s historic homes.

Day said she’s concerned about the trains carrying crude oil shipments passing through the city. But what she really wants to stop from happening is having train cars with crude oil stored near Old Town, along side tracks.

There’s no announcements that this will happen. But, Day said, train cars with propane – not from Valero – have been kept on side tracks near Old Town. That’s been a concern to some Old Town residents.

From Old Town, the Union Pacific tracks cut northeast, forming the border between Fairfield and Suisun City, passing near residential neighborhoods in both cities. They go on to Peabody Road, through rural Solano County past the unincorporated town of Elmira and through Dixon.

Area leaders expressed caution.

“These rail shipments are the wave of the future,” Sacramento city official Fran Halbakken said. “But there is not much information out there.”

Valero did not immediately respond to a call seeking specifics Wednesday.

Crude-oil shipments into California via rail from other states jumped from 1 million barrels in 2012 to more than 6 million in 2013, according to data compiled by the California Energy Commission.

In addition to Valero, Phillips 66 said it plans to begin deliveries of crude by rail next year to its refinery in Santa Maria. Union Pacific intends to deliver up to five 80-car trains of oil “from a variety of sources in North America” each week.

Sacramento officials are preparing to write a joint statement to Valero seeking additional details. They also will write to propose how to increase safety in cities along the route to the company’s planned rail terminal next to Interstate 680, just north of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.

Later this month, Valero and Benicia officials are expected to publish a draft environmental impact report on the rail terminal, and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments also will meet to discuss the issue.

Sacramento Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui has also expressed concerns about the potential for accidents and spills, and she recently has sought additional federal funding for first-responder training from the Department of Homeland Security.

Last July, a runaway train with 72 tankers of oil derailed and exploded in the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic near the Maine border, destroying the town’s center.

While such accidents appear relatively rare, her office issued a statement this week saying “it is imperative that the rail cars are safe and that local agencies are prepared for the increased risk.”

Daily Republic staff writer Barry Eberling contributed to this report.

Staff and wire reports


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