The issue: Clock is ticking on oil-by-rail project
With trains, as well as many other walks of life, timing is everything.
WHEN THE VALERO oil refinery applied in December of 2012 for a permit to expand its Benicia operations to handle a huge increase in oil deliveries by rail, approval probably seemed a formality. Sure, environmental groups would raise their usual concerns, but local opposition was muted and those of us living “up-rail” on the train tracks weren’t even a consideration.
But in July 2013, five days before the Benicia Planning Commission was to take up the matter, a train carrying crude oil derailed in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and blew up, killing 47 people.
In the months since, other crude-oil trains have exploded around North America, making it abundantly clear that the increase in oil shipped by train in outdated tanker cars presents a danger to any town with a major rail line running through it. If the Benicia plan wins approval, Davis will lie along the path of Valero’s oil shipments: the trains will turn left through downtown on their way to the Bay Area.
Alarm has been growing since last summer, in Benicia and locally, as residents consider the implications. A group of Davis residents persuaded the city’s Natural Resources Commission, and now the City Council, to weigh in on the matter. On Tuesday, the council unanimously directed city staff to monitor developments in Benicia and to reach out to regional and national agencies to add safety measures, especially double-walled tanker cars, to the project.
Most importantly, the council members want a joint regional resolution to address safety concerns from the up-rail cities.
THIS SORT OF COORDINATION is what’s critical. Alone, Davis doesn’t have much of a voice. But if we can get Roseville, Dixon, Vacaville and Fairfield on board, we stand a much better chance of being heard. Davis prides itself on being among the first to act on these sorts of issues, and the council showed admirable leadership in getting the ball rolling.
With trains, timing is everything. We weren’t notified of this project, and we lost valuable time before a disaster on the other side of the continent brought it to everyone’s attention. Now, the clock is ticking as Benicia’s review process moves forward.
Time is of the essence if all the cities that will be affected by this project want to be heard. It’s a good thing that Davis is here to call everyone aboard.