Local News

Davis will weigh in on oil-by-rail refinery plan

By From page A1 | March 13, 2014

The city of Davis is on track to express its views on a potential addition to the Valero Oil Refinery in Benicia that would draw trains filled with explosive crude oil through Davis.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to direct city staff to continue to monitor issues and data surrounding Valero’s application with the city of Benicia.

The Valero proposal is a land-use application to the city of Benicia to build a facility that would allow a shift from delivery of crude by oil tanker to crude by rail, according to a Davis city presentation. The oil would reach Valero via rail lines stretching from Roseville to Davis to Benicia and potentially affecting every other city and environmental habitat down the line, should a train derail.

One major point of safety concern is the rail curve in downtown Davis, where trains reportedly must travel close to 10 miles per hour to be safe. Other curves in the nearby rail system are at much faster speeds. Some members of the public have warned the City Council they’ve seen a few near accidents at the curve.

The U.S. Department of Transportation handles safety of rail cars, and on Feb. 25 it issued an emergency order requiring stricter standards to transport crude oil by rail. Many oil cars are single-hulled, meaning if they get punctured or ripped, there is no interior double hull to help prevent a leak.

The city is vowing to partner with the Yolo County Office of Emergency Services to draw up an emergency plan.

According to analysis in the Washington Post, more oil was spilled by rail cars last year than in all the years since 1975, when the federal government began collecting data. Bakken Shale crude in North Dakota and the lack of domestic pipeline systems to address new domestic oil deposits found by hydraulic fracturing have made oil by rail a more frequent method of delivering oil to refineries and ports.

In Benicia, the Valero project would allow delivery of 70,000 barrels of Bakken Shale crude oil per day, meaning that two 50-car-long rail cars filled with Bakken oil would pass through Davis and the downtown curve each day. Currently, the Valero refinery receives oil by ship and pipeline.

The push to get the city of Davis to weigh in has been the result of the culmination of months of effort by a group of Davis residents who are alarmed at the possibility of a derailment and explosion in downtown Davis that they say could take out a portion of the city.

Led by local environmentalist Lynne Nittler, the group first approached the Davis Natural Resources Commission in January, which added its recommendation to the City Council. The commission wants the city to eventually take a position on the Valero project and reach out to civic leaders all along the rail line that would reach from Roseville to Benicia.

Last month, the council largely agreed with the recommendation, but in hearing the update Tuesday, the council added extra conditions for city staff, including engaging regional and national agencies to address safety concerns. Council members also want city staff to work with other agencies to draft a joint resolution addressing regional safety concerns and to synchronize the efforts whenever possible.

The Benicia environmental review process could take months, but so-called up-rail communities like Davis were not notified of the Valero project and are starting behind the curve in the process. But time could be extended because the magnitude of the project will make it likely that the Benicia City Council will review the proposal after the Benicia Planning Commission finishes with the environmental review, Davis city staff said.

City staff have signed up for alerts of updates on the project and the project process.

— Reach Dave Ryan at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews

Dave Ryan

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