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Diane Bailey’s Blog

Dangerous Crude Oil Terminals Blocked!

Diane Bailey

Posted November 14, 2013 in Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil

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This is the headline we want for all of the proposed crude oil terminals in California.  For two other proposed oil terminals in Washington, this was their reality today.  So let’s take a day to celebrate with our neighbors to the North and then double down to bring this victory here.

The two proposed Grays Harbor, Washington oil terminals are held up for failure to address significant public safety and environmental issues.  We have yet to see these issues adequately addressed for the proposed crude oil terminals in California as well.  In fact, we’re starting to see delays as city and agency officials come to grips with the public outcry of concern over the lack of information and significant potential risks of these projects.

Valero recently put a hold on the application for its Wilmington (Los Angeles Harbor Area) refinery crude by rail permit.  They are apparently waiting to see how things go with the Benicia (Bay Area) refinery Crude by Rail project.  That project was slowed down last summer with the City of Benicia opting to do a full environmental impact review (EIR) due to overwhelming public concern. Benicia Pet Coke Derailment 2.jpgf a crude oil train derailed there.  The train that derailed last week was carrying petroleum coke, a solid material, and luckily no one was hurt nor was there a major spill or accident.  But the incident left a major intersection blocked for hours in the industrial park outside the refinery (see photo from Marilyn Bardet), serving as a stark warning of what could  happen if the proposed 100 rail cars of crude oil rolled  through that area each day. 

One wise community advocate suggested googleing crude oil train derailments to get a sense of what they look like.  There has been a spate of fiery crude oil tanker derailments in recent weeks (See Alberta, Canada and Alabama), with luckily no major injuries, but these were in rural areas. Residents of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, were not as lucky last July, when more than 40 lost their lives in one of the deadliest and most tragic crude oil derailments (see images below).

lag Megantec, oil train derailment july 2013.jpg

 Lag Megantec aftermath of derailment july 2013.jpgThe fiery images of devastation from Quebec illustrate the hazards of residential proximity.  Rail lines cut through countless small towns exposing thousands of residents to major safety risks in most cases without their knowledge or consent.  As far as we know, none of the California crude oil rail project proponents have notified “uprail” communities of their plans to transport millions of barrels of crude oil through their towns. 

The close proximity of these industrial rail lines to homes and businesses is even more pronounced at the oil terminal project locations.  Consider these images below showing businesses in Benicia a stone’s throw from the rail tankers; and in Pittsburg (site of the proposed WesPac project) it looks like some homes are directly adjacent to the rail facilities, sharing a fenceline.         

Thumbnail image for Oil train outside Valero Benicia.jpg

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In Pittsburg, the Saint Peter Martyr school sits on the fenceline within roughly 500 feet of the proposed tank farm.  With massive petroleum tanks towering over classrooms, you have to wonder what it’s like for kids to go to that school.  What would happen if one of the tanks leaked, caught fire, exploded?  I can’t think of a worse location for a crude oil complex.

Meanwhile, the WesPac Pittsburg project has delayed posting a final EIR to 2014, giving residents a reprieve over the holidays.  However, we will not rest until this project is stopped.  We are not convinced that health, safety and environmental risks can be adequately addressed through mitigation.  Right now, the main mitigation strategies seem to center around wishful thinking.  Common sense and consideration of all the recent accidents would suggest a better approach – an isolated location with abundant safety precautions included.  Residential areas really are not appropriate locations for massive industrial crude oil terminals.  We would like to see greater government oversight of these major infrastructure projects, minimizing health, safety and environmental risks and ensuring full mitigation before any projects are approved.

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