Valero's plan to import crude oil by rail heads to the Vallejo, Calif.,
Planning Commission tonight, two days after a packed community meeting hosted by
If approved, the project would position Valero to be the first of the five Bay Area refineries to tap into large amounts of discounted, land-locked North American crude, possibly including controversial Canadian tar sands oil.
Crude-by-rail opponents argue that the project's environmental document inadequately addresses potential health impacts of processing dirtier oil, including increased air pollution, and risks of rail spills and deadly accidents such as the one that killed at least 15 people in Quebec on Saturday morning.
Valero and city officials, however, contend the crude transported by rail is expected to be of similar quality compared to existing shipments imported by boat. They also insist moving crude by rail is no more dangerous than by boat.
Though the commission is scheduled to start the project hearing tonight, no decision is expected until August.
The city's preliminary environmental review of the project, which would allow Valero to receive as much as 70,000 barrels a day of crude by rail at its Benicia refinery, found no significant impact.
However, the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group, and the Good Neighbor Steering Committee, a refinery watchdog group, are pushing for a full enviromental impact report.
About 60 people attended Tuesday's forum at the Benicia Community Center, hosted by both groups. They heard NRDC representatives outline the group's concerns about increased air emissions tied to refining dirtier crudes and potential rail spills. The tanker cars would travel along Union Pacific tracks through Sacramento, Davis, Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City, as well as the environmentally sensitive Suisun Marsh.
NRDC representatives argued refining tar sands oil blended with chemicals would increase emissions of benzene and lead and other hazardous air pollutants, including smelly sulfur compounds. The group further contends dirtier crudes speed up corrosion of equipment, possibly leading to explosions like the one at Chevron's Richmond refinery last August.
The commission meets at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 250 E. L St.
(c)2013 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)
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