Berkeley: Council votes to oppose rail shipments of crude oil

Oakland Tribune | March 25, 2014 | Column by Doug Oakley

BERKELEY -- The City Council is poised to fight plans by big oil companies to ship millions of gallons of highly flammable Bakken crude oil by rail through the city after a unanimous vote Tuesday night.

The council voted 9-0 to pass a resolution directing the city attorney to join anticipated lawsuits over the plans to transport oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Canada through the area to refineries in the Bay Area and Southern California. The resolution also says the city will formally oppose any permits or environmental impact reports filed with local agencies where oil refineries plan to expand or begin oil shipments by rail.

The resolution mentions a July explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a train carrying the same kind of oil derailed and crashed. Other derailments and explosions have occurred in the past year in Alabama and North Dakota.

Most pressing for Berkeley is a Phillips 66 plan to send trains carrying 1.8 million to 2.1 million gallons of Bakken crude to its Santa Maria refinery in Nipomo. According to a draft environmental impact report for San Luis Obispo County, which could approve or deny an expansion of the refinery's rail shipments of crude, the trains would either come from the north, passing through Sacramento and the East Bay, or from the south.

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel said Berkeley's fire chief, planning manager and city attorney already are working on a plan to fight the proposed rail shipments through Berkeley.

"The planning director has already taken a look at the comments in the draft environmental impact report for San Luis Obispo and there are a number of familiar agencies there we can partner with," Daniel said.

Echoing comments heard in public testimony, council member Max Anderson said the threat of an explosion of 2 million gallons of oil in Berkeley is too large to ignore.

"The movement of this volatile oil through our community represents a threat we can't quite comprehend at this moment," Anderson said. "We're talking about rendering a large swath of our community uninhabitable and toxic in terms of future generations. What we are doing today is a small effort but it can grow."

Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery spokesman Dean Acosta said Tuesday the company's "top priority" is transportation safety. The company began modernizing its crude rail fleet in 2012 as a "proactive precautionary measure to safely capture the opportunities of the rapidly changing energy landscape," he said.

"Phillips 66 has one of the most modern crude rail fleets in the industry, consisting of railcars that exceed current regulatory safety requirements," Acosta added.

In any case, Acosta said, Union Pacific Railroad will make the final determination of which route the cars would take.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said a decision on which way the shipments to the Nipomo refinery would go would be "made at a later date." He said the company currently does not move any crude oil through the Bay Area.

Reach Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.