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Berkeley City Council Votes To Oppose Crude By Rail Plan

BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a resolution that opposes plans by Phillips 66 to transport crude oil through Berkeley and other East Bay cities to a new refinery rail spur in San Luis Obispo County.

City Councilwoman Linda Maio, who wrote the resolution along with City Councilman Darryl Moore, admitted in a letter to the community that railroads are exempt from local and state laws because they are interstate operators.

But Maio said, "That must not stop us from fiercely opposing their plans and demanding intervention."

She said that among the actions that Berkeley can take are filing briefs in environmental impact lawsuits opposing Phillips' plans, coordinating with other cities located along the planned transportation route, working with state legislators and lobbying California's congresspersons and senators.

In a letter to other councilmembers, Maio and Moore said California refineries are in the process of securing permits to build rail terminals to import Canadian tar sands and Bakken crude oils from North and South Dakota.

Maio and Moore said under current plans, crude oil trains would enter Northern California via the Donner Pass and eventually travel along the San Francisco Bay through Martinez, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville and Oakland using Union Pacific tracks.

From Oakland, the trains would use the Coast Line via Hayward, Santa Clara, San Jose and Salinas and continue along the Pacific Coast to the Santa Maria facility in San Luis Obispo County, they said.

Maio and Moore said the Phillips 66 project would transport 2 million gallons per day of crude oil through the Bay Area and that "Roughly 80 tanker cars per day of crude oil assembled in a single train would pass through our cities."

"A crude oil accident could occur anywhere along the transportation corridor including the densely-populated Bay Area," they said.

The two councilmembers said transporting crude oil can be dangerous, citing an incident last July in the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, where 72 tanker cars loaded with 2 million gallons of crude oil derailed, dumping 1.5 million of crude oil.

The resulting fire and explosions burned down dozens of building, killed 47 people and caused more than $1 billion in damage, they said.

The Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay chapter said in a statement today that it "strongly supports" the resolution by Maio and Moore.

Sierra Club staff attorney Devorah Ancel said, "The tar sands and Bakken crude are more carbon-intensive, more toxic, and more dangerous to transport than conventional crude oil."

"Transport of tar sands and Bakken crude is growing at a ferocious pace - in 2013 alone more oil spilled from crude oil trains than has spilled from trains in the past four decades," Ancel said.

She said, "These trains are not safe, they are not adequately regulated and they have no business traveling through Berkeley, the East Bay, or near any community or waterway that would be threatened by a catastrophic spill or explosion."

Phillips 66 said in a statement that it "is committed to the safety of everyone who works in our facilities, lives in the communities where we operate or uses our products."

"Preventing incidents and ensuring the safe and reliable transport of petroleum is our top priority while participating in the North American energy renaissance," the statement read.

The company said it has "one of the most modern crude rail fleets in the industry, consisting of railcars that exceed current regulatory safety requirements and it began modernizing its crude fleet in 2012 "as a proactive precautionary measure to safely capture the opportunities of the rapidly changing energy landscape."

Phillips said, "Our rail cars are inspected to ensure safe, compliant shipments, and we collect data to ensure compliance with the periodic maintenance plan for our rail car fleet" and its rail car program includes federally-mandated inspection, testing and repair of hazmat tank cars."

The company said its Santa Maria facility is set up to process the heavier California-produced crude oil and the routes that train cars travel to reach the facility are selected by rail carriers.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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