City Council votes to oppose rail transport of crude oil through Berkeley

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A plan to transport potentially dangerous crude oil on railways through West Berkeley neighborhoods and the Bay Area was unanimously opposed by Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night.

A resolution, passed unanimously by the City Council, suggests several ways at the local, state and federal levels that councilmembers can fight the proposal, which would bring crude oil, potentially from Canada and the Dakotas, to a Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria, Calif. The Richmond City Council passed a similar vote the same night.

In July, a train carrying about 2 million gallons of crude oil through Canada derailed, causing a fire and explosions that killed 47 people and caused more than $1 billion in damages. The resolution — authored by Councilmembers Linda Maio and Darryl Moore, who both represent districts with railways running through them — cites this accident and other rail oil spills as causes for concern about transporting crude oil through the city’s limits.

While most crude oil has historically been transported via pipelines, rail crude oil movements have increased since 2009, according to a report by the Association of American Railroads.

Maio said San Luis Obispo County has the power to stop the project because it must issue a permit for the use of a terminal for Phillips 66 to be able to unload the crude oil. Despite this, Berkeley City Council aims to communicate its opposition to other cities in the railway’s path.

“We are poised to work with San Luis Obispo County,” Maio said. “We don’t have power over what travels over the rail lines because they are federally regulated.”

Ellen Carroll, San Luis Obispo County’s planning manager and environmental coordinator, told the Contra Costa Times her office is reviewing more than 800 comment letters in response to the project.

If the plan is approved, the Phillips 66 refinery could receive up to five trains with 80 tanker cars each per week, according to a San Luis Obispo County draft environmental impact report. The train route would enter California through Donner Pass and proceed through Sacramento and the Bay Area to San Luis Obispo County along the same tracks used for passenger transportation.

Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks, will ultimately decide which route to use to transport the crude oil to the refinery.

In a statement, Union Pacific said it is federally mandated to move hazardous materials if its customers’ materials conform to the U.S. Department of Transportation standards. In addition, it said it does not currently transport crude oil through the Bay Area.

Phillips 66 said it is working closely with the Union Pacific on the project. Construction is expected to begin in mid-2014, pending the approval of local and state permits.

Contact Angel Grace Jennings at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @angeljenningss.