SAN FRANCISCO The Oakland City Council has unanimously backed a resolution opposing the use of the city's rail lines to transport crude oil and coal, a move that supporters hope will call attention to proposed projects that would sharply increase the amount of such cargo rolling through the densely populated city.
The resolution will not halt crude oil trains from entering Oakland since U.S. railroads are federally regulated, but backers hope it will stoke debate about plans for export facilities that would boost demand.
Backers of the resolution are particularly concerned about a proposed upgrade to Phillips 66's Santa Maria refinery that would allow it to take in more crude oil from North Dakota on trains that would pass by rail through Oakland.
They are also worried about the redevelopment of the Oakland Army Base, which includes the building of a commodities facility that they believe will be used to export coal. The coal would also be moved through the city by rail.
"These proposed export facilities are a serious threat to Oakland and the East Bay communities," said Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.
"If oil and coal companies have their way, the Bay Area will become the biggest fossil fuel export hub on the West Coast,” she said.
The fuels will not be consumed in the Bay Area, she added, but would just pass through the area on their way to overseas markets.
California has in recent years seen a surge in crude oil arriving by rail on the back of an oil boom in North Dakota's Bakken shale formation and in Canada, prompting safety and environmental concerns.
Crude oil-by-rail shipments into California increased from about 70 rail tanker carloads in 2009 to nearly 9,500 carloads in 2013, according to state regulators. They are projected to soar in the next few years.
Last July, 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a freight train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded. Since then, there have been a number of fiery derailments in the United States that have caused environmental damage, but no fatalities.
Separately, the Oakland City Council on Tuesday night unanimously passed a resolution to divest money from city employees from fossil fuel companies, although none of that money is currently invested in those types of businesses.
The move is intended to put pressure on the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), which does hold such investments, to follow suit.
CalPERS is one of the country's largest managers of public pensions, with $288 billion in retiree assets under management.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by G Crosse)