An 88 million barrel oil surprise in Pittsburg
Last night the City of Pittsburg held a public meeting on the proposed mega oil terminal called “WesPac”, that has quietly been under development for the past two years. The project would bring in 242,000 barrels of crude oil per day (88 million barrels annually) through a marine terminal, a large tank farm for storage and a network of pipelines reaching the major Bay Area refineries. Over the last few weeks the project added a massive rail terminal that would bring in more than 100 tanker cars each day, which could supply dirty crudes like tar sands to Bay Area refineries. For more on the proliferation of oil rail terminals that, if left unchecked, may usher in a toxic tar sands era across the region, see my colleague Brant’s post here.
On the way to the meeting, I stopped at Steeltown Coffee and Tea in the nicely revitalized downtown. I asked the friendly guy behind the counter if he was aware of the oil terminal development and how he felt about it. He responded: Oh yeah, people are talking about that and nobody on this side of town wants it here. Pausing for a second, he added: I’m not sure who does want it.
The meeting was filled with residents expressing concern and opposition to the project. There was a lot of discussion about so many homes being within a stone’s throw of the project. Several churches and a few schools are also close by. One commenter asked if the construction could stop to ensure quiet during church services. Another noted very high asthma rates already affecting the elementary school students. In fact, the Los Medanos Community Healthcare District just finished a project documenting serious health disparities in Pittsburgh related to air pollution.
Another theme of the meeting was the lack of information. One woman discussed knocking on doors the night before in the neighborhood closest to the project, only to find that nobody she talked to knew about the project. Another person noted that so many people are unaware of this project that will affect our kids and our grandkids… there’s no question that this project has caught the few who know by surprise. One resident would like to help keep people informed with an online city journal: Civicmentor.net
Other good comments were made:
- In the event of an accident…
- What will the community alert system look like? Will it accommodate different languages for the people who live here?
- Fire stations and emergency services having been closed down over the years, what is the emergency response capacity available?
- How many railcars are coming in? When will the activity occur? What are the noise impacts? Current traffic is already disruptive. There were complaints of loud horns at night and loads dropped that shake homes.
- How safe are the pipes and tanks?
- “Tanks will leak, that’s just what they do.”
- “We don’t want another San Bruno here.”
- What will be done to address the odors?
- “Back when PG&E used the site and the tanks were filled with oil, the odors were bad.“
- What are the benefits? Are the jobs mainly temporary construction? Are they high quality jobs? Will they offer health benefits? How many jobs are we talking about?
- “Are our lives worth their money? That’s what you’ve gotta look at.”
- “The only benefit is economic and that’s not in our pockets, it’s in someone else’s.”
- What is being transported through this mega oil terminal? 2,000 pages of documents around this project are silent on this issue. More than a few people raised concern about tar sands coming in.
- Will our paradise be lost forever? Residents spoke eloquently of living in a paradise filled with marine life, beautiful sunsets on the water, great neighbors… and questioned if all that would come to an end with the project.
- “I thought I’d retire here. It’s a great place to live; a great place to raise your kids. If this project comes in, I’m getting the hell out.”
- “For years and years, PG&E dumped on us and we don’t want to let that happen again. We need to protect our community, our schools, the beautiful downtown redevelopment…”
So, who wants this project? As I drove home along a wall of oleanders on Highway 4, surrounded by ghost-like hills, the landscape was punctured by industrial developments. A tank farm emanated foul odors. Refinery towers loomed in the distance, glittering in the twilight and concealing the hazards within them. The sun made a final red protest in the sky. I thought about the City Council of Pittsburg and how they might determine the fate of Pittsburg residents and of all the people living in the refinery communities of the Bay Area – Richmond, Rodeo, Martinez, Benicia – who face a mega oil terminal that could suddenly flood the Bay Area with toxic tar sands oil. This one project in the hands of the City of Pittsburg could change the lives of thousands of people throughout the region, yet hardly anyone knows about it.
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