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Diane Bailey’s Blog

Big Oil: These guys are not good neighbors, that's for sure

Diane Bailey

Posted November 7, 2013

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That’s a sentiment voiced by Nancy Rieser, Community Activist in the Crockett Rodeo Working Group, home to the Phillips 66 Refinery at the Ecology Center’s Bay Area Big Oil Getting Bigger? Panel Discussion last night. By the sound of the applause, it was a sentiment shared by all at the packed, standing room only event. 

Nancy went on to describe serious concerns over the public health and safety risks related to a proposed Propane Recovery project at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo.  She noted that financial pressures were leading to recklessness in the industry, as evidenced by the widespread use of clamps (the metal equivalent of a band-aid for leaky pipes) throughout refineries, adding that these remind her of her father using duct tape to hold the family station wagon together when she was a child.

Ecology Center Oil Event.JPG

Another panel member, Marilyn Bardet, Co-Founder of the Good Neighbor Steering Committee in Benicia, home to the Valero Refinery, gave a powerful discussion about how so many of the residents of Benicia are concerned about the proposed Crude by Rail proposal there being a potential “funnel for dirty tar sands crude oil from Canada coming straight to Benicia”.  She notes that the project “has just shocked our town.”  The recent derailment of a train carrying petroleum coke has only added to concerns.

Lyana Monterrey, a Community Organizer with the Pittsburg Defense Council, proposed site of the WesPac Energy Infrastructure Project, described that enormous project as encompassing a marine terminal, rail offloading terminal, tank farm and pipelines all within a stone’s throw of homes, schools, churches and parks in Pittsburg.  Lyana and a group of dedicated, concerned residents have come together quickly forming a formidable local movement against the WesPac development.  Tonight I’m headed to a community meeting in Pittsburg to talk about the health and environmental impacts of the proposal.

Ecology Center Oil Panel.JPGTogether with these phenomenal community leaders, I shared the panel last night with Greg Karras, a Senior Scientist at Communities for a Better Environment, who is one of the top experts on crude oil and refinery pollution in the nation.  Greg presented a wealth of data underscoring how dirty and dangerous unconventional heavy crude oils like tar sands are.  He closed by asking everyone to get their pens out and write down an important upcoming air district board meeting: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District board will hold a hearing on December 4th at 9:45 a.m. in the 7th floor Board room at 939 Ellis Street, San Francisco to discuss all of the regional oil terminals and refinery projects under consideration right now and the potential health and air quality impacts of these projects.  It must be noted that the air district adopted landmark climate policy at its board hearing yesterday, committing to 80 percent greenhouse gas reductions by 2050. 

With the many oil terminal and refinery projects proposed for the Bay Area, we are facing the potential for up one third or more of the crude oil sources for the five major refineries in the region changing over the next year.  In all the hundreds of pages of project documents there is virtually no information about what type of crude oil is coming in, whether it is cleaner or dirtier, safer or more corrosive than the current crude oil being refined.  Our experts tell us we have every reason to be concerned that the projects are likely to usher in some of the world’s dirtiest and most dangerous crude oil.  Yet, there is barely a whisper of safety precautions discussed in these documents and the project mitigation strategies seem to center on wishful thinking.

And it’s not just communities that host these oil terminals and refineries that are concerned; the workers at these facilities are on the front lines of exposure and safety risk.  They know that the highly corrosive unconventional dirty crude oils increase the risk of serious refinery accidents (see for example, here and here).  Some people at the event last night questioned whether environmentalists were working at cross-purposes with labor groups.  Exactly the opposite, we stand with the workers at refineries and oil terminals; they are our natural allies in this fight for improved health and safety.

If there is one single meeting that is the highest priority to attend this year, it is the Air District hearing on December 4th.  Bring a friend, rent a van and bring your neighbors; come any way you can to tell the air district that communities all around the Bay need the air district to ensure that these new projects won’t increase pollution or risks to health and safety.  As the Air District works to meet its new climate goals, there is no place for dirty, toxic, accident-prone crude oil; it is not welcome here. 

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FloridianNov 10 2013 04:01 PM

Your co-worker Anthony Swift says that it is not economical to ship tar sands by rail. So why are you worried about it coming to California? Is he possibly not telling the truth?

Diane BaileyNov 11 2013 06:49 PM

Mary, thank you for raising the big picture issues with tar sands transport by rail vs. pipeline. My colleague Anthony correctly notes that rail transport of crude oil is more expensive than pipeline transport. That’s an important consideration in the context of debates around major pipelines like Keystone XL, as the rejection of that pipeline will prevent vast new tar sands development. However, while pipelines may be particularly well suited to enable tar sands expansion, industry has been running into major obstacles in getting new pipelines in Canada and the U.S. approved. Because of this, tar sands producers are turning to more expensive alternatives like rail to avoid having their production shut-in.

In California where there are no major pipeline connections to the tar sands developments in Canada and the tar sands developments are closer than to the Gulf Coast, rail does seem to be a viable option. The crude oil market experts who we have consulted with predict significant quantities of tar sands coming into California by rail and resulting in significant health, air quality and community impacts near the terminals handling tar sands and the refineries processing the dirtier grades of crude oil. Our expert reports providing evidence for and details of these concerns are available here:
and here:

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