skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Diane Bailey’s Blog

Tell Bay Area Air Authorities What You Think of Tar Sands

Diane Bailey

Posted December 3, 2013

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

Tomorrow, Bay Area residents get their first chance to raise concerns with regulators about the potential flood of tar sands oil heading for California refineries.

In response to refinery community concerns, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) will host a board hearing to consider four “energy” projects that could dramatically increase supplies of dirty tar sands crude oil into Bay Area refineries.  (See earlier posts on oil terminal projects here, here and here.) NRDC and others are pushing for BAAQMD to delay permits for these projects pending a full investigation into the combined environmental impact of these facilities.

The Air District is taking an important step to start a discussion of the public health and safety risks of bringing hundreds of crude oil tanker cars each day through densely populated residential areas.  Combined, these projects could shift one third or more of the region’s refining capacity to unconventional new sources of crude oils—likely from Canada’s tar sands and North Dakota’s Bakken shale.  

Research commissioned by NRDC details potentially grave impacts to communities around oil terminals and refineries receiving the new and likely much dirtier crude oil, as well as to the refinery workers, who face the highest hazards.dirty crude bay area.pngty, health and safety risks posed by these projects. 

BAAQMD should ensure that these projects will not be creating an even bigger toxic burden on communities around refineries.  Specifically, we urge the following action items:

  • The Air District should put all of the projects on hold until it can conduct a thorough study of air quality, public health and safety analysis of each project considering the full range of possible crude oils that may be imported by each project and the full range of downstream refinery impacts related to oil terminal projects such as WesPac that will supply regional refineries.
  •  The Air District must fully investigate whether each project may potentially result in dirtier, lower quality crude oil being refined in the Bay Area and specific outcomes associated with degradation of crude oil quality including: Greater risks of leaks and accidents, increased emissions of heavy metals, toxic hydrocarbons and other air pollutants, increased production of toxic petroleum coke, increased odors, and any other potential health and safety hazards posed by a new crude oil source.
  • The Air District must give full consideration to the local context of these projects including residential and sensitive site proximity, community health and air pollution vulnerability; and issues of environmental justice.
  • The Air District must disclose all of this information to the public in a timely manner before permitting decisions are made, and consider comments and concerns of the public in an open session, thereby holding a public permitting process.

Local officials need to step up and make sure that these projects are not locking California into a toxic, dirty energy future and creating intolerable safety risks for vulnerable communities.  Bay Area refineries and planned new oil terminals are in areas already identified by the Air District as vulnerable due to disproportionately high air pollution levels and health impacts (as shown in the map above).

Allowing Bay Area sacrifice zones around oil terminals and refineries is not the price we should pay for oil independence.  Instead, we should declare fossil fuel independence.

The hearing will be at the Air District, 939 Ellis Street, San Francisco at 9:45 am on December 4th. 

Share | | |


Aggie LDec 3 2013 10:33 PM

Here's why this is a bad idea. Through a loophole in the law, US taxpayers foot the bill for the inevitable spills, since it 'isn't oil' ,technically. Enbridge TarSands spill in Kalamazoo MI has cost US taxpayers to date over $1 billion. Does that sound economically feasible to anyone except the oil companies?

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Stay Plugged In