Tag Archives: California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA)

Mr. Governor, kill the oil ‘watchdog’ – Tom Hayden on California’s pathetic fracking regulator

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

Watchdog or lapdog of Big Oil?

By Tom Hayden, April 24, 2015 4:32pm
LOST HILLS, CA - MARCH 24:  The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images) Photo: David McNew, Getty Images
LOST HILLS, CA – MARCH 24: The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Jerry Brown perhaps should put his DOGGR to sleep. Not his family dog, Sutter, but DOGGR — the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources — the 100-year-old agency that’s been handing out permits for drilling in the Central Valley without records, oversight or enforcement of 21st century environmental laws.

The agency was created prior to Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, “Oil!,” on which Daniel Day-Lewis’ 2007 film, “There Will Be Blood,” was based. Oil was to California what cotton was to Mississippi, a booming industry based on subsistence labor, migration, racism, vigilantism, and government officials looking the other way.

Oil wells in the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows (Kern County). Monterey Shale, largely untouched territory near Midway-Sunset, could represent the future of California's oil industry and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times
Oil wells in the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows (Kern County). Monterey Shale, largely untouched territory near Midway-Sunset, could represent the future of California’s oil industry and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Times change but slowly. Current Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who says Kern ought to be a county in Arizona, opposes President Obama’s immigrant-rights policy. There are an estimated 66,000 undocumented immigrants in Kern County, whose population is majority Latino. More than 22 percent of its people live below the poverty line, 69 percent of them within one mile of an oil well.

The barren place is a bit like Mississippi in the ’60s, powerful enough to defy progressive norms or laws on the national level. The federal government in 1982 transferred its power to California to monitor and regulate the 42,000 injection wells that dump toxic waste fluids into groundwater. That monitoring didn’t happen, a lapse that the feds say is shocking. The human carcinogen benzene has been detected in fracking wastewater at levels 700 times over federal safety standards. Health impact studies are inadequate, but Kern community hospital managers say the county has one of the highest cancer rates in the country, which is expected to double in 10 years.

How did it happen that the Obama Environmental Protection Agency is pushing the Jerry Brown EPA to comply with modern environmental law? The same Gov. Jerry Brown signed that 1982 agreement, giving Big Oil an opportunity to oversee itself. Those were the days when President Ronald Reagan’s Anne Gorsuch ran the federal EPA, perhaps convincing California that it could do a better job.

As a result of the 1982 transfer, the feds say California has failed at oversight and record-keeping. With the feds watching, the state has two years to implement a meaningful monitoring plan.

Brown has tried to fix the problem, which undercuts his claim that drilling and controversial fracking can be addressed by beefed up regulations instead of a moratorium on fracking that most environmentalists want. He has added more professional staff to DOGGR and installed a new director, Steve Bohlen, who promises to clean up the place. Since last summer, the agency has shut down 23 injection wells out of 2,500.

The preference of one experienced state official is to peel back DOGGR, move it to Cal EPA and turning it into a real regulatory agency instead of a lapdog for the oil industry. But Brown officials prefer the uphill task of reforming DOGGR from within, and have signaled they will veto any bill that brings the agency under state EPA jurisdiction. The Legislature is going along with his incremental approach, so far.

The task will be daunting. The DOGGR mandate has been to drill, baby, drill, says state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. DOGGR’s legal mandate calls for “increasing the ultimate recovery of underground hydrocarbons,” not determining whether drilling or fracking are sustainable and safe for aquifers or human health. Her SB545 is still a work in progress, however. It stops the archaic custom of drilling permits being obtained and accepted without any written approvals or findings, which upsets the feds and shuts out the public. Until recently, an oil company simply gave notice of its intent to drill and was entitled to proceed unless the agency said no in writing within 10 days. Under Jackson’s bill, an application to drill will require written approval, and the paperwork will be posted on the DOGGR website. In addition, the bill will limit the Kern custom of keeping records about chemicals and water impacts confidential, even when a well has gone into production.

However, the bill’s language makes oversight optional by saying that DOGGR “may” require an operator to implement a monitoring plan. Decision-making power is devolved to the division district deputy in Kern, which is like expecting a Mississippi sheriff to carry out federal law in 1964 — or the present Kern sheriff to enforce immigration law today. Nor does the bill give the state EPA or health experts any shared authority in the permitting process.

Well derricks crowd the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield in 1912. Photo: Chevron, SFC
Well derricks crowd the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield in 1912. Photo: Chevron, SFC

At the heart of the scandal is the historic power of Big Oil against the emergence of California’s clean-energy economy with its priorities of renewable resources and efficiency. The Democratic majority in Sacramento is hobbled by a pro-drilling contingent, led by Republicans with a number of Central Valley Democrats. The oil lobby spent $9 million in 2014 in a failed attempt to exempt themselves from the state’s cap-and-trade law. The effort was led by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, along with 16 Democratic legislators. In a more striking example, state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, left his seat in 2013 to begin lobbying for Chevron, one of the major firms along with Occidental Petroleum operating in Kern’s oil fields. The oil lobby is spending large sums to cultivate friendly Democratic candidates and underwrite advertising campaigns warning of a “hidden gas tax” if their privileges are threatened.

Many Sacramento insiders believe that Brown has made concessions to Big Oil in order to protect his considerable progress toward clean-energy goals while not confronting the industry the way he took on the nuclear lobby in the ’70s. That’s understandable, if it works. Now, however, his regulatory reputation needs rebuilding. What if his DOGGR won’t hunt? What if it’s beyond reform? What will the governor and Legislature do if facing open defiance from the powers that be in Kern on a range of issues from clean air and water to the protection of children’s health to environmental justice? With the drought on everyone’s mind, can he allow the state’s aquifers to be threatened by the carcinogenic wastewater of oil production?

The DOGGR scandal drills deeply into the foundations on which state politics are built.

Tom Hayden writes, speaks and consults on climate politics and serves on the editorial board of the Nation. His latest book is “Listen Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters.” (Seven Stories Press, 2015).
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    Phillips 66 refinery plan threatens Rodeo California residents’ safety

    Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle, Open Forum

    Refinery plan threatens Rodeo residents’ safety

    By Janet Pygeorge and Laurel Impett, April 6, 2015 4:08pm
    Contra Costa County officials approved a controver sial expan sion of the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / AP / FILE
    Contra Costa County officials approved a controver sial expan sion of the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / AP / FILE

    The fracking boom in North Dakota and increased recovery of tar sands oil in Canada have prompted dramatic growth in transport of crude oil by rail throughout the United States from regions that pipelines don’t serve. Bay Area refineries and oil and gas companies already are planning for increased rail traffic and expanded operations. These plans are understandably alarming residents because of the potential for oil-train explosions. The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, however, does not share this alarm.

    The supervisors made that clear in February when they rubber-stamped a proposed operational expansion of the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Analyses done by Communities for a Better Environment, a nonprofit environmental justice organization that has sued to overturn this approval, show that the refinery’s expansion would significantly increase air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and public safety risks.

    The board’s position defies both science and common sense. This refinery is located in the middle of an earthquake liquefaction zone. Phillips 66 plans to dramatically increase the number of railcars that are regularly staged at the plant; it also plans to begin processing propane and expand its processing of butane, both highly explosive.

    The proposal includes plans to store 630,000 gallons of liquid propane about half a mile from homes, churches, a school and a park. And yet the environmental analysis approved by the board claimed that there would be no significant risks associated with this operational expansion.

    In the case of a large earthquake, Phillips 66’s operational expansion would place huge swaths of Rodeo at significant risk of death and destruction, with damage radiating from the refinery up past San Pablo Avenue to as far away as where I-80 runs through Rodeo. It is simply unacceptable for our county officials to allow this expansion without requiring stringent attention to public health and safety by putting aggressive safeguards in place.

    In terms of air quality impacts, this refinery has a dismal track record. It received more than 200 notices of violation from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District between 2003 and 2014. According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, it is the seventh-most-toxic polluter of all California facilities with large chemical releases. Phillips 66’s proposed changes would significantly increase the level of air pollution the facility produces, but the company used accounting tricks to hide the ball in its air-quality analysis. County officials did not question the refinery’s flawed analytical approach.

    The Board of Supervisors showed its hand when it approved Phillips 66’s operational expansion without requiring investments to protect the health and safety of residents. Three different lawsuits have been filed against the county for lack of appropriate oversight in this matter. Contra Costa residents must demand better from local elected officials.

    Join us in demanding that the county put an end to approving dirty industry at the expense of the public’s health and safety. Enough is enough.

    Ultimately, if elected officials won’t stand up for health and safety, the court should intervene and protect the best interests of this community.

    Janet Pygeorge is president of Rodeo Citizens Association, one of the groups that has filed suit in this matter. Laurel Impett is a planner with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, the law firm that represents the association.
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      Concerns of communities heard at meeting of the Cal Energy Commission in Crockett CA

      Repost from The Contra Costa Times

      Contra Costa residents pushing for more information on crude by rail

      By Karina Ioffee, Bay Area News Group,  03/27/2015 05:22:01 PM PDT

      CROCKETT — With plans in the works to transport crude oil by rail through Contra Costa County cities to a Central California refinery, local residents say they want assurances that state and federal agencies are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

      Less than 1 percent of crude that California refineries received in 2014 came by rail, but the negative perception of transporting oil by train has grown sharply because of highly publicized accidents. A derailment in Quebec in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed parts of a town; another in West Virginia contaminated local water sources and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

      Tanker cars sit on railroad tracks near the Shell Refinery in Martinez on May 6, 2013.
      Tanker cars sit on railroad tracks near the Shell Refinery in Martinez on May 6, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

      If the Phillips 66 plans are approved, an estimated five trains a week, each hauling 80 tank cars, could travel through Contra Costa cities, then Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose along the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, before arriving at the refinery in Santa Maria.

      At a community meeting here Thursday, residents peppered a representative from the California Energy Commission about what kind of emergency plans were in place should a train derail and explode, what timelines the federal government had for new and improved tanker cars, and whether railroad companies have enough insurance in case of a catastrophic event.

      Many came away unsatisfied with what they heard, saying they were terrified by the prospect of rail cars filled with Bakken crude from North Dakota, which is lighter and more combustible than most types of petroleum.

      “The oil companies are getting all the benefits and the communities who live near them are taking all the risk,” said Nancy Rieser, who lives in Crockett and is a member of Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, a community organization.

      Her group is pushing the railroad industry to release its risk-assessment information, required for insurance purposes, to better understand what kind of plans companies have in an event of an emergency and whether their insurance policies would cover a large incident. Railroad companies have so far declined to release the information.

      “You need to have hospitals at the ready, you need to have first responders, so if you keep it a secret, it’s as if the plan didn’t exist,” Rieser said. “You can’t be coy with the communities.”

      Regulations about rail safety are written and enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration, and the California Public Utilities Commission focuses on enforcement in the state, employing inspectors to make sure railroads comply with the law. There is also an alphabet soup of state agencies such as the Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM), California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).

      But to what extent the agencies are working together to prepare for crude-by-rail transports and how they’re sharing information remains unclear. Last year, an Interagency Rail Safety Working Group, put together by Gov. Jerry Brown, produced a report recommending that additional inspectors be hired to evaluate tracks, rail cars and bridges; more training for local emergency responders; and real-time shipment information to local firefighters when a train is passing through a community. According to the report, incidents statewide involving oil by rail increased from three in 2011 to 25 in 2013.

      Many at Thursday’s meeting said the only way to prevent future accidents was to ban the transport of crude by rail completely, until all rail cars and tracks had been inspected.

      “These trains are really scary because we live so close to them and we feel the effects deeply through emissions and air pollution,” said Aimee Durfee, a Martinez resident. Statewide, Californians use more than 40 million gallons of gasoline each day, according to the California Energy Commission.

      Bernard Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said railroad companies are already shifting to new cars — outfitted with heat shields, thicker tank material and pressure-relief devices — although the process is gradual because of the sheer volume of the fleet, estimated at more than 25,000. New rulings specifying tanker car standards and timelines about phasing in updated technology are also expected this May.

      “No human activity is completely risk-free,” Weinstein said, adding that the spill rate for trains transporting crude was roughly four times higher than accidents involving pipelines.

      “Communities are resistant to crude by rail and they are against pipelines, but they also want to go to the pump and be able to fill up their car.”

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