Pittsburg Defeats WesPac: Biggest California Crude Oil Project Stopped in its Tracks
By Ethan Buckner, Dec 11, 2015
In the final days of 2015 the victories for the climate justice movement are coming fast and furious — fracking bans to pipeline wins to breakthrough climate policies. This week, after years of a hard-fought community-led campaign, we learned that the oil services company WesPac has withdrawn their permit applications to build the biggest oil terminal on the West Coast in Pittsburg, CA!
That means 242,000 barrels a day of toxic and explosive extreme crude oil from the tar sands and the Bakken will stay in the ground, and off the tankers, oil trains, and pipelines WesPac would have built to bring this dangerous crude to Bay Area refineries.
This is an extraordinary victory, and one that demonstrates that grassroots organizing can overcome the power of big oil. I remember two years ago hearing that “no one can organize in this town,” because for so long Pittsburg had been dominated by heavy industry after heavy industry, from petrochemical plants and waste dumps to power stations and oil facilities.
The campaign started out small, led by two courageous neighbors Kalli Graham and Lyana Monterrey, who started knocking on doors and enrolling more and more community members to the fight. I remember my first day canvassing outside the Pittsburg seafood festival in August 2013, thinking to myself, how the hell are we ever going to win this thing?
But as these brilliant and resilient grassroots leaders kept organizing, and it started working. Within months our volunteer base jumped from a handful to dozens, and then to hundreds. Petition signatures jumped from dozens to hundreds to thousands. At nearly every door I knocked on I met another community member sick of Pittsburg’s reputation as an industrial wasteland, tired industry control. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where opposition to industry was so strong. When WesPac brought a company man to town to host a three hour informational meeting, community members showed up en masse and drove him out of town. Hundreds of citizens showed up at city council meetings, week in and week out. We hosted toxic tour, dozens of community meetings, and the biggest march Pittsburg has seen in many, many years. We turned the WesPac campaign into a regional and statewide issue, leveraging the power built in Pittsburg to inspire and support other campaigns fighting extreme oil infrastructure in the Bay Area and beyond.
In January 2014, WesPac agreed to take oil trains off the table. That was a big victory, but WesPac still wanted to build a crude oil tank farm, tanker berth, and pipelines, and we stood ready to continue the fight. But WesPac was not, and will officially pull their applications before a city council meeting on December 14.
Hats off to everyone who contributed to this extraordinary effort: especially the community leaders at the Pittsburg Defense Council and Pittsburg Ethics Council, and also Communities for a Better Environment, Sunflower Alliance, Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter, Natural Resources Defense Council, and 350 Bay Area, among others. This victory belongs to our movement, but most of all to the tireless, resilient, creative, and courageous people of Pittsburg.
Let WesPac’s demise serve as a warning to Valero, Phillips 66, and other oil giants that are trying to build oil train terminals in California right now: our movement will not stop until all oil trains projects are halted in their tracks, and extreme oil stays in the ground where it belongs.
U.S. Not Prepared for Tar Sands Oil Spills, National Study Finds
By Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue, 10 December, 2015 16:07
Report urges new regulations, research, and technology to respond to spills of diluted bitumen.
Spills of heavy crude oil from western Canada’s tar sands are more difficult to clean up than other types of conventional oil, particularly if the spill occurs in water, a new study by a high-level committee of experts found. Moreover, current regulations governing emergency response plans for oil spills in the United States are inadequate to address spills of tar sands oil.
The study by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirmed what scientists, emergency responders, and conservationists knew anecdotally from a major oil spill that contaminated Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 and another spill in Mayflower, Arkansas in 2013. Tar sands crude, called diluted bitumen, becomes denser and stickier than other types of oil after it spills from a pipeline, sinking to the bottom of rivers, lakes, and estuaries and coating vegetation instead of floating on top of the water.
“[Diluted bitumen] weathers to a denser material, and it’s stickier, and that’s a problem. It’s a distinct problem that makes it different from other crude.”
–Diane McKnight, Chair Committee on the Effects of Diluted Bitumen on the Environment
“The long-term risk associated with the weathered bitumen is the potential for that [oil] becoming submerged and sinking into water bodies where it gets into the sediments,” Diane McKnight, chair of the committee that produced the study and a professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Circle of Blue. “And then those sediments can become resuspended and move further downstream and have consequences not only at the ecosystem level but also in terms of water supply.”
“It weathers to a denser material, and it’s stickier, and that’s a problem. It’s a distinct problem that makes it different from other crude.” McKnight added. Weathering is what happens after oil is spilled and exposed to sunlight, water, and other elements. In order to flow through pipelines, tar sands crude oil is mixed with lighter oils, which evaporate during the weathering process. In a matter of days, what is left of the diluted bitumen can sink.
The study’s findings come amid an expansion in unconventional fuels development and transport in North America. Over the past decade, Canada became the world’s fifth largest crude oil producer by developing the Alberta tar sands. U.S. imports of Canadian crude, much of it from tar sands, increased 58 percent over the past decade, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Though oil prices are at a seven-year low, and market turbulence is expected to persist for several more years, tar sands developers are working to double the current tar sands oil production — around 2.2 million barrels per day — by 2030. Pipelines to transport all of the new oil are expanding too, producing a greater risk of spills.
Whether tar sands producers achieve that level of oil supply is not assured. Public pressure is mounting in Canada and the United States to rein in tar sands development due to considerable environmental damage and heavy carbon emissions. U.S. President Barack Obama last month scrapped the Keystone XL pipeline, an 800,000-barrel-per-day project to move crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries. An international movement to divest from fossil fuels and a legally binding global deal to cut carbon emissions –if it is signed in Paris– could curb demand for tar sands oil.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study adds new data to arguments made by critics of tar sands development.
“The study really confirms a lot of the information that has been out there, there are no real surprises,” Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, told Circle of Blue. “You don’t want these things to be affirmed because it’s bad news for communities. But the good part about a study like this is hopefully it will prompt some action. Some folks were hiding behind the lack of a study like this, saying we don’t really know. Those excuses have gone away.”
“The chief takeaway is that this is a different oil, it presents different challenges, and responders and regulators simply don’t have the structures in place to deal with the challenges,” he added.
Nonetheless, energy companies are pursuing pipeline expansions, most notably in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. Enbridge, Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil, operates a 3,000-kilometer (1,900-mile) pipeline network, known as the Lakehead System, that carries crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Great Lakes. The Lakehead system, in concert with Enbridge’s Canadian main line, is capable of transporting 2.62 million barrels of oil per day. The pipeline responsible for the 2010 oil spill in Kalamazoo was part of the Lakehead system. A link in the Lakehead system ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than 3 million liters (843,000 gallons) of tar sands oil into southern Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and its effects still linger because of oil that sank and is embedded in the river’s sediments.
“The chief takeaway is that this is a different oil, it presents different challenges, and responders and regulators simply don’t have the structures in place to deal with the challenges.”
–Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel
National Wildlife Federation
Enbridge is currently pursuing upgrades to its Alberta Clipper pipeline, which runs through Minnesota and Wisconsin, in order to boost the line’s capacity to 800,000 barrels per day from 450,000 barrels per day. A second project aims to increase the capacity of Line 61, a pipeline that runs from Wisconsin to Illinois, from 560,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels per day. Opposition to the company’s operation of a pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron join, has been especially fierce, though the line does not currently carry tar sands oil.
“I think at the very least we should be saying no to more tar sands through the [Great Lakes] region until we get a firm handle on how to deal with the unique challenges that tar sands spills present,” Murphy said. “We should also be taking a hard look, as the president did with the Keystone XL decision, about the other negative impacts of more tar sands oil, like the consequences in Alberta with the habitat destruction there, and also the higher carbon pollution content of the fuel.”
The National Academies study concluded that the characteristics of diluted bitumen are “highly problematic for spill response because 1) there are few effective techniques for detection, containment, and recovery of oil that is submerged in the water column, and 2) available techniques for responding to oil that has sunken to the bottom have variable effectiveness depending on the spill conditions.”
“Broadly, regulations and agency practices do not take the unique properties of diluted bitumen into account, nor do they encourage effective planning for spills of diluted bitumen,” it continued.
The study’s authors made a series of recommendations to help reduce the damage from future tar sands spills, including:
Update regulations that would require pipeline operators to identify and provide safety sheets for each crude oil transported by the pipeline, catalogue the areas and water bodies that would be most sensitive to a diluted bitumen spill, describe how they would detect and recover sunken oil, provide samples and information about the type of oil spilled to emergency officials, and publicly report the annual volumes and types of crude oil that pass through each pipeline.
Require the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal agency that regulates pipelines in the United States, to review spill response plans in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Coast Guard to determine if the plans are capable of responding to diluted bitumen spills.
Develop methods to detect, contain, and recover oil that sinks to the bottom of water bodies.
Require government agencies at the federal, state, and local level to use industry-standard names for crude oils when planning spill responses.
Revise oil classifications used by the U.S. Coast Guard to indicate that diluted bitumen can sink in water.
Collect data to improve modeling of diluted bitumen oil spills.
Improve coordination between federal agencies and state and local governments when planning and practicing oil spill response exercises.
Develop a standard method for determining the adhesion –a measure of how sticky the oil is–of diluted bitumen in the event of a spill.
After the study’s release, PHMSA said it would develop a bulletin advising pipeline operators about the recommendations and urge voluntary improvements to their spill response plans. The agency also plans to hold a workshop next spring to hear public input on how to implement the recommendations, coordinate with other federal organizations to “advance the recommendations”, and work with industry representatives to improve spill response planning.
“We appreciate the work the National Academy of Sciences has done over the last few years in analyzing the risks of transporting diluted bitumen, including its effects on transmission pipelines, the environment and oil spill response activities,” Artealia Gilliard, PHMSA spokesperson and director for governmental, international and public affairs, said in a statement. “All pipelines transporting crude oil or any other hazardous liquid are required to meet strict federal safety regulations that work to prevent pipeline failures and to mitigate the consequences of pipeline failures when they occur.”
Codi Yeager-Kozacek is a news correspondent for Circle of Blue based out of Hawaii. She co-writes The Stream, Circle of Blue’s daily digest of international water news trends. Her interests include food security, ecology and the Great Lakes.
By Eddie Scher, ForestEthics, Wednesday Dec 9, 2015
[Pittsburg, CA] On November 16, WesPac Energy formally withdrew its proposed 242,000 barrel-per-day oil storage and transfer facility in Pittsburg, California. The crude oil facility would have included a marine port for oil tankers, more than a dozen oil storage tanks, an oil train offloading terminal, and multiple pipelines to local refineries.
To celebrate the victory local activists will attend the upcoming city council meeting at Pittsburg City Hall on Monday, December 14 at 7:00pm.
Members of the coalition of citizen organizations working to protect the people and environment of Pittsburg released the following statements:
“We knew that WesPac was not good for our community and having them as our neighbor would do nothing to make Pittsburg a better place to live” saysKalli Graham, co-founder of the Pittsburg Defense Council. It was time for us to roll up our sleeves and take action. We had homes to protect and families to keep safe. We did everything we could to tell everyone who would listen that this project was wrong. We canvassed our neighborhoods, lobbied our city and county officials and educated our community on the dangers this project would have on our town. We organized a grassroots movement, created a non-profit organization and rallied our community into action. We stood together as neighbors to fight this project until we’d stalled it for so long that it was no longer viable. We took a stand against the biggest, dirty industry this planet has known so far and we WON!”
“The citizens of Pittsburg stood toe to toe with the oil industry, they did not blink, they did not flinch, and today they have won,” says Ethan Buckner, ForestEthics extreme oil campaigner. “Thanks to the leadership of Kalli Graham and the Pittsburg Defense Council, and thousands of Pittsburg residents, it is clear that oil trains, tankers, tank farms, and pipelines are not welcome here. Here’s a message to Phillips 66, Valero, and other oil companies with dangerous oil trains projects in the works: The people of California and across North America don’t want your extreme oil, we want clean energy and climate solutions.”
“The WesPac crude by rail project was clearly designed to import dirty Canadian tar sands to Bay Area refineries,” says Andrés Soto, Richmond organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. “This victory is not enough. To protect us from future dirty oil projects, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District must adopt strict limitations on refinery emissions now.
“Thanks to the people of Pittsburg for sending this clear signal to the City of Benicia and Valero that Valero’s dangerous crude by rail project is not only a bad idea, it is no longer economically viable,” says Katherine Black, organizer with Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community.
“WesPac’s own environmental review documents, inadequate as they were, showed that the project would harm this community and the environment by polluting the land, air, and water” says Jackie Prange, Staff Attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council. WesPac made the right choice to give up now rather than face defeat in court.”
“I’ve often considered the WesPac project to be the Bay Area’s Keystone XL – a perfect example of new fossil fuel infrastructure that would enable the oil industry to grow,” says community organizer Martin Mackerel. I couldn’t be happier that we stopped this project from being built. I hope our victory inspires others to block all new fossil fuel infrastructure in their backyards. Together we can stop this industry from murdering humanity’s future.”
“WesPac’s dangerous and grandiose plans for a mega-oil terminal in Pittsburg have been thwarted not only by market forces—OPEC and faltering oil barrel prices—but by a force of nature commonly known as People Power, the combined efforts of nameless individuals driven not by profit motives but by fierce love of community and desire for ecological sanity,” says Shoshana Wechsler of the SunFlower Alliance.
“The WesPac oil storage facility would have posed significant pollution threats to San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Baykeeper is proud to have been part of the team that stopped WesPac, and we’ll continue our work to protect the Bay from the expansion of oil refining and oil transport in the Bay Area,” says Sejal Choksi, San Francisco Baykeeper.
“Pittsburg is a strong community, and one that determined that we were not going to allow the hazardous WesPac project to be placed in our backyard,” says Gregory Osorio of the Pittsburg Ethics Council. “Many people worked countless hours – first Lyana Monterrey who started the organizing in Pittsburg before the WesPac project was on ANYONE’s radar. To George Monterrey for his ‘fire’, and Danny Lopez, the graphics artist for the movement. The credit for this victory belongs to the nonprofit environmental groups such as Forest Ethics, NRDC, Sierra Club, and Sunflower Alliance, who all made enormous contributions. We wish to thank everyone who labored tirelessly to keep this potentially catastrophic project from being dumped in our backyard.”
Recipe for disaster: Put a flammable substance under pressure into a metal container, then rumble it at 50 miles an hour down a metal rail, across hundreds or even thousands of miles, through towns and cities and over bodies of water. Repeat, as necessary.
The United States is coming to the end of the costliest year on record for oil train explosions, Bloomberg Newsreported Tuesday, as crude oil travelling by rail has reached its highest levels ever. This past year sawa town in North Dakota evacuatedafter a May derailment and explosion; another major derailment and explosion in Illinois in March; and a Februaryderailment and explosionin West Virginia, which destroyed a home, forced the evacuation of 1,000 people, and caused the governor to declare a state of emergency.
CREDIT: EIA DATA
At the beginning of 2010, the United States wasshippingabout one million barrels of oil by rail every month. By mid-2014, though, that number was around 25 million. Imports from Canada increased 50-fold during that time. The resulting surge in accidents — including a Quebec derailment in 2013 thatkilled 47 people— prompted the Department of Transportation to enact new safety rulesin May 2015.
But those rules didn’t preventcosts from ballooningfrom $7.5 million in damage in 2014 to $29.7 million in 2015, according to Department of Transportation data.
CREDIT: ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION
Still, carloads of petroleum products have declined significantly since their peak in December 2014, and Bloomberg reporter Mathew Philips suggests that we are unlikely to see this amount of crude by rail in the future.
The reasons for this decline are two-fold. The United States sees crude by rail mainly from two places: Alberta, Canada’s tar sands and the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, which are affected by two very different scenarios. The Alberta tar sands are expensive to develop and are far from refineries and consumers. That means developers who have already invested will turn to rail as a way to recoup expenses, but it is not their first choice. Without available, low-cost transportation, new development in the tar sands is economically unfeasible, Oil Change International’s Lorne Stockman told ThinkProgress. According to his group’s report “Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands,” without more pipelines, tar sands development is going to hit a wall. (In other words, the group agrees with climate activists who say the Keystone decision really will keep more oil in the ground.
But even though stopping pipeline expansion could inhibit oil extraction in Canada, it’s not so simple in the United States. Developing the Bakken fields is significantly less expensive than in Alberta, and producers have — for the past five years — had no problem using rail to bring their cheap crude to the coasts, where it competed with more expensive overseas oil. Now that overseas prices have dropped, producers are building out more pipeline infrastructure, but without it, they could still compete on the open market.)
“It’s hard to say that if you don’t build the pipe, it won’t go by rail,” Stockman said. “We’ve seen in the last five years that it does go by rail.”
He admits this is probably not what anti-pipeline activists want to hear.
“There are local issues around [pipelines], landowner issues, and I totally sympathize with that,” he said. The answer just isn’t going to be found in infrastructure. “If you want to stop production in the Bakken, you should make the producers pay for their pollution.”
The fact is, there is no safe way to transport oil. Studieshave shownthat while trains spill more often, pipelines spill more oil per incident. When the new regulations came out in 2014, environmentalists — and some legislators — criticized them as not going far enough. Because the realities of transporting an explosive material are pretty scary: while the new regulations lower allowable speeds, tests have shown that the cars can be punctured travelling atless than 20 miles an hour. The new speed limit is 50 miles an hour.
This week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a petition to reduce the pressure of crude rail cars.
“In New York, trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil routinely travel through our cities and towns without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability – which makes crude oil more likely to catch fire and explode in train accidents,” Schneiderman said in an emailed statement. “The federal government needs to close this extremely dangerous loophole, and ensure that residents of the communities in harm’s way of oil trains receive the greatest possible protection.”