Tag Archives: San Francisco Bay

NRDC Attorney: The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

Repost from NRDC Switchboard, Danielle Droitsch’s Blog

The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

Danielle Droitsch
Danielle Droitsch, senior attorney with NRDC, Canada Project Director, International Program.

By Danielle Droitsch, April 28, 2015

Many across the United States are aware of the tar sands threat posed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline but what many may not know is the U.S. faces a looming threat that is bigger than just this one pipeline. We call it a tar sands invasion. The plan would be to complete a network of pipelines (both new and expanded), supertankers and barges, and a fleet of explosive railway tank cars. What is at risk? San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, the Hudson River and other places we all call home. While the threat of this invasion is already here with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the good news is that citizens across North America are rising up to respond and repeal the assault with a clear message: Not by pipeline, not by rail, not by tanker. The good news is that public opposition to tar sands oil is rising and projects like Keystone XL and Northern Gateway have been delayed. The tar sands assault is not inevitable. In fact, the U.S. doesn’t need this dirty form of fuel and neither does Canada. The time has come to limit tar sands expansion in favor of a cleaner and brighter energy future.

Tar Sands Invasion Map 4-27-15.jpg

A new report released by NRDC reveals that the amount of tar sands crude moving into and through the North American West Coast could increase by more than 1.7 million barrels per day if industry proposals for pipelines, tankers and rail facilities move forward. For more information about this new information see posts by my colleagues Anthony Swift and Josh Axelrod. Why the west coast? With the majority of the world’s heavy oil refinery capacity, the United States including the west coast is a critical market for the tar sands industry. To be clear, Keystone XL still remains at the heart of the industry plan to expand tar sands and gain access to the global market. But industry is still pushing hard for other ways to expand especially as KXL flounders. It is important to keep in mind the tar sands industry – which currently produces about 2 million barrels per day (bpd) – plans to triple production to exceed 6 million bpd in the next fifteen years. The oil industry has made clear it needs all of its rail and pipeline proposals to achieve its massive production goals.

We know that the tar sands industry and Canadian government has long had a plan to quadruple or more tar sands extraction in Canada. KXL has always been a huge part of that. But it is now very clear that they also plan to access the U.S. and global market through every means possible.

This threatened invasion puts our communities, waters, air and climate in jeopardy. The Tar Sands Solutions Network has done an outstanding job outlining many of the different campaigns that are emerging across North America. This plan threatens to expose communities from California to New York to health, safety and environmental risks unless the public rallies to stop it. Here are some of the specific impacts that North America faces as a result of the tar sands invasion:

  • Across the West Coast, tar sands laden tanker and barge traffic could increase twenty-five fold, with a projected 2,000 vessels along the Pacific West Coast– including the Salish Sea and the Columbia River–shipping nearly two million barrels of tar sands crude every day.
  • A dozen proposed rail terminals would substantially increase tar sands by rail traffic going through densely populated American citizens like Los Angeles and Albany New York risking explosive derailments of hazardous crude unit trains
  • Nearly a million barrels of tar sands would be destined for California and Washington refineries, exposing fenceline communities in Anacortes, San Francisco and Los Angeles to increasing toxic air pollution.
  • In the Midwest, the pipeline company Enbridge is moving to nearly double the flow of tar sands moving through the Great Lakes region, an area that already has suffered from a 2010 spill of more than 800,000 gallons of the tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan sending hundreds of residents to the hospital. Four years later, the cleanup, which has cost more than $1 billion, is still unfinished.
  • On the East Coast, the tar sands industry is seeking to build the Energy East pipeline across Canada. The pipeline would run from Alberta east across Canada to New Brunswick and Quebec, carry 1.1 million barrels of tar sands oil per day and require hundreds of oil tankers traveling along the East Coast and Gulf Coast annually, through critical habitat of the extremely endangered Right Whale.
  • In Albany, New York, a proposed oil transfer facility could lead to the shipment of tar sands oil on barges down the Hudson River or rail cars along the river destined for facilities in the New Jersey and Philadelphia areas.
  • In Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, the constant threat of a proposed reversal of the aging Portland-Montreal Pipeline is likely to arise again as Enbridge completes work on a pipeline reversal that will connect the tar sands directly to Montreal this summer.
  • This network of pipelines will feed refineries that produce millions of tons of hazardous petroleum coke waste – known as “petcoke” – which are piling up in residential neighborhoods like Chicago.
  • In Canada, pipeline companies are trying to access the west and east costs with pipeline proposals that would ship the heavy tar sands oil across pristine landscapes in British Columbia or across the Prairies into Ontario and Quebec. Communities are raising concerns about the threat of a spill to waters from the pipeline or tankers leaving the Bay of Fundy of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
  • And last but not least, communities in Alberta at ground zero have been facing the enormous consequences of tar sands development which has brought about significant contamination of water, air, and land. Increasingly, there are calls for a moratorium on development.

Targeting at risk communities

The tar sands invasion puts a high toll on low-income and aboriginal communities located in railway corridors, near oil refineries, and next to petcoke waste sites. In refinery fence-line communities, emissions associated with tar sands are suspected to be even more detrimental to human health than existing harmful emissions from conventional crude. Derailments of tar sands unit trains – mile long trains carrying over a hundred tankers full of explosive tar sands crude – pose a catastrophic risk for communities throughout the country. And as more tar sands oil is refined in the United States, the public will also face increased health and environmental risks from massive piles of petroleum coke, a coal-like waste full of heavy metals that results from tar sands oil refining and can cause serious damage to the respiratory system.

Industry would like for you to believe that tar sands development is inevitable and there is nothing that can be done. Wherever they turn today they are being faced with public opposition. Expansion is not inevitable, especially because of this growing and formidable opposition.

A climate problem

It is clear that tar sands reserves – some of the world’s most carbon intensive – are at the top of the list of reserves that must remain in the ground. Mounting scientific and economic analysis shows that the tar sands industry’s proposed expansion plan is incompatible with global efforts to address climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that 75% or more of discovered fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground in order to limit warming to the international two degrees Celsius goal. The clear inconsistency between tar sands expansion and efforts to address climate change have made opposition to tar sands expansion projects a clear rallying point for a broad group of allies advocating for action on climate.

A water problem

A tar sands spill from train, pipeline, or tanker could devastate local economies, pristine wilderness, harm human health, and lead to an especially costly and challenging cleanup. Tar sands spills have proven more damaging than conventional spills, as heavy tar sands bitumen sinks below the water surface making it difficult to contain or recover. A spill from shipping the tar sands crude could devastate communities, contaminate freshwater supplies or marine habitats and damaging local economies.

Undermining efforts to grow our clean energy economy

The growing exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands threatens to undermine North American efforts to build a clean energy economy and combat global climate change. Because most tar sands crude is destined for the United States, its expansion would create a greater dependence on the world’s dirtiest crude oil and undermine our transition to environmentally sustainable energy and a cleaner transportation fleet. Responding to the tar sands invasion will require solutions reduce fossil fuel use and spur low-carbon transportation and energy solutions such as broadened electric vehicle use and development of renewable and clean fuels.

This tar sands invasion can be stopped: Clean Transportation Solutions

The good news is this tar sands invasion can be stopped starting with leadership from government officials to embrace climate and sustainable transportation solutions. NRDC’s report for the west coast outlines detailed recommendations for decision-makers at all levels. The first step is for decision-makers at all levels to become familiar with the unique issues associated with tar sands oil and then to actively identify the full range of solutions to confront this problem. Without action, the U.S. will unintentionally become a thoroughfare for this oil undermining climate policies and presenting risks to communities and water. With support for regional clean energy policies, we can prevent the influx of tar sands crude and build the green infrastructure and public support necessary to begin transitioning to a clean energy economy.

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    Refineries Plan To Ship Dirty Tar Sands Oil Into Bay Area; Fracked Crude By Rail Gets Too Pricey

    Repost from CBS SF Bay Area

    Refineries Plan To Ship Even Dirtier Tar Sands Oil Into Bay Area, Fracked Crude By Rail Gets Too Pricey

    Reporter Chrystin Ayers, April 27, 2015 11:53 PM

    SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — It’s an unexpected consequence of the drop in oil prices. Trains carrying explosive fracked crude oil from North Dakota are no longer rolling through our neighborhoods. Crude by rail has become too expensive.

    Instead local refineries are turning to a cheaper alternative, that poses a new kind of danger.

    Sejal Choksi-Chugh with San Francisco Baykeeper can’t forget the day the tanker ship Cosco Busan crashed into a Bay Bridge tower, spewing 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay. “It was getting on boats it was getting on birds it was everywhere,” she said.

    But the environmentalist says that’s nothing compared to what could happen if there’s a spill of a new kind of cargo headed our way, called tar sands crude, the dirtiest crude on the planet. “We are looking at a product that sinks. Its very heavy,” she said.

    There is huge supply of tar sands crude in Alberta Canada, and it’s cheap. Since they can’t get North Dakota Bakken crude by rail, refineries here in the Bay Area are gearing up to bring the Alberta crude in by ship.

    “Today’s refineries are all designed to take ships in,” said energy consultant David Hackett. He says two thirds of the crude supplying Bay Area refineries already comes in on tankers, so adding tar sands to the mix makes sense.

    “The California refineries are designed to process crude that is heavy and dense, and relatively high in sulfur. So the Canadian tar sands is the kind of quality that will fit in to the California refineries fairly well,” Hackett said.

    The plan is to expand an existing pipeline called Transmountain, that runs from Alberta to Vancouver, and  retrofit a terminal in Vancouver that will transfer the tar sands from pipeline to ship. Then tankers could move it down the coast to refineries in the bay.

    Projected route of crude oil from Alberta tar sands to the Bay Area. (CBS)

    Hackett predicts tankers full of tar sands crude could be coming into the San Francisco Bay in large numbers by 2018, a delivery route he believes is much safer than trains. “There are significant safety standards and operating practices that are involved,” he said.

    But with all the extra ship traffic accidents are more likely to happen. Ande even one even one in the bay could be devastating.  A spill on the Kalamazoo river in Michigan 5 years ago cost $1 billion to mop up, the costliest cleanup in U.S. history. That’s because tar sands crude is so dense, it sinks.

    “It’s going to instantaneously cover the bottom of the bay which will almost automatically kill everything that is on the bay floor,” said Sejal. “We shouldn’t even be contemplating having those vessels come in to the bay until we are ready to deal with a spill,” she said.

    Environmentalists in Canada are mounting strong opposition to the expansion of the Transmountain pipeline, but Hackett says since there’s already an existing route, the project will likely get the green light.

    And by the way – most of the tar sands that will be headed down the Pacific coast will actually be exported to Asia.

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      California imports of Bakken crude by BARGE sets record in 2014

      Repost from Reuters
      [Editor:  Significant quote: “Bakken transported on water poses unique risks since it is lighter and more volatile than other crudes…. ‘An oil barge accident in San Francisco Bay or off the coast of Los Angeles would be catastrophic,’ said Matt Krogh, a director at environmental group ForestEthics.  ‘Bakken is simply too dangerous to move by barge or train and we don’t need this extreme oil,’ he said.”  (emph. added)  – RS]

      California imports of Bakken crude by barge sets record in 2014

      By Rory Carroll, SAN FRANCISCO, April 16, 2015

      (Reuters) – California imports of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota on barges totaled a record 1.5 million barrels last year, 27 percent greater than the amount that reached the state by rail, the California Energy Commission told Reuters on Thursday.

      The transport of Bakken crude by rail is controversial, with fiery derailments in recent years prompting safety and environmental concerns. In California, 15 cities and towns have passed resolutions opposing the trains in their towns.

      But many California refineries do not have the infrastructure necessary to unload crude oil trains. Attempts to add rail extensions to those refineries have in some cases been delayed due to opposition from environmental groups.

      To get the low-cost Bakken crude to California refineries, producers load it onto trains in North Dakota bound for transport terminals in the Pacific Northwest. From there it is loaded onto barges bound for California refineries, which are better equipped to receive crude from sea vessels.

      David Hackett, president of Stillwater Associates, a refining consultancy, said the Global Partners LP transport terminal in Clatskanie, Oregon, is a key departure point for barges carrying Bakken to California.

      The facility, on a small canal that feeds into the Columbia River, began quietly transshipping oil from trains to barges in 2012 and is now receiving so-called “unit trains”, mile-long trains that only carry crude oil.

      Global Partners did not respond to a request for comment.

      Hackett said refineries such as Tesoro Corp’s facility in Carson, California, are likely destination points for the barges.

      Tesoro declined to discuss its movements of crude oil, saying the information is commercially sensitive.

      Hackett noted that imports of Bakken either by rail or barge represent only a fraction of California’s total crude imports. California imported nearly 300 million barrels of crude from foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq last year, he noted.

      But Bakken transported on water poses unique risks since it is lighter and more volatile than other crudes, environmentalists say.

      “An oil barge accident in San Francisco Bay or off the coast of Los Angeles would be catastrophic,” said Matt Krogh, a director at environmental group ForestEthics.

      “Bakken is simply too dangerous to move by barge or train and we don’t need this extreme oil,” he said.

      (Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ken Wills)
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        San Jose council member urges rejection of Central California refinery’s crude-by-rail project

        Repost from The San Jose Mercury News

        San Jose council member urges rejection of Central California refinery’s crude-by-rail project

        By Tom Lochner, Oakland Tribune, 11/26/2014

        BERKELEY — As the deadline arrived for comments to an environmental report on a Central California crude-by-rail project, a San Jose City councilman got the early jump, announcing his opposition in a news release Monday afternoon.

        The Phillips 66 Company Rail Spur Extension Project would bring as many as 250 unit trains a year with 80 tank cars plus locomotives and supporting cars to a new crude oil unloading facility in Santa Maria from the north or from the south along tracks owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.

        Likely itineraries for the crude oil supplies coming from out-of-state include the Union Pacific Railroad tracks along the eastern shore of San Pablo and San Francisco bays that also carry Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor and Coast Starlight trains.

        “This will allow mile-long oil trains carrying millions of gallons of explosive, toxic crude oil in unsafe tank cars to travel through California every day,” reads a news release from San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra. “These trains will travel through the Bay Area passing neighborhoods in San Jose, including Kalra’s District 2 in south San Jose. This proposed plan threatens the residents and families along the rail routes and also threatens the environment and local water supplies.”

        Kalra continues by urging San Luis Obispo County to reject the project, saying, “The safety of our community members, our health, and our environment, should not be taken lightly.”

        In March, the Berkeley and Richmond city councils voted unanimously to oppose the transport of crude oil by rail through the East Bay.

        As of early Tuesday, Berkeley had not communicated to this newspaper its comments to the environmental report. San Luis Obispo County as of early Tuesday had not published what is expected to be a voluminous body of comments from public agencies, advocacy groups and individuals.

        On Tuesday, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said, “Having 60-car trains going through our town, as many as two a day, is an area of concern for anyone in the Bay Area because of the vulnerability of the rail cars and the problems that would ensue if one of them would explode.”

        The Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery currently receives its crude oil supply via underground pipeline from locations throughout California, but with the decline in crude oil production in the state, it is looking to alternative supplies that would be delivered most practically by rail, according to the refinery website.

        “The refinery currently uses trains to transport products, and refinery personnel have decades of experience in safely handling railcars,” the Santa Maria Refinery Rail Project page reads in part. “The proposed change will help the refinery, and the approximately 200 permanent jobs it provides, remain viable under increasingly challenging business conditions.

        “Everything at Phillips 66 is done with safety as the highest priority.”

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