Category Archives: Bay Area Refineries

Dredging the Carquinez to Accommodate Oil

[BenIndy Editor: Please come to the Pinole Public library on Nov. 13 at 6pm to protest the plan to increase dredging in the Bay.  More info and sign a petition at Sunflower Alliance.  If you can’t make it, download a comment form – or comment by email to SFBaytoStockton.PA@usace.army.mil.  – RS]

The Army Corps is deepening shipping channels to allow tankers access. The agency says it will clear the air. Environmentalists don’t agree.

The East Bay Express, by Jean Tepperman, Sept 11, 2019
The dredging will deepen a 13-mile stretch from San Pablo Bay to the four refineries along the Carquinez Strait. PHOTO COURTESY USGS

The federal government is preparing to deepen the shipping channels that serve four of the Bay Area’s five oil refineries. Because the channels are too shallow to accommodate fully loaded modern oil tankers, those ships travel to and from refineries only partly loaded, and sometimes wait for high tides before sailing. By reducing the number and duration of those trips, the project is likely to reduce diesel emissions affecting the already-polluted refinery communities along the Carquinez Strait. But environmentalists view it as a move to subsidize and expand oil production at a time when the future depends on ending the use of fossil fuels. And they predict it will actually increase air pollution by enabling an expansion of refinery production.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is gearing up to start the project, first authorized by Congress in 1965 and funded in 2012. The Army Corps currently maintains a 35-foot-deep shipping channel down the middle of the strait. The plan is to deepen it to 37 or 38 feet along a 13-mile stretch from the Bay to the refineries, three of which lie in northern Contra Costa County and one across the strait in Benicia.

That the project will primarily benefit the oil industry is not disputed. “The channels in the study area primarily serve crude oil imports and refined product exports to and from several oil refineries and two non-petroleum industries,” according to the Environment Impact Statement issued by the Army Corps in April. “Petroleum is the big economic driver” of the project, agreed project contact person Stu Townsley. Indeed, the Western States Petroleum Association is one partner in the project.

The Army Corps says deepening the channels will save between $7.6 and $11.3 million a year in shipping costs, savings that could be passed on to consumers. A comment letter on the project from the Center for Biological Diversity, Communities for a Better Environment, the Sierra Club, and other environmental organizations says, “In essence, the public is subsidizing the oil industry to ensure greater profit for private corporations.”

However, the Army Corps also argues that the project will provide environmental benefits. Agency economist Caitlin Bryant said her forecast predicts that the same volume of oil will be shipped with or without the project. If the ships involved are fully loaded, it will take fewer vessel trips to handle the same amount of oil, and tankers no longer will have to idle offshore waiting for high tide. Fewer trips and less idling time will mean less diesel pollution.

The project will mainly benefit shipping in a type of vessel called a Panamax. The Army Corps predicts that as the volume of petroleum shipping increases, the number of Panamax “ship calls per year” will increase. But by dredging, they can reduce the size of the increase. The Army Corps projects that the project will result in about 11 percent fewer Panamax trips in the Carquinez Strait in 2023, the first year the project will be completed, 10 percent fewer in 2030, and about 8 percent fewer in 2040, with corresponding decreases in the level of air pollution they contribute to the already-high levels of pollution in refinery communities.

But environmentalists worry that the project will enable greater volumes of oil imports and exports by “debottlenecking” shipping. The environmental groups challenged Bryant’s forecast in their letter. They pointed out that Richmond’s Chevron refinery, the only one now able to handle fully loaded tankers, is operating at 99.7 percent of capacity, while the other refineries operate at only 91.3 percent. Removing the shipping bottleneck would make it easy for the other refineries to step up production, the groups claim. And they argue that increasing oil production will not only worsen climate change but increase local air pollution, outweighing the benefits of reducing the number of tanker trips.

Critics see the project as part of a larger trend to increase oil shipping and refining in the Bay Area. “The refineries are importing more oil to make products for export, polluting all the way,” said Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment. Exports from Bay Area oil refineries “have increased in lockstep with the decrease in domestic oil demand,” as refineries seek new markets. The Bay Area, Karras said, is becoming “the gas station of the Pacific Rim.”

Sunflower Alliance, along with Stand.earth, the Rodeo Citizens Association, the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, Idle No More SF Bay, Communities for a Better Environment, and Crockett Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (CRUDE), have launched a petition campaign against the dredging project. They had already joined together as the Protect the Bay Coalition to fight a proposal by Phillips 66, to increase the amount of oil shipped to and from its Rodeo refinery. “It’s troubling that this project, stalled since 1965, is going forward just after P66 requested a permit to triple oil tanker deliveries to its wharf,” said Shoshana Wechsler of the Sunflower Alliance. “Is the Army Corps of Engineers trying to facilitate increased tar sands refining at P66?”

Because it’s likely that future imports will increasingly come from tar sands, oil spills, which inevitably occur, would be more destructive. Tar sands crude oil is so heavy that it sinks when spilled in a body of water. Unlike lighter oil, it can’t be cleaned up by conventional “skimming” methods and remains on the bottom, leaching toxic chemicals. The amount of tar sands crude oil traveling to the west coast of Canada is expected to triple soon. Owners of the planned Trans Mountain Pipeline just announced they’re about to re-start construction on the project, after delays caused by protests from indigenous tribes and environmental organizations. When the tar sands crude arrives at the coast, it will be shipped to refineries in the United States — including California — as well as to Asia. Bay Area refineries have already been gearing up to process this heavier, dirtier crude oil.

Community groups also worry about harm the project could cause to the local marine environment. Even with no increase in the volume of oil shipped, the Army Corps predicts an increase in the use of larger ships. Environmentalists say larger ships go faster, which increases noise in the underwater environment as well as the likelihood of “ship strikes” on marine mammals. An increase in shipping would amplify those problems.

Environmental groups also charge that the Environmental Impact Statement underestimates the harm that would be caused by the dredging itself — both from the initial channel project and the subsequent annual maintenance that will be required. An earlier report from the Army Corps acknowledged that current ship traffic and maintenance dredging already stress the endangered Delta smelt. Noise associated with the dredging would also stress sturgeon, salmon and trout, and marine mammals.

The stirred-up sediment mixes with the water, changing its temperature and chemical makeup in ways that harm fish populations. The Army Corps describes plans to minimize these impacts, including the use of less-damaging dredging equipment and limiting dredging to times of the year when it would cause the least harm to wildlife. The environmental groups say these assurances are not adequate because dredging at the planned times could still harm smelt and salmon, and because the Army Corps says it will use these methods when “practicable” — which environmentalists see as a significant loophole.

And they warn that dredging could stir up heavy metals and other toxic pollutants now settled in the floor of the channel. Townsley of the Army Corps of Engineers responded that the Corps does some routine dredging every year. “The process includes rigorous sediment testing,” he said, and “it has not identified challenges with the cleanliness of the dredged material in the channel.” The environmentalists say they should also test the water before approving the project.

Environmentalists also raise questions about the recent decision to limit the dredging project to a 13-mile stretch mostly west of Martinez, rather than continuing it to the port of Stockton, as originally envisioned. They suspect that the project stops where it does because going farther inland would worsen an already serious environmental problem: increasing the concentration of salt in the Delta. They say the corps is illegally “piecemealing” the project — doing an environmental study of just one part so as not to acknowledge the harm the full project would cause.

Sea-level rise and diversion of water to Central Valley agriculture are already making Delta water saltier. Large amounts of fresh water are being pumped in to keep the salt level down, but if it continues to increase, it will threaten agriculture and every other aspect of the Delta ecosystem. The Army Corps of Engineers acknowledges that this is a serious issue for the dredging project. It will be a factor in the decision about whether to deepen the shipping channel to 37 feet or 38 feet. Deeper dredging would save the oil industry more money but allow more salt upstream.

The Environmental Impact Statement says planners limited the project to the western section because that’s where it’s currently needed. Dredging the first 13-mile stretch is “more appropriate for the immediate problems facing existing vessels.” The dredging is planned to go just past the eastern-most refinery in Martinez.

Townsley of the Army Corps said the “rescoping was based on a number of factors, not just environmental.” A large part of the motivation for the project, he said, is the “national economic interest — why taxpayers in Kansas would find some value in it.” He said planners evaluated whether the stretch farther east has “enough maritime commerce to justify” the expense. He said it was “close to being a positive” but was rejected because of “the complexity of the study — other factors.”

The Port of Stockton is the official “nonfederal sponsor” of the project because the original plan was to deepen the channel all the way to Stockton. Spokesperson Jeff Wingfield said the port hopes the eastern phase will be completed next. That raises another fear in the environmental community. Stockton doesn’t ship petroleum, but it does export coal — and it can’t get big ships fully loaded with coal down the Carquinez Strait. Environmental and community groups fighting coal exports in Richmond — and potential coal exports in Oakland — fear shipments of coal will increase if shipping channels are deepened to Stockton.

Finally, project opponents charge that the Army Corps of Engineers has not consulted enough with the community in developing the project. They say an initial community hearing in June was poorly publicized. They also point out that Corps staff members who wrote the Environmental Impact Statement are based in Florida. They say work on the project should be done by local people who know the area and can consult with the community.

Townsley responded that developing the project was “a team effort” in which “local people were well represented.” It’s Corps policy to “get expertise wherever we can,” he said, “but we make sure we have people who understand the local conditions.”

The public comment period on the Environmental Impact Statement has officially closed, but project opponents attended an Army Corps of Engineering hearing on a related topic in July and demanded more opportunity for public input on the dredging project. Afterwards spokespeople for the project said that although the official public comment period has closed “the Corps maintains an email address at SFBaytoStockton@usace.army.mil for comments related to this action. Responses to comments received through September 2019 will be included in the Final Report.”

Townsley said the Army Corps “goes through a fairly rigorous process of coordinating with other agencies and collecting comments.” All the comments and letters on this project show “exactly the way the system is supposed to work.” He added that the Army Corps plans to hold another public hearing on the dredging project, probably in late September or early October. The final report is expected after the first of the year.

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    Bardet & Campbell correspondence: need for southwest Benicia air monitors

    By Roger Straw, October 21, 2019

    Correspondence now public, “for the record” – City to provide copies at workshop on Oct. 22

    Following is an email thread between Benicia activist and environmental watchdog Marilyn Bardet and City Councilmember Tom Campbell, in which they richly detail the need for air monitoring in south and west Benicia.

    The exchange follows, first from Bardet, then Campbell, and finally from Bardet:

    From: Marilyn Bardet
    Sent: Thu, Oct 17, 2019 9:55 am
    Subject: Fwd: [refineries-rule-group] We finally know what caused the refinery blast that rocked Philadelphia

    Good morning, Mayor Patterson, Councilmembers, City Manager Tinfow and Fire Chief Chadwick,

    The article, published yesterday (see link below) about the root cause analysis performed for understanding the Philadelphia Energy Solutions explosion and decimation should give us all pause.

    The explosion of Philadelpia’s refinery is a clarion call, especially in light of the “teachable moment” of the Nustar Energy tank farm explosions and fire two days ago. Rodeo and Crockett residents are duly and rightly alarmed, as we all should be, at Phillip66’s plan for extensive expansion that would include construction of 6 new propane/butane spheres in a liquifaction zone within only ~2,300 ft of a residential neighborhood.

    A point of fact:  portions of the Lower Arsenal Historic District and port area are in a recognized liquifaction zone with live pipelines crisscrossing the area, including behind Jefferson Street’s Officers Row, and 3 petroleum coke silos and pet coke terminal operations at the end of Tyler Street.

    Why is this important to address now?

    Our City is in the process of reviewing and considering adoption of a draft set of new design standards applicable for residential and mixed use development in the Arsenal and Downtown historic districts, and throughout the rest of town. While form-based code, established more than a decade ago, aimed to especially address the appearances of our historic districts, the code does not specifically address the overarching goal of our General Plan that calls for sustainable development. As well, the General Plan, in the Community Health and Safety chapter, also directs that new residential development should not put people in harm’s way, e.g. in close proximity to known hazards where soils may be contaminated from former uses. I would extend that concern to airborne toxic emissions, such as in the case where residential development is considered for specific locations in close proximity to pipelines, valves, stacks, and petroleum coke port terminal operations that could  impact residents’ health and safety, (whether from acute or chronic exposures to PM).

    For example, refinery pipelines carrying flammable products and crude oil run behind the entire Arsenal Historic District’s “National Register C” which encompasses Jefferson Street and Jefferson Ridge. Unfortunately, residential condos were long ago permitted along Buchanan Street behind which are refinery pipelines.  The whole lower Arsenal, from Jefferson St to Grant St, to the Port area present multiple dangerous hazards, including daily truck traffic that enters and leaves the Lower Arsenal and port area often using Park Road.

    I will be submitting comments and recommendations for the new form based design standards within the framework of these concerns for new residential and mixed use developments, which I have often written about, especially during the review of the Arsenal Specific Plan EIR that was not adopted.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,

    Marilyn


    From: Tom Campbell
    Sent: Sat. Oct 19, 2019, at 9:34 AM
    Subject: RE: Fwd: [refineries-rule-group] We finally know what caused the refinery blast that rocked Philadelphia

    What the Nustar explosions and the recent Martinez flaring prove is that we need a community air monitoring system and information system to get that live time air monitoring information to the public. The south side of Benicia has no such system in place or even being contemplated. With the prevailing wind patterns and recent history it is essential in order to protect Benicians that there be air monitors in the south and southwest side of Benicia. There are none and none contemplated. Mobile monitors only give a short term transit set of information at best and are not enough for daily protection on the south and west side. This is why your approach is not going to work. Also putting the one air monitoring system near Valero is nothing put a redundant system that will only check on the fence line monitors and leaves the entire south and west side of Benicia naked. While you have chosen to concentrate on Valero you have missed all of the air pollutants coming from the refineries south of Benicia. And that is why the Good Neighbors’ choice of spending so little settlement money on air monitors was flat out wrong.

    “If you can’t breath nothing else matters” American Ling Association

    Tom


    Marilyn Bardet <mjbardet@comcast.net>
    Sent: Saturday, October 19, 2019 11:03 PM
    Subject: Re: [refineries-rule-group] We finally know what caused the refinery blast that rocked Philadelphia

    Hello Tom,

    Unfortunately I will not be able to attend the workshop on Tuesday, and that’s why I’m writing to address your letter sent personally to me  and why I’m copying all the others to whom I’d sent my original message.  I appreciate receiving your conments and your concern to  provide a real-time, 24/7 community-based monitoring station located in the vicinity of downtown neighborhoods in the southwest area of Benicia, for all the reasons you cited: those neighborhoods are downwind of  the Phillips 66 refinery and NuStar tank farm, and depending on wind direction, the Chevron refinery.  I had written the message that your letter responds to about the  dangerous risks posed  to our community in the event of such explosions and fires as we experienced last week. I took pictures at 5pm, downtown from Maria Field and also from the Marina Green of the huge, dark sooty cloud drifting  broadly across our city and likely Vallejo from southwest to northeast.

    I am certain that other GNSC members and new BCAMP board members agree—  a second monitoring station located in a southwest side neighborhood could/would be desirable to catch  those “downwind” air quality conditions. However, I disagree with your assessment of the location of the BCAMP station as “flat wrong” and that our station would somehow (impossibly) be primarily focused on refinery emissions and be thus redundantly measuring gases already captured by Valero’s fenceline openpath monitors. That just ain’t so.

    The GNSC, and now the new BCAMP board, accepted that the location of the first BCAMP monitoring station was in part  determined  by the availability of a secure location with access to power—a small former cell tower cement block building now owned by Ruszel Woodworks and located on their property along Bayshore Rd. The site will sample air in the general vicinity  of the port, I-680 corridor, industrial park, Southern Pacific tracks, and the Valero southeast tank farm nearest residential neighborhoods of the upper eastside.

    Our mission is to sample ambient air quality. BCAMP’s location was not chosen to selectively focus on refinery emissions, even if that were possible.

    We have worked to get the Air District, meeting with Eric Stevenson, to agree to establishing a District-operated and funded monitoring station within a Benicia community neighborhood.

    It is my understanding that they will be looking to assess particular opportunities with the City to identify a possible City-owned securable site for a permanent “real time” community-based monitoring system.

    The GNSC is well aware, as is the BCAMP’s board, that in the future our monitors can be moved, housed in our trailer, and relocated to another secure site somewhere else in town. Perhaps BUSD could make assessments for siting a trailer on one of their school properties? The caveat:  any location identified must allow for access to the station by persons contracted to operate the systems  and perform routine maintenance and re-calibrations of equipment as necessary.

    Have you got suggestions for such an optimum location for sampling ambient air quality? I see no reason why you couldn’t be involved on the part of the City in such an effort to find that additional site!

    Thanks for your comments. I’m always willing to discuss!

    🙂 Marilyn


    Summary background: Bardet & Campbell: Benicia needs air monitors on south and west sides

    Please attend the City workshop on air monitoring on Tues Oct 22, 6pm at City Hall, 250 East L Street Benicia.

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      Bardet & Campbell: Benicia needs air monitors on south and west sides

      By Roger Straw, October 20, 2019

      Fascinating email conversation between environmental watchdog Marilyn Bardet and Councilmember Tom Campbell

      The Benicia Independent was copied on an important email conversation calling for better monitoring of air quality on Benicia’s south and west sides.

      Longtime Benicia activist and environmental watchdog Marilyn Bardet wrote to Benicia City Council members and staff in anticipation of the October 22 City workshop on air monitoring.

      Councilmember Tom Campbell replied, and Bardet responded.

      It is newsworthy that both are calling for monitoring of the air that blows our way from refineries and petroleum storage farms south and west of Benicia in Contra Costa County.

      There are currently no monitoring stations in south and west Benicia.

      Taking off from new findings detailed in a CNBC report, “We finally know what caused the refinery blast that rocked Philadelphia” and in light of the recent massive fire at Nustar Energy tank farm, Bardet wrote about toxic hazards affecting businesses and homes near Valero Refinery.

      Also responding to the Nustar fire – and recent flaring in Martinez –  Campbell wrote about the need for more monitoring of air on Benicia’s south and west sides.  Bardet agreed emphatically, calling for suggestions for the location of air monitoring stations in southwest Benicia.

      The City plans to provide a written copy of their exchange at the workshop on Tuesday.  The conversation may be read here on the Benicia Independent: Bardet & Campbell correspondence.

      And… please attend the City workshop on air monitoring on Tues Oct 22, 6pm at City Hall, 250 East L Street Benicia.

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        Bay Area quake caused refineries to flare; ‘What happens if there’s a big one?’

        Bay Area quake caused refineries to flare; ‘What happens if there’s a big one?’

        10/15/19, 5:39 p.m.
        The Marathon refinery in Martinez, shown here on Tuesday, experienced a problem due to Monday’s quake and had to flare. Photo: Paul Kuroda / Special to The Chronicle

        A 4.5-magnitude earthquake centered in Pleasant Hill on Monday night caused flaring at the two refineries in Martinez, local officials said.

        Flaring is a safety procedure to burn off excess gas. At the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Martinez, flaring stopped at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to a company spokesman.

        Portions of the Marathon refinery shut down after the quake and things restarted early Tuesday, Contra Costa County health department spokesman Will Harper said.

        Flaring also occurred at the Shell refinery in Martinez, Harper said.

        Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said by email that “some equipment was temporarily affected by the quake,” but operations were back to normal Tuesday morning.

        The Chevron refinery in Richmond sustained “no known damage,” according to a spokeswoman. Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said in an email Tuesday that there were no major disruptions at the company’s Benicia refinery, and operations are continuing.

        But the problems in Martinez prompted some people to wonder what will happen when a bigger quake strikes.

        “Thank God for a small one last night, but what happens if there’s a big one?” said Torm Nomprasseurt, a senior community organizer with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network who has lived on the fence line of the Chevron Richmond refinery since 1975.

        When there is a siren warning the community because of a flare at the Chevron plant, he shelters in place with his family.

        “But if an earthquake happened … and we can’t stay in our house, what are we going to do?” he said.

        “This is one of the challenges of living in an earthquake area with the industrial belt,” Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said Tuesday. He said officials have “gotten progressively better in the 25 years” with notifying communities about instances like flaring at refineries.

        Amy Myers Jaffe, who served on the California Energy Commission’s Petroleum Market Advisory Committee and is now based at a think tank in New York, said refineries carry significant safety and environmental risks. In an earthquake, underground pipes can rupture and storage tanks of gasoline or other chemicals burn.

        Robert Young, associate professor of chemical engineering practice at USC School of Engineering, who used to work for Exxon, said “flaring is a very important safety measure” because it combusts highly hazardous or acutely toxic materials instead of releasing them into the ground or inside the facility.

        The plants are equipped with safety devices that tell operations to shut down automatically when a vibration is detected, said Ralph Borrmann, spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

        “It’s a normal process that occurs when the safety devices get triggered,” Borrmann said.

        The air quality district is conducting an investigation following the quake, part of standard protocol.

        At 11:10 p.m. Monday, due to the Marathon refinery problems, Level 1 of the community warning system was issued, the company said. On a scale of 0 to 3 that meant there were no expected off-site health impacts and only the health department and other county agencies were notified, according to Harper, the Contra Costa County spokesman. In the case of more significant incidents, the county would issue an advisory to the community.

        Separately on Tuesday afternoon, at least two tanks caught fire after an explosion at a tank farm at a NuStar facility in Rodeo in Contra Costa County. A 4.7-magnitude earthquake struck near Hollister (San Benito County) on Tuesday shortly after noon, but it was unclear whether the explosion was quake-related. Hollister and Rodeo are 100 miles apart.

        The tank farm stores fuels and hydrocarbons, according to Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County health officer, who said officials were trying to determine the explosion’s cause.

        The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office released a shelter-in-place alert: “There is a hazardous materials emergency in Crockett and Rodeo at the NuStar facility. The danger will be much less indoors. Go inside, and close all windows and doors. Turn off all heaters, air conditioners, and fans,” the alert read.

        “Unless you are using your fireplace, close your fireplace dampers and vents. Cover any cracks around doors or windows with tape or damp towels. Stay off the phone unless you need to report a life-threatening emergency at your location. Remain sheltered indoors until you receive further official instructions. Stay off the phones and do not call 911 unless you have a life threatening emergency.”

        According to the company website, the facility has 24 tanks and holds a capacity of 3.04 million barrels.


        Chronicle staff writer Anna Bauman contributed to this report.  Mallory Moench and Megan Cassidy are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. 

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