Repost from Letters to the editor, The Martinez Gazette, by Guy Cooper, 28 Jan 2014
What’s in it for me?
At the risk of sounding like a politician, I have to ask, “What’s in it for me?”
January 21st I attended a [Contra Costa] County Board of Supervisors meeting. Under consideration was a permit application and Environmental Impact Report (EIR) regarding a Phillips 66 proposal to revamp it’s gas recovery process at it’s Rodeo refinery. Others could better explain the technicalities of the proposal. As I understood it, the company wants to recover and market the propane and butane yielded from the refining process and instead combust the cheaper and more readily available Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).
Appeals of the EIR were to be heard prior to any final decision by the Board. A Phillips 66 spokesman started right off trying to enlist the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King in support of his efforts. (Oh, boy!). He was backed by a sizable contingent of union workers that would presumably accrue economic benefit from the proposal. The opposition consisted of two organized citizens groups and various environmental advocates and concerned individuals.
Phillips and the union workers’ position can be largely summarized in one refrain: “Jobs, jobs, jobs!” (Well, they also promised to be careful).
The opposition expressed objections to various details of the EIR and of the review process itself. Apparently, the review process rather myopically focuses on one EIR at a time and resists consideration of the regional picture, including other pending permit applications that might contribute to a cumulative environmental impact. This despite a cautioning letter by the state Attorney General. The reviewers also apparently faltered in considering concerns of the Air Quality Control Board and publicly circulating those in a timely manner. (I think that’s how that went).
As to the details, the opposition disputed the expressed intention of the project, the numbers and claims used to justify it, and voiced distrust of Phillips’ regard for the community welfare, based on past dealings. Very real public safety concerns were also expressed regarding the significant increases in the movement and storage of volatiles and toxins along the north county rail corridor. I’ll let the experts hash out the environmental issues. It is the issues of public safety that concern me most.
The national strategy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil has been significantly bolstered by the technological innovation of horizontal deep well frakking that has yielded vast increases in domestic supplies. These new stores of crude, whether from the fields of North Dakota or the tar sands of Canada (which is technically a foreign country), require refining. Like it or not, these stores are wending our way by sea, pipeline, and/or rail, because our region has significant refining capability and is working to enhance the accommodation of this new, largely regarded as more volatile and toxic “feedstock”. Phillips latest proposal would enable this refining transition, as will efforts in the works at the refineries of Shell, Valero and others.
So, its coming in a big way. It’ll be chugging right through our towns, parking at the bottom of our blocks in tanker cars subject to no independent inspection, in rail yards located on bayside ground subject to liquefaction in the event of an earthquake, at the doorstep of communities woefully ill-equipped to deal with current, let alone future significant increases in threats to public safety.
Ask your local public safety officers for blast and/or evacuation zone estimations. (They have none). Ask your local EMS and medical facility personnel if they’ve been adequately trained and equipped to deal with the potential catastrophe of a rail yard full of exploding, toxic laden tankers. (They have not). Ask your local fire department if they have the necessary high pressure foam pumping equipment and other assets needed to deal with such an event. (They do not. In fact, some are shut down due to budget cuts). And accidents will happen. If you’ve been following the news, you know they already have.
What’s all of this have to do with “what’s in it for me”? Well, I’m a resident of Martinez. I’m a recently retired RN with a background in Intensive Care. And, by the way, in that capacity I was a union member. I guess I could say that, for my line of work, nothing bodes better for job security than a disaster. But, obviously, that’s an absurd, exceedingly selfish view of societal good. Don‘t you think?
At the least, I’d like to hear concrete proposals from Phillips and the other regional refineries aimed at ameliorating the threats to public safety their business plans entail. I have not heard this. How about funding the increased staffing and training of local emergency response and fire departments along the north county rail/transport corridor? How about installing foam pumping assets along this corridor and actually retrofitting rail cars with foam deluge suppression and containment systems? How about actually listening and acting on local community requests for better sensing and monitoring equipment? How about full disclosure to regional medical facilities and emergency response organizations about what toxic soups they’re likely to encounter and how best to deal with them? How about sponsoring and aiding in the development of appropriate community emergency response plans and adequate public education efforts?
Have they offered any of this? They ought to, considering the risks to public safety they pose. If they aren’t interested in addressing public safety issues, than I am not interested in supporting their proposals. There’s just nothing in it for me.
(This matter has been continued to April 1st at 1:30PM).
– Guy Cooper