Category Archives: Oil refineries

Closing of California’s 4th largest oil refinery will cost thousands of jobs

Shutdown of Marathon’s Martinez Refinery Prompts Calls for ‘Just Transition’ for Oil Workers

KQED News, by Ted Goldberg, Aug 3, 2020
A view of the Marathon Petroleum Corp. refinery in Martinez. (Tesoro)

Elected officials, union leaders, industry representatives and environmentalists are expressing concern about the hundreds of workers set to lose their jobs at California’s fourth-largest refinery in the coming months.

That’s after Marathon Petroleum announced over the weekend that it plans a permanent halt to processing crude oil at its Martinez plant.

“The decommissioning of the Marathon refinery means the loss of thousands of good paying, California blue collar jobs at a time of great economic uncertainty,” said Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents thousands of people who work at the plant in the course of a year.

Marathon executives told employees at its Contra Costa County and Gallup, New Mexico, refineries on Friday that it plans to cut workers.

“We will indefinitely idle these facilities with no plans to restart normal operations,” the company said on its website.

The company had idled both refineries in April after shelter-at-home orders drastically cut demand for gasoline and jet fuel. That meant processing units at the plants stopped making transportation fuels and other refined products. For months the refineries have been maintained in “standby” mode.

The Friday announcement means “most jobs at these refineries will no longer be necessary, and we expect to begin a phased reduction of staffing levels in October” the company said on its website.

Marathon employs 740 staff workers at its Martinez refinery, which has gone through several owners and name changes. It was formerly known as the Tesoro, Golden Eagle, Tosco Avon and Phillips Avon refinery. Marathon bought the facility in 2018.

In addition to the full-time employees, the refinery relies on between 250 and 2,500 contract workers depending on operational needs, according to Marathon representative Patricia Deutsche.

“There is also the ‘multiplier’ effect. They say for every one refinery job there are eight in the community that support that,” Deutsche said.

“This move is a big loss for our workforce and potentially the economy,” said Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who represents Martinez and has been a longtime advocate for refinery safety.

DeSaulnier said that before the coronavirus pandemic and the oil industry downturn, he began bringing together labor unions, environmental groups and local governments to prepare for a shift to green energy in Contra Costa County.

“The transition needs to be as successful as possible for everyone and we cannot leave workers behind — they need to be guaranteed meaningful and comparable work,” DeSaulnier said in an emailed statement Sunday.

A spokesman for a leading trade group that represents the oil industry in California said he feels for the local economy that relies on the refinery, which can process about 160,000 barrels of crude per day.

“Obviously, this impacts a lot of people, families and the community and we are concerned for them,” said Kevin Slagle, a representative for the Western States Petroleum Association.

The refinery has seen its share of incidents. The worst in the last decade took place in February 2014, when the facility was run by Tesoro. Two workers were burned and 84,000 pounds of sulfuric acid were released. A month later sulfuric acid sprayed and burned two contract workers, leading to an investigation by the U.S Chemical Safety Board that raised concerns about the refinery’s safety culture.

Like the Bay Area’s other four refineries — Valero in Benicia, Chevron in Richmond, PBF Energy in Martinez and Phillips 66 in Rodeo — the facility has had to send gases to its flares scores of times over the years, many times to deal with malfunctions.

Local environmentalists who’ve been critical of the region’s oil industry say it’s time for the refinery, its dangers and pollution to go away, but the change should include a plan for workers.

“This is what an unplanned transition looks like,” said Greg Karras with Community Energy reSource.

It’s “the tip of the iceberg for why we need a planned, just transition to sustainable energy and a livable climate,” Karras said.

Some environmentalists and union advocates have used the term “just transition” to explain a fair way of getting fossil fuel industry workers and their surrounding communities, businesses and local governments to move into a green energy economy.

Hollin Kretzmann, an Oakland attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the air quality benefits of a refinery shutting down are welcome but expressed concern about workers.

“Communities near this dangerous refinery can breathe a little easier now that operations have halted, but the state desperately needs a just transition plan that protects workers when oil companies toss their employees to the curb with little warning,” Kretzmann said.

Marathon says its Martinez refinery will be converted to an oil storage facility. The company says it’s considering turning the facility into a renewable diesel facility.

“The Marathon refinery’s (potential) conversion into a renewable diesel facility is a forecast of the future as the demand for fossil fuels declines over time, resulting in healthier air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia.

“We will see more future refinery closures as a result of continued decreasing consumption of fossil fuels under California’s policies transitioning our transportation system to zero emission,” said Gioia, who sits on the the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board and the California Air Resources Board.

“We need to immediately start addressing a just transition for these workers as more fossil fuel facilities close,” he said.

Marathon’s decision to end oil processing at its Martinez plant is the latest piece of evidence showing California’s oil industry suffering under a pandemic that’s led to severe drops in fuel demand.

San Ramon-based Chevron, one of the world’s largest oil companies, announced its worst quarter in decades on Friday. The company said it lost more than $8 billion during the three months ending June 30.

“All the oil majors have been clobbered by COVID,” said David Hackett, president of Stillwater Associates, a firm that specializes in analyzing the transportation fuels market.

Earlier this month, the California Resources Corporation, one of the state’s largest oil producers, filed for bankruptcy.

In May, the Newsom administration granted a request by another oil trade group, the California Independent Petroleum Association, to drop a proposal to add dozens of staff members to the agency that oversees oil and gas drilling that would have cost the industry $24 million. State regulators also agreed to postpone a deadline for oil and gas producers to pay fees and submit plans to manage thousands of idle oil wells.

In April, PBF Energy, the New Jersey-based company that bought Shell’s refinery in Martinez, sold two hydrogen plants at the facility for hundreds of millions of dollars — a move aimed at cutting costs and raising revenue to deal with fuel demand drops.

That same month, more than 1,000 contract electricians, pipefitters and other skilled workers were cut from Bay Area refineries.

Marathon Refinery in Martinez Closing, most jobs no longer needed

Details posted on Refinery website July 31

By Roger Straw, August 1, 2020

The PLAN to close the Gallup and Martinez Refineries was announced in April, but Marathon posted a newsworthy update on July 31.

Quotes and details:

  • Will “…indefinitely idle these facilities with no plans to restart normal operations.”
  • Will convert to a “terminal facility.”  (Reuters suggests this means an “oil-storage facility.”)
  • VERY interesting that they are “evaluating the strategic repositioning of Martinez to a renewable diesel facility.” Renewable diesel may be cleaner and greener, but burning of any fuel in any combustion engine produces carbon dioxide (CO2).  (See “4 Things To Know About Renewable Diesel“)
  • Big news: “most jobs at these refineries will no longer be necessary” with the start of “phased reduction of staffing levels in October.”

Here’s the UPDATE from the Marathon website:

Update on Gallup & Martinez Refineries

On July 31, we informed employees at our Martinez and Gallup refineries that we will indefinitely idle these facilities with no plans to restart normal operations. As part of these changes, Martinez will be converted to a terminal facility. We are also evaluating the strategic repositioning of Martinez to a renewable diesel facility, which aligns with California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standards objectives and MPC’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. Indefinite idling unfortunately means most jobs at these refineries will no longer be necessary, and we expect to begin a phased reduction of staffing levels in October. We do not anticipate supply disruptions in these regions, and we will continue to utilize our integrated system to meet customer commitments.


Breaking news coverage of the update: 

Marathon Petroleum to permanently close two US oil … – Reuters
August 1, 2020 Marathon Petroleum plans to permanently close two small U.S. oil refineries in Martinez, California, and Gallup, N.M., the company said, in response to … to request for comment on whether the closings would require a charge to earnings.

Marathon Martinez Refinery ‘Indefinitely Idled’ On Friday … – SFGate
August 1, 2020 Marathon Martinez Refinery ‘Indefinitely Idled’ On Friday. The Marathon Petroleum Co. will “indefinitely idle” its refinery in unincorporated Contra Costa County and convert the site to a terminal facility, the company announced on its website Friday night.

California must plan ahead for eventual decommissioning of oil refineries

Decommission California Refineries: Read the Report

Sunflower Alliance, June 28, 2020

Finally,  we celebrate the July 6th release by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) of the long awaited report: Decommissioning California Refineries: Climate and Health Paths in an Oil State.” A virtual press conference was held the morning of July 6th to announce its release.

As this report was being prepared, no one could have predicted the context in which we are releasing it.  California is the center of oil refining in the western U.S., with nearly 50% of its refining capacity in the five closely spaced oil refineries of Contra Costa and Solano counties.  As the U.S. attempts, under failed federal leadership, to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, the International Energy Agency reports that any economic recovery that fails to step up to the urgency of addressing climate change will make it impossible to prevent climate catastrophe.

“Starting [a phase-down] sooner allows state climate targets to be met by cutting oil use more gradually, which makes transitions that protect workers and communities possible and climate goals feasible,” said Greg Karras, who authored the report for CBE.

Here are the report’s major conclusions and calls for action:

  •  All paths to a livable climate involve refining much less oil.
  •  Steep reductions in petroleum are necessary to meet our health goals.
  •  Early action to decommission refining capacity is a critical component of the least-impact, most socially just, most feasible path to climate stabilization in California.
  •  A planned, gradual phase-down gives us the time to develop sustainable alternatives for workers and communities economically dependent on oil.
  •  Actions that limit refining in California can cut emissions across the petroleum fuel chain.
  • We must pair gradual reduction of refinery output with aggressive measures to insure clean mobility for all people.

Facilities such as refineries are major local emission centers for toxic co-pollutants alongside greenhouse gases, especially fine-sized particulate matter or soot (PM2.5).   “From Richmond to Wilmington black and brown communities are on the frontlines of a toxic relationship with oil.  This is a blueprint for organizing just transitions out of it,” said Andrés Soto, Richmond Organizer at CBE.

A path of gradual reductions, approximately 4-7% of refining capacity per year, will not even immediately affect California oil consumption.  Californians already use significantly less refined fuels than produced by the refineries; refinery exports have grown to nearly a third of capacity.  “Refineries around here pollute our communities even more by refining more oil to sell even more of their polluting fuels somewhere else, like black lives are invisible” said LaDonna Williams, a community leader who lives in South Vallejo.

A critical component of the report is addressing the challenges of transitioning workers and communities that are financially dependent upon the fossil fuel industry. Steve Garey, a retired oil refinery worker, former United Steel Workers union official and leader in the Blue-Green Alliance,  spoke passionately about bringing workers and communities together to build a new economy.

LINKS:

MAJOR REPORT: California should require gradual reduction of output from oil refineries

Toxic Relationship – How refineries affect climate change and racial and economic injustice

East Bay Express, by Jean Tepperman, July 22, 2020
BURNT: California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America according to Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment.
BURNT: California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America according to Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment. STOCK PHOTO

California should begin gradually reducing output from its oil refineries in order to avoid climate catastrophe and to make the transition to clean energy as equitable as possible. That’s the conclusion of a major new report released July 6 by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), endorsed by more than 40 environmental and social justice organizations.

While most people agree on the need to use less fossil fuel, many fear that requiring refineries to reduce production could lead to higher gasoline prices and a big economic hit for workers and communities that depend on refineries for income. Report-author Greg Karras responded, “If we start now, doing it gradually, it will give us the time to replace refinery-dependent economics.” The report calls for cutting production 4 to 7 percent a year, starting in 2021.

California has set targets for cutting carbon emissions between now and 2050: the state’s share of global cuts needed to keep temperature increases below catastrophic levels. Because the carbon that causes climate change builds up in the atmosphere, California has a carbon “budget”—the total amount it can emit from now until 2050.   According to Decommissioning California Refineries, California will have to refine much less oil per year to avoid blowing through this carbon “budget” by about 2037.

“California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America,” Karras said. “Oil refined here emits more carbon than all other activities in the state combined.” Even if all other sources of carbon are reduced on schedule, Karras said, “we must refine much less oil if we hope to meet the state’s carbon limit.”

“We have to break free from our toxic relationship with oil before it takes us over a cliff,” Karras said. “When you’re in a car heading toward a cliff, it matters when you start putting on the brakes.”

The sooner we start, the more likely we are to escape the worst impacts of climate change.

The issue is not just climate, said Andres Soto of CBE. He pointed out that refinery pollution is concentrated in communities like Richmond, centers of racial and economic injustice.

“Only 20 percent of Richmond is Euro-American,” he said.

And the health consequences of having a refinery as a neighbor are severe.

Rodeo, another Contra Costa refinery town, “is in the 98th percentile for asthma,” said resident Maureen Brennan, and it has high rates of skin disease, autoimmune disease and cancer—all linked to refinery-generated pollution.

Retired refinery worker Steve Garey, past president of a United Steelworkers local in Washington state, said starting now to plan for reduced refinery production could actually benefit refinery workers, since “the movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewables is going to accelerate. It’s an economic reality. Renewables are cheaper than fossil fuel and getting cheaper all the time.”

Recently when the pandemic cut demand for gasoline, Garey said, the Marathon refinery in Martinez shut down, leaving the workers and community stranded.

The current drop in oil use, Karras said, gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn away from the cliff and build a cleaner and more equitable recovery.

Prices and Jobs

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) said in a statement that requiring cuts in refinery production is a bad idea: “We believe we can support our people, our communities, our planet, and our shared prosperity without having to sacrifice one at the expense of the other. However, arbitrarily working to limit refining or production in the state will leave many Californians short of energy, without work and at a greater risk for displacement.”

The California State Building Trades Council recently joined in a partnership with WSPA to protect petroleum-industry jobs, although council President Robbie Hunter said he agrees that “dropping output in refineries is necessary. I believe we need to get rid of fossil fuels.” His unions have often lobbied for clean-energy programs like the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires electricity providers to use an increasing percentage of renewable energy.

But, like WSPA, Hunter opposes refinery production cuts, fearing an increase in gasoline prices that would, among other things, hurt building-trades workers such as his sons, who “sometimes drive 80 miles a day to job sites.” He argued for relying instead on programs to cut demand. “If the need goes down, I’m 100 percent in,” he said.

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia represents a district that includes the Richmond Chevron refinery. He also sits on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. A longtime environmental champion, Gioia said he agrees with the report’s authors that “both demand and supply side strategies are necessary” to reduce petroleum use fast enough to meet climate goals. Last year the state legislature authorized studies to come up with strategies to reduce both supply and demand for greenhouse-gas-producing energy.

Gioia pointed to several new CARB regulations to reduce petroleum use, including a recent first-in-the-nation rule that sets a schedule for replacing diesel with electric trucks, as well as a schedule passed last year for switching to electric buses. But he said, “we have to be really thoughtful about the impact [of climate measures] on the hardest-hit communities. It’s the lowest-income Californians, communities of color, who are the most impacted by rising fuel costs and don’t always have access to public transportation.”

Karras responded to these concerns by pointing out that, as demand for petroleum products in California has fallen, refineries have not reduced their output but, instead, started exporting more of their product—now at least 20 percent and rising. So production could be cut by 20 percent or more without reducing the amount available to Californians. And, he added, “It’s a pure injustice for Black and Brown people in fence-line communities” to suffer pollution “so refineries can manufacture fuel that Californians don’t need, to export our oil dependency to other countries.”

Union leaders don’t buy that argument.

“As long as there’s a market for the product somewhere, American workers should produce it,” Garey said. For members of his union, cuts in refinery production mean “losing the best job they ever had.” In addition, many workers in construction trades depend on refineries for jobs. And, Garey said, “this is a community-wide issue.”

Refineries contribute a big share of the taxes communities rely on. And there’s what economists call a “multiplier” effect: every high-paying job creates seven to 10 other jobs providing the goods and services that refinery workers can afford to buy.

Start Planning Now

According to the Decommissioning California Refineries report, those very economic facts are the reason why it’s important to start immediately creating ambitious programs for supporting workers and communities in the switch to a clean-energy economy.

Doing that “will take state, local, and county action as well as a national plan,” said Soto of CBE. And, he added, the plan must be based on “justice for workers and the people who have paid the heaviest price of having polluters in their communities.”

Carol Zabin, who heads the Green Economy Program at the UC Labor Center, agreed. It will be necessary to “use a lot of levers of government, from direct public investment to business incentives to training and education infrastructure,” she said.

Ramping up efforts to create good jobs in a clean-energy economy is a goal environmentalists and labor advocates agree on.

“The big problem is that there are not enough other good jobs for people without a college education,” Zabin said.

Hunter, of the Building Trades Council, said his unions have been pushing for public programs that create good jobs while reducing demand for petroleum: building solar and wind energy, massive expansion and electrification of public transit, high-speed rail, housing near transit.

Zabin agreed with Karras that each community needs to “figure out in an intimate local setting” how to shift from economic dependence on refineries. “We have to plan locally with state and federal support,” Karras said.

“This is a process that requires community-wide participation,” Soto added. Workers, refinery community residents, and environmental organizations should be involved in the planning, Garey said. They all “need each other as allies – we need the biggest ‘we’ we can get.”

Supervisor Gioia said Contra Costa County should “start now having study sessions and community forums to lay out pathways for this thing that we have to do to save the planet.” He agreed that workers and residents should be part of the planning process and reported that Contra Costa has already adopted “a policy to have a more inclusive planning process—the community has to have a voice.”

“We need strategies to make California the manufacturing center of the new economy,” Gioia added. He pointed to a new factory in Los Angeles County—with good, union jobs—making the electric buses needed for the county’s clean-transportation plan.

But not all investments in clean energy produce good, family-supporting jobs, Zabin said. “We need labor standards on all industries affected by climate policy.” There are none, she pointed out, in California’s program for building electric-vehicle charging stations. And most energy-efficiency projects “have gone low-road.”

When the Air Resources Board was creating standards for energy-efficiency work, she said, the State Building Trades Council pushed for them to include labor standards. Zabin herself submitted two reports calling for the same thing. For environmental programs to build a coalition with labor, she said, “we should put conditions on the $1.5 billion a year we spend on energy efficiency.” But CARB rejected these proposals. “It’s a question of political will,” Zabin said. Government could also create good jobs in other areas, she added, such as rebuilding infrastructure—a green New Deal.

Committing Significant Revenue

But economic development programs are not enough to meet the needs of refinery workers, Garey said. “We need to commit significant revenue, enough to support their income for an appropriate time.” He pointed to a program spelled out in an initiative that narrowly lost in his state of Washington, calling for “income insurance” for up to five years for workers who lost their jobs because of the switch from fossil fuel, as well as health insurance, a path to retirement and support for job retraining.

Building a stronger “social safety net” is necessary, not only for displaced petroleum workers, but for everyone, Karras argues: “The average gig-worker job doesn’t pay enough for rent or mortgage, health care, college.”

Especially in refinery communities like Contra Costa, Gioia said, “we need to look at more robust training programs in our community colleges—opportunities for a new generation to enter trades in a new industry.” At the same time, he added, it might be necessary to “subsidize early retirement for workers late in their career.”

The nonprofit think tank Oil Change International calls for a similar inclusive planning process on the state level, a “Statewide Just Transition Task Force—as has been done in Scotland and in Canada, for example—to facilitate the process of social dialogue and planning between employers, workers, unions, frontline communities and organizations, and local and state agencies.”  [The Sky’s the Limit California, p. 10]

Calls for these ambitious programs raise the obvious question of where the money will come from. Oil Change International says the state should charge oil companies a “just transition fee based on the value of their oil production.” Karras suggests a similar principle, which could also be applied on a local or state level: “Make the polluters pay.” He pointed to a federal program that required nuclear power plants to “pay up front into a trust fund to clean up the whole mess—environmental and economic” that they would leave behind when they close.

The important thing—the reason for issuing this report—Karras said, is to “start the conversation. To say, ‘we have to do this,’ and start talking about it. We will have to figure out how.”