Category Archives: San Francisco Bay Area

Trump to allow new oil drilling in NorCal – targets include Mt. Diablo State Park near Walnut Creek

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor:  See also a Center for Biological Diversity press release.  – R.S.]

New oil drilling in the Bay Area? Trump admin opens possibility

By Kurtis Alexander May 9, 2019 
The San Ardo, Ca. oil field in Central California which is located between King City and Paso Robles, as seen on Wed. May 6, 2015. Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle 2015

The Trump administration brought its pro-drilling agenda to Northern California on Thursday, disclosing a plan to make more land available for oil and gas development, including parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains and East Bay hills.

Documents released by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management show the agency is looking to nearly double the amount of federal property and mineral deposits in its Central Coast region that can be leased by fossil fuel companies compared to what was proposed by the previous administration.

Roughly 725,000 acres across 11 counties will be opened up for new leasing, according to the bureau’s preferred plan, including areas in or around Mount Diablo State Park near Walnut Creek and Butano State Park near Pescadero.

Industry experts say such spots, far beyond the major oil and gas fields in San Benito, Monterey and Fresno counties, are unlikely to attract interest from oil companies because of public outcry or engineering logistics — or because they don’t find petroleum. But environmentalists aren’t so sure.

“Many of these areas have drilling and active gas wells (nearby), so yes, there’s a real risk that these places will be developed,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The federal government’s new plan comes as part of an environmental report addressing a court ruling five years ago that essentially halted new drilling leases in California until the impacts of fracking were fully evaluated.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club had brought suit against the Bureau of Land management in 2013, alleging the agency had not sufficiently analyzed fracking’s toll.

Fracking is a method of extracting oil in rock with high-pressure water and chemicals. The practice has become an increasingly popular way to get at previously inaccessible mineral deposits, but it can tear up the landscape, pollute groundwater and trigger earthquakes.

While environmental groups say fracking’s impacts have become increasingly evident since the lawsuit, the Bureau of Land Management report outlines ways in which it says the technology can be safely deployed.

The fossil fuel industry praised the agency Thursday for moving forward with a plan that embraces fracking and advances the extraction of oil and gas.

“We’re pleased that after five years, the process worked and the federal government has reaffirmed that hydraulic fracturing is a safe method of production in California,” said Kara Greene, spokeswoman for the trade group Western States Petroleum Association.

The Bureau of Land Management’s new report comes in contrast to the agency’s initial environmental report, prepared under President Barack Obama and released in early 2017. That document proposed leasing about 400,000 acres in the Central Coast region for oil and gas development.

“For the BLM, the oil and gas program needs to align with new secretarial orders,” said agency spokeswoman Serena Baker, referring to the Trump administration’s aggressive push to expand energy production.

In the bureau’s Central Coast region, drilling operations are currently limited to Fresno, Monterey, San Benito, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties.

Industry experts say that while leases may be offered in additional parts of the region, which include the counties of Merced, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus, it’s not likely.

“Drilling for oil is so expensive in California, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone is doing it,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, formerly with the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies and now a senior fellow at the nonprofit Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “There’s only going to be new drilling if there’s someone who has property nearby and they want to extend what they’re doing on the federal pocket next door.”

The Bureau of Land Management estimates that 37 new oil and gas wells will be drilled as a result of the new plan, a small fraction of the few thousand existing wells in the region.

Most of California’s oil operations are on state and private property, with California regulators dictating if and where new drilling proceeds. Like the Trump administration, officials in Sacramento have been supportive of fossil fuel extraction.

Environmental groups have pressed the state to limit or halt new drilling, citing not only the local problems but the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming.

“There are hundreds of organizations that have been coming together for years” to pressure California officials, said Monica Embrey, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club. She’s hoping the Newsom administration will finally act.

The Bureau of Land Management’s new report is scheduled to be published Friday in the Federal Register, at which time a 30-day public comment period begins. The governor has 60 days to weigh in. After input is gathered, the agency will review any concerns and decide how to move forward.

Last month, the bureau released a similar document for Southern and Central California, clearing the way for new oil and gas development on more than 1 million acres of federal land and mineral deposits.

Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

    Report: How SF Bay communities should combat sea-level rise

    [Editor: Download the Adaptation Atlas  here.  There is also a 2-pg. “Highlight Bullets” and an Adaptation Atlas Interactive website. For more details about this project, visit To participate in a report launch webinar being held on May 2 at 2:00 PM PDT, please visit  – R.S.]

    Blueprint to battle Bay Area sea-level rise focuses on natural solutions

    By Peter Fimrite, May 2, 2019 
    The Oro Loma marshland along the Heron Bay Trail in Hayward is part of San Francisco bay’s 400 miles of shoreline. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

    A blueprint outlining how San Francisco Bay communities should combat sea-level rise was released early Thursday by ecosystem scientists and urban planners who envision a ring of man-made reefs, rocky beaches and graded marshlands around the largest estuary on the Pacific coast.

    The carefully designed features, outlined in the 255-page San Francisco Bay Shoreline Adaptation Atlas, would in many cases replace or bury seawalls, rip rap, culverts and other crude fortifications that experts say won’t hold up as the climate warms and water rises.

    The idea, developed over the past two years by the San Francisco Estuary Institute and SPUR, a San Francisco urban planning research center, is to build eco-friendly features that support wildlife and absorb, rather than repel, the rising tides.

    The report comes at a critical time: The U.S. Geological Survey recently calculated that property damage from sea level rise in the Bay Area could exceed $100 billion by the end of the century if nothing is done to stop carbon dioxide emissions. The Union of Concerned Scientists said 4,100 homes in San Mateo County and nearly 4,400 in Marin County could be underwater by 2045.

    A duck and ducklings swim along a waterway inside the Oro Loma marshland along the Heron Bay Trail in Hayward, Calif., Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

    The causes of climate change need to be addressed, but at the same time, scientists and planners need to brace for the fallout, experts say. Climate scientists say the sea level at the mouth of San Francisco Bay has risen almost 8 inches over the past century.

    “The Bay Area is ground zero for sea-level rise,” said Warner Chabot, executive director of the Estuary Institute, who predicted the atlas would become a national model. “We have a trifecta threat of sea level rise, groundwater rising and lowland flooding from extreme weather patterns, and that guarantees a soupy shoreline future for the Bay Area.”

    The plan, funded by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, is the first attempt in the Bay Area to develop a collaborative regional plan to both enhance the ecosystem and protect cities around the bay from the potential ravages of climate change.

    The report was put together over the past two years in collaboration with scientists, planners and policymakers across the region. It provides graphics, explanations of ecological science and a framework for all nine Bay Area counties to build nature-like shorelines that would protect their communities.

    San Francisco Bay has 400 miles of shoreline, including airports, landfills, marinas, wetlands, beaches, ports and residential neighborhoods.

    The researchers divided the shoreline into 30 separate “operational landscape units” based on shoreline geology, terrain and infrastructure. They developed strategies for each section, including projects to re-route creeks into wetland areas, place shell structures offshore, use sediment to bolster shoreline elevations and create beaches to replace rip rap, the concrete or stone rubble placed along banks to prevent erosion.

    The study incorporates in its recommendations restoration projects that are under way, like one at Giant Marsh in North Richmond. The California State Coastal Conservancy is installing 350 reef structures there, planting eel grass and connecting the wetlands to upland habitat. The goal is to create a sloping tidal system that starts in the water with oyster shell mounds that reduce wave action, then shifts into eel grass in the sub-tidal area and eventually marshland that slows down storm surges.

    Marilyn Latta of the State Coastal Conservancy holds a miniature version of a reef structure, a living shoreline element that acts as a home for oysters and to combat sea level rise, placed off the Point Pinole shoreline in Richmond. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle
    Oyster blocks placed by the State Coastal Conservancy as a living shoreline element designed to act as a home for native oysters and combat sea level rise are seen in the water off the Point Pinole shoreline in Richmond, Calif. Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

    Wetlands restoration has been going on for years in the former salt ponds in the South Bay and along Highway 37 in the North Bay, buffer zones that the atlas recommends expanding. The report recommends building a Highway 37 bridge or causeway so that tidewater can better migrate into the restored wetlands.

    At least 18,000 acres of potential wetlands in the Bay Area have been acquired and are slated for restoration. The goal is to eventually restore 100,000 acres of bay marsh, much of it in the Napa and Suisun areas, along the Petaluma River and in the South Bay.

    Another idea in the report is to reroute Santa Clara County’s Calabazas Creek, which was diverted long ago, so that it flows into restored wetlands that need the sediment from the creek to grow. The wetlands near Calabazas are among 16,000 acres of former salt ponds in the South Bay that were cut off from the bay by earthen berms and dikes.

    Alameda Creek, Novato Creek and many other waterways in the Bay Area should also be realigned to help build up the marshes, said Julie Beagle, deputy director of the institute’s resilient landscape program and lead author of the study.

    “We can use the sediment that comes out of our hills,” Beagle said. “We have to think of our sediment as a resource.”

    Scientist Amy Richey, with the San Francisco Estuary Institute, views a defensive shoreline on the Heron Bay Trail in Hayward. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

    The authors collaborated with the California Department of Transportation, the Sonoma Land Trust and several cities in Marin and Sonoma counties to identify places along Highway 37 and near Petaluma, Napa and Sonoma creeks where new wetlands could be created.

    The East Bay also is a critical area, according to the report’s authors. One example of a successful strategy, they said, is the horizontal levee built near a wastewater facility by the Oro Loma Sanitary District in Hayward. The levee uses vegetation planted on a slope that covers a vertical wall previously used to break waves. This setup allows the district to protect the facility and filter-treated wastewater through the ground instead of dumping it in the bay.

    Beagle said she would like to see the beaches that once existed from Point Richmond to the Bay Bridge restored. Instead, the Highway 80 corridor is now protected mostly by rip rap, which she said speeds up erosion by essentially increasing the power of the waves that smack into the rock.

    “There’s no reason in my mind that it can’t be a beach,” she said. “There is a huge amount of mudflats and shallow water, pocket beaches and small marshes. This is a place where different types of beaches would fit. You could even cover the rip rap with sand or a coarser, more porous material that would soften the wave action.”

    Other strategies would have to be used for areas with less room for restoration, like Foster City, which is protected by seawalls. One solution would be to engineer shell beaches or jetties that would knock down the waves and create green infrastructure to work in coordination with the wall.

    And, Beagle said, there is no way around the decrepit seawall in San Francisco, which is all that keeps the bay from reclaiming inland blocks built on landfill, including portions of the Financial District. Still, she said, it can be rebuilt as a green seawall, with pockets and textures that promote the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation, invertebrates, small mammals and fish.

    The report does not address how much money would be needed — or where it would come from — to complete the projects outlined in the report. Up to $100 billion will be needed over the next 20 years just to rebuild the Bay Area’s aging shoreline infrastructure, according to recent estimates.

    “We only have a few years to get a lot of these projects going because natural solutions take time to evolve,” Beagle said. “We need to get moving.”

    Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

      From California to Alberta: we must stand against tar sands

      Repost from
      [Editor: STAND is asking for your signature on a petition.  Go here.  – R.S.]


      The science is in— tar sands oil is much dirtier than conventional crude. It has an outsized climate impact, is terrible for air quality, and when it spills it’s much harder to clean up than conventional crude oil. And now Phillips 66 wants to expand its refinery to process more tar sands in the San Francisco Bay Area.

      This would significantly increase the amount of oil tankers coming into the Phillips 66 refinery in the bay! In addition to its negative impacts on California,increasing tar sands production is bad for indigenous communities at the source in Alberta, and transporting it via oil tankers threatens devastating oil spills in the waters of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon as well.

      It’s important that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, Gov. Newsom, and other key decision makers do everything they can to stop Phillips 66 from completing this expansion project.

      Thanks to public pressure from people like you, in 2017 we defeated Phillip 66’s plan to build an oil train terminal in San Luis Obispo that would have also imported tar sands. Phillips 66’s marine terminal and refinery expansion is their last ditch effort to bring more dangerous and dirty tar sands to their Bay Area refinery and we need your help. Will you join us in urging Gov. Newsom and other key decision makers to reject this harmful proposal?

      To BAAQMD, Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Gov. Newsom, and other key decision makers in California:

      Tar sands oil harms our air, water, climate, and indigenous communities. We respectfully urge you to reject Phillips 66’s refinery expansion that would double the number of tankers delivering to their refinery and allow them to process tar sands.

      To add your voice, click here.


        SF Chronicle opinion: Mayors urge governor to end fossil fuel production in California

        Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

        Mayors urge governor to end fossil fuel production in California

        By Elizabeth Patterson and Melvin Willis, Aug. 24, 2018 3:31 p.m.
        FILE – This March 9, 2010, file photo shows a tanker truck passing the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. A U.S. judge who held a hearing about climate change that received widespread attention has thrown …

        As San Francisco prepares to host Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic Global Climate Action Summit in September, we, the San Francisco Bay Area mayors of cities impacted by the toxic consequences of fossil fuel production, are standing with elected representatives from frontline communities and throughout California in calling on the governor to phase out fossil fuel production.

        Benicia and Richmond both face the toxic consequences of California’s complicity in one of the most toxic, polluting, dangerous industries on Earth and the primary driver of climate change: the oil and gas industry.

        Benicia is home to the Valero oil refinery, and our residents are regularly exposed to emissions during standard operations. In May 2017, a power outage sent flames, heavy black smoke and toxic gases spewing into the air for two straight weeks. Among the pollutants were nearly 80,000 pounds of toxic sulfur dioxide — five years’ worth of “normal” emissions — and carbonyl sulfide, a highly toxic and extremely flammable gas. Accidents are only the most visible of the toxic pollution that impacts our public health, day after day. Our asthma rates are three times the state average.

        The Valero refinery in Bencia,Ca., as seen on Tuesday June 20, 2017. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District on Wednesday is expected to approve the nation’s first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from …

        The Texas-based petroleum giant’s Benicia refinery employs 480 people and supplies nearly a quarter of our city’s tax revenue, but at what cost?

        When Valero proposed a crude-by-rail project to bring 70,000 barrels of tar sands and Bakken crude oil per day by rail through the Sierra, Sacramento and Davis to Benicia, our residents resisted, and our small, historic town stood up to our biggest employer and taxpayer. After three years of environmental review, national attention and a failed effort by Valero to get the federal government involved, the City Council voted unanimously against it.

        Farther south on San Francisco Bay is Richmond, one of the poorest communities in the Bay Area. Our city of largely Hispanic, African American and Asian residents fought against toxic industrial pollution from Chevron’s Richmond refinery that processes 250,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Chevron is our largest employer and taxpayer. Nonetheless, our community has risen up, defeating Chevron-backed candidates in 2014 that outspent us 5 to 1 in our local election, and elected true champions for our community. Richmond forced major environmental conditions on Chevron as it expands the refinery and strengthened our Industrial Safety Ordinance in response to the refinery’s toxic explosion and fire in 2012 that sent 15,000 residents to seek medical treatment.

        Toxic pollution isn’t the only threat we face. With 32 miles of shoreline, more than any other city on San Francisco Bay, Richmond is at extreme risk from sea level rise that will soon cost our community far more than we can afford. So, Richmond, home to an oil giant, became the ninth city in less than a year to bring major fossil fuel companies to court over climate change. We filed a lawsuit against 29 oil, gas and coal companies — including Chevron, along with BP and Exxon — to hold them accountable for their role in climate change and its impacts on the community.

        The fossil fuel industry’s business plan is destroying not only our health and communities, but also the survival of our species.

        Yet, under Gov. Jerry Brown, the state of California has not only tolerated the fossil fuel industry, but expanded it — granting permits for drilling 20,000 new oil wells.

        The Bay Area has had enough of this climate hypocrisy. It is wrong to make communities sick. As one of the top oil-producing states, it is time to bring the fossil fuel era to an end.

        While our small towns have the courage to stand up to a billion-dollar fossil fuel industry to protect our public health and climate, why hasn’t Brown?

        On the toxic front lines of climate change, we stand with 150 local elected officials from a majority of counties in California that are taking bold steps to stop fossil fuels. We all are urging Brown to make a plan to phase out oil and gas production in California, to clean up our cities, towns and agricultural lands, and protect our people.

        If our cities can say “no” to expanding fossil fuels, Gov. Brown, you can, too — and we’ll have your back.

        Elizabeth Patterson is mayor of Benicia. Melvin Willis is vice mayor of Richmond.