Category Archives: Suisun Marsh

KQED story on opposition to plans for gas drilling in our Suisun Marsh

Suisun Marsh is home to hundreds of species of birds, fish, amphibians and mammals. Local officials and environmental groups are opposing a project that would allow exploratory natural gas drilling in the marsh. (Alice Woelfle/KQED)

Environmental Groups Urge Feds to Reject Gas Drilling Project in North Bay Wetland

KQED News, by Alice Woelfle, Mar 14, 2021

Local political leaders and a dozen Bay Area environmental groups are urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject a permit proposal for an exploratory natural gas drilling project in Suisun Marsh.

The 88,000-acre wetland in Solano County — the largest contiguous brackish marsh on the west coast of North America — lies near the North Bay cities of Fairfield and Benicia, at the mouth of the vast Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta where the salty waters of San Francisco Bay mix with river water to create an estuary ecosystem that is home to hundreds of species of birds, fish, amphibians and mammals, including river otter, tule elk and the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.

The marsh provides habitat to bird species including the endangered California Ridgway’s rail and the threatened California black rail, and is home to rare native plants like the Suisun thistle, which only grows in Suisun Marsh. It’s also an important resting and feeding area for thousands of migrating birds which use the Pacific flyway, making it a popular destination for birdwatching, hunting, hiking and canoeing.

The gas drilling permit was submitted by Sunset Exploration Inc., an oil and gas company based in nearby Brentwood. If approved, the project would create 100 feet of new road and a one-acre drilling pad built on the site of an abandoned, sealed well. If new drilling finds the well to be productive, the site would expand to include storage tanks and a mile and a half of new gas pipeline to connect with an existing pipeline.

In a Feb. 26 letter opposing the project sent to the Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of a dozen environmental groups — including the Sierra Club and San Francisco Baykeeper — Center for Biological Diversity Senior Attorney Hollin Kretzmann detailed the potential environmental damage the project could inflict on the marsh’s delicate habitat and on surrounding communities.

The letter notes the permit application lacks details of the location of the road, and which chemicals might be used for drilling and maintenance of the well. It also calls into question the permit’s assertion that drilling at an existing well site reduces impact to the marsh and contamination risks from other nearby existing wells:

When a new well is drilled…it can affect existing wells around it in ways ranging from soil and water contamination, to the [uncontrolled release] of gas that has migrated to the surface. … Older and unused wells can create pathways for water contamination…especially those that were constructed decades ago with outdated technologies and standards.

Environmental groups are concerned that the newly proposed project could pave the way for more abandoned wells to come back online, potentially leading to accidents. There are many abandoned wells in the area, and new gas harvesting technology has made production more efficient in locations that were previously abandoned as unprofitable.

Twenty years ago there was enthusiasm in the oil and gas industry around potential reserves beneath Suisun Marsh and other locations in Solano County. In 2001, one natural gas executive said the area had “some of the most exciting opportunities in Northern California.” But renewable energy technology has also come a long way since then — and the negative environmental impacts of fossil fuels and climate change are now a major concern for a majority of Californians.

Suisun Marsh has been damaged by fossil fuel-related accidents before. In 2004, an oil pipeline running through the marsh ruptured, spilling nearly 124,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The spill caused significant damage to wildlife and the company responsible, Kinder Morgan Energy Co., paid over $1.1 million to clean up and restore the marsh.

Kretzmann called the new gas drilling proposal ridiculous.

“We know that we only have a limited amount of time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, phase out fossil fuel and implement a just transition to a safer and more sustainable economy,” he said. “So the fact that we’re thinking about expanding our oil and gas footprint in the state, and allowing people to dig for new fossil fuels is just completely ridiculous.”

He said it’s not just the delicate wetland ecosystem that is in danger, but the health of the surrounding communities and the future of the local economy.

“We shouldn’t be in the business of propping up new fossil fuel infrastructure and exploration projects. We should be in the business of protecting the environment, protecting frontline communities and moving us away from fossil fuels.”

Air pollutants are emitted during every stage of gas development. Emissions from the flaring and venting of wells can include harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and formaldehydes. The nearby cities of Suisun CityFairfield and Vallejo — predominantly communities of color — are already disproportionately impacted by pollutants from nearby oil and gas facilities including Valero’s Benicia Refinery, Marathon’s Martinez Refinery in Pacheco, PBF Energy’s Martinez refinery and Chevron’s Richmond Refinery, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown, who opposes the project, said protecting the environment and transitioning away from fossil fuels is important to her constituents.

“Why are we doing this in the 21st century? We are putting so much time and effort into restoring and protecting Suisun Marsh. My constituents want open space and fresh air and clean water, not gas wells.”

She said her district is actively trying to make it easier for residents to reduce fossil fuel dependency.

“We are working on making a clean power option available to our residents,” Brown said. “We are working on installing more electric vehicle charging stations in our district, because so many people have electric cars, and also because we want to encourage more people to get them.”

In a public letter to the Army Corps on Feb. 24, Brown called for a public hearing and a full California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) impact study on the project. A public notice on the project issued by the Army Corps stated that the project does not qualify for an automatic environmental impact study.

Sahrye Cohen, the regulatory chief with the North Bay branch of the Army Corps, said in an interview the agency is still determining whether an environmental impact study will be necessary and that the Corps will require Sunset Exploration to submit alternative plans that would mean less impact on the marsh.

“Can natural gas exploration be done in the Suisun Marsh in an area that has less impact on wetlands?” Cohen indicated the Corps would ask Sunset Exploration. “Could you request that fill be half an acre instead of an acre? Could you situate it partially on an area that has already been filled in? What are your other options here that don’t involve putting fill in wetlands?”

The Clean Water Act requires the Army Corps to permit the least environmentally damaging plan, but Cohen said when it comes to surrounding communities, they usually fall outside the scope of the Corps’ jurisdiction, which only covers actions that occur on waterways. Cohen said it usually doesn’t include a city 5 miles away.

“It all starts from, ‘What are they putting in the wetlands?’ then, ‘What are they proposing that adds onto that?'” she said. “There’s executive orders about environmental justice that we are going to look at for our analysis. But there is a scope limitation, so we don’t know how far that extends yet.”

Cohen was referencing potentially stricter executive orders around environmental justice forthcoming from the Biden administration, but there are also several court cases that limit the scope of the Corps’ jurisdiction. The Corps has received a handful of similar requests for exploratory drilling in and around the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in the last decade, and Cohen said most of them get approved after a discussion of how to reduce damage to wetlands and endangered species.

“I’ve been here for about 12 years,” she said. “I don’t know that we have denied a natural gas well exploratory permit.”

Cohen added that the Corps’ job is to decide, in consultation with agencies like the California Water Quality Control Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, whether a project is legally permissible. If it is legal, the permit is approved.

Supervisor Brown said that isn’t a good enough reason to “destroy” a wetland.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. I hope the Army Corps will take that into consideration and reject this project.”

The permit review process will take at least four months. Supervisor Brown, Hollin Kretzmann and other environmental groups said they will do whatever they can to fight the project every step of the way.

Sunset Exploration did not return requests for comment on this story.

Center For Biological Diversity submits comment letter – opposing gas drilling in Suisun Marsh

By Roger Straw, February 26, 2021

The Center For Biological Diversity submitted the following letter commenting on the proposed Hunters Point gas well drilling exploration in Suisun Marsh.  The letter is sent on behalf of The Center and 11 other Bay Area groups: Friends of the Earth, Fresh Air Vallejo, Sunflower Alliance, San Francisco Baykeeper, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter, Climate Protectors, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, 350 Bay Area, Communities for a Better Environment, Good Neighbor Steering Committee of Benicia, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

The two-page cover letter addressed to the San Francisco District Army Corps of Engineers, is followed by 30 pages of detailed comments, downloadable here as a PDF.  The letter opens with the following summary comment:

…Approving new gas development would cause significant harm to air and water quality, the surrounding ecosystem, and the climate. Issuing permits for new fossil fuel development is fundamentally incompatible with a safe and healthy future. We urge the Army Corps to consider the attached comments, which discusses why the application for this Project is grossly inadequate and does not meet the minimum standards of state and federal environmental laws. We strongly urge the Army Corps to reject this dangerous and short-sighted Project and work instead to protect communities and the environment from industry pollution. At minimum, the Army Corp must not approve this Project without a full environmental impact study, at least one public hearing, and further opportunities to submit comments on this harmful Project. […continued…]

Center For Biological Diversity – Comment letter opposing gas drilling in Suisun Marsh

ALERT – TIME SENSITIVE! Need to send letters to stop drilling project in Suisun Marsh

By Kathy Kerridge, February 24, 2021

STOP THE HUNTERS POINT GAS DRILLING PROJECT!

Proposed Sunset Exploration Exploratory well – Latitude: “N 38.158096” Longitude: “W -122’059177”

Do you want to see a gas drilling operation in the Suisun Marsh?
I know I don’t.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of evaluating a request for exploratory drilling in the marsh. There is an existing well, which has been plugged, that Sunset Exploration would like to do exploratory drilling in. Of course if the exploration shows that the gas is worth pursuing then that would involve putting in a bigger drilling operation and putting in an 8,821 foot pipeline to connect with an existing pipeline.

I don’t think either of these things are appropriate in the biggest marshes on the West Coast.

Your comments on this project are due on February 26.  More info below.

BACKGROUND:  Here is the link to the project description: https://www.spn.usace.army.mil/Portals/68/docs/regulatory/publicnotices/2021/SPN-2011-00065_PN_2020.01.25.pdf  This is the public notice for the gas drilling project before the Army Corp of Engineers.

You can download my sample letter with the required information for comments. I suggest that everyone oppose this and ask for a public hearing. You don’t have to use my words. Some variation may be appropriate.  I have also attached a letter from Monica Brown.

Here is where to send the comments:

Roberta.A.Morganstern@usace.army.mil

Your comments must include the following:

Project: Hunter’s Point Natural Gas Well Drilling Project
Applicant: Robert Nunn of Sunset Exploration located at 10500 Brentwood Boulevard, Brentwood, California, through its agent, Hope Kingma of WRA, Inc.
PUBLIC NOTICE NUMBER: 2011-00065N
PUBLIC NOTICE DATE: January 25, 2021
COMMENTS DUE DATE: February 26, 2021

The project also needs approval from the Executive Officer, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Region, 1515 Clay Street, Suite 1400, Oakland, California 94612, Your comments can be directed to them by the close of the comment period, February 26.

Approvals will also be required from other agencies including Solano County, but wouldn’t it be nice to stop this dead in its tracks.

Public interest factors which may be relevant to the decision process include: conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, cultural values, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shore erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, considerations of property ownership, and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people.

Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest in the project.
Your comments may include a request for a public hearing on the project prior to a determination on the Department of the Army permit application; such requests shall state, with particularity, the reasons for holding a public hearing.

Kathy Kerridge

Valero Crude By Rail: All about extreme crude (Canadian Tar Sands diluted bitumen)

Repost from the Sunflower Alliance

Valero Crude By Rail: Extreme Crude as Extreme Threat

By Charles Davidson, Hercules CA, February 20, 2016
CBR_3.jpg
Lynne Nittler of Davis, CA

Like many other fossil fuel infrastructure expansions in the Bay Area, the Valero Crude by Rail project is a key part of the transition to greater processing of extreme crudes. Yet another project poses significant, yet unnecessary public health hazards—this time to Benicia, the Bay Area, the Delta ecosystem and all communities up-rail from Benicia.

Valero’s recently completed Valero Improvement Project, or VIP, was designed to facilitate the processing of much higher sulfur and heavier crudes than the refinery’s former crude oil slate. The VIP permitted the Refinery to process heavier, high sulfur feedstocks as 60% of total supply, up from only 30% prior to the VIP.  The project also raised the average sulfur content of the imported raw materials from past levels of about 1 – 1.5% up to new levels of about 2 – 2.5% sulfur.

Now, Valero’s proposed Crude by Rail Project is specifically designed for the importation into Valero of so-called “mid-continent, North American” crudes, which would be either very lightweight, highly flammable shale oil from Bakken ND or extra heavy tar sands from Alberta Canada.  However, because the Valero Crude by Rail Project combined with the VIP are related parts of a single expanded heavy oil project, the Crude by Rail Project is most likely for the delivery of tar sands (bitumen).

Tar sands is open pit mined as a solid; it does not start out as a liquid. The Bitumen mined in Northern Canada needs to be heated to several hundred degrees before it can be diluted with chemical solvents and made to flow into railroad tank cars. According to the recent Carnegie Endowment study, Know Your Oil: Towards a Global Climate-Oil Index, tar sands refining produces three times the climate-changing greenhouse gases in order to make gasoline, compared to traditional lighter crudes.

Worse, in a 2007 US Geological Service study, it was reported that tar sands bitumen contains 102 times more copper, 21 times more vanadium, 11 times more sulfur, six times more nitrogen, 11 times more nickel, and 5 times more lead than conventional heavy crude oil. Sulfur and nitrogen oxide pollutants contribute to smog, soot, acid rain and odors that affect nearby residents. Because of these considerations, Benicia could likely experience an increase in local air pollution, and the refinery’s equipment could suffer enhanced sulfur corrosion, leading to potential accidents, such as documented for the 2012 Richmond Chevron fire.

The tar sand diluent itself adds significant risk: it is a highly flammable solvent that tends to separate from the heavier mixture during travel.  In a derailment this could cause an explosive fire with a uniquely hazardous tar sands smoke plume. The diluted tar sands mixture would tend to rapidly sink very deep into the soil, with the diluent eventually evaporating and then leaving the tar sands bitumen deep underground.

A significant tar sands spill, in places like the environmentally sensitive Feather River Canyon, the Delta or the Suisun Marsh would be impossible to clean up.  This was proven in Michigan’s 2010 Kalamazoo River Enbridge pipeline rupture, which will never be remediated, despite the spending of over 1 billion dollars to date. Nearby public infrastructure needs to be considered from a public health perspective; for example, East Bay MUD and others are doing a brackish delta water desalination pilot study near Pittsburg.

We must deny Valero the CBR permit and help keep the world’s absolutely dirtiest oil in the ground. To do so would comply with the expressed wishes of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments composed of six counties and 22 municipalities up-rail from Valero who have also asked that this project be denied. Our massive turnout at the Planning Commission hearings achieved our first step in this goal with a unanimous vote of the Planning Commission to deny the land use permit.  Now we must continue our opposition to insure the full Benicia City Council follows this path.