Category Archives: Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA)

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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    Refineries asking for exemption from state power shutdowns during high fire danger – Valero Benicia lawsuit on hold

    KQED, THE CALIFORNIA REPORT

    California Oil Industry Sounds Alarm Over Utilities’ Power Shutoff Plans

    By Ted Goldberg, Aug 20, 2019

    A refinery in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson burns off flammable gases after a September 2005 power outage blacked out much of the L.A. area. (David McNew/Getty Images)

    The industry group representing oil companies in California says if the state’s utilities shut off power to refineries during periods of high fire danger, the facilities could be knocked offline, resulting in major pollution releases and increased gasoline prices.

    The Western States Petroleum Association asked California regulators in early May for exemptions from power shutoff plans that the state and electrical utilities have adopted to reduce the chances of power lines starting fires during extremely windy and hot conditions.

    The industry group warned that an outage as short as a minute could result in refineries going off line for up to three weeks, triggering a series of ugly consequences.

    “An uncontrolled shutdown of a refinery from a de-energization action would result in immediate emergency load shedding, flaring and a heightened risk of a catastrophic event,” the association wrote in a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission.

    The filing has prompted an angry reaction from a leading environmental group, which says it fears the oil companies will use a power shutdown as a justification for harmful emissions.

    “It’s outrageous that action to protect against wildfire risk might result in dangerous pollution,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Refineries shouldn’t be allowed to use this as an excuse to contaminate the air we breathe.”

    When asked recently about the petroleum association’s concerns, a PG&E representative said the utility would work to restore power faster for refineries after the shutoffs.

    “We are continually working to analyze our systems, refine our procedures and further assess how we can minimize the impacts of a public safety power shutoff. This includes working towards the ability to be able to prioritize the re-energization of critical infrastructure like oil refineries,” said Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman.

    Two weeks after the association’s filing, the commission approved PG&E’s shutoff plans. Oil companies did not get the break they wanted.

    But the association’s concerns have not faded. The head of the industry group continues to call on the state’s utilities to keep the power flowing to refineries even during periods of high fire danger.

    “Unplanned shutdowns imposed by a utility can result in health, safety and environmental impacts,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the group’s president, said in a statement.

    “If a utility’s actions disrupt the fuel supply chain, this could significantly impact affordable fuel costs for businesses and consumers in California,” Reheis-Boyd said. “Utilities need to make sure that they are investing adequate resources to protect critical facilities to ensure that any de-energization event is used as an absolute last resort and does not cause more harm to Californians.”

    PG&E Shutoff Plan Scrutinized

    The industry’s concerns were highlighted last week when state lawmakers scrutinized PG&E’s shutoff plans. State Sen. Scott Wiener. D-San Francisco, mentioned the refineries while questioning a PG&E executive.

    “We saw the oil industry, and I’m not usually aligned with the oil industry, but their letter was very compelling. That’s pretty problematic for that to happen,” Wiener said during a state Senate subcommittee hearing last Wednesday.

    PG&E says it recently met with the industry to discuss its concerns, but it has not signaled an intention to alter its shutoff plans.

    Sumeet Singh, the PG&E vice president overseeing the company’s wildfire safety program, told the panel that the transmission system serving refineries is built with redundancy in mind.

    “When you look at our transmission system, by nature, especially the 100-kilovolt and above … there’s quite a lot of reliability that’s built into it,” Singh said. That means “if you lose a line, you have another” line as a backup, he added.

    Singh also suggested that the oil industries can take PG&E to court “if they fundamentally believe that the decision that we made was inaccurate, inappropriate, targeted in some way, led to some harm.”

    2017 Power Outage at Valero Refinery

    An oil company lawsuit against the utility would not be unprecedented. A May 2017 power failure at Valero’s Benicia plant triggered a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide and prompted emergency shelter-in-place orders.

    The CPUC blamed PG&E for the outage, but declined to punish the company. Valero filed a lawsuit against the utility, seeking more than $75 million in damages. That lawsuit is currently on hold pending the outcome of PG&E’s bankruptcy proceedings.

    The industry’s filing with the commission says the 2017 Valero outage proves the dangers an electricity failure poses to a refinery.

    Currently, the Valero refinery is not in an area designated by PG&E as one at high risk for a public safety power shutoff. Solano County inspectors and Benicia fire officials note that the refinery gets power from two separate lines.

    Terry Schmidtbauer, Solano County’s assistant director of resource management, which oversees the Benicia facility, says the likelihood of Valero losing power from a pre-emptive shutoff is low.

    “That being said, we are all aware of the past events where Valero did lose all power and had to shut down rather quickly. Such an event is not impossible, even if highly unlikely,” Schmidtbauer said.

    Both in 2017 and last March, when Valero shut down due to two refinery component malfunctions, the cost of gasoline in California increased.

    Schmidtbauer said after the 2017 outage, county inspectors told Valero to set up a procedure by which it would rely more on fuel gas and steam to generate electricity at the plant to run the refinery if it were to lose power from PG&E.

    A Valero spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

    Contra Costa County’s refineries — the Chevron, Shell, Phillips 66 and Marathon plants — are expected to rely more on their cogeneration facilities and reduce refining in cases of power shutoffs, according to Randy Sawyer, the county’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer.

    “I am expecting that they will cut back on their operations so they can continue to operate somewhat on their own,” Sawyer said.

    Shell’s Martinez refinery has emergency backup systems, but they are not enough to power the entire plant, according to Shell spokeswoman Ann Notarangelo.

    “We do not have enough onsite generation to sustain plant operations in the event of a complete loss of power from PG&E,” Notarangelo said.

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      Oil Industry Spending Millions on California Lobbying

      An email alert from California League of Conservation Voters (EcoVote.org)

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      EcoVote.org

      From: Sarah Rose, Chief Executive Officer,  California League of Conservation Voters
      Sent: Saturday, August 15, 2015 8:01 AM
      Subject: BREAKING: In California, Oil Industry Spends Millions on State-Level Lobbying

      Breaking news:

      In a report just released by the California Secretary of State, we can see for the first time just how far the oil industry is willing to go to influence state lawmakers. Here what we know:

      • Oil industry lobbyists spent $6.2 million − in just the first six months of this year – to push their agenda on state-level issues in California.
      • Oil companies are spending more than $1 million per month to stop Californians like us from cleaning up the air we breathe, protecting our drinking water supplies, shifting to renewable energy, and preventing future oil spills.
      • They’re not slowing down. In fact, this week the oil industry’s main lobbying group WSPA (Western States Petroleum Association) launched an all-out attack on climate change bills in the statehouse right now. Under the mask of their front group “California Driver’s Alliance,” WSPA’s deceptive and manipulative ads are now running on television, internet, and radio in several key legislative districts throughout the state.
      • We can beat them, but we need your help. Right now, we’re fighting to pass a historic package of climate change laws that will thrust California back into the forefront of global climate leadership. Here at CLCV, we’ve faced off against WSPA in countless battles over our 40-year history. We’ve beat them enough times to know what works – and it’s you  (yes, you!) persistently contacting your lawmakers, speaking your mind, and personally insisting that your life and your family’s future are more important than the profit margins at Chevron and Shell. Take action and send your message to lawmakers right now. >>

      Last year, the oil industry spent a record $20 million in lobbying to try to stop the full implementation of California’s first landmark climate and clean energy law, AB 32 – but they failed, because we fought back. Thousands of us in the California League of Conservation Voters stood side-by-side with our allies and fought back against WSPA’s cynical propaganda. Together, we defeated their pro-pollution agenda, and now transportation fuels (which are responsible for 40% of carbon pollution and 80% of smog-causing pollution produced in CA) are included under the “cap” in cap-and-trade.

      I’m proud of our victory last year, but the real story is we won that battle by the skin of our teeth. Things very easily could have gone the other way if we didn’t have so much help from voters like you. Now, the stakes are even higher, and the oil industry is on track to break last year’s spending record to lobby against us. We need your help today: Stand with us now. >>

      Sincerely,

      Sarah Rose Chief Executive Officer California League of Conservation Voters

      P.S. As they attempt to hide from public scrutiny, oil companies funnel most of their California lobbying cash through the industry lobbying group WSPA (Western States Petroleum Association). But one oil company − Chevron – went above and beyond. In addition to their WSPA contributions, Chevron spent $1.5 million lobbying for influence over California laws. That means two spots on California’s top-five list for big-spending lobbyists belong to Big Oil. We can’t let them win. Please, speak out about climate change right now: http://ecovote.org/ActOnClimate >>

      Additional background: CLCV supports Senate Bill 32 (Pavley) and Senate Bill 350 (de León) to combat climate change, reduce pollution, create clean energy jobs, and ensure that all California communities are prepared for the future. Specifically, these important bills call for bold but achievable new climate goals:

      • Increase from one-third to 50 percent our electricity derived from renewable sources
      • Reduce today’s petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent
      • Double the energy efficiency of existing buildings
      • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050

      With help from thousands of CLCV supporters like you, these important bills have already passed the State Senate. Now both bills are facing critical votes in the Assembly. Make sure your Assemblymember hears from you: Speak out now!

      We need to keep making progress to address the challenges presented by climate change, especially in our hardest-hit communities. Senate pro Tem Kevin de León put it best: “For too long, poor and working class families in California’s most polluted communities do not have the opportunity to invest in clean, efficient transportation … We need to move the state away from fossil fuels, away from the grip of oil … This is common sense climate policy.”

      Since 1972, the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) has protected our land, air, water, and public health as the non-partisan political arm of the environmental movement. CLCV’s mission is to protect and enhance the environment and the health of all California communities by electing environmental champions, advancing critical priorities, and holding policymakers accountable. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stay. You make a big difference with CLCV, because our political strength comes from members like you. Thanks for reading, and thank you for everything you do to make California a cleaner, safer, and healthier place to call home.

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        KQED covers rail and oil industry “show and tell” in Sacramento

        Repost from KQED Science, NPR

        Railroads, Big Oil Move to Ease Fears Over Crude Shipments

        By Daniel Potter, KQED Science | February 24, 2015
        This CPC-1232 tank car represents an upgrade over an older models criticized for being easily punctured, but critics say there's still much to be desired. (Daniel Potter/KQED)
        This CPC-1232 tank car represents an upgrade over an older models criticized for being easily punctured, but critics say there’s still much to be desired. (Daniel Potter/KQED)

        Facing growing apprehension among Californians, railroads and oil companies are trying to allay fears over the dangers of hauling crude oil into the state.

        Tensions have been heightened by a spate of derailments, as well as a recently unearthed government report with some sobering projections for the potential cost to life and property from such incidents in coming years. Federal regulators are weighing stricter rules governing everything from modernized braking systems to new speed limits.

        In a rare move Tuesday in Sacramento, officials with California’s two major railroads, Union Pacific and BNSF, held a media briefing explaining safety measures ranging from computerized stability controls to special foam for choking out fires.

        At the California State Railroad Museum, Pat Brady, a hazardous materials manager for BNSF, showed off a newer model tank car with half-inch thick “head shields” – metal plates extending halfway up on either end.  The car was also equipped with “skid protection,” Brady said, pointing to a nozzle underneath that’s designed to break away in a derailment, leaving the valve itself intact, to avert spills.

        This tank car, the CPC-1232, is supposed to be safer and harder to puncture than the older DOT-111 version, but it’s facing skepticism after several exploded last week when a train hauling North Dakota crude through West Virginia derailed.

        Using a simulator, Union Pacific's William Boyd demonstrates technology making sure train operators don't go too fast or end up on the wrong track. (Daniel Potter/KQED)

        Industry officials at the Sacramento briefing were reluctant to comment about that incident, saying not all the facts are in yet, but several emphasized the importance of keeping trains from derailing to begin with, and claiming that more than 99.99 percent of such shipments arrive safely.

        Both BNSF and Union Pacific said tracks used to haul crude through California undergo daily visual inspections, said Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt, as well as a battery of high-tech tests.

        “We’re using lasers to measure track gauge and track profile to keep trains on tracks,” he said, and also “pushing ultrasonic waves into our rail to detect potential cracks early.”

        Hunt says in a typical month, Union Pacific brings in 1,000 to 1,200 cars loaded with oil, a tiny fraction of the company’s in-state freight. BNSF said its oil haul is even less: about two trains a month. But some predict such shipments could soar in the near future.

        Also represented at the briefing was Valero Energy, which is hoping to start bringing two fifty-car oil trains a day to its refinery in Benicia.

        “Valero as a company has acquired over five thousand rail cars,” said Chris Howe, a health and safety manager at Valero’s Benicia facility. “We’re able to get a number of them committed to our project, so we will likely be using Valero cars of these newer designs.”

        The industry’s shift away from the DOT-111 model is “a useful step,” says Patti Goldman, managing attorney with Earthjustice, who adds that the newer cars are still “not nearly safe enough.”

        “What you need to do to prevent catastrophes when trains do leave the tracks is have far better tank cars to be able to prevent the leaks and explosions in the first place,” says Goldman.

        Earthjustice is in a legal fight pushing for stronger oversight and regulation. Goldman charges that it’s taking a long time to fully phase out older models because the industry is more focused on growing fleets rapidly.

        “That’s just inexcusable,” she says. “We don’t think they’re allowed to do that. We think they need to get these hazardous tank cars off the rails before they start increasing the amount of crude oil that’s going to be shipped on the rails.”

         

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