Tag Archives: Chevron Refinery fire Richmond CA

Letter: Bay Area Air Board needs to step up for cleaner air

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Where our mayor, supervisor stand

By Michelle Pellegrin, 08/04/16, 4:09 PM PDT

There are 24 people in the Bay Area with the power to regulate the air we breathe. Their decisions cause or reduce asthma, cancer and other illnesses that can and have resulted in death.

This regional board has so much power to affect peoples’ lives and deaths, yet most people haven’t even heard of this agency with the unwieldy name: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District — or BAAQMD.

The 24 members of this board — which includes Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis — have a mandate to protect public health.

The neighborhoods around the refineries have suffered severe health effects from emissions. The 2012 Chevron toxic explosion and fire in Richmond sent more than 15,000 people to the hospital, which is now closed. A broad coalition of Bay Area groups would like to see refinery emissions, which have continuously gone up for the past 20 years, capped and then methods found to reduce harmful emissions. The first step in this process is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

On Wednesday, July 20, after four long years and several refinery incidents, the board, in a room with standing room only, was to vote on this. What appeared as a simple slam dunk became a political football between clean air advocates and Big Oil.

Bay Area refineries have been preparing to process heavier dirtier crudes, which will increase emissions and their diseases. The wave of Crude By Rail (CBR) of proposed projects, such as the Valero Benicia CBR project, are designed to facilitate the importation of extreme crudes, such volatile oil from the Bakken fields and volatile heavy crude from the Canadian Tar Sands.

BAAQMD staff, in what can only be seen as another move to interminably delay implementing modern and necessary emission standards on Bay Area refineries, supported combining the simpler refinery emission cap EIR with a complex EIR on toxic chemical emissions for up to 900 businesses.

Bay Area refinery corridor communities and their allied cities want the EIRs to be conducted separately, as the EIR on refineries can be done much more quickly than the more complex toxic chemical EIR because it requires no infrastructure changes. They want answers and relief from the constant health problems they are suffering.

And here is where our mayor stepped in to show his stripes. Davis, just recently appointed to the board, gave a critical speech supporting combining the two EIRs. Who would have thought the BAAQMD’s newest member would have such sway with the board?

Anyone with respiratory health problems or cancer can give a big round of applause to our mayor and Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, who made the motion to combine the two EIRs. We in Solano County have the dubious distinction of having the most anti-public health, pro-corporate members on the board.

Even the Contra Costa appointees where four of the five refineries are located weren’t as instrumental as the Solano reps in pushing for the delay of this most important EIR.

Luckily, other board members did uphold their duty to the public’s health and a compromise was reached. The EIRs will be combined but if they become bogged down then they will be separated out. In addition, and a very important one from the public’s point of view, there will be citizen oversight of the process.

The irony here is that this is a false dichotomy. Big Oil will keep functioning and we need them for those cars we drive. These companies provide jobs and add to our economies. But it is no longer legitimate to trade health for jobs. It is an outmoded model and has no place in deciding public policy. It is no longer acceptable for companies to dominate local economies and the policies of the people in those communities where they are located.

Big Oil has known for years that this is the direction things are moving. A 2014 article in the San Jose Mercury News notes the refineries are already working on improving their systems in anticipation of processing the dirtier and volatile oil from outside California.

As Tom Griffith, head of the Martinez Environmental Group back in 2014 stated, “The missed opportunity here is for the oil companies to refocus their sights on the future of renewable energy.”

We should be working together to improve public health. The corporate stranglehold on such important regional boards must end. Citizens need to be attend BAAQMD board meetings and provide input on upcoming board decisions for this to happen. The next meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 9:30 a.m. at the BAAQMD headquarters at 375 Beale St. San Francisco.

And here in Vallejo we need to do the same and be more engaged. We have seen the result of complicity between politicians and corporations that excluded public input: The absurd notion of putting a cement factory in a residential area with its disastrous public health consequences. Don’t let Mayor Davis and his cronies put our community in harm’s way. Say “no” to the Orcem/VMT cement plant and don’t vote in November for any candidate who supports it!

— Michelle Pellegrin/Vallejo

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
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.

20 By 2020: A Pledge To Reduce Bay Area Refinery Pollution

Repost from SWITCHBOARD, Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog

20 By 2020: A Pledge To Reduce Refinery Pollution

By Diane Bailey, October 9, 2014

Diane Bailey

The Bay Area Air District has been working for the past two years to craft regulations that track and limit refinery pollution as oil companies begin bringing in extreme new types of crude oil that put workers and refinery fenceline communities at risk.  Facing much more pollution from refining extreme crude oil, like tar sands and Bakken crude, and in the aftermath of the massive August 2012 fire at Chevron Richmond, a number of community and environmental advocates got together with refinery workers at the start of the rulemaking effort.  (below, the Chevron refinery and tanks loom large over North Richmond; Photo Credit: Environmental Health News)

Chevron richmond homes.jpgWe came up with the Worker-Community Approach to not only ensure that pollution would not increase from refineries but to track crude oil used and achieve continual progress on air quality by reducing 20 percent of refinery pollution by 2020.

Our challenge to the Bay Area Air District and to all Chevron tankfarm homes.jpgfive oil companies with refineries in the region is that given the tremendous amounts of pollution pumped out by refineries and impacting the health of fenceline communities every day, will they work together to commit to cutting pollution by 20 percent by 2020?  Here are five things you need to know about refinery pollution in the Bay Area that help explain why Refineries in the Bay Area are much more polluting than other refineries and can easily reduce 20 percent of their toxic emissions over the next five years:

1)      According to US EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Data: Bay Area refineries, on average, report more than twice the toxic chemical releases reported by Los Angeles Area refineries.

2)      According to the California Air Resources Board, emissions inventory data, Bay Area refinery emissions are estimated to decrease by 50 percent or more by 2020, making a 20 percent reduction by 2020 seem easy.  But projections are one thing; we need a reliable commitment in writing.

3)      The CARB emissions inventory data also shows that Bay Area Refineries currently emit 7 times more nitrogen oxides (NOx), 3 times more sulfur dioxide and at least a third more organic hydrocarbons (like benzene) than Southern CA refineries, yet Southern California refineries collectively have over a third more capacity.

4)      According to regional air district data, the Chevron Richmond refinery is much more polluting than its El Segundo “twin” that has the same design; Chevron Richmond emitted more than twice as much organic hydrocarbon and particulate matter (PM) and eight times more toxic benzene than the El Segundo refinery in 2012.  Going back to TRI emissions, Chevron Richmond released over 80 percent more toxic air pollution than Chevron El Segundo in 2011.

5)      According to a 2013 Statewide Audit, on a rough per gallon of gasoline basis, Bay Area Refineries are 50 percent more climate polluting, twice as polluting for organic hydrocarbons and NOx, almost 20 percent more polluting for PM and leak over three times as much benzene and almost five times as much formaldehyde relative to gasoline produced in Southern California.

Wouldn’t it be great if Bay Area refineries – Valero, Chevron, Tesoro, Phillips 66 and Shell – took the 20 by 2020 pledge?  They could use the same modern pollution controls that refineries in Southern California have installed.  This kind of commitment to clean air, is not only doable technologically, it is a smart approach to being a good neighbor and supporting community health.  The proactive Worker-community Approach to improving air quality also ensures that we won’t see an increase in pollution as oil companies bring more extreme crude oil into the region.  In fact, we would like to see refiners take a good neighbor pledge not to bring any extreme, dangerous crude oil into the Bay Area at all.  At the very least, they should pledge a 20 percent reduction of toxic pollution by 2020.  They did it in Southern California; Bay Area communities deserve no less.

THE PLEDGE:  A Worker-Community Approach to Emission ReductionsIn order to address the ongoing health hazards in refinery-impacted communities and prevent any increases in pollution caused by changing crude oil, the refinery rule should require:

1)  Each refinery is required to decrease refinery-wide emissions of pollutants that create environmental health hazards by at least 20 percent below the refinery’s baseline by 2020, showing adequate incremental progress of at least two percent each year;


2)  If these reductions aren’t possible, a refinery needs to show that they are using the best available emission control technology (BACT) throughout the refinery (i.e., eliminate “grandfathered,” “non-BACT” and “exempted” sources in the refinery).

Sources & Notes:
  1. Refinery Capacity vs. Throughput: Refinery comparisons were adjusted by capacity as reported to US EPA and to the California Energy Commission.  Although annual crude oil throughput would be a better comparison point, it is not publicly available.  Thus an imperfect assumption that most refineries utilize most of their capacity must be made in order to compare emissions.  According to CEC, Southern California has roughly 1 million BPD refining capacity and the Bay Area has roughly 700,000 BPD capacity.  “A rough per gallon” refined basis is relative to reported capacity not throughput or production.
  2. CARB emissions inventory queries were run for 2012 and the future projection year of 2020 for industrial sources, taking the sum of the Emissions Inventory Categories: 040-Petroleum Refining (Combustion) and 320-Petroleum Refineries.
  3. BAAQMD Emissions Inventory Data for each refinery was transmitted to NRDC via Public Records Request, August 28, 2014 for years 2011 through 2013.






LOCAL OP-ED – Craig Snider: Three reasons to oppose crude by rail

Repost from The Benicia Herald

3 reasons to oppose crude by rail

by Craig Snider, August 9, 2014

WHEN MY FAMILY MOVED TO BENICIA IN 2003, we spent our first week in the Best Western on East Second Street. During our stay we met several workers visiting from refineries in Texas to assist with projects at local refineries. During breakfast, I mentioned to one of them that we had bought a house in Benicia and were waiting to move in. He replied, “I wouldn’t have my family living within five miles of a refinery,” implying that it was unsafe because of the risk of an accident.

We had already purchased our home and were pleased with the location of the town, the high-quality schools, the quaint downtown and the local arts community. At the time, I judged that the prevailing wind direction and rolling hills would likely buffer our home from the effects of any serious accident, such as the recent Chevron fire in Richmond, and that the many Benicia amenities outweighed any risk the refinery posed.

Now we are faced with the prospect of 100 tank cars of crude oil being hauled into Benicia every day. Valero insists this would be safe and warns that without a new facility to offload the crude oil, local jobs, company profits and charitable contributions would be at risk.

I have no doubt that, if necessary, crude oil could be transported by rail to various parts of the country safely and efficiently. We have the technological and engineering expertise to do amazing things these days, and such expertise could readily be applied to the crude oil transport business.

Some in our community scoff at the risk posed by crude by rail (it’s comforting to some that the Quebec derailment that killed 47 people and the many accidents that have since occurred were caused by human error and could have been prevented). Others are horrified at the thought of a similar accident here or elsewhere. They highlight the fact that this crude oil is more volatile and toxic than other types, that an accident here would wreak havoc on our lives, and they want to stop the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project in its tracks.

As I see it, there are three major reasons to oppose the project at this time.

First, simply put, hauling 100 tank car loads of volatile Bakken crude or toxic Canadian tar sands crude raises the risk of an accident relative to the status quo. Benicians already live in the shadow of a refinery; is it really necessary or desirable to add to this risk to satisfy Valero?

Second, rules governing high-hazard flammable trains need to be thoroughly vetted and approved before the Valero proposal can be approved. Between March 2013 and May 2014, there were 12 significant oil train derailments in the United States and Canada, including the Quebec accident. Crude by rail arriving in California was up 506 percent, to 6.3 million barrels, just last year. In fact, more crude oil was transported by rail in North America in 2013 than in the previous five years combined. Yet it wasn’t until the first of this month that regulations were proposed for dealing with this unprecedented increase in “High-Hazard Flammable Trains” (see Federal Register, Aug. 1, 2014, pg. 45,016).

Apparently the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) expects to issue new regulations governing crude by rail sometime after a 60-day comment period that ends Sept. 30. Oddly, their federal notice includes a brief two-page “environmental assessment” that concludes there will be no significant environmental impacts associated with their proposals. Apparently we are to trust the railroad industry and their minders to do the right thing after they have steadfastly refused to institute train safety mechanisms, such as “Positive Train Control,” that would have saved 288 lives, prevented 6,500 injuries and 139 crashes in the past 45 years. At a minimum, the rules governing high-hazard flammable trains should be subject to a full environmental impact statement as provided by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Such an environmental impact statement might determine that crude-by-rail terminals should be located a minimum distance from residential areas and that crude-carrying trains travelling through metropolitan areas be guided by automated systems that monitor speed, location and rail traffic, so that the potential for human error would be substantially reduced. Such systems currently exist, but have been largely ignored by the railroad companies. These measures need to be studied and decided upon before the Valero proposal is approved.

Finally, what’s the rush? Many would argue that fossil fuel use needs to be curtailed because of greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental havoc caused by ever-more-destructive means of obtaining oil (fracking, tar sands, etc.). Approving the Valero project gives tacit approval to these means, allowing our community to profit at the expense of other people and places. Maybe it’s time to just say no.

Craig Snider is a Benicia resident. He recently retired from the U.S. Forest Service, where he was regional environmental coordinator for the national forests in California from 2003-14.