Category Archives: Marilyn Bardet

Marilyn Bardet: Petcoke pollution in Benicia, photos going back to 1995

[See also: Baykeeper notice of intent to sue Amports; Video and photos at Port of Benicia show fossil fuel polluter in the act; Cracking Down on Refinery Emissions – all about “cat crackers”]
Petcoke pollution, Port of Benicia. Photo by San Francisco Baykeeper
Email from Benicia activist Marilyn Bardet, October 7, 2021

On the Baykeeper article with drone video and photos of petcoke pollution at Port of Benicia

Marilyn Bardet

I first heard a report about the petroleum coke plume spreading on the Strait from Benicia’s port on KQED radio yesterday, and now the Vallejo Sun (online news source—see link above)) has run an article that includes a drone video of what appears to be a plume from a coke ship at the Valero dock. Clearly, this can’t be a “first” incident. Thanks to Roger Straw,’s catch, the Benicia Independent ran the story yesterday.

The revelation is no surprise to me, although I’ve never had a drone to capture from the air what I’ve witnessed with my own eyes and photographed from near the port. In 1995, I snapped a picture of a “dust cloud” wafting up into the air from petcoke being dumped into the open hull of a coke ship. That “cloud” had been visible to the naked eye on a misty grey day. I’d reported this to the Air District then, (with photos taken from old camera) and similarly, over the years, to no avail. Petcoke is unregulated by Fed-EPA. (see “why” below).

I also took photos in 2013-2014 of coke trains traveling from the refinery along Bayshore Rd, and I’ve collected petcoke off railroad ties that had sifted out from the hopper cars’ undercarriage (from which hinged flanges open up for dumping coke onto underground conveyor belt at the port, which is then trasferred to the petcoke silos. (see photos below). The coke can still be seen along the tracks–proof of how coke gets airborne from its transport from trains to silos to ships’ hulls.

Petcoke is a dangerous particulate (PM 10 and PM 2.5) that settles on the water and all around the lower Arsenal area in the vicinity of the arts community and Arsenal Historic District. Tiniest invisible particles blow around, becoming part of the carbon grit that settles on cars, window sills, etc. etc.

As most of you know, I’ve railed for years, since 1995, about how petroleum coke is a serious airborne pollutant in our local environment. In 1995, Koch Carbon Industries (subsidiary of Koch Industries) came to Benicia proposing to build a mega-industrial 24/7 petcoke storage and shipping terminal operation that was to serve all five Bay Area refineries including Exxon Benicia (now Valero). That project would have been disastrous for Benicia, creating a massive “toxic coke dump” at our port, with all the cumulative consequences to public health and the environment. We, the public, fought the project fiercely and forced Koch Industries to abandon their proposed “Coke Domes” project. But they went up river and built a smaller coke terminal in Pittsburg instead— speaking of environmental injustice).

If you read no further, the announcement yesterday underscores my point, made over many years and currently, that residential development in the lower Arsenal should not be allowed, because doing so would deliberately create an environmental injustice: the area is inherently industrial and dangerous and polluted by the various specific operations of Valero and Amports. Check it out! Active crude oil pipelines run from the refinery behind our historic Officers’ Row and Clocktower to the Valero tanker dock, (located just east of the Clocktower); petroleum coke is is transferred from the refinery two or three times per week by train along Bayshore Rd to Valero’s petcoke shipping dock (immediately adjacent to Amports’ car import dock); diesel exhaust contributes toxic gases to the air from ships’ engines running while in port and on the Strait. To my knowledge, the cumulative amount of pollution produced everyday in the vicinity of the port has not been calculated.


Petcoke collected from train tracks along Bayshore Road in Benicia (Marilyn Bardet, Oct 9, 2013)

For those of you not sure about how petcoke is produced and why it’s dangerous to human health: Petroleum coke is the name given to the residue left in the hydrocracker processing unit during the refining of crude oil’s distillates. This residue is an oily, black crumbly carbon substance that must be scraped out of the hydrocracker everyday, and transfered to a “coker” for more processing. to create what’s called “petcoke”. The heavier (dirtier) crude oil refined, the more coke residue is created. The coker unit at Valero transforms the coal-like rocks into a fluffed up powdery-fine granular particulate which is marketed as a product, sold mainly to Asia as a cheap fuel for use in place of more expensive coal in steel furnaces and for other domestic uses. With few exceptions, petcoke cannot be used as a fuel in the US.

Burning petcoke as a fuel contributes to global warming, every bit as much as burning coal or any other fossil fuel. It is also hugely dangerous to human health when inhaled. The coke particulates contain heavy metals, depending on the source of crude oil being refined on any given day. Nickel is a carcinogen when inhaled. PM2.5 particulates of petcoke lodge in the lungs and send other toxic gas molecules—which have piggy-backed onto airborne petcoke particulates—into the bloodstream, thus cumulatively affecting circulatory, heart and lung functions from chronic, daily, low-level exposures breathing airborne petcoke. Of course, petcoke ending up in the water on a regular basis can be ingested by fish and waterfowl and other organisms, contaminating the Strait. Much more investigation of this issue is urgently needed!

Petcoke plume in Carquinez Strait, Benicia. Photo by San Francisco Baykeeper

The sad, unethical fact is that long ago the oil industry lobbied Fed-EPA to exempt petcoke from regulation as a toxic waste, arguing that petcoke becomes a marketable “finished product” when further processed, and therefore belongs in the same category that includes gasoline, kerosene, diesel, and all other liquid distillates produced by refineries. As more and more heavy crude is being refined in California, our refineries will be producing much more petcoke for export as fuel for burning….

To date, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) responds to residents’ complaints about petcoke only if it is visible as an opaque dust cloud when backlit in the air! (This was told to me by BAAQMD staff member).

I hope this helps everyone understand why petcoke is a human health and environmental danger, and why we should NOT be allowing residential development in the lower Arsenal Historic District, for all the enviro reasons cited above. Period!

Please share with your friends!

On the side of public health and safety, social and environmental justice,

Yours truly,
???? Marilyn

Valero emissions alerts – personal update with photos from Marilyn Bardet

An email from Marilyn Bardet, Benicia

From: Marilyn Bardet
Subject: About Solano ALERT notice: Valero’s Scrubber releasing toxic particulate matter–pet coke
Date: March 24, 2019 at 8:16:22 AM PDT

Good morning all,

I just received both a phone call and email from Solano ALERT at 6:59 a.m. regarding the ongoing problem at the refinery that’s resulting in continuous release of PM from the Scrubber, (main stack). I see emails circulating now among Benicians— and so you’ve all probably rec’d the advisory by now to “stay indoors, with doors and windows sealed, if you have asthma or other respiratory condition”. The advisory declares that they’ve tested the pet coke emissions and did not find (dangerous levels) of heavy metals. (Which is not to say there are no heavy metals being dispersed over the last ten days).

My concern:
This problem has been happening since at least March 13th, when I first saw the plume, having been alerted by a friend who had called to report its smokey color.  That day, following her phone call, I drove along  Park Road and Industrial Way (east of the refinery’s processing block) to see it for myself and take pictures.

The release of dark smoke from the Scrubber signals an “up stream” on-going problem with the coker unit. My question: is the coker still operating or has it been shut down? If it’s not operating, when was the unit shut down?

Yesterday, I was driving over the Benicia Bridge toward town and saw the plume and again noticed the smokey color, so went directly to Industrial Way to take pictures. I made a 1 minute video, holding my camera outside my car window to get it. This meant that I could see and smell the smoke— a very dirty, nasty smell. Anyone working in the Industrial Park yesterday downwind of the Scrubber  would have been greatly exposed.  I could smell the gases inside my car when I rolled up the window.

You’ll notice that in the still shots from yesterday, the plume rises, drifts and falls. . . the wind was light, the molecules heavy!

I can’t send the video via email, because the file is too large, but Constance will be able to circulate it.

I want to know about the test for heavy metals and which ones they did find and in what concentrations. Was there any nickel found? Nickel is a known carcinogen when inhaled.

All it would take would be a shift in the wind to bring the PM into our neighborhoods.

— Marilyn

The following pictures I took on March 13th,  between 11:33 a.m. and 11:35 a.m (click to enlarge):

The following pictures I took on March 23, at 2:21 pm
(click to enlarge):

KPIX – Valero’s Oil-By-Rail Report Minimizes Risk, Alarms Benicia Residents

Repost from CBS Bay Area 5KPIX KCBS AM/FM
[Editor: With apologies for the commercial ad … KPIX reporter Joe Vazquez interviews Marilyn Bardet of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community outside Benicia City Hall.  – RS]

Valero’s Oil-By-Rail Report Minimizes Risk, Alarms Benicia Residents

June 18, 2014 8:20 AM

BENICIA (KPIX 5) – A new report puts into writing a plan for Valero to bring two trains per day of crude oil in and out of its Benicia refinery.

Marilyn Bardet of the group Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community received the draft environmental impact report Tuesday afternoon.

“What kind of cost are we being asked to accept in terms of risk?” she said. “When we’re bringing in trains that contain this much oil at any one time being brought into cities and through very sensitive ecologies.”

Benicia residents are nervous about the new rail-car plan, citing news reporting about the six major incidents this past year across North America where trains crashed, spilling millions of gallons of crude oil.

One crash in Canada resulted in explosions killing 47 people and destroying many downtown buildings.

But today’s report declares the risk of an accident in the Bay Area would be extremely low — so rare that a spill of a 100 gallons of crude oil or more between Roseville and Benicia would likely happen once every 111 years.

“It only takes one accident and it takes one displacement of one rail, or a misaligned wheel on one of those cars,” Bardet said. “This can happen and I don’t think they’re being honest about how you use statistics here.”

The report said this new plan to have the trains transport the oil would have some impact on air pollution but this would be significant less than the current plan of bringing it on by boat.

The Oakland City Council passed a resolution to become first California city to oppose the shipping of fossil fuels by rail. The resolution is largely symbolic since the federal government makes the rules for the railroads.

“Stop Crude by Rail” Benicia Activist Marilyn Bardet Honored With 13th Annual Anthony Grassroots Prize

Repost from The Rose Foundation
[Editor: We are so proud of our colleague and friend, Marilyn Bardet.  This honor is more than well-deserved.  What would Benicia be without her sharp eyes and driving, precision vocabulary on issues of community health and safety.  Don’t miss the photos and videos far below.  – RS]

2014 Anthony Prize Winner – Marilyn Bardet

“Stop Crude by Rail” Benicia Activist Marilyn Bardet Honored With 13th Annual Anthony Grassroots Prize

Oakland, CA, May 6, 2014

Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment today announces Marilyn Bardet of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community as the winner of the 2014 Anthony Grassroots Prize, an annual Earth Day award recognizing an outstanding example of grassroots environmental stewardship.

Last year, the Valero refinery proposed adding a massive crude oil rail terminal to their facility. The project would bring 100 rail tanker cars through Benicia every day, potentially carrying some of the dirtiest and dangerously explosive crude oils such as tar sands and Bakken crude. Bardet sprang into action, forming a new group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, and collaborating with other fenceline communities and national organizations like Natural Resources Defense Council, who nominated her for the Prize, to stop crude by rail in Benicia and the Bay Area.

“It takes a special kind of person to stand up to big oil on behalf of the community,” according to Anthony Prize founder Juliette Anthony. “We salute Marilyn Bardet’s 20 years of advocacy and celebrate her many past achievements. With the threat of hundreds of oil tanker cars headed to Benicia every day loaded with dirty, explosive Bakken crude, we need her now more than ever.”

Bardet embodies the unsung grassroots activist spirit for which the Prize was established, helping lead community efforts to protect Benicia residents from toxics and hazards for the past twenty years. She, along with fellow residents, has taken on David v. Goliath local challenges posed by big corporations including Koch Industries and the Valero Refinery – and won. In 1995, she led a successful local campaign to stop Koch Industries’ proposed petroleum coke storage and shipping terminal at the Port of Benicia and continues to support community efforts to shape a post-carbon Benicia.

Upon learning the news of her award, Bardet was “amazed and honored.” “The Anthony Prize might as well be the Nobel Prize for us small groups working in the trenches,” says Bardet. “Pulling grassroots activists out of the woodwork and showcasing the amazing things they are getting done in their local communities is a noble, important thing Rose Foundation is doing.”

In 1999, Bardet helped found the Good Neighbor Steering Committee (GNSC) in Benicia, a residents’ association formed out of concern about what would happen once the former Exxon refinery was sold to Valero. Since its founding, Marilyn and the GNSC have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the Valero refinery, monitored developments, and encouraged the creation of a Community Advisory Panel after a string of incidents including flaring, spills, and fires.

In 2008, GNSC and Bardet were instrumental in securing “The Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement,” providing $14 million in environmental benefits to the City of Benicia, including a commitment to air quality monitoring, improvements in energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reductions, and water-saving measures.

Like many grassroots activists, Bardet doesn’t do this work for a paycheck, but for love of her community. For Bardet, “the most profound challenge we all now face is the accelerating rate of climate change. Continuing “business as usual” run by Big Oil – pretending we can go on extracting and burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow – is a dead end with horrific long-range consequences.” The Anthony Grassroots Prize, to Bardet, “honors all the good work being done by so many communities helping bring about the necessary transition to a post carbon, resilient, sustainable and just economy and culture. Accepting this award, I receive it for many.”

Bardet has designated the $1,000 prize money be awarded to Benicia Community Gardens, a grassroots non-profit of which she is the Board Chair. Benicia Community Gardens has established two community gardens, a local CSA program, and the first Benicia community orchard.

For more information about Marilyn Bardet and the campaign to Stop Crude By Rail, contact: Marilyn Bardet, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, (707) 745-9094 or (707) 816-9777,

ABOUT the Anthony Grassroots Prize
The Anthony Grassroots Prize was endowed by Juliette Anthony, a lifelong environmental activist who has received wide recognition for her work in protecting the Santa Monica Mountains, banning the toxic gasoline additive MTBE, promoting solar power and publicizing the negative environmental impacts of ethanol.

ABOUT Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment
Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment supports community-based advocacy to protect the environment and public health through grant-making and direct service programs. Rose Foundation’s focus includes grassroots activism, watershed protection, environmental justice and consumer rights. Rose also administers New Voices Are Rising, a youth leadership development and environmental justice advocacy training program.

For more information about the Anthony Grassroots Prize & Rose Foundation, contact: Tim Little, Executive Director, Rose Foundation, (510) 658-0702 ext. 301,

Marion Gee, Communications Coordinator, Rose Foundation, (949) 378-5253,


Marilyn Bardet Biography

A California native, born and raised in San Mateo, I have been an activist for social justice and against war since high school. Graduated from UC Berkeley in 1970, BA in the humanities; in 1985, studied fine art and graduated with BA and Masters in Painting from Boston University School of Fine Arts, where I taught drawing and design. Actively opposed Vietnam War and all subsequent US-instigated “resource wars,”including “Star Wars.” Volunteered for Defense and Disarmament Institute in Boston in the 80’s; in the 90‘s, served as boardmember of the Mt. Diablo Peace Center, Walnut Creek; in 1995, helped lead successful fight against Koch Industries’ proposal for a petcoke storage and shipping terminal at the Port of Benicia intended to serve all 5 Bay Area refineries; worked on several Cal-EPA-led toxic cleanup projects in Benicia, including military site cleanup of formerly used defense site where live ordnance was discovered – a site intended for residential development by Ford Motor; in 2005, helped successful fight against Bechtel’s and Shell Oil’s proposal for a Liquified Natural Gas terminal and power plant at Mare Island, Vallejo; in 2000, when Valero bought the Exxon refinery in Benicia, helped found the refinery watchdog group, the Good Neighbor Steering Committee; since 2005, have served as board chair of Benicia Community Gardens, a grassroots non-profit that has established two community gardens, a local CSA program with Terra Firma Farm, and recently a first Benicia community orchard.



Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community

Good Neighbor Steering Committee

Benicia Community Gardens