Category Archives: San Francisco Baykeeper

Baykeeper notice of intent to sue Amports

By Roger Straw, October 6, 2021
[See also: Video and photos at Port of Benicia show fossil fuel polluter in the act; Marilyn Bardet – Petcoke pollution in Benicia, photos going back to 1995; Cracking Down on Refinery Emissions – all about “cat crackers”]

Summary and Details of the Pollution Lawsuit

Click image for full 20-page Notice of Intent

In a previous post, I shared the Baykeeper press release announcing the photo and video evidence of illegal polluting of the Carquinez Strait and San Francisco Bay by Benicia AMPORTS.

Here, I want to highlight the discoveries outlined in the 20-page legal notice issued by Baykeepers.

You may jump to the following sections below:

Summary and notice of 60 days to settle

Re: Notice of Ongoing Violations and Intent to File a “Citizen Suit” Under the Clean Water Act

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing on behalf of San Francisco Baykeeper (“Baykeeper”) regarding violations of the Clean Water Act1 (“CWA” or “Act”) at the Amports Port of Benicia Terminal, owned and operated by Amports, Inc. (“Amports”) at 1997 Elm Road, Benicia, CA 94510 (“Facility”) and 1007 Bayshore Road, Benicia, CA 94510. The purpose of this letter (“Notice Letter”) is to put Amports on notice that, at the expiration of sixty (60) days from the date the Notice Letter is served, Baykeeper intends to file a “citizen suit” action against Amports in U.S. Federal District Court. The civil action will allege significant, ongoing, and continuous violations of the Act and California’s General Industrial Storm Water Permit2 (“General Permit”) at the Facility, including but not limited to, the direct deposition of petroleum coke (“petcoke”) into the water from the conveyance system, equipment, and ship, aerial deposition of petcoke directly to the water from the deck of the ship, and the uncontrolled discharge of polluted storm water to the Carquinez Strait, a part of the San Francisco Bay.

Detailed list of violations

As described in detail below, Amports is liable for ongoing violations of the Act as a consequence of the Facility’s: (1) direct discharge of petcoke into the Carquinez Strait, both through deck washing and direct aerial deposition; (2) inaccurate use of SIC code designations to avoid coverage for regulated industrial activities under the General Permit; (3) failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the General Permit resulting in unpermitted storm water discharges, including but not limited to the preparation and implementation of a proper Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan related to Amports’ petcoke loading operation, preparation and implementation of a Monitoring Implementation Plan, and compliance with technology-based Effluent Limitations.

60-day notice and offer of settlement

CWA section 505(b) requires that sixty (60) days prior to the initiation of a civil action under CWA section 505(a), a citizen must give notice of their intent to file suit. 33 U.S.C. § 1365(b). Notice must be given to the alleged violator, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the State in which the violations occur. As required by section 505(b), this Notice of Violation and Intent to File Suit provides notice to Amports of the violations that have occurred and which continue to occur at the Facility. After the expiration of sixty (60) days from the date of this Notice of Violation and Intent to File Suit, Baykeeper intends to file suit in federal court against Amports under CWA section 505(a) for the violations described more fully below.

During the 60-day notice period, Baykeeper would like to discuss effective remedies for the violations noticed in this letter. We suggest that you contact us as soon as possible so that these discussions may be completed by the conclusion of the 60-day notice period. Please note that it is our policy to file a complaint in federal court as soon as the notice period ends, even if discussions are in progress.

Background and photos

A. San Francisco Baykeeper

San Francisco Baykeeper (“Baykeeper”) is a non-profit public benefit corporation….

Members of Baykeeper reside in Benicia, California, as well as in many of the surrounding communities. Baykeeper’s members and supporters use and enjoy San Francisco Bay and other waters for various recreational, educational, and spiritual purposes. Baykeeper’s members’ use and enjoyment of these waters are negatively affected by the pollution caused by the Facility’s operations….

B. The Owner and/or Operator of the Facility

Amports, Inc. is a dba of APS West Coast Inc. and is identified as the owner and operator of the Benicia Port Terminal Company. All three entities have the same address, CEO, Secretary, CFO, and Controller.

C. The Facility’s Industrial Activities and Discharges of Petcoke and Other Pollutants

The Facility is a roughly 400-acre site which includes marine cargo loading equipment, the petcoke loading equipment and conveyor system, parking for cars, docking area and equipment for ships, silos to store petcoke, train car petcoke offloading area and equipment, vehicle maintenance, equipment cleaning, ship cleaning, ship maintenance, and other facilities. According to Amports’ 2015 Notice of Intent to comply with the General Permit under the Clean Water Act, at least 8 acres at the Facility consisted of areas that were exposed to storm water.

The Valero Benicia Refinery processes crude oil by separating it into a range of hydrocarbon components or fractions. Petroleum fractions include heavy oils and residual materials used to make asphalt or petcoke, mid-range materials such as diesel (heating oil), jet fuel, and gasoline, and lighter products, such as butane, propane, and fuel gases.

The petcoke is transported via rail to the Facility and is stored there in silos. Amports transfers the petcoke from the silos to a ship’s hold at the Facility’s dock by way of a covered conveyor system. During this process, the petcoke may escape in half a dozen or more ways.

First, petcoke spills off of the conveyor belt system and is deposited onto the wharf and directly into Carquinez Strait. This occurs while the crane boom is in the lowered position, and, as depicted below, continues as the boom is raised while the conveyor continues to operate.

March 2021

Second, petcoke is deposited onto the deck of the ship and into the water, potentially due to overspray from the loading mechanism or other operations, leaving visible plumes of petcoke that can be seen in the water.

February 2021

Third, at the conclusion of the loading, longshoremen hose off the deck of the ship, and the related loading equipment on and around the ship, cleaning the equipment and forcing contaminated runoff directly into the Carquinez Strait, again leaving visible plumes of petcoke that can be seen in the water.

February 2021

Fourth, as the ship is being loaded, large visible clouds of black particulate matter, presumably petcoke dust, drift through the air away from the ship before being directly deposited into the water and/or onto the nearby shoreline.

Additionally, petcoke may escape and be deposited onto the Facility or into the water during: (a) the offload from trains, (b) the movement of petcoke around the Facility, (c) storage at the Facility, (d) from equipment and vehicle cleaning, (e) from equipment and vehicle maintenance or repair, and (f) each time a sufficient rain event occurs due to the Facility’s discharge of pollutants from industrial activity in storm water, through direct discharges of industrial pollutants.

The deposition of petcoke and other pollutants into San Francisco Bay is harmful and deleterious to the Bay’s wildlife and communities. Petcoke is a petroleum byproduct and is known to contain pollutants including heavy metals such as copper, zinc, nickel, arsenic, mercury, and vanadium, all of which are harmful to aquatic life, including fish and birds.

Additionally, people exposed to petcoke pollutants can experience severe health problems like asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease.

Detailed harmful effects of Petcoke

The deposition of petcoke and other pollutants into San Francisco Bay is harmful and deleterious to the Bay’s wildlife and communities. Petcoke is a petroleum byproduct and is known to contain pollutants including heavy metals such as copper, zinc, nickel, arsenic, mercury, and vanadium, all of which are harmful to aquatic life, including fish and birds. Additionally, people exposed to petcoke pollutants can experience severe health problems like asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease.

Amports is permitted by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to process and load 2 million tons of petcoke onto export ships over a 12-month period. Amports does not have any permits from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (“Regional Board”). Amports is not permitted to discharge petcoke directly into the Carquinez Strait. And Amports is also not permitted to discharge any storm water, directly or indirectly, that is the result of industrial activity, including water that is commingled with industrial discharges.

Baykeeper’s suit will allege that petcoke is deposited on the site with every instance of: petcoke being transported by rail to the site, petcoke offloading from a train at the Facility, and petcoke being handled and transported on the Facility’s premises. Additionally, Baykeeper will allege that petcoke enters the Carquinez Strait with every instance of: petcoke being loaded and/or oversprayed onto a ship docked at the Facility, petcoke-related equipment, including the conveyor systems, cranes, and ships, being maintained and/or cleaned, and each storm event at the Facility in excess of 0.1” of precipitation.

The discharge of pollutants from industrial facilities contributes to the impairment of surface waters and aquatic-dependent wildlife. These contaminated discharges can and must be controlled for ecosystems to regain their health and to protect public health. As part of its investigation of the Facility, Baykeeper observed and documented by video numerous instances of illegal discharges during Amports’ various activities and handling of marine cargo (specifically petcoke) at the Facility between November 2020 and March 2021.

Additionally, with every significant rainfall event, millions of gallons of polluted storm water originating from industrial operations such as the Facility pour into storm drains and local waterways. The consensus among agencies and water quality specialists is that storm water pollution accounts for more than half of the total pollution entering surface waters each year. Such discharges of pollutants from industrial facilities contribute to the impairment of downstream waters and aquatic dependent wildlife. These contaminated discharges can and must be controlled for the ecosystem to regain its health.

Click image for full 20-page notice

THE REMAINDER OF THE DOCUMENT is organized into the following sections, which you can study at length here.

A. The NPDES Permit Program (p. 7)
B. California’s General Industrial Storm Water Permit (p. 8)
C. The Facility’s Permit Enrollment Status (p. 12)
IV. COUNSEL (p. 13)
A. Amports’ Direct, Non-Storm Water Discharges Without an
NPDES Permit (p. 14)
B. Amports’ Illegal Indirect Discharges Without An NPDES
Permit (p. 15)
C. Amports’ Illegal Storm Water Discharges (p. 15)
D. Violations of the Act and General Permit Reporting and
Monitoring Rules (p. 16)
E. Violations of the General Permit’s SWPPP Requirements (p.
ACT (p. 17)
(p. 19)

Video and photos at Port of Benicia show fossil fuel polluter in the act

[See also: Baykeeper notice of intent to sue Amports; Marilyn Bardet – Petcoke pollution in Benicia, photos going back to 1995; Cracking Down on Refinery Emissions – all about “cat crackers”]

Lawsuit noticed against the petcoke loading operation at the Port of Benicia

Amports’ Port of Benicia, petcoke plume in the Carquinez Strait.  Photo: SF Baykeeper

For immediate release: October 6, 2021

Public Tips Lead to Catching Fossil Fuel Polluter in the Act – Baykeeper Notifies Benicia Petcoke Polluter of Intent to Sue

Oakland, CA—San Francisco Baykeeper yesterday served a notice of intent to sue Amports, the owner of the Port of Benicia, alleging repeated violations of the Clean Water Act.

Baykeeper, responding to tips to its pollution hotline, observed several instances of petroleum coke dust being discharged directly into the Carquinez Strait portion of the Bay during the loading of cargo ships.

Petroleum coke (petcoke) is an oil refinery waste product that contains copper, zinc, nickel, arsenic, mercury, and vanadium, which are all considered to be toxic substances by the EPA and are regulated under the Clean Water Act.

“Petcoke from the Amports facility may have been polluting San Francisco Bay and the nearby community for years, and now thanks to tips from the public, Baykeeper was able to catch the polluter red handed,” said Baykeeper executive director Sejal Choksi-Chugh. “Baykeeper plans to make sure the Amports terminal is cleaned up and the polluter is held accountable for creating a toxic mess that could hurt people and the environment.”

Baykeeper observed and documented numerous instances of petcoke being discharged directly into the Bay during the cargo loading process between November 2020 and March 2021. Baykeeper video, taken by drone, has captured black plumes of petcoke that can be seen in the water drifting away from the ship with the currents during and after loading and cleaning.  (Video and photographs available here)

Amports’ Port of Benicia, petcoke spill in the Carquinez Strait.  Photo: SF Baykeeper

Baykeeper observed petcoke spilling off the conveyor belt system and entering the Bay. Additionally, Baykeeper observed a significant amount of petcoke deposited onto the decks of ships due to overspray, where it was then hosed off the deck directly into the Bay at the end of the loading process.

In the majority of Baykeeper’s hundreds of past industrial pollution cases, the polluting company and Baykeeper have negotiated a settlement in which the company agreed to a specific plan and timeline to clean up its operations and come into compliance with the laws. If the allegations can’t be resolved within sixty days of receiving the notice of intent to sue, Baykeeper will file and prosecute a lawsuit in federal court.

“While we prefer to resolve this quickly and amicably, either settlement negotiations or success at trial will lead to structural and procedural improvements at the Port of Benicia that would stop the polluting activities and require the company to comply with all applicable environmental laws,” said Choksi-Chugh. “Ultimately that means the Bay, its wildlife, and nearby residents will be better protected from petcoke pollution in the future.”

The Port of Benicia Terminal, owned by Amports, is located in a community historically exposed to pollution, and is near a fishing pier, a point of public access to the Bay, and an area that is home to a variety of wildlife. The heavy metals found in petcoke are known to be harmful to fish and birds.  Petcoke dust is also found to have irreversible respiratory effects in humans, and exposure to the pollutants in petcoke can cause severe health problems like asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease.

The petcoke loaded onto ships in the Port of Benicia is mostly exported to Asia, where it is burned for fuel. When burned, petcoke is a significant climate pollutant that is considered to be dirtier and more carbon-emitting than coal.

Founded in 1989, Baykeeper is the only organization that regularly patrols San Francisco Bay for polluters, by both boat and drone, and holds polluters and agencies accountable to create healthier communities and help wildlife thrive. Anyone who witnesses pollution happening on the Bay may report it to 1-800-KEEP-BAY or


San Francisco Baykeeper
 Keeping an eye on the Bay since 1989

Mark Westlund, Communications Director (he/him)

San Francisco Baykeeper 1736 Franklin St #800 | Oakland, CA 94612
Office: 510-735-9700 x(111) Mobile: 510-841-8329

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Suisun Marsh gas drilling plan runs into environmental buzz saw

SOLANO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 7: Suisun Marsh as seen from Solano County, Calif., on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.There is a proposal to drill into the Suisun Marsh for fossil fuels. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
SOLANO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 7: Suisun Marsh as seen from Solano County, Calif., on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. There is a proposal to drill into the Suisun Marsh for fossil fuels. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
East Bay Times, by Shomik Mukherjee, April 12, 2021

The Suisun Marsh — known as the largest swath of contiguous wetlands on the West Coast and a haven for thousands of migrating waterfowl — has become the Bay Area’s latest battleground between fossil fuel producers and environmentalists hellbent on fighting climate change.

A Brentwood company, Sunset Exploration Inc., announced in January it wants to explore for natural gas by drilling a section of the 116,000-acre marshland about 9 miles southwest of Suisun City in an area known as Hunter’s Point, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Sunset proposes to construct a gravel drilling pad almost an acre large and drop a volleyball-sized drill bit about a half-mile into the sandstone ground, probing to see if there’s enough gas worth extracting. This first-phase process would last several weeks.

If the well yields enough natural gas, Sunset next plans to build a pipeline from the drilling pad to send the gas to an existing pipeline about a mile and a half away, There, the gas would be tapped to serve about 30,000 homes in the surrounding region for up to 10 years.

Because Sunset already has mineral rights to more than 4,400 acres in the Suisun Marsh, it can technically drill without a permit. But it won’t be able to if the Army Corps determines the well and pipeline would harm the environment.

A coalition of environmental groups, including San Francisco Baykeeper and Center for Biological Diversity, has already taken a stand against the project and wrote a Feb. 26 letter urging the Army Corps to reject Sunset’s request for a permit.

They contend the drilling operation would contribute to climate change because combusting natural gas to produce energy releases carbon emissions. Plus there’s the added risk of gas leaks.

In addition, opponents contend the project would threaten hundreds of bird, fish, mammal and reptilian species that thrive in the marsh, as well as sensitive plants such as the Suisun thistle that doesn’t grow anywhere else on Earth.

So swift and fierce was their response that Sunset is contemplating a retreat.

“It may not be worth the fight,” Bob Nunn, president of Sunset Exploration, said in a recent interview.

Joining the chorus against the project is the state Department of Justice’s Office of the Attorney General, which sent its own letter recently telling the Army Corps that it’s concerned drilling would disrupt natural habitats and produce more carbon emissions at a time when the state is attempting to tamp down its fossil fuel production.

“The proposed fill and drilling in areas of Suisun Marsh could harm unique and irreplaceable habitat for endangered California Ridgway’s rail and salt marsh harvest mouse, numerous migratory bird species, listed fish species, and the very rare Suisun thistle,” the attorney general’s office wrote.

Asked why a state law enforcement agency would weigh in on a drilling project, the office replied in an email, “We’ll let the letter speak for itself.”

Even if the Army Corps signs off on the drilling plans, Sunset Exploration would need to get the OK of other federal and state environmental regulatory agencies, such as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board.

If approved, Sunset’s wouldn’t be the only natural gas well at Suisun Marsh. Several other active gas wells operate there, their locations shown on an online map created by the California Geological Energy Management Division. About a dozen other gas wells have been plugged and are no longer active for various reasons. Nunn said these wells are similar in size to what he proposes to build.

“We were surprised at the level of opposition,” Sahrye Cohen, a regulatory chief at the Army Corps who will review the permit application, said in an interview. “I think it’s an indication of the times. People don’t want fossil fuels in California.”

SOLANO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 7: Suisun Marsh as seen from Solano County, Calif., on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. There is a proposal to drill into the Suisun Marsh for fossil fuels. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Sunset’s Nunn acknowledged his company is pondering whether the costs of an extended review process are justified given the stiff resistance.

“The environmental community likes to thrust longer and longer delays on the smaller projects, until eventually the project becomes unrealistic and the operator says, ‘To hell with it,’” Nunn said.

While natural gas is cleaner than oil, producing less greenhouse gas emissions when it combusts, it still is a fossil fuel — and California’s goal is to reduce its emissions by 40% before 2030, an ambitious plan that involves transitioning to fully renewable energy sources.

Nunn called critics of oil and gas drilling hypocritical for participating in a carbon-fueled society and argued that shipping oil to California from elsewhere emits more carbon than would his local drilling project.

San Francisco Baykeeper’s executive director described Nunn’s comments as “nonsense,” saying there’s no tolerance in the Bay Area for “dinosaur oil companies” amid a transition to cleaner energy sources.

“Any time there’s drilling in the vicinity of wetlands, you need to evaluate thoroughly the environmental impacts of that drilling,” Sejal Choksi-Chugh said in an interview. “The Bay is no place for oil and gas drilling — the fact that (the company) is reconsidering is a big step and we’re pleased to hear that.”

Jacob Klein, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter, described Nunn’s justification for drilling locally and extracting natural gas instead of oil as “common talking points” that ignore the bigger picture.

“Rather than make comparisons between petroleum-based energy sources, we just need to be leaving (natural gas) in the ground,” Klein said.

Project opponents also point to the immediate environmental damage that drilling can wreak. A pipeline operated by energy company Kinder Morgan burst in 2004, spilling more than 120,000 gallons of oil into the marsh and killing numerous species.

Sunset Exploration acquired an existing Solano County permit and 4,400 acres of mineral rights for Hunter’s Point in 2018 after previous holder Venoco went bankrupt as it was seeking to obtain a drilling permit from the Army Corps.

Sunset was hoping to finish the job, though the opposition is now giving it second thoughts.

“They’re singling me out,” Nunn said. “If this gets drawn out for months and years, the real loser will be the environment.”

Environmental Groups Oppose U.S. Army Corps Plan to Dredge the Bay for Bigger Oil Tankers, by David Loeb, April 16, 2020
The Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery in Rodeo. (Photo By Dreamyshade, Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

Drive east along Interstate 80, past the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, and you can see that the Bay Area remains very much embedded in the fossil fuel economy. And if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has its way, we may well be doubling down on that relationship.

The Corps has a pending proposal, officially dubbed the “San Francisco Bay to Stockton, California Navigation Study,” to dredge a 13-mile stretch of the San Francisco Bay Estuary from San Pablo Bay (just north of Point San Pablo) through the Carquinez Strait to the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. This project would deepen the channel leading to four oil refineries along the shoreline by an average of three feet, allowing for the arrival of a larger class of oil tankers than can currently access these refineries. The Army Corps’ January 2020 Environment Impact Statement (EIS) for the project claims that the total volume of oil shipped will not necessarily increase as a result of the project, but rather claims that the dredging might even result in reduced ship traffic in the Bay by delivering the same amount of oil on fewer (but larger) ships.

A map of a proposed new San Francisco Bay dredge from the Army Corps of Engineers’ January 2020 environmental impact statement.

This argument has not persuaded Bay Area environmental groups, who last spring submitted comments on the Draft EIS opposing the dredging project. These groups, including San Francisco Baykeeper, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Communities for a Better Environment, and Ocean Conservation Research, are submitting similarly negative comments on the Final EIS, which they say is not much of an improvement over the 2019 draft version. The deadline for public comments has been extended, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, until Tuesday, April 21.

The concerns of these organizations fall in to three basic categories: direct impacts on the local aquatic environment from both the dredging itself and from the increased traffic; direct air quality impacts on local communities from the increase in refinery operations; and above all, concern that increasing the capacity for delivery and production of fossil fuels directly contradicts the state’s mandated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow the impact of climate change.

I. Impacts on Local Aquatic Environment

The Army Corps’ EIS contends that the Bay floor sediments to be disturbed by the dredging do not contain significant levels of toxic materials. But comments by the environmental organizations point out that the Corps appears to be relying on studies done over a decade ago or more, and they list a range of contaminants that could be re-suspended from the settled sediment that are not addressed by the Corps. The groups point out that this narrow body of water connecting the Bay with the Delta is heavily used by endangered fish species, including Delta smelt, longfin smelt, and Chinook salmon, among others, as well as by harbor seals and California sea lion, both protected marine mammal species.

The groups also point out that the EIS only addresses the impact of the dredging itself on the local aquatic environment. By asserting that the deepening of the channel will not, on its own, increase the level of shipping in the channel, the Corps disclaims any responsibility to address the impact of increased oil tanker traffic. However, as the environmental organizations point out, there is little chance that the refineries would not take advantage of this opportunity to increase their operations. In fact, as Ocean Conservation Research points out in its comments, the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo has recently been granted permission by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to double its refining capacity. So it would be naïve to ignore the probability of increased traffic in the Strait, with is attendant increase in disturbance of all kinds (noise, water pollution, possible spills, etc.) and the resulting impact on wildlife populations.

In addition, Ocean Conservation Research’s comment letter points out that in order to accommodate the larger ships of the Panamax class (so-called because they are the maximum size allowed through the Panama Canal), the Phillips refinery has proposed an enlargement and expansion of its wharf facility. Such a project would involve disturbance of sediments full of toxic heavy metals left behind by the Selby Slag, a company that operated a smelter there into the 1970s, extracting ore from waste metals. Because the wharf expansion is considered a separate project, the Corps is not legally required to address it in its EIS — but expansion of the wharf would not be economically viable without the deeper channel.

Additionally, according to Baykeeper Executive Director Sejal Choksi-Chugh, “Baykeeper has concerns about how the project will impact salinity in the Delta. Deepening the shipping channel will push the fresh water/salt water mixing zone (known as the X2) further east, threatening drinking water supplies” for people in Contra Costa County and other Delta communities.

II. Impacts on Local Communities

Again, by asserting that the dredging project will not result in increased refining activity, and therefore only considering the impact of the actual dredging work, the Corps’ EIS does not find any impact on surrounding “environmental justice communities.” These communities, including Richmond, Vallejo, and Martinez, have been subjected to high levels of pollution from decades of industrial activity, and are demographically “majority minority” and low income. The failure of the EIS to contemplate increased levels of air pollution from increased refinery activities belies the refineries’ long record of “accidental” spills, flares, releases, etc. that have caused the area’s residents to periodically “shelter in place” long before the novel coronavirus.

III. The Big Picture

All of these local negative impacts are bad enough. But in their comments, the environmental groups assert that it is essential to step back and look at the much larger picture of what the dredging project implies for the region, the state, and the planet:

“The proposed channel alterations would remove constraints on expanding fossil fuel import and export volumes … The project will likely result in a significant increase in future volumes of crude oil and refined petroleum products shipped through the Bay … Here, the increased volume of oil and coal passing through the deepened channels will lead to greater refining and export activity. These in turn will lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, both at the refineries and when the products are combusted. Stated differently, the dredging is ‘a mere step in furtherance of many other steps in the overall development’ of the area’s fossil fuel industry.”

The environmental groups believe that the ultimate plan of the oil companies is to have the Bay Area’s refineries serve as an outlet for oil extracted from the Alberta tar sands, one of the most carbon intensive fuel sources on the planet, given the energy that must be invested to extract it, liquefy it for transport, and ship it. Moreover, the transport of this oil from its source in northern Alberta to the Bay Area is highly problematic, both politically and environmentally. It involves expansion of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline over First Nation lands of the Salish people in Canada (a project that they are resisting both in the courts and on their land). Then the unrefined oil must be transported by tankers through the Salish Sea, threatening the already depleted Southern Resident population of killer whales. And finally, the tankers must pass through the Golden Gate, where recovering populations of humpback whales and gray whales are also facing increased threats from ship strikes in this busy shipping channel.

All of this leads to the final question of why U.S. taxpayers should fund (at an estimated initial cost of $57 million) a project whose main intended beneficiaries are privately owned oil refineries. Of course, direct taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are nothing new, but in an era when we climate change requires us to be reducing our dependence on carbon-intensive fossil fuels, this project would appear to be moving us in the opposite direction.

About the Author

David Loeb
From 2001-2017, David Loeb served as editor and then publisher of Bay Nature magazine, and executive director of the nonprofit Bay Nature Institute. A Bay Area resident since 1973, David moved here after graduating from college in Boston. The decision was largely based on a week spent visiting friends in San Francisco the previous January, which had included a memorable day at Point Reyes National Seashore. In the late 1990s, after many years working for the Guatemala News and Information Bureau in Oakland, David had the opportunity to spend more time hiking and exploring the parks and open spaces of the Bay Area. Increasingly curious about what he was seeing, he began reading natural history books, attending naturalist-led hikes and natural history courses and lectures, and volunteering for several local conservation organizations.
This was rewarding, but he began to feel that the rich natural diversity of the Bay Area deserved a special venue and a dedicated voice for the whole region, to supplement the many publications devoted to one particular place or issue. That’s when the germ of Bay Nature magazine began to take shape. In February 1997, David contacted Malcolm Margolin, publisher of Heyday Books and News from Native California, with the idea of a magazine focused on nature in the Bay Area, and was delighted with Malcolm’s enthusiastic response. Over the course of many discussions with Malcolm, publishing professionals, potential funders, and local conservation and advocacy groups, the magazine gradually took shape and was launched in January 2001. It is still going strong, with a wider base of support than ever.
Now retired, David contributes to his Bay Nature column “Field Reports.”