Category Archives: Sunflower Alliance

Will a year of industrial accidents change the landscape of East Bay’s ‘refinery row’?

[Note from BenIndy: This tidbit from the article below says a lot  – “According to the regional air quality district, the number of flaring events nearly doubled last year, the most since 2019. The trend has been increasing in the last five years. That rise has led some observers to question whether these century-old refineries have reached the end of their lifecycle.” And: “’If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that nothing is going to happen overnight,’ [Healthy Martinez member Heidi] Taylor said. ‘But I believe the cumulative pressure is going to bring about a new era, and I am here for it.’” Thanks, Heidi. We’re here for it too.]

At 12:42 a.m. what appears to be a flare up is occurring at the Martinez Refinery in Martinez, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. | Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group.

An aging industry is angering locals and sparking multiple investigations

East Bay Express, by Will McCarthy, December 16, 2023

On Friday morning, Contra Costa County Public Health warned residents about a new flaring incident at the Martinez Refinery. The agency said that unidentified chemical odors in the air could be related to the event and that “eye, skin, nose or throat irritation may be possible for some people in the affected area.”

The public health advisory in Martinez came exactly one week after the air surrounding the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond took on the distinct smell of burning tires. Over a hundred local residents, disturbed by the noxious odor, reported it to the local air quality agency.

Both incidents, although by no means the most dramatic, were more mishaps in a long year of refinery accidents and violations in the East Bay industrial cluster that forms a sort of refinery row.

Refineries have long been part of the Bay Area’s economic and energy ecosystem. Many of them have existed for over a hundred years and still serve as a significant tax base for cities and a source of reliable union jobs. This is not the first year that refineries have flared, nor is it the first year there have been facility accidents.

In November, an employee received third-degree burns covering most of his body after a fire erupted at Marathon Petroleum’s refinery in Martinez, the second fire that month. A power outage at the Chevron refinery, also in November, caused an enormous plume of black smoke to billow out of the facility for hours. Over the course of 13 months, the Martinez Refining Co., owned by petroleum giant PBF Energy, scattered coke dust and spent catalyst containing heavy metals over the surrounding town, including a high-profile incident the day after Thanksgiving last year that brought a new level of attention to the refinery’s mishaps and another that came just hours before the local high school’s spring homecoming parade.

After an investigation of the odor on Dec. 8, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District determined Chevron’s bioreactor was to blame. The agency issued a public nuisance notice of violation to Chevron — its 35th violation of the year and second in two weeks.

As the region and the nation plot a clean-energy transition, some advocates are asking whether these high-profile incidents are the last gasps of a dying industry that will try to reap as many profits as possible before they are gone.

“Companies are willing to put not just the local communities but their own workers at risk for profit,” said Jacob Klein, organizing manager for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club. “Community safety and worker safety does not seem to be their priority.”

As a result of the most recent accidents, numerous agencies have started investigations into the refineries’ safety practices. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office, the EPA and even the FBI all have ongoing investigations. Residents of Martinez have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Martinez Refining Company for its chemical releases.

As the calendar moves toward January, Bay Area community advocates are determined not to repeat more of the same next year. Instead they aim to build on the activism that grew after the Thanksgiving incident to permanently transform the relationship between refineries and the community.

“With all of these mishaps affecting more and more people, more and more people are being educated and are educating themselves about these issues,” said Heidi Taylor, a member of Healthy Martinez, a local watchdog group that emerged in the aftermath of the spent catalyst release. “We haven’t seen solutions come to fruition, necessarily, but I do believe there is hope on the horizon.”

According to the regional air quality district, the number of flaring events nearly doubled last year, the most since 2019. The trend has been increasing in the last five years. That rise has led some observers to question whether these century-old refineries have reached the end of their lifecycle.

“The Bay Area’s dangerous, aging refineries are all roughly 125 years old,” said Shosana Welscher, an organizer with Sunflower Alliance and the Refinery Transitions Group. “It’s well over time to decommission them and remediate the contaminated land they occupy for safer, cleaner uses.”

In a statement, the Martinez refinery said that it continues to be committed to earning the right to operate in Martinez.

When asked to comment for this story, the Martinez Refinery Company issued a statement saying, “We have apologized to our neighbors for falling short of meeting that commitment. We have implemented corrective actions, continue to cooperate with all government agencies, and have enhanced our communications with our neighbors and public officials.”

A spokesperson for Chevron, meanwhile, said the air district often provides notices of violations in batches and are sometimes issued years after the actual occurrence. They noted that because of their modernization efforts and investments in new technologies, particulate matter emissions have fallen by 36% since 2018, and flaring events have fallen in the last two years.

Chevron places the highest priority on the protection of employees, communities, and the environment, and continually works to enhance the safety of our operations,” said Caitlin Powell, an external communications advisor for Chevron Richmond.

In a presentation to the Martinez City Council in October, refinery manager Daniel Ingram positioned the company as a crucial player in the California energy economy, one that manufactures 20% of the Bay Area’s gasoline supply and 40% of the region’s jet fuel. Although refineries are a significant contributor to air pollution in the Bay Area, they are not the highest — motor vehicles and wildfires both are larger contributors to overall pollution in the region, according to the air district.

But to some, the refineries across the region are emblematic of the country’s slow shift away from fossil fuels. That creates some cognitive dissonance, where California may chart a clean-energy future as refineries around the bay continue to refine oil for overseas markets.

“We could all end up driving Teslas and the refineries polluting more and blowing up more in our communities,” said Greg Karras, a consultant on refinery transitions. “That’s one possible future.”

Still, to community advocates, that is just one of many possible outcomes. Another future is one in which increased public scrutiny and public control prevents the types of accidents and releases that occurred this year.

“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that nothing is going to happen overnight,” Taylor said. “But I believe the cumulative pressure is going to bring about a new era, and I am here for it.”

‘We have to stop’: Plan for fossil-fuel drilling on the flanks of San Francisco Bay draws protest

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge: The Suisun Marsh is the largest brackish marsh on the West Coast. It deserves our protection. It will play an important role in mitigating climate chaos that is only getting worse. The county is working to approve this proposed drilling site with a mitigated negative declaration that does not cover some of the biggest problems with the drilling. The decision to approve this project and the mitigated negative declaration will soon be in front of the county planning commission.  If you want to be kept informed of action on this proposed drilling project please email me at  It would be great to have people write the planning commission and appear at the meeting.]

` A great egret takes flight over Grizzly Island in Suisun Marsh south of Fairfield. A natural gas well has been proposed for the area. | Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle.
SF Chronicle, by Kurtis Alexander, October 29, 2023

Two years after public opposition halted a bid to drill natural gas in Suisun Marsh, next to San Francisco Bay, a Florida energy company is taking another run at it.

Lantos Energy LLC submitted an application with Solano County last month to construct a well and a possible pipeline alongside wetlands about 10 miles east of Benicia, where the bustling East Bay eases into the quiet of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The area historically has been a bastion for natural gas, with many companies, including Pacific Gas and Electric Co., still getting a bulk of their fuel from the region. Hundreds of wells, for nearly a century, were drilled into the area’s rich fossil-fuel deposits to heat homes and generate power — without much fanfare.

Map: Todd Trumbull/The Chronicle • Source: Lantos Energy LLC.

But that was then, and this is now. Anxieties about fossil fuels overheating the planet and a better understanding of their ecological impact and potential for pollution are bringing increased scrutiny to even the most mundane projects. Some who fought the 2021 proposal for a well in Suisun Marsh, which included the state attorney general, have begun mobilizing to resist the new drilling effort.

“Do we really need more gas wells?” said Kathy Kerridge, a Benicia resident who was active in the opposition campaign two years ago. “Can’t we just be building solar panels and wind farms?”

Ducks swim in Suisun Marsh south of Fairfield. A Florida energy company has submitted an application to build a new natural gas well in the area, but it’s meeting resistance. |
Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle.

Solano County’s Department of Resource Management has determined, despite the emerging criticism, that the proposed drilling operation will have no “potentially significant adverse environmental impacts,” clearing the way for the county’s Planning Commission to decide whether the proposal should move forward, likely early next year. Approvals from several state agencies will also be required.

While county documents cite possible problems for plants and wildlife in and around the marsh, including the San Joaquin kit fox and Western burrowing owl, they prescribe measures for reducing disturbances. The proposed well would be in grassy uplands adjacent to wetlands, which like the marsh are subject to some level of protection under the state’s Suisun Marsh Preservation Act.

As far as climate change goes, the county’s evaluation of the project says building a well won’t produce significant greenhouse gases, but it doesn’t address heat-trapping emissions that would result from the production and consumption of newly drilled fossil fuel.

Officials with Lantos Energy did not return calls to discuss the project with the Chronicle.

According to county documents, the company’s plan is to first drill to see if there are sufficient reserves of natural gas at the site, and if so, proceed with the construction of a pipeline to an existing pipeline nearby. Where the natural gas will end up is not clear.

The state has enacted an ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector — by 48% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels — and to be carbon neutral by 2045, in an effort to combat climate change. However, with renewable energy facilities still ramping up to meet demand, natural gas and oil wells continue to be developed.

Part of their endurance, says Rob Jordan, an earth scientist at Stanford University with expertise in global warming and energy extraction, is the limited window that fossil-fuel facilities have to operate as California winds down fossil-fuel production.

“California may be getting out of the oil and gas business, so there is some urgency for companies to get wells permits while they can,” he said.

Two years ago, Brentwood’s Sunset Exploration rolled out plans to drill at an abandoned well just west of the site of the current drilling proposal. The project drew a litany of concerns, including the potential for methane leaks that natural gas wells inherently pose and its proximity to low-income communities.

The company withdrew its application shortly after going public with the plan.

“We have to stop extraction,” said Shoshana Wechsler, a founding member of the Sunflower Alliance, an East Bay group that fought the Sunset Exploration project and is now sounding alarm about Lantos Energy. “We’re so far behind where we should be. We’re so heavily periled. We have to stop.”

Do you have a story to tell about living in a refinery community?

Major Public Health Community Meeting on Oil and Gas Rulemaking, March 9

Sunflower Alliance, February 22, 2020

The State of California is sponsoring a series of statewide meetings where members of the public can testify about the ways the oil industry affects our health and that of our communities.  One of these meetings is being held in Oakland (see when and where below).  We highly encourage everyone with a story to tell about oil industry impacts on you, your family and your neighborhood to come and testify.  We will have two minutes to speak our hearts and minds.

​​The meeting is sponsored by the Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM, formerly DOGGR) of the state’s Department of Conservation.  Although CalGEM specifically regulates oil and gas production (oil drilling), it will share public testimony from this meeting with other state regulatory agencies.

The new rulemaking that results will be based on this important public input, and will consider the best available science and data to inform new and strengthened ​protective state requirements.​

The Sunflower Alliance is making arrangements for free transportation from Rodeo and Richmond to the hearing.  If you need a ride, please let us know at .

See this Facebook post for a recording of the first public hearing in Bakersfield meeting on February 19.

A little more background:

AB345 (currently heading toward the state senate) and the Governor’s own plans require Public Health Rulemaking around the urgent call for 2,500-foot setbacks from oil and gas extraction sites.  The first step is this series of pre-rulemaking community meetings to gather public input.

When you testify about Bay Area oil industry impacts, please be sure to start with a strong statement of solidarity with those folks who are living near oil drilling sites, and express your support for setbacks and AB345.

If you can’t attend:

Written comments can be sent via email
or by postal mail to—
Department of Conservation
801 K Street, MS 24-02
Sacramento, CA 95814
ATTN: Public Health near Oil Gas Rule-making


Monday, March 9, 1-3 PM —Doors open at 12:30.  A rally outside is tentatively scheduled for noon.


​Greenlining Institute
360 14th St., Oakland (near 12th St. BART)

Forum on Cap and Trade: Video and Slides

Repost from the Sunflower Alliance

The Cap and Trade Scam: Video and Slides from the Forum

September 19, 2017, reporting on a forum sponsored by Sunflower Alliance and 350 Bay Area

Watch the video and check out the PowerPoints from our recent lively discussion of California climate policy. Sunflower Alliance and 350 Bay Area sponsored the Sept 17 forum, The Cap and Trade Scam, which included a treasure trove of information and a range of sometimes-conflicting opinions on our new state cap-and-trade legislation, cap-and-trade as a policy for greenhouse gas reduction, other policies that could work better, and a variety of next steps for the climate/environmental justice movement in California. The forum was  held at the California Nurses Association headquarters in Oakland.

Videographer Jay Wilson captured the whole thing on video and graciously made it available to us. The entire forum is on the 350 Bay Area Youtube channel:

The forum was 2 hours and 15 minutes long — here are direct links to each of the speakers:

Roger Lin, Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment
Danny Cullenward, Stanford Center for Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences
Amy Vanderwarker, California Environmental Justice Alliance
RL Miller, Climate Hawks Vote and California Democratic Party Environmental Caucus
Janet Stromberg, 350 Bay Area
Parin Shah, Asian Pacific Environmental Network
RL Miller (2)
LaDonna Williams, Vallejo resident active in the campaign to stop the expansion of the Phillips 66 Marine Terminal

Two of the presenters showed PowerPoint slides, available here:

Janet Stromberg slide show

Danny Cullenward slide show