Bay Crossings Article

Oil Refinery Expansions Threaten San Francisco Bay

By 
Deb Self
From the January 2014 edition of Bay Crossings

The oil industry has big plans for expansion along San Francisco Bay’s shore. If the region’s refineries get their way, millions more barrels of crude oil will be brought to the Bay Area for processing and export to other states and nations. The number of tankers on the Bay will go way up, drastically raising the risk of oil spills—and the risk of massive harm to the Bay’s wildlife.

A significant increase in local oil refining would also cause air, water and ground pollution, leading to a greater public health threat for local residents. Plus, it’s especially unwise to expand refineries along San Francisco Bay given the expectation of sea level rise in coming years. As global climate change causes the Bay’s water level to rise, flooding of facilities that handle so many toxic substances would cause major pollution in the Bay.

Not only would more oil be processed here, but the oil would be dirtier. Crude oil would be shipped by train and pipeline to Bay Area refineries from sources that include the Canadian tar sands. This is the same dirty crude slated for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from western Canada to refineries in Texas. Across the United States and Canada, citizens are opposing the pipeline and the development of this environmentally-damaging source of oil.

And some oil would come from California, as the oil industry works to expand fracking and other environmentally harmful methods for oil extraction in the state. Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals underground at high pressure. The method is currently being used in hundreds of California gas and oil wells, as well as off our state’s coast. There are very few controls in place for protecting the environment, and the process requires millions of gallons of the state’s precious fresh water.

Oil companies aim to use fracking to extract a large underground deposit of oil from the Monterey shale, which stretches from the northern San Joaquin Valley into Los Angeles County, and west to the coast. Making the Bay Area a hub for processing crude oil would provide a convenient export point for this new source of oil.

In order to expand, the oil refineries need approval from the cities where they are located, and, in some cases, from regional regulators. This is the public’s chance to stand up for San Francisco Bay, and that’s just what Baykeeper is doing.

We’ve urged Pittsburg city officials not to approve plans by a company called WesPac Energy to reopen an old oil shipping facility on the Bay shoreline. The facility would take in crude oil via trains and pipelines, then transfer it to the region’s expanded refineries. We also oppose the Valero refinery’s proposal to expand its Benicia rail yard to handle more petroleum being shipped to and from the Bay Area, and other refinery expansion plans.

Lately, San Francisco Bay has been showing signs of improved health. Harbor porpoises and bottlenose dolphins visit frequently. River otters have been spotted where they haven’t lived in years. A big increase in pollution from oil refineries and tanker traffic is not what the Bay needs now. Baykeeper will take every opportunity to advocate on your behalf to keep San Francisco Bay from becoming a hub for the processing and export of dirty crude oil.