Opposing Oil Export Facilities on the Bay’s Shore

Oct 1, 2013

Baykeeper is working to halt plans by the oil industry for a major expansion of oil refineries on San Francisco Bay in order to process millions of barrels of oil for export to other states and countries. A significant increase in oil storage and processing along the Bay’s shores could drastically raise the risk of oil spills into the Bay and its watershed. Moreover, the expanded refineries and storage facilities could be flooded by rising Bay levels due to global climate change, causing even more pollution in the Bay.

As a step in preventing the Bay from becoming a center for oil export, Baykeeper recently told Pittsburg city officials that we strongly oppose an oil terminal and storage facility proposed for a 178-acre site on the shore of Suisun Bay, a San Francisco Bay inlet. The WesPac Pittsburg Energy Infrastructure Project would reactivate and expand a now-closed marine shipping terminal to receive crude oil and partially refined crude oil from trains, ships, and pipelines. Oil would be stored in existing or new storage tanks, and then transferred to nearby refineries.

Before the WesPac oil facility can be approved, Pittsburg is required by California law to produce an environmental impact report informing the public of any adverse impacts the project may have. The report must also describe actions that the developers must take to mitigate adverse impacts. However, as Baykeeper pointed out to Pittsburg officials, the draft environmental impact report on the WesPac facility fails to assess the project’s potential to pollute the Bay, fails to discuss the risk of oil spills along oil transportation routes, and doesn’t propose any realistic measures to mitigate the likely pollution.

One pollution risk is the possibility of oil being spilled from pipelines and trains onto ecologically sensitive inland areas. Another serious problem is that as sea levels rise, this shore-side facility could be hit with serious flooding that could lead to significant pollution of Suisun Bay and the larger San Francisco Bay.

In addition, a nearby Valero refinery in Benicia would need to expand its rail yard to accept the increased amount of oil being shipped out of the proposed WesPac facility. This expansion could cause pollution of nearby waters, including northern San Francisco Bay.

Because the oil facility environmental impact report doesn’t address these risks of pollution, it also fails to propose any methods of mitigating the pollution risk, such as preparing response and cleanup plans for oil spilled from pipelines or trains.

The environmental impact report contains another important defect. It improperly argues that the WesPac oil facility should be exempt from key state and regional regulations, so the project would not be required to install any controls to keep toxic runoff from entering Suisun Bay and San Francisco Bay.

Baykeeper urged Pittsburg officials to address all these pollution issues before approving an expansion and reactivation of the WesPac oil facility. We have been advocating to prevent this project from contaminating San Francisco Bay for over a year, and made previous recommendations in 2012 for better pollution control at this facility. We will continue opposing the WesPac Pittsburg Energy Infrastructure Project, and at the same time advocate for the strongest possible pollution controls to keep it from becoming a new source of contamination in Suisun Bay and San Francisco Bay.

The oil slated to be processed at the WesPac facility and Bay Area refineries would be shipped by train and pipeline from the Canadian tar sands. This is the same dirty crude slated for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project drawing widespread opposition from environmentalists that would carry oil from western Canada to refineries in Texas. Even dirtier crude oil would be shipped to the WesPac facility from southern California. Oil would also come from a huge deposit in North Dakota, which, like the California oil, would be extracted by fracking, an extraction technology that involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and toxic chemicals underground at high pressure. In addition to raising the danger of oil spills along pipelines and railroads, fracking can also cause groundwater pollution and may trigger earthquakes.

Pressure from Waterkeepers in the state of Washington has stopped coal export facilities from being opened there. Baykeeper will keep working to stop oil export facilities from being opened here in the Bay Area.

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