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Bakersfield Crude Terminal is Operating Illegally

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District issued a sham permit.

EPA Cites Bakersfield Oil Train Terminal for Clean Air Act Violations

Federal Agency Says California Oil Train Terminal Is Major Air Pollution Source, Permit Invalid Without Significant Environmental Review

Monday May 4, 2015

Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084, mcaldwell@earthjustice.org  Eddie Scher, ForestEthics, 415-815-7027, eddie@forestethics.org

TAFT, Calif.— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited the Bakersfield Crude Terminal for 10 violations of the Clean Air Act, declaring the California crude-by-rail facility a major air pollution source that should have been subjected to rigorous environmental review during the permitting process.

The federal agency found that the terminal’s permit is invalid and that the facility lacks required pollution controls and emissions offsets, and that it is in violation of the Clean Air Act’s public notice and environmental review requirements.

In January Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment sued the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which issued the invalid permit, over the permitting process for the facility’s expansion — a process that was conducted without public review. Earthjustice is representing the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR), ForestEthics, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

public records request revealed communications between San Joaquin Valley Air District officials and the project manager for the terminal that included advice from the officials about how the project could avoid public noticing and pollution controls. The Air District approved the massive expansion in a piece-meal permitting process that allowed one of the largest crude oil operations in California to expand largely out of public scrutiny.

“The EPA’s announcement declares the Air District’s permit a sham and that the Bakersfield terminal is operating illegally,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, an Earthjustice attorney. “Air District officials went out of their way to exclude the public from the process and speed the approval through, ignoring the environmental review required by state and federal law. We applaud EPA for stepping in and enforcing the Clean Air Act.”

The EPA’s action could subject the terminal to serious Clean Air Act fines, and should force the Bakersfield Crude Terminal to undergo the major source permitting required by the Clean Air Act.

“The EPA stepped in to protect California from this crude-by-rail facility’s dangerous air pollution,” said Vera Pardee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal intervention is urgently needed, because the Air District and Kern County officials have utterly failed to safeguard public health and the environment. They’re turning a blind eye to the air pollution and environmental risks, such as catastrophic explosions, that are linked to these massive trains full of volatile crude.”

“EPA’s notice of violation should serve as a wake up call to local authorities around the country who help polluters when they should be protecting public health,” said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics extreme oil campaign director. “Oil trains threaten 25 million Americans who live in the blast zone, plus millions more who live downwind of a refinery, downstream of where an oil train crosses a river, or in the Bakken and tar sands producing regions of North Dakota and Alberta, Canada.”

“In Kern County, with the worst air in the nation, the air district has harmed the health of the public by intentionally allowing this facility to violate the Clean Air Act,” said Tom Frantz with Association of Irritated Residents.

“Given the increased pollution and hazards from refining and transporting a lower quality crude, there is immediate need for a moratorium that halts new permits and construction of extreme oil infrastructure, not the opposite fast track permitting process that Air District officials put this massive crude by rail terminal on — and in secret,” said Roger Lin, attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement today is a significant step forward for Bakersfield and Kern County residents who bear all the burdens of volatile, accident-prone crude by rail transport and none of the benefits,” said Gordon Nipp, Bakersfield resident and Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter vice chairman. “This terminal wreaks havoc on our region’s already-compromised air quality and our communities now fear the risk of exploding trains.”

The agency also weighed in on the issue of vapor pressure of Bakken crude, declaring it unreasonable to underestimate the vapor pressure when permitting a crude-by-rail site and requiring vigorous monitoring and reporting of what crude oil is actually shipped. One way many of these facilities get around major source permitting is by cherry-picking the volatility of the crude oil being shipped, estimating the vapor pressure on the low end of the spectrum, which would keep emissions of volatile organic compounds under the threshold for triggering Clean Air Act review.

In addition to emitting volatile organic compounds from the offloading of crude oil, the facility endangers Bakersfield and other communities in California by increasing the amount of explosive crude oil transported by rail through the state. There have been multiple incidents of train derailments and explosions across the nation and in Canada. An oil train that derailed in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, destroyed most of the town center, burning more than 30 buildings to the ground and killing 47 people. Just this year there have been four derailments and explosions in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario involving oil trains.

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Moratorium on Extreme Oil is Urgently Needed

CBE advocates for emergency action on extreme oil infrastructure threat. Read our letter to Governor Jerry Brown, HERE and the follow-up information requested by the Office of the Governor, HERE.

Governor Sets Aggressive GHG Reduction Targets

CBE works closely with CEJA to release the following statement on Governor Brown’s Executive Order that establishes a greenhouse gas reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030:California Environmental Justice Alliance | CEJA Applauds Governor Brown’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Executive Order; Calls for Increased Commitment to Environmental Justice

CBE Applauds Mayor Garcetti on Setting Aggressive Sustainability Targets

CBE Statement on Mayor Garcetti’s sustainability pLAn

Extreme Oil Moratorium is Needed

CBE calls on local, regional, and state officials in California to implement a Moratorium that halts new permits and construction of extreme oil* infrastructure.

California faces a crude source switch. The new oil the industry wants to refine here is fundamentally different, and its extraction, transport, and processing results in the most extreme pollution, safety hazard, and climate impacts of any petroleum known. A switch to this ‘extreme oil’ could result in severe and irreversible harm. Better alternatives are available—if we stop extreme oil before it becomes entrenched. Stopping extreme oil would allow alternatives that could reduce already-serious impacts of our energy system, create more and safer jobs, and meet our state’s climate targets, to be ramped up instead. For these reasons, an Extreme Oil Infrastructure Moratorium is necessary, feasible, beneficial, appropriate, and prudent policy for Californians.

*Terms used: In this policy statement extreme oil includes ‘heavy oil’ and ‘natural bitumen’ as those oils are defined by the USGS[i] (tar sands oil), oil produced using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) or strip mining, and oil transported by extremely hazardous methods (i.e., via rail). Extreme oil infrastructure includes oil processing (refining), extraction (production), storage, and transport (port, pipeline, and rail facilities) equipment that enables the use of extreme oil.

Harm caused by extreme oil includes but is not limited to pollution, deaths, injuries, climate disruption and economic damage resulting from:

  • Increased frequency and magnitude of toxic spill, fire, explosion, and flare emission incidents impacting workers and residents in and near refineries, ports and rail lines;
  • Increased daily emissions of toxic and smog-forming air pollutants from refineries that switch to extreme oil as a greater portion of oil feedstock processed;
  • Severe and disparate impacts on low income communities of color and oil workers;
  • Increased greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction, upgrading and refining of bitumen and heavy oil and from fracking operations;
  • Contamination and destruction of aquatic habitat near rail lines when trains derail and release tar sands bitumen that sinks in the water and cannot be cleaned up; and
  • Undermining the achievement of climate protection targets and slowing the growth of sustainable energy in California through an unfair subsidy of extreme oil created by allowing its associated environmental, health, safety, and economic impacts.

Irreversible harm is imminent. The new and modified refining, fracking, port and rail spur equipment that could enable extreme oil in California is a huge capital commitment that would become entrenched for the equipment’s operational duration (≈ 30–50 years). This commitment is imminent; refinery, port, and rail infrastructure that could enable extreme oil is proposed in dozens of places throughout the state now.[ii] If it is built now this infrastructure could be used for decades, even if we keep using less and less gasoline in California, since the industry in California is rapidly switching to export its refined products overseas.[iii], [iv] Extreme oil threatens to cause imminent and irreversible harm.

Extreme oil is not needed. An extreme oil moratorium would allow refiners to use conventional crude oil while California continues its technically and economically feasible switch to power our cars with already-proven, currently available technologies[v] such as electricity generated from renewable sources of energy. Moreover, a global scientific consensus holds that we can only burn less than half of currently proven fossil reserves and still have a good chance of avoiding climate change so extreme it could be ‘incompatible’ with human societies and economies as we know them.[vi] Thus, we have both the means, and the societal-and-economic imperative, to leave more than half of the remaining oil resource in the ground. What we do not have is any overriding need to use the part of this resource that is extreme oil.

Extreme oil threatens California’s jobs recovery. Allowing extreme oil impacts here would make using more oil artificially cheap. The unfair subsidy would undermine less polluting energy and transportation alternatives that create more jobs, and slow efforts to make our economy less dependent on oil and less vulnerable to oil price shocks. This jobs threat is important: Government data show that oil refining creates fewer jobs per dollar revenue than any other sector in California’s economy,2, [vii] and ten of the last 11 U.S. recessions followed on sharply rising oil prices.2, [viii] The Moratorium would protect our jobs from this threat while allowing money that could otherwise go to extreme oil infrastructure to instead support cleaner, safer jobs in the badly needed upgrading of existing refineries’ dangerously old and polluting equipment.

California is crucial. The oil industry’s footprint in California accounts for 91% of crude production and 76% of refining capacity in the western continental U.S. (Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington).3 Extreme oil could cause more harm here than in neighboring states, and action here is crucial to prevent its climate impacts.

Emergency action is needed. This imminent threat of severe and irreversible harm warrants emergency orders directing state, regional, and local agencies to halt and suspend actions in furtherance of extreme oil infrastructure permits and construction.

 

Notes

[i] Meyer et al., 2007. Heavy oil and natural bitumen resources in geological basins of the world; US Geological Survey. Open-File Report 2007-1084; http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1084.

[ii] See CBE fact sheets; www.cbecal.org/resources/our-research.

[iii] See U.S. Energy Information Administration data; www.eia.gov/petroleum/data.cfm.

[iv] See San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metropolitan areas data in Brookings Inst., 2013; www.brookings.edu/research/interactives/export-nation.

[v] See Williams et al., 2011. Science. ScienceExpress; DOI: 10.1123/science.1208365.

[vi] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014. Fifth Assessment Report.

[vii] U.S. Bureau of the Census, various dates. See Economic Census data for ‘paid employees’ versus for ‘sales, shipments, receipts, revenue or other business done.’

[viii] See National Committee on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill & Offshore Oil Drilling, 2011. Deep Water: the Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Oil Drilling; Report to the President.

To download a PDF of CBE Calls for Extreme Oil Moratorium in California, click HERE.

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