Bay Area residents may be used to passing the towering smoke-stacks of a local oil refinery as we make our usual commutes driving down the freeway. That familiar sight is only one of five oil refineries in the Bay Area. At least five oil companies propose pieces of a switch that could enable refining lower quality oil, turning the Bay Area into a more dangerous and less healthy place to live.
The traditional supply of crude oil from which California’s oil refineries depends on will soon run empty. Because it is cheaper for them, Big Oil has chosen to import lower grade (dirtier) crude oil for their refineries. Big Oil is planning on transporting huge quantities of their dirtier oil (tar sands is but one type) into the Bay Area via expanded shipping, new pipelines and expanded rail (see the regional map).
Big Oil’s plans endangers all Bay Area residents in two ways:
- Pollution: refining oil is inherently a heavily polluting industrial activity. Thus, all crude oil is ‘dirty’. The impurities in lower grade oil demands intensive processing, producing significantly more greenhouse gases (GHG) as well as mercury, lead and other toxins.
- Industrial disasters: Low quality crude is more corrosive, rotting-out a refinery’s infrastructure. This increases the risk of industrial disasters like the Richmond Chevron refinery explosion on August 6, 2012. Recent train derailments in Canada is also an ominous sign for Bay Area communities situated along rail lines.
A collaboration of community and refinery workers have banded together urging the regional regulatory body, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to intervene. This collaborative demands that our safety, environmental health and climate will be protected before “dirtier” grades of crude oil are refined. Read the community/worker plan here.
* image credit: Greg Kunit
Residents stop beside the road to witness the Richmond Chevron refinery fire on August 6, 2012