Recently I have been spending more time in city and county meetings where the topic is theoretically how local government will regulate the activity of a local refinery – which is actually a multi-national multi-billion dollar entity with a local franchise.  Somehow during these meetings the regulation of health and safety of the community always seems to take a back seat to jobs and money.

We all know  one thing that these big oil companies have is a lot of MONEY. For example, the 2013 profits for the BIG 5 oil companies, you know, BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell­­­­­­ – were $93.3 billion last year! That’s $177 G’s  per minute. 

Admittedly, Big Oil companies do have some expenses. But where they are spending this money Top 5 oil co graphmay surprise you.

Over the past 15 years, Big Oil spent $123.6 million to lobby Sacramento and $143.3 million on California political candidates and campaigns. I wouldn’t know from experience but I’d bet you can make a lot of friends with that much money dropping out of your pockets, year after year.

These friends might attach more importance to Big Oil’s concerns about over-regulation than they would to a resident who might not have the funds to contribute to anyone’s campaign fund.

A recent report by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute (ACCE) and Common Cause, “Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California’s Oil Companies Funnel Funds into the Legislature,” speaks to the extreme power of the Oil and Gas Lobby, as well as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) in Sacramento.

Dan Bacher, California Central Valley reporter for IndyBay, in his review of the report, noted that the

“fact that the oil industry is the largest corporate lobby in California, one that dominates environmental politics like no other industry“ makes California “much closer to Louisiana and Florida in its domination by corporate interests.”

Another way oil companies grease the wheels of influence is through their charitable giving in local oil and gas lobbycommunities. Where I live in Martinez, the yellow Shell refinery logo is on virtually all city events including our local Earth Day celebration located at the historic home of iconic environmentalist John Muir.  In Richmond, Chevron ladles out millions of dollars to local social services nonprofits working with low-income Richmond residents while simultaneously polluting their community.

These kinds of donations seem  to  reduce  short term costs for the local government, but there is a very real long term cost as well.

And one of the most insidious dynamics is that city budgets are structurally reliant on tax revenue from refineries.   According to the Contra Costa Times, “tens of millions in Chevron tax revenue bolster the [Richmond] city budget, providing police and other services that similarly sized cities in Contra Costa County can only dream about.”

It certainly seems like Big Oil has a stranglehold on California politics and regulatory agencies. Recently, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) came out in favor of Chevron’s expansion project.  After being advised by members of the Stationary Source committee that the appropriate behavior would be to merely answer questions at the Richmond meetings, BAAQMD Chief Air Pollution Control Officer, Jack Broadbent, chose to sign up as a speaker at both Richmond public meetings. He spoke in favor of the Chevron project and formally stated that there was no scientifically feasible way to mitigate condensable particulate matter for the Chevron project. This kind of emission from refineries is composed of carcinogenic particles about 1 micron in width that can lodge deep down in your lungs – see reference below.

microns

Prior to the two Richmond meetings, it had been clearly spelled out for the BAAQMD Stationary Source committee by multiple experts (with Broadbent present) that there was a mitigation technique (SCAQMD FEA Rule 1105.1) that would lessen pollution in Richmond by some 56 tons of the worst stuff you can breathe per year. And it has been mitigated since 2003 in the South Coast Air Quality Management District. So, choosing not to mitigate the really dangerous stuff pouring out of Chevron, like cancer-causing condensable particulate matter, is an impossible conclusion to reach by the authority charged with air quality control. Especially when you know otherwise. This is a 56 ton stain on the BAAQMD board and staff. And 56 tons of micron sized particles are unnecessarily heading for the lungs of the men, women, children, and animals that live or work in Richmond over the next year.

Is anyone at these BAAQMD meetings pushing for cleaner air except the community rights advocates?  What influence removes the teeth from the bill, waters down the regulation at the last minute, and causes people to lose their most basic moral compass?  A healthy community and environment should always be the priority.  And nothing should influence you to believe otherwise.

-Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group, August 14, 2014.

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over three decades, I never realized how much oil flows in and out of this region until I moved to Contra Costa County. From Richmond to Martinez, our famous estuary is ringed with 5 major refineries.

1) There’s the infamous CChevron firehevron refinery, built in 1902 in Richmond. It’s the one that sent 15,000 residents to local emergency rooms due to Chevron’s continued neglect of a corroding pipe. The problem pipe was reported multiple times by employees (since as far back as 2002) before it eventually cracked and caught fire, sending out an enormous toxic black cloud.

Photo: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/AzqPUFfCQAAqSEL.jpg

2) Don’t forget the PhillipREFINERY RAILROAD/METROs 66 refinery, built in 1896 in Rodeo. Formerly known as Unocal, in 1994 this refinery released an estimated 200 tons of toxic Catacarb into the air over a sixteen day period. As a result more than 1,200 people required medical attention. Their proposed expansion calls for a large propane storage farm that has the fenceline communities scared.



Photo: http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2014/0310/20140310__phillipsrodeo~1_300.JPG


3) Originally an ExxonMvaleroobil facility built in 1969, Valero bought the Benicia refinery in 2000. About 8 months ago, three rail cars filled with petroleum coke jumped the tracks while leaving the facility. Still, the Valero plan is to expand their rail spur to deliver two 50-car “unit trains” full of extreme crude oil, including high sulfur Canadian tar sands every single day. Of course that also means two 50-car “unit trains” going out every day.

Photo: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/files/2013/03/IMG_1928.jpg

Last but not least, there’s the town with two refineries, my home, Martinez.

4) The Tesoro Martinez refiTesoro Golden Eagle refinerynery was b­­­­­­­uilt in 1903 and originally called the Avon refinery. After purchase by Tosco in 1976, this facility had two major accidents in the late 1990’s that resulted in the death of 5 workers. After that, the refinery was referred to by locals as the “death tower.” In 2000, it was sold by Tosco to Phillips 66, and rebranded as the Tesoro “Golden Eagle” refinery. But it’s still known locally as a rogue facility. After pulling out of two (albeit voluntary) worker safety programs in 2012, there were two separate sulfuric acid spills in February of 2014. Both accidents injured workers. More stunning was Tesoro’s bold and disrespectful refusal to allow officials from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board onto the site to investigate the February 12th incident. The Safety Board was eventually allowed in but that was the first refusal of entry to the Chemical Safety Board in U.S. refinery history.
Photo: http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2014/0221/20140221__0222tesoro~3.JPG


5) And then there’s the Mshell flaresartinez Shell Oil refinery, the U.S. subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, in operation since 1915. In 1988, they spilled 400,000 gallons (9,500 barrels) of San Joaquin heavy crude oil into the Carquinez Strait, Peyton Slough, and Suisun Bay. They did not report the spill for a month. Shell was forced to pay nearly $20 million. At the time, it was the largest amount ever recovered from an oil company for damage to natural resources.

Photo: http://claycord.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/DSC_4788.jpg

So, just how much oil is currently being refined at all 5 facilities, you might ask? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration:
Richmond 250,000 bpd (barrels per day)
Rodeo            80,000 bpd
Benicia        170,000 bpd
Martinez      331,000 bpd (both Shell and Tesoro)
Total          831,000 bpd

That’s about 25 milliooil-barrels-on-forkliftn barrels per month, every month! And, according to EPA numbers, these 5 refineries emitted 3.4 million pounds of toxics into our air in 2012! Some of this oil comes in/out by marine vessel, tanker truck, and/or by pipeline. But the increase in extreme crude oil travelling along our outdated rail infrastructure is our latest concern in Contra Costa and Solano counties. And we intend to fight it all the way!

Stay tuned for more on the struggle against Crude by Rail in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond!

Photo: http://www.sureshotcrudeoil.in/images/oil-barrels-on-forklift.jpg


-Tom Griffith is a co-founder of the Martinez Environmental Group and a consultant for Global Community Monitor.

Image from Bloomberg.com

If you live in a port city, chances are you’ve seen quite the increase in activity over the past few years.  Drastic port expansions and dramatic increases in truck traffic are happening all over the U.S. which has raised a lot of concerns among residents, regarding air quality and traffic safety.  And without missing a step, many community residents got organized and ready to fight for their right to clean air and healthy communities.

Image from NRDC

The Moving Forward Network emerged as a great resource for community members living on the fenceline of numerous multi-million dollar port expansions.  Through the Network, residents can connect with other communities, living hundreds of miles away, to discuss what worked and what didn’t.  Often times communities can share tools, like air monitors, to document the problem and everyone can stand in solidarity for each other.  It’s a great idea and it works!

Here’s the thing though: while the Moving Forward Network is connecting to port communities within the United States, the increase in ports and goods movement affects communities all over the globe.

A similar international network has not yet formed.

Meanwhile, communities in isolation are doing their best to respond to this growing international crisis.

Image from IDEX

Desmond D’Sa, this year’s Goldman Prize winner from Africa, has led rigorous campaigns in South Durban, South Africa for his community’s right to breathe clean air.  Currently, Desmond and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDECA) are fighting a $10 billion port expansion.  This port expansion stands to displace thousands of people without compensation and exacerbate problems such as waste management, pollution, and traffic.

You can help Desmond by signing the petition against the port expansion here.

Similarly, fishing communities on Goat Islands in Jamaica are also fighting for their livelihood.  Plans are underway to build a large port in their rural fishing village.

Image from Go Jamaica

This area, because of its coral reefs and mangroves, has been declared a protected area under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act (NRCA), and two fish sanctuaries have been declared under the Fisheries Industry Act to protect the fish nursery there.  These would be destroyed forever by the proposed port construction.  In addition thousands of fishermen would no longer be able to support themselves and their families.

Sign their petition here.

Building on the work of the US-based Moving Forward Network, we need to stand in solidarity with port communities throughout the world.  We need to share resources and information on the same level that 21st century goods are moved: on a global level (and we need the leadership of funders to facilitate this international movement building).

The Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA) and the Basel Action Network (BAN) are great examples of networks that are working with communities addressing issues within countries and across international borders.  Recognizing the global trade economy, both work towards sustainable waste solutions within the international community.

Let’s use that energy and momentum for an international network for sustainable ports and minimizing the impacts of the global movement of goods.

Lac_megantic_burning

Town of Lac Megantic Burning After Crude-by-Rail Accident, July 2013 (Image Credit: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lac_megantic_burning.jpg)

In the past few months it has been revealed that trains transporting heavy crude oil from North Dakota and Canada are in our midst. Much of this new crude is from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, which is more explosive than other fuels and has been responsible for several recent disastrous accidents. Troublingly, California state and regional officials seem alternatively caught unaware or unconcerned about the increased so-called crude-by-rail traffic.  Fortunately, local officials, concerned citizens, and some media have started calling attention to the dangers and pushing back.

Several proposed off-loading terminals and oil-refinery expansion projects in California promise to increase the use of fracked volatile oil from North Dakota and elsewhere.  The rail routes pass through Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland in northern California and Los Angeles and Long Beach in southern California — all areas with large populations.  Four of the five Northern California oil refineries are in Contra Costa county, and communities there are facing the prospect of new and expanded facilities.

When asked by CBS San Francisco (KPIX 5) about heavy crude being shipped by rail and unloaded onto trucks, Gorden Schremp from the California Energy Commission responded, “At this point we don’t have any of those facilities operating in California.”

If the consequences of such blatant ignorance or negligence wasn’t so dire, this would be laughable. Schremp was later forced to amend his statement when shown evidence of what is already happening on the ground.

What does the increased crude-by-rail traffic mean for communities on the front lines?

1)First, it means that communities are at increased risk for accidents. Fracked oil from North Dakota is more volatile, and catches fire and explodes much more easily. Last year alone, more crude oil spilled from train accidents across the nation than the previous 40 years.

In 2008, fewer than 10,000 cars of heavy crude were being transporting by rail. Last year the number was 400,000 cars, by industries own numbers. “Every time you have increased traffic there’s an increased risk,” said Paul King with the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency that oversees the inspection of railroads.

Last July, a train carrying heavy Bakken crude derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and leveling over 30 buildings in the town’s center. In December, a mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in North Dakota, forcing the evacuation of the town of Casselton. The most recent accident in April involved the derailment of several CSX tanker cars carrying Bakken crude oil in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, threatening drinking water supplies. Federal and state regulations simply haven’t caught up to the increased traffic and the more volatile fuel that is being transported.

In December, three rail cars carrying petroleum coke derailed as they were leaving Valero’s Benicia Refinery, the same facility that is proposing expanding to increase its crude oil capacity.

bnsfoilDespite assurances by the oil & rail industry of their safety record, some recognize many of the rail cars (DOT-111A) are not equipped to carry heavy crude safely.  The Chairman of BNSF Railway Company (owner of the trains in the Casselton accident) said this week that “Without focus on the elements of safety, the social license to haul crude by rail will disappear, to say nothing of the regulatory agencies’ response.” Even billionaire Harold Hamm, head of oil company Continental Resources and ‘godfather’ of oil boom in North Dakota, admitted that just one more accident would be enough to put the brakes on Bakken oil development.

In addition to the safety issues of transporting heavier crudes by rail, the existing pipeline infrastructure leaves much to be desired — just last year, over 5 million gallons were spilled in over 400 incidents. Pipelines moving heavy crudes at high temperatures through California have had significantly higher spill rates than pipelines moving conventional oil. In March 2013, thousands of barrels of crude from the Canadian tar sands spilled from an ExxonMobil pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, resulting in putrid smells, families being evacuated from their homes, and reports of air pollution and water contamination. Athabascan crude (tar sands bitumen) is very thick, making it very difficult to clean up properly. And just last week, about 10,000 gallons of Californian heavy crude spilled into the streets of Los Angeles.

2)Second, increased crude-by-rail means increased air pollution in communities already bearing a heavy pollution burden.  Refining heavier crude creates more pollution, including volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter than conventional crude. In Benicia, CA, Valero Energy Corporation foresees off-loading crude oil from one hundred rail cars every day.  In addition to the pollution from refining itself, each car would require connect-disconnect operations that will increase toxic vapor emissions. On top of this, increased rail traffic often results in more auto congestion, as cars and trucks wait for trains to pass by. Traffic back-ups pose problems for emergency response vehicles and the idling vehicles in turn increase tailpipe emissions, contributing to poor air quality.

3)Finally, it ultimately means more carbon in the atmosphere. Heavier crude oil equals higher greenhouse gas emissions. The fact we are talking about this issue at all is a symptom that we are still very much addicted to dirty fuels — it should be yet another signal that we need to shift as much attention and resources towards transition to clean energy economy.

At the end of the day, any one of these three consequences should give pause to any community through which the product is being trafficked. Combined, they spell WRONG DIRECTION.

California has already seen twice as much crude oil this year as it did in the first quarter of last year. And with rail traffic of volatile crude expected to increase 25-fold in California over the next two years, it seems we should all be standing up and questioning this growing trend. Do we want this to be the new normal?

Fortunately, communities are waking up and taking action.

Across California, citizens have been coming to city council meetings, writing letters, commenting on environmental impact reports, and organizing informational events and healing walks.

Marlaine Savard, one of the citizen survivors from the Lac-Megantic tragedy, conducted a week-long speaking tour in March throughout the Bay Area, highlighting the dangers crude-by-rail poses.

In Pittsburg, CA, the plan for a massive oil terminal proposed by WesPac Energy Group hit a snag after engaged citizens vocalized their concerns. In February, after six months of fighting to STOP WESPAC, residents and supporters got a break. Mayor Salvatore Evola announced that the City had sent a letter to WesPac addressed to the Project Manager, informing that city planned to re-open a new public review and comment period for portions of the Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR).  Residents and supporters are yet to see a response from WesPac’s management. No news is good news! Even the Pittsburg school district trustees took a stand against the proposed oil storage project.

In May, at the Crowne Plaza in Concord, Central Committee of Democratic Party of Contra Costa County re-affirmed the a resolution opposing the proposed WesPac Project “as unequivocally contrary to public health and safety and beyond mitigation, and declare that it should not be placed within Pittsburg nor anywhere in Contra Costa County.”

The increased attention here and across the nation about the dangers prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to act. Earlier this month, U.S. DOT issued an Emergency Order requiring all railroads operating trains containing large amounts of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) about the operation of these trains through their states. Perhaps it’s a good first step.

Meanwhile, because of pressure from citizens, Berkeley and Richmond city councils unanimously passed resolutions opposing crude-by-rail shipments through their jurisdictions. However, local actions like this may remain largely symbolic, as federal law trumps local regulation.

Yet, every act of resistance and engagement plants a seed and highlights an issue that needs to see more daylight.

 

Upcoming Opportunities for Engagement:

May 22: San Francisco Port and Fossil Fuels Discussion

The Chair of the SF Environment Commission has initiated a discussion about working with the Port of San Francisco to develop a policy prohibiting the transportation and export of hazardous fossil fuel materials such as coal, crude oil, and petroleum coke. Residents of San Francisco can show their support at City Hall today at 5pm, when the Policy Committee meets.

May 31:  Protest the Permit

The Bay Area Air Quality District (BAAQD) issued a permit to Kinder Morgan to operate to a crude-by-rail project in Richmond, without public input or opportunity for public comment.

June 7: Benicia Toxics Tour

Sponsored by Benicians For A Safe and Healthy Community.  Join Marilyn Bardet to learn about environmental quality in Benicia and the added risks of Crude By Rail.  The tour will be by car, with stops at strategically chosen spots where informal discussion will take place.  Meet at the Clocktower.  Limit is 25-30 people: please RSVP to info@SafeBenicia.org.

June 10: Draft EIR Release Public Comment period for Valero Benicia Refinery project begins.

Take Action to make your views known.  To become more informed, check out Safe Benicia’s Learn More page, and visit The Benicia Independent.

June 14: Connect the Dots Healing Walk between different Bay Area big oil towns

Walk/Ride from Benicia to Rodeo, June 14.  More info here.

 

Each year in April, near Earth Day, Bay Area environmental health and justice advocates converge on San Francisco’s Opera House and City Hall to celebrate the Goldman Environmental Prize. The anticipation starts days in advance with media and parties celebrating the year’s winners. The award includes $175,000 cash prize, and inclusion in a group that lists some of the most tenacious, hardest working, and strategic grassroots activists in the world.

Six individuals are awarded each year from six continents. Prizes are awarded to grassroots activists that have achieved “sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.”

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Goldman Prize.

This year we are excited to join in the celebration with Desmond D’Sa fromDurban, South Africa. Desmond’s work over the past two decades with the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) has been relentless in their efforts for clean air and a healthy community.

Port-17

Desmond rallies the Community against the proposed port. Photo credit Southlands Sun, South Africa

Desmond, with SDCEA and local, regional and international partners, has won clean air agreements from large refinery neighbors, closed a local dump, was a point person for COP 17 protests and is now leading the charge against the Durban Port expansion. Desmond is full of stories of struggle and victory, and none is more shocking than when a pipe bomb was thrown and exploded at his home during intense campaigning against the refineries.

Desmond was active with Global Community Monitor in the international (anti-) Shell Coalition. As part of this coalition, Des visited County Mayo, Ireland to support Willie Corduff and the Rossport community in the struggle to keep Shell off their farm and community lands. Desmond also visited Richmond, CA in 2011 in support of the community living in the shadow of Chevron.

As a nominator, Global Community Monitor is proud to be associated with the prize winners and the communities they represent. GCM has led and participated in several nominations of Goldman Prize Winners. The Prize is a rare moment for everyday leaders to get the recognition that their sacrifice and persistence deserves.

GCM continues to celebrate Bucket Brigade Leaders Bobby Peek, Durban, South Africa (1998); Margie Richard, Norco, Louisiana (2004); Willie Corduff, County Mayo, Ireland (2007); Hilton Kelley, Port Arthur, Texas (2011) and Dimitry Lisitsyn, Russia (2011).

While the Prize is an amazing recognition, it does not stop the environmental crimes and problems in these communities around the world. Like Desmond, Bobby, Margie, Willie, Hilton and Dimitry, they go on to live another day and fight another fight.

Given their track record, a fight they just might win.

 

Leak 452On March 27, 2014, Global Community Monitor, The Center for Race Poverty and the Environment, the Central California Environmental Justice Network, and The Committee for a Better Arvin submitted the following letter to the Kern County Environmental Health Department and the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources in response to a pipeline leak that was discovered on March 18, 2014.

This leaking pipeline was under a residential block of Arvin.  It’s unclear how long the pipeline had been leaking, but some residents have claimed to have been smelling gas, in their homes, for at least four years.  Residents have questions and we have yet to hear back from either agency. 

March 27, 2014

 Dear Mr. Constantine and Mr. Nechdom,

 Eight families on Nelson Court in Arvin, California (Kern County) were evacuated on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Residents were unclear and uninformed of the level of danger that the Petro Capital Resource’s leaking gas pipeline was causing.

 The Arvin Bucket Brigade, a joint project with Global Community Monitor, Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, were contacted by Nelson Court residents. The air monitoring team took an air sample at 6:50 pm on Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

 The air sample contained over twenty chemicals including elevated levels of cancer causing benzene and a mix of total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The level of total VOCs in the sample collected at 6:50 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18th at 1312 Nelson Court in Arvin is 13 times higher than the levels the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) scientists have associated with adverse health impacts.

 Residents have noticed chemicals odors for several months and have had varying health effects including nose bleeds, coughs and headaches. A pregnant mother passed out. These health effects show a strong correlation with VOC exposure.

 Nelson Court and Arvin residents have many questions about this gas leak and the emergency evacuation:

 1)      How do you determine it is safe to return to my home? Will there be chemicals in my home?

2)      How will Petro Capital Resource’s be held accountable for this leak?

3)      How did the County determine that an emergency evacuation was needed at 7 pm March 18, 2014?

 4)      How many more pipelines like this exist in the area?

5)      How will you keep these pipelines from leaking?

Our team will be following up with your office to discuss the air monitoring results, attached to this letter.

For clean air and healthy communities,

 

Jessica Hendricks, Global Community Monitor

Juan Flores, The Center for Race, Poverty & the Environment

Sal Partida, The Committee for a Better Arvin

Cesar Campos, Central California Environmental Justice Network

March 15 Don't Frack CA Rally I’m thinking to myself, “Man, I wish I could get a bird’s eye view of this!” I was one among thousands (estimates ranging from 2000 to 4000+) of so-called “fractivists” in Sacramento on March 15 for what is being called the largest anti-fracking demonstration in California history.

The participants were a diverse mix of folks from all over California who managed to encircle the Capitol building, bringing a simple message to Governor Jerry Brown and legislators: fracking poses too high a risk to our water, air, food, climate, and health to be considered a ‘safe, alternative’ energy option – time to ban it in California!

I squirreled my way as close as I could to the stage at the north steps of the Capitol building, amidst an ocean of anti-fracking signs such as “No Fracking Way” and “Climate Leaders Don’t Frack!”

(Note to self: ‘Don’t poke your eye out with the corners of protest signs.’)Don't Frack CA Rally2

The rally was organized by Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of more than 150 organizations, including 350.org, CREDO, Food and Water Watch, Oil Change International, Greenpeace, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, Ecological Farming Association, and others. Over 20 buses were chartered to bring people from all over California.

Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing — is a method of oil and gas production that involves injecting a concoction of millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth in order to break up rock formations, allowing oil and gas to be released more easily.

It struck me – this was not a typical Bay Area crowd of aging environmentalists or raging grannies (though they were there too) and young radicals (though they were here as well). In addition to those who might self-identify as environmentalists, these were farmers, nurses, fishermen, students, academics, indigenous groups, and citizens from both California’s cities and from rural Central Valley, which is bearing the brunt of fracking activities.

Students at Don't Frack CA RallyStudents were well-represented at the rally. Wes Adrianson and Kristy Drutman, representing UC Berkeley Students Against Fracking, didn’t mince words: “Don’t frack our future! We may be young, but we are powerful!”

They targeted Governor Brown specifically, saying that the environmental reputation he may have with others is well-lost on their generation if he continues to support fracking. “We won’t remember your environmental triumphs of the ‘70s. We weren’t even born then,” Wes said. “But we’ll remember how you sold out our generation and future generations to industry with no regard for the environment or human health.”

Tom Frantz, a Kern County almond farmer and clean air advocate, told the crowd in an inspiring speech: “If you are eating carrots, lettuce, tomatoes from California, you are eating foods from fields where fracking is happening right now.” Frantz is among a growing number of farmers — concerned about the unnecessary waste of water in an already water-stressed region — who are calling for a fracking moratorium.

“They don’t clean or recycle this water,” Frantz lamented. “It’s simply contaminated, then put deep within the earth forever! We’ll never see it again. It’s gone from the water cycle. We cannot continue to grow food and breathe healthy air and maintain a healthy water supply…the only “winners” I see are those making the short-term profits. Everyone else is losing!”

Another farmer, a Mexican-American man from the Central Valley, spoke to the crowd in Spanish, translated by Rodrigo Romo of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment: “I’m worried about the health of my children, the health of my grandchildren! I’m worried what this is doing to the farmlands themselves; how it’s affecting the future viability of the soil itself!”

Pennie Opal Plant, an indigenous activist and small business owner from Richmond, who is active in the Bay Area affinity group Idle No More, spoke elegantly about indigenous resistance to not just fracking, but fossil fuel extraction across North and South America. Speaking of Mother Earth, Plant said, “We are not her failed experiment. That is not what we are. We are her immune response.” See her speech here.

It turns out others were able to get a bird’s-eye-view from above (Image Credit:  Ray Breaux, 350.org)

It turns out others were able to get a great bird’s-eye view (Image Credit: Ray Breaux, 350.org)

Elise Gyore, Legislative Director for State Senator Holly Mitchell, took to the stage to plug fracking moratorium legislation (SB1132) and to urge Californians to call and write their representatives to support it. The bill, sponsored by California State Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, would place a moratorium on fracking and well stimulation, including a newer technique called acidization, both onshore and offshore, until the state Natural Resources Agency completed a study (mandated by last year’s fracking bill SB4) and Governor Brown ensures that fracking and well stimulation are not harmful to California’s public health and the environment.

She also urged people to come to the public hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee on April 8 at 9:30am at the Capitol.

I wanted to give a shout-out to the legendary Pete Seeger, who passed away earlier this year. He no doubt would have been in Sacramento in solidarity — as he was in New York — leading fractivists in song and spirit.

Click here for a great round-up of coverage of the event. And on Twitter dial into the hashtag #DontFrackCA.

Guest Blog by Gustavo Aguirre Jr.

8 AM: Tuesday, March 18th 2014

A resident in Arvin, CA gets a knock at the door.

A staff person with the Kern County Public Health Department greets the homeowner and states to her that there is very high level (later known to be explosive levels) of gas leaking into her home from a broken pipeline underneath the home. The county worker suggests to the homeowner that it might be a good idea to leave the residence, but only on a voluntary basis, for her own health benefit. Then the county worker walks to the next house, and so on for a total of eight homes.

The county worker did not state it was an emergency, so the family stayed home and continued on with their daily routine.

This resident and her family had been smelling a very strong odor of gas for about three months, mainly coming in from electricity outlets; however she never reported it because she did not know where to report it.

Arvin residents in that area of Nelson Court, had seen PG&E drilling holes in and around their homes and yards the week before, thinking nothing of it. The homeowners assumed that PG&E was fixing the gas leak.

3 PM: March 18, 2014

As a community organizer, I Gustavo Aguirre Jr, working with GCM visited a total of five homes in Nelson Court.  ALL OF the residents that I visited confirmed that they had smelled the gas for about 2 to 3 months and were growing concerned with the situation.  Why did it take 2 to 3 months to detect a major gas leak?! Why were residents not warned IMMEDIATELY that the levels of gas in their homes had reached explosive levels?!

6 PM: March 18, 2014

Arvin City Council held their regular meeting, however this meeting was much less routine.  With a heavy media presence, Kern County Supervisor, Leticia Perez, and the Director of Public Health, Matt Constantine, stated and pleaded to the Council that an emergency evacuation for the eight homes on Nelson Court was of the highest priority. 

6:50 PM: March 18, 2014

With the homeowner’s permission, I took an a Bucket sample (air sample) at a residence on Nelson Court.

7 PM: March 18, 2014

Once they made their concerns public, both Mrs. Perez and Mr. Constantine left the meeting to witness the emergency evacuation of all eight homes, including those where the explosive levels of gas were detected. It was then when a resident of one of the homes invited me in to take a Bucket sample (air quality sample) of a room with a very heavy gas odor.

However, only the residents of those eight homes were told of the emergency evacuation.  Many of the folks living just across the street are under the impression that there is little danger to their health and safety.

What the community members still don’t understand is, why did the County wait until 7pm to decide that this was an emergency situation? Especially, if they knew that levels of gas were already at explosive levels at 8am that morning!

In the same home where I took the Bucket air sample, one resident stated, “My pregnant daughter is the one who sleeps in the room with the highest smell of gas, last week she got up to use the restroom and while she was walking to the restroom she passed out on the floor.” This same resident stated that she had been feeling sick these past weeks and now she might believe it has to do with the contestant exposure to the gases from the broken pipeline. However, aside from “high levels of gas” no other information was given to the residents on what they may have been exposed over that time.

According to news reports, Kern County Environmental Health said the line is a field gas line, not natural gas. This basically means it’s a waste oil field gas going to flared, or burned off.

According to the county, until the leak, Petro Capital Resources had no idea the line existed even though it was in use.

The County is unclear how long the leak has been going on. It took several days to track down the owner, a problem it said is common because there is no one agency that keeps track of all underground pipelines.

In two of the eight homes evacuated, two households have pregnant women and are concerned for the health of their families and themselves.

The following day, after the families were evacuated, myself, Gustavo Aguirre and Juan Florez from Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, visited the families at the hotel (paid for by Petro Capital Resources), they all relayed the urgency to return home and have the county provide a health impact assessment.

We’re expecting the results of the air sample to be back from the laboratory in a few days.  Stay tuned, results will be released Monday, March 24, 2014…………

In late February, GCM made its maiden voyage to Jamaica to train two very different communities on our tried and true Bucket Brigade, as well as launching a few new monitoring tools from our toolkit – water & soil monitoring. IMG_0774 (640x480) (640x480)P1010858 (480x640)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, the sunburn has faded and the nasty head-cold, that seemed to be passing on island time, has finally run its course.  So, here’s what we learned:

1.   Jamaicans are awesome.

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From the time we arrived to the day we left, everyone that we worked with was very well organized and ready to take the Bucket Brigade project head on.  Our training packed churches and schoolhouses, and everyone was interested in participating.

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For this project, GCM partnered with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), an an environmental education and advocacy organization that has been working with communities all over the country. 

The two JET staff members that are

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coordinating the project are not only lawyers, but also fierce community organizers.  Together we identified two heavily impacted communities, planned the project out with the community leaders, tied up (almost all of) the logistics and set out on a walking tour of the neighborhoods to get a better idea of sampling locations.

AND – these folks are most definitely experts of their community!  They told us all about the sediment slide, caused by Caribbean Cement Company and their gypsum mine in the Ten Miles community, in 2002 as they were shepherding me down to 

eroded river bed.  They remembered every detail from 2002 while alerting me to every loose rock where I could lose my footing.  The dust in this community is so bad that you can see it rising up through the trees from the bottom of the mountain, right in front of an elementary school. 

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The other community tour was no different with the community leaders expressing deep concern regarding the overflow of wastewater from Jamalco’s  aluminium mine, while pulling me out of the way of an angry (and kicking!) donkey.

Bottom line: These folks have what it takes to be successful – knowledge, persistence and determination.  They are ready to take on community monitoring with the Bucket Brigade; they just need the tools to do it.

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3.   The Red Stripe tastes better.

Unfortunately, Lagunitas Brewing Company has yet to expand their distribution market to Jamaica.  DO NOT PANIC!  The Red Stripe beer actually tastes much better in Kingston than anywhere I’ve tried it in the States.

Also worth noting, if given a choice between eating Saltfish and Ackee or a Lobster Patty, go with the Lobster Patty!  Although Saltfish and Ackee is delicious, the Lobster Patties are by far the best thing I’ve ever consumed in my life; and honestly you’ll have multiple opportunities to try the Saltfish and Ackee, but never pass up goat curry cooked by the native villagers.

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4.   Industry will be industry.

Over the years, we at GCM have seen lots of different industry, but more often than not, the company’s main focus is “dollars and cents, instead of common sense”.  And, unfortunately, this careless company principle crosses many borders.  From toxic waste water overflow in New Town from the aluminium refinery, to toxic waste sediment in Bull Bay  from the gypsum mine; environmental injustice is worldwide.

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BUT – so is the crazy idea that community organizing can change that and recreate a truly sustainable environment for the next generation.

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Remember, a little over a year ago, when the State of California proposed new fracking regulations?  Remember how they do not regulate air pollution associated with fracking?  Well they are currently in the public comment period and we want to make sure Governor Jerry Brown hears our concerns about the air pollution associated with fracking.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014:  GCM staff traveled to California’s Central Valley to unite with the residents living on the front lines of the fracking boom, to express concerns regarding the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources’ (DOGGR) proposed regulations at a public hearing held at the Kern County Administrative Building.  What a trip!!

Residents traveled from all over the Central Valley, showed up early with signs and anti-fracking chants.  We staged a rally out front and cheered as motorists honked in support.  Then, one by one, we filed in and filled out our cards to make public comment.  Everyone could agree that these proposed regulations were not going to protect the health and safety of Valley residents from the potential pollution associated with fracking.

Governor Brown’s new fracking regulations are flawed, especially related to air pollution by:

  • a lack of air monitoring;

  • inadequate control of emissions from fracking and related production operations;

  • a lack of regulation on flares. Flare in Shafter

Back in December, GCM Staff connected with concerned residents in Shafter, CA where there is nearly constant flaring going on at a fracking site.  The flare is just upwind of a school and community garden, where residents have reported acute health effects, like burning eyes and sore throats.

Central Valley residents, active with the Bucket Brigade, were able to collect an air sample, near this site, in Shafter.   

The results show a presence of five different chemicals, known to be associated with fracking operations as well as increased levels of methane, also common near fracking sites.

The level of acrylonitrile detected at this location, 5.9 µg/m3, is 590 times the reference level set by the US EPA, to be associated with an increased risk of cancer for a lifetime of exposure.  Additionally, it also exceeds the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) chronic reference exposure level, and could pose an increased risk for negative health effects on the respiratory system.

The sample results also detected a mix of toxic chemicals, including  styrene, chlorobenzene, toluene and ethanol, as well as a methane level of 2.7 ppm, which is higher than normal background levels, indicating that this sample location may be impacted by localized emissions of methane.

Considering that California’s Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the Country, air pollution from fracking could serve to overburden residents living in the Central Valley. Especially among vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women, seniors and those with already compromised immune systems.

Residents of the Central Valley, and all other parts of California, deserve clean air not fracking wells.  Not able to express your concerns at a public hearing?  No problem.  Comments can be submitted online.  Take action for clean air and let Governor Brown know that you oppose fracking in California!

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