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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 Chevron 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.
2) Don’t forget the Phillips 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.
3) Originally an ExxonMobil 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.
Last but not least, there’s the town with two refineries, my home, Martinez.
4) The Tesoro Martinez refinery 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.
5) And then there’s the Martinez 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.
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 million 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!