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Don’t miss this special piece from our allies over at Earthjustice! – GCM 

By Jenifer Collins  Monday, December 08, 2014

Last month, while sitting around the conference tables of Washington, D.C.’s biggest movers and shakers, I saw looks of shock come across the faces of those listening to local community activists explain why oil and gas drilling makes it dangerous to breathe.

They would know. After all, these concerned community members are the ones who took air quality data that appeared in a recently-released report and the first peer-reviewed study of hazardous air pollutants near oil and gas development sites across the U.S.

Taught by experts from the Global Community Monitor, the activists went out into their communities and took air samples in areas where they observed certain symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness or breathing problems. In total, community members from six states—Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Wyoming—collected 76 samples that were then analyzed by scientists.

The findings were worse than many community representatives could have imagined. They found carcinogens such as formaldehyde and benzene, some in concentrations above EPA’s most hazardous cancer risk level. Hydrogen sulfide, a nerve and organ toxin, was also found in concentrations that often exceeded health and safety standards. In Wyoming, one sample revealed that hydrogen sulfide concentrations were 660 times higher than the level the EPA classifies as immediately dangerous to human life. In addition, almost 40 percent of the samples collected contained volatile compounds in concentrations above federal standards for cancer level risk.

When I met the community members the night before their busy day of meetings in D.C., I saw a group of concerned citizens who didn’t choose this line of work—it chose them.

Frank Finan of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, who traveled to D.C. with his daughter, Kelly, was set to retire when he began to see the impacts of natural gas development near his home. Instead of retiring, he spent much of his savings to buy a specialized camera that allowed him to detect gases and other emissions that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Emily Lane, one of the co-leaders of the local group, became involved because she suspected that the increased seismic activity occurring in her home state of Arkansas was due to the rise in hydraulic fracturing in the area. After learning more about gas development and witnessing her neighbors experience hair loss, memory loss, nosebleeds and fainting, she became concerned with the effect of this extractive process on air quality.

Deb Thomas is a resident of rural Wyoming, the executive director of Shale Test, and co-author of the report. She has dedicated her life to addressing the negative effects of oil and gas development, first on water quality and now air. She believes that this report is vital because it gives people information that they can take to their health providers. Prior to this study, these communities had no idea what they were being exposed to and how it could adversely affect their health and well-being.

Frank, Emily and Deb, along with representatives from the groups that worked on the report, met with numerous NGO partners and decision makers to inform them about the impacts that communities are facing from oil and gas development. Each of the individuals involved in this study faced much adversity in getting this information out to the general public, including being ostracized by their own communities and ignored by local officials. However, in D.C., they had a welcome audience. Throughout the day, community members were thanked for their dedication and sacrifice, with some even hailing them as heroes advocating for clean air and a healthy environment for their families, neighbors and fellow citizens.

“Drilling works perfectly on paper, but things don’t go right in real life,” says Frank.

This report allows communities the access to information regarding the air they breathe. The time is ripe for more meaningful change in the regulations for oil and gas development.

This study was organized by Coming Clean and Global Community Monitor. Coming Clean is a national environmental health and justice network of more than 200 organizations working together to reduce harmful exposure to toxic chemicals. Global Community Monitor works worldwide to empower communities at risk with the technology and expertise to document toxic exposures.

For more information on the report, read the guest blog post from Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health: Putting a Number on Dirty Energy Pollution.

By Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group

The Community-Based Science for Action Conference begins this coming weekend! Co-hosted by Global Community Monitor, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Public Lab, it will be an opportunity for learning, sharing and networking with the goal of giving citizen scientists the tools to win cleaner communities.

Hilton with prize

Hilton Kelley


General Russel Honoré

The keynote speakers will be: Goldman Prize winner Hilton Kelley, and General Russel Honoré, commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina. In addition to a packed schedule of sessions, there will be a toxic tour on Saturday and a jazz dinner on Sunday.

Photo by

Jazz in NOLA Photo by

On Saturday, November 15, a Toxic Tour centered on Coal Dust Testing in Plaquemines Parish, LA, will be led by Plaquemines Parish Community Monitors, Louisiana Sierra Club, and Gulf Restoration Network. The tour will include three communities in Plaquemines Parish:

  • Ironton– Stop will include meeting with community leaders for local history. Discussion of the proposed coal export facility, RAM, directly adjacent to Ironton. View of the proposed Wetlands restoration project. Hear results of the current air monitoring project
  • Myrtle Grove– Meet with community leaders & discuss issues about nearby coal export UNITED BULK terminal & lawsuit.
  • Woodpark– Visit adjacent community of Woodpark, 250 feet from coal export operation.

Then it’s Saturday night in the Big Easy! Let the good times roll!

The Old US Mint, NOLA Photo by Louisiana Travel on

The Old US Mint, NOLA Photo by Louisiana Travel on

The conference proper begins on Sunday, November 16 at the historic Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans. Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor and Anne Rolfes from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade will open the event. Sunday’s keynote speaker will be Goldman environmental Prize winner Hilton Kelley.

The day will include a Community Success Stories panel with:

  • Jackie James-Creedon, Citizen Science & Community Resources: Tonawanda Coke Campaign,
  • Luis Olmedo, Comite Civico del Valle: IVAN Online,
  • Jesse Marquez, Coalition for a Safe Environment: LA & Long Beach Ports, and
  • Laura Cortez & Maria Reyes, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma: LA & Long Beach Ports.

The panel will be followed by the day’s break out sessions. After the day’s work, participants can enjoy a leisurely walk to a hosted dinner in the French Quarter!

Photo by

The French Quarter, NOLA Photo by

On Monday, November 17, the conference continues with a sampling tools demonstration, and welcome by Public Lab’s Shannon Dosemagen. Monday’s keynote speaker will be General Russel L. Honoré. His remarks will be followed by Monday’s break out sessions.

The timely and useful session themes for Sunday and Monday include:

  • Community Science: Scientific research conducted by everyday people as part of a collective effort to improve environmental conditions in the area.
  • Extreme Energy:Increasingly risky environmental and public health trade-offs are accepted as the status quo in the ravenous pursuit of energy.
  • Partnerships: Successful collaborations amongst Community Based Organizations, Community Members, Non-profit Organizations, Academic Institutions, Foundations and/or Government Agencies.
  • Advances in Technology: Developing innovative monitoring tools.
  • Sharing: Communicating data and results to and with the public to educate and activate.


These break out sessions will be hosted by an impressive group of environmental and health activists:
Calvin Tillman, Shale Test; Ryan Grode, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project; Becki Chall, Public   Lab; Erica Gulseth, EarthJustice; Laura Cortez and Maria Reyes, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma;         David Fukuzawa, Kresge Foundation; Jesse Marquez, Coalition for A Safe Environment; Denny Larson, Ruth Breech, and Jessica Hendricks, Global Community Monitor; Jackie James-Creedon, Citizen Science & Community Resources; Joe Gardella, University at Buffalo (via WEB); Evan Marie Alison, Louisiana Bucket Brigade; Wilma Subra, Subra Company/Louisiana Environmental Action Network; Gwen Ottinger, Drexel University; Jill Kriesky; Scott Eustis, Gulf Restoration Network; Stephen Lester, Center for Health, Environment & Justice; Jeff Warren, Public Lab; Hilton Kelley, CIDA; Will Rostov, EarthJustice.

Check out the full schedule. Lots of exciting sessions and inspirational speakers. Don’t miss it!


November 6th, 2014

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Gwen Ottinger, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University.  She has done extensive research on community-based air monitoring and community-industry relations around oil refineries.  She is author of Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges (NYU Press 2013).
[This post originally appeared on the SciStarter Blog and is reproduced with permission.]


Air Sampling in Progress (Courtesy: Global Community Monitor)

A study released last week in the journal Environmental Health breaks new ground in our understanding of the environmental effects of fracking—and shows the power that citizen science can have in advancing scientific research and promoting political action.

Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) production, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), can affect water and air quality.  Researchers, including citizen scientists, have studied its impacts on water extensively.  But we don’t know a lot about how air quality is affected, especially in nearby residential areas, according to the study, “Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production.” Part of the problem is where most academic researchers take samples.  Too often, they choose monitoring locations based on the requirements of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which look for regional, not local, effects of pollution.  When looking at air quality around UOG production operations, they may select sites opportunistically, based on where they can gain access or where they can find electricity for their monitoring equipment. This approach, however, may not produce data that is representative of the actual impact of fracking on air quality.

The recently released study pioneers a new approach to choosing sites for air quality monitoring: it mobilizes citizens to identify the areas where sampling was most likely to show the continuous impact of fracking emissions. Citizens chose places in their communities where they noticed a high degree of industrial activity, visible emissions, or health symptoms that could be caused by breathing toxic chemicals.  They took samples themselves, following rigorous protocols developed by non-profit groups working in conjunction with regulatory agencies and academic researchers.

The result – we now have a lot more evidence to show that UOG production can have a big impact on local air quality.  And, as a result of citizens’ involvement in selecting sampling sites, scientists and regulators now have a better idea of where to look to start studying those impacts systematically.

The study demonstrates once again the power of citizen science to improve scientific research. But it also shows the political power of citizen science.  In a companion report released by the non-profit Coming Clean, the study’s citizen-authors use their finding that air quality is significantly affected by UOG to argue that governments need to be cautious when issuing permits, and to call for more extensive monitoring that includes citizen scientists.

Next week, several of the study’s authors—and many other citizen scientists—will convene in New Orleans to cultivate the scientific and political power of citizen science.  At the Community-based Science for Action Conference, November 15-17, citizens dedicated to protecting their community’s environment and health will have the chance to try out new technologies for environmental monitoring, share best practices for successful collaboration between scientists and citizens, and learn about the legal and political issues where their science can make a difference.

Want to get involved?  Registration is still open at the conference’s website. Can’t attend but want to support your fellow citizen scientists? Consider making a donation to help send someone else to New Orleans.

– See more at:

on October 30, 2014 at 4:01 am – 0 Comments

A paper published today in Environmental Health has raised concerns about air quality in areas surrounding oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites. Caroline Cox, an author on the paper, is Research Director for the Center for Environmental Health, a US nonprofit working to end health threats from toxic chemicals in air, water, food, and the products we use every day. Here she tells us more about what their new study has found.

Decades ago, when I was a graduate student, my advisor often said that our job as scientists was to put numbers on the obvious. Maybe it should be obvious that oil and gas production, including as it does the extraction, transport, and processing of enormous quantities of hydrocarbon mixtures, will result in air pollution, but studies that put numbers on this pollution have been rare.

The complexities of topography, weather, and the variability in the production processes themselves make such studies difficult. Today Environmental Health publishes a new study that “puts numbers” on air pollution near oil and gas infrastructure in five US states and finds sobering results.

The Environmental Health study is a collaboration between 15 local, state, and national nonprofit organizations. Our groups came together to conduct this study because we all share concerns about the potential but little studied health threats from the expansion of oil and gas operations, and in particular from hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Researchers trained community volunteers to take measurements in the study

Our study is an example of community based participatory research: the health concerns experienced by the local partners in the study were the impetus for the research. The local partners were trained to collect air samples and used their knowledge of local conditions to determine where and when to take the air samples.

About 40% of the samples we took contained at least one chemical at concentrations that exceeded risk levels established by either of two U.S. agencies, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Concentrations of eight different volatile chemicals in samples from four of the five states studied exceeded these standards. The chemicals which most frequently exceeded the risk levels were benzene and formaldehyde, both known carcinogens, and hydrogen sulfide, which can cause dizziness, sore throat, labored breathing, and unconsciousness. Some of the pollution levels measured were extraordinary: for example one site found benzene at levels that were 12,000 times the safety level established by ATSDR.

Our results may surprise those who have heard claims that natural gas from fracking is a cleaner ‘bridge fuel’ to a climate friendly future. Our results suggest that oil and gas operations may not be as clean as advertised, and could pose unaddressed health risks to neighboring communities.

Given the gaps in air quality research around oil and gas operations, those of us who helped with the study hope that it will encourage more extensive future research, especially that which uses the expertise of local communities.  We also hope that it will spur more robust air pollution monitoring by government agencies, more disclosure about the chemicals used in oil and gas production, a precautionary approach to new oil and gas development, and increased investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

[UPDATE: Tonight, Oct. 28th, Andrés Soto from Communities for a Better Environment is giving a presentation on the Crude By Rail phenomenon, the Kinder Morgan – Richmond operation, and what actions local communities and governments might take in response.  The talk will begin about 7:30 PM at the Richmond City Council Meeting, located at the Community Services Building, 440 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA 94804. Don’t miss it! It will include options to undo the wrongs you will read about below!]

By Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group

Friday, September 5th, 2014, was court day. Not for the protesters who had locked themselves to the Kinder Morgan gates the previous day, but for Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), Kinder Morgan, and Tesoro.

On behalf of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Sierra Club, and CourtNatural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan and BAAQMD. Earthjustice argued that since there was no public notice or environmental review, the crude-by-rail project at Kinder Morgan should be shut down, pending a full California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review.

This was an important moment for those of us tormented by the ever increasing likelihood of a new rail disaster. It was our best shot at shutting down the bomb trains until a proper CEQA review examined all the angles.

Such an important case should be determined on its merits. But Superior Court Judge Peter Busch took the easy way out and dismissed the Earthjustice case on a technicality.

It was a technicality, but a questionable one.

The judge ruled that the statute of limitations of 180 days had run out prior to the Earthjustice filing.  It didn’t seem to matter seal of ca sup courtthat Kinder Morgan’s secrecy made it impossible to know what was going on, and once the local CBS news affiliate KPIX broke the story, a petition was immediately filed. The judge actually said that normal citizens could have seen what was going on at the facility and been able to file a lawsuit within the 180 day limit! It didn’t seem to matter that Kinder Morgan didn’t even have a permit to handle Bakken crude oil until February 3rd, 2014 although they had been transloading for 5 months prior to the issuance of the permit.  The judge decided to start the 180 day statutory clock running when the 2013 permit to construct was issued, not the permit to handle. See the full timeline below.

It was a cowardly and random decision, at least it was from my vantage point.

BAAQMD - KM timeline

Martinez City Council Passes Weak Crude By Rail Resolution.via Martinez Environmental Group  Blog

By Tom Griffith, co-founder, Martinez Environmental Group  Oct. 15, 2014

Last night, sixteen Contra Costa County residents presented testimony asking the Martinez City Council to vote against a weak resolution on Crude By Rail (CBR).

With about fifty supporters in attendance – including the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG), Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC), Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, (CRUDE), the Sunflower Alliance, and local candidates for Mayor, Gay Gerlack and for City Council, Mark Thompson – all speakers asked the council to postpone the vote and work on strengthening the proposal for the good of the community.


Despite the presentation of a fully fleshed-out proposal by MEG to the council in May of this year, Mike Menesini sprung his alternative on community members two weeks ago. MEG members let him know that his proposal was unacceptably weak. Multiple efforts to meet with all members of the council proved fruitless, with the exception of Lara Delaney, who made time to meet with MEG members, and also made a last minute attempt to bring stronger wording to the proposal.

Unfortunately, the council voted unanimously to pass the flimsy resolution, while also promising “to do more” in the future. It’s difficult to understand their hurry – a desire to be done with it or an election stunt? Their resolution says nothing about a desire to stop CBR through Martinez, until/if it is made into a safe mode of transport.

These kind of trains roll through our town every 7 to 10 days, over that rusty old John Muir trestle on their way to Kinder Morgan in Richmond. Once there, the extreme crude oil is loaded onto tanker trucks and driven back over the tinder dry area on either side of Highway 4 to Tesoro for refining. So Martinez gets it coming and going!

CBR Trestle

At one point, Mark Ross suggested that the only way things change is when something awful happens, citing the deadly Caldicott Tunnel explosion and fire that initiated a ban on explosive materials passing through the tunnel. Clearly he has not paid attention to the (at least) 11 other derailments and spills caused by CBR in the USA just this year, or the tragedy in Quebec that killed 47 people and destroyed their downtown area. The council seems content with responsive rather than proactive safety measures. But it should be crystal clear to everyone that by the time we respond to an event of this nature, the people are already dead and the water, land, and wildlife have been devastated. All you can do is let the fireball burn itself out.

MaimeecbrcropEG is so grateful to all the passionate speakers who showed up with the intention to stop the next accident before it happens! Public testimony was insightful, educational, and heartfelt.

Although many of us were visibly disheartened at the outcome, we will be back to continue this on-going struggle. CBR is just beginning. If the oil companies and politicians in their pockets have their way,  California will soon be crawling with bomb trains carrying extreme crude oil!

Long view KM protest 1

By Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group

Photos by Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography and by Peter Menchini

September 4th, 2014.

Today was different.

I don’t usually wear an adult diaper or publicly stuff foam into the back of my jeans.  I don’t usually crawl through a hole in a fence and put a u-lock around my throat and through the gate of the Richmond Kinder Morgan transfer facility.

But in California we are up to our necks in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions! So today I did these things, along with 7 other community members and an amazing support team.

We did it in order to register our demand for environmental justice, to stop the danger of unnecessary death and destruction driving through our towns, if only for a couple of hours, and to bring attention to how the staff of Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) chose an imminent threat for the people they are supposed to protect.  (And they did so ILLEGALLY but that will be covered in the next blog.

Somehow, as I sat there with unusually good posture due to that u-lock around my neck and the gate, I felt very calm. On the day of the action, it went off without a hitch – easier than we expected due to a gaping hole in the fence. We were in and locked within just a few minutes. Four of us locked our necks to the gates and then four others “lock-boxed” themselves to one of our arms. Our support team made contact with nearby workers to let them know we were peaceful protesters. Then we waited for whoever was going to come – the Richmond police, the Kinder Morgan/Tesoro security team – and incredibly, it took about twenty minutes for anyone to show up. Not exactly what you’d expect at a facility full of explosively hazardous materials!Me and my buddy KM Protest 2  Photo by Peter Menchini, 2014. 

An unexpected turn of events ended our protest. Although we were far enough away from the railroad track that runs into Kinder Morgan, some “authority” decided that it was “too dangerous” to have trains going by while we were chained to the fence. This allowed them to halt the trains and potentially charge us with interfering with interstate commerce. And no one had envisioned a possible 25-year prison term. So we unlocked ourselves, gathered our tools and left of our own accord.

While we blockaded Kinder Morgan for 2.5 hours, we turned away, or kept inactive, about 7 tanker trucks. We made it on local TV news stations – important mainly for getting the issue of Crude by Rail out in prime time.

Stop Crude By Rail KM Protest 3

The Richmond Police were really good to us – much of that due to our tremendous support team, and the many years of work community organizers put into reforming the once notorious Richmond Police Department. The Mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin, even stopped by to support our protest. It was so odd – as we left, we shook hands with the policemen, the Mayor, and even the guy from Kinder Morgan. What I think is that everybody knows history will be on our side – if there is a future worth arguing about. Those against us just can’t seem to let go of all that cash money.

And yes, the photo below is a real sign at Kinder Morgan.

Kinder Morgan You CAN Stop

By Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) has been working on a new oil refinery emissions rule for years now. Environmental groups like Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and multiple refinery community groups have worked tirelessly to hold the air district accountable to its overlooked mission statement. The BAAQMD is supposed to “protect and improve public health, air quality, and the global climate” to create a “healthy breathing environment for every Bay Area resident.” But as the air district recently neared completion of the new refinery emissions rule, their staff had almost entirely taken the teeth out of it. What remained was this: more health studies and more emissions tracking – in other words, let the current levels of pollution continue with no end in sight. Click here to read the proposed elements of the rule.

shellImpacted refinery communities like mine, in Martinez, are not happy with merely reporting, comparing, updating, and monitoring. After 100 years of refinery pollution in the Bay Area, shouldn’t BAAQMD already have a pretty good idea of the mortality rates, childhood asthma rates, cancer rates, and pollutant emissions rates associated with the 5 Bay Area refineries? How long will BAAQMD bow to Big Oil’s tactic of studying us to death?

So, on September 3rd, community members, myself included, showed up at the BAAQMD Board of Directors meeting to give them a wake-up call. Community leaders demanded:

  • meaningful controls on emissions
  • mandatory replacement of old outdated equipment
  • monitoring systems for multiple pollutants with website access to real-time air quality data for ALL refinery communities

And we want these safeguards in place before any of the myriad oil projects already “in the pipeline” go forward.


After multiple community groups, including the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition (BARCC), the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG), Crockett Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (CRUDE), and Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC), all registered our displeasure, the BAAQMD Board directed their staff to seek emission reductions from refineries and to come back with a plan. So now we will wait a little longer flaringfor staff to finally prepare a document that offers tangible options to lessen refinery emissions levels.

Thank you.

That is what we originally thought we were waiting for during the air district staff’s two year preparation. So until those meaningful ideas are presented, I remain both skeptical and hopeful.

endnote - turtle

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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!


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

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