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By now most of us have heard about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

But how many of us know that tar sands is already being refined in US refineries?

Oil companies are bypassing the whole pipeline debate and bringing heavy crude in by rail.  And for communities living along those railroads, crude by rail can be disastrous.

Image from rcinet.ca

On July 6, 2013 an oil train derailed in Lac Meganitic, Quebec.  All but one of the 73 cars was carrying oil, and five exploded.  The death toll from this accident is still rising as authorities continue to find bodies in the “burned out ruins”.   Read the rest of this entry »

This is a guest blog written by April Lane, a Bucket Brigade leader on the front lines in Arkansas.

oil spill 302On Friday March 29, 2013 an Exxon Mobile Pipeline ruptured sending oil some experts compare closely to tar sands oil through a subdivision in Mayflower, Ark. The pipeline blew at approximately 2 p.m. and was discovered by area residents soon after. The subdivision that sits right off of I-40, one of the busiest interstates in the state, never knew the pipeline was even there and it is just now being marked.This subdivision also sits just a creek and railroad track away from the Mayflower school. As the wave of oil made it through the subdivision it found a drainage ditch and then it hit the creek that runs down the side of the railroad tracks.  It ran to a pipe that goes under the interstate and comes out on the other side into Lake Conway and a wildlife habitat.  

Estimates are now saying that at least 10,000 barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil were lost in the incident. On Saturday, March 30th crews arrived from out of state to begin the clean-up. It was then that we learned that the pipe had leaked from 2 p.m. Friday until Saturday morning at approximately 3 a.m. oil spill 367The efforts were led by the county and state agencies at first and they had a lot of trouble getting the blockade to hold to keep the oil contained. Residents were evacuated but not everyone chose to leave. A few residents decided to stay and still reside inside the “hot zone.” Local teams have been working around the clock at the various places throughout this junction in town that this oil has popped out at.  But once you have walked the streets and surveyed the area in its entirety you can’t help but ponder, “how will they ever get it all cleaned up?” oil spill 379
Sunday, March 31st new wildlife effects were discovered surrounding the Lake. Ducks were found covered in oil. Some made it through but many did not and the window to helping the one’s that can be saved is closing rapidly. The total amount of wildlife that has been affected is still unknown and numbers continue to rise. More alarming than the loss of wildlife is that local residents have already begun to notice the effects. The first resident we approached on Saturday was one of the effected residents who chose to evacuate but only after her son began having wheezing, diarrhea and nausea from the fumes. Many residents outside of the hot zone in the surrounding neighborhoods that run next to where the spill occurred are experiencing symptoms. They describe the odor as being so strong that you can “cut it with a knife” and following the spill on Friday they began having a metallic like taste on their tongue and severe headaches followed by nausea. All of their questions have been left unanswered and the only answer they have received is that the air is safe.  Monday and Tuesday followed with an increased influx of companies and out-of-state license plates. oil spill 339

Today, our Attorney General Dustin McDaniel toured the area and described the neighborhood where the spill originated as a scene out of the walking dead. I would say I think it is clear to everyone that has walked the streets and the various locations surrounding the lake that this is an event that not only will take months to clean up but will also have an impact on the town of Mayflower and the residents that will ripple outwards 
into the surrounding areas that will last much longer than anyone is currently addressing.  However, the after-school sports practice involving 8 to 10 children practicing outdoors directly across the railroad tracks from where the spill occurred clearly emphasizes that appropriate measures to limit exposure to area residents are not yet being enforced to the fullest as to limit panic and further public outcry demanding answers and action.

oil spill 301

 

Alright folks, it’s the day we’ve all been waiting for!

Drum roll please……………….

Image from MSNBC

Cal/OSHA has issued its fine on Chevron for the Aug. 6th fire at the Richmond Refinery!

Yup, it’s nearly a million dollars, the most the agency has ever imposed on an oil refinery in California, but is it enough to make Chevron change its ways?

Rep. George Miller has his doubts, stating “I believe it alone is an insufficient assurance to the West County residents and the refinery’s workers that they will receive the necessary safety protections they deserve.”  He even continues to say that, “Our community needs more than just promises that safety will improve. We need to see actual changes at this facility implemented and verified.”

Although, it seems the residents of Richmond have George on their side, Chevron is not willing to surrender just yet.  Chevron is planning to appeal the fine, sending this ruling back to the depth of bureaucracy while the Richmond community lays waiting for a potentially worse disaster.

Chevron has already had two major fires in the past five years!  With the pipes at the Chevron Richmond Refinery acting as a ticking time-bomb, how are residents expected to believe that Chevron is putting safety first?

OSHA claimed that Chevron did not even follow the recommendations of its own inspectors to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire; did not follow its own emergency shutdown procedures when the leak was identified; and did not protect its employees working at the leak site.

Ok, so back to the $1 million dollar fine.  Has the sticker shock worn off yet?

The reality is that $1 million dollars to Chevron means something much different than $1 million to me (and probably you, too).  And, the fine, in and of itself, is not going to protect the families living in the community.

15,000 people were rushed to local hospitals following the Aug. 6th fire.  Independent testing of the fallout following the fire showed the presence of highly carcinogenic chemicals on our window sills, outdoor furniture and play equipment.  Does a million dollar fine compensate for that?

The more we talk about the amount of the fine, the less we’re talking about the safety of the community residents.  It’s really clear to see that Chevron is putting profits over people, YET AGAIN!

So how are we really going to hold Chevron responsible?  Cal/OSHA took the lead by issuing the largest fine allowed by the State, but we – the community residents- need to make sure it’s enforced.  We need to make sure Chevron is following through on its commitment to safety with persistent follow-up.

Image from Fit For Life: Richmond, CA

Agencies move slow and court proceedings move even slower, but we can never forget the risks Chevron poses to our community and we must fight tirelessly to ensure that Chevron is operating in the safest possible way, to protect our children, parents and the broader community.

Photo: Chevron-weagree.com

Rage poured out of residents’ pores and mouths on Tuesday night  in Richmond.

Almost 500 people packed the town’s Civic Center for the Chevron hosted town hall meeting in response to the huge fire at the refinery on Monday night.

The evening,coincided with National Night Out-a major event in Richmond, began with a rally outside organized by Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Richmond’s Green Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, spoke at this rally, reminding all that economic and environmental justice were key issues for Richmond.

The Cast of Characters
The town hall meeting inside included information about shelter in place and a small postcard was passed out with key numbers-like the claims hotline, odor lines and police.

The meeting was moderated by Joan Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond Community Foundation, an organization that is rumored to receive a significant amount of funding from Chevron. Her presence was unusual and condescending. She began by having each panel member give a short presentation on their role in the fire and the emergency response after, the panel included:

Nigel Hearne, Chevron Richmond refinery General Manager

Randy Sawyer, Director Hazardous Materials Division, Contra Costa Health Services

Bill Lindsay, Richmond City Manager (why wasn’t the Mayor invited on the panel?)

Dr. Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa Public Health Director

Katherine Hern, Contra Costa County Senior Emergency Planning Coordinator

Jeff McKay, Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Hearne expressed a sincere apology and accepted full responsibility for the fire at the refinery. However, he was unwilling to provide details about the substances burned in unit 4, he described it as a “diesel like” substance.

Hearne was unwilling to provide information about his annual salary. Hearne is a strategic leader for Chevron, formerly the operations manager at their beloved and touted El Segundo Refinery in Southern California.

Randy Sawyer was booed almost as much as Hearne. He provided no tangible information about what materials may have been in the air or what people were being exposed to. Residents felt the emergency response was inadequate-with a delayed siren and some that are registered did not receive calls about the impending danger.

Dr. Wendel Brunner was mildly feisty. He was the first person to discuss health effects from the smoke’s particulate matter. Brunner informed the crowd that as of 5 pm Tuesday, 949 people had reported acute (asthma attacks, burning eyes, burning nose and throat) health symptoms at the two area emergency rooms.
Read the rest of this entry »

Recently, there was a victory for environmentalists and anti-Tar Sands activists.  Instead of letting the big oil companies push the permit through, President Obama and the State Department sent the Keystone Pipeline proposal back for a thorough independent re-review.  Now, the Keystone Pipelineis back on President Obama’s desk for immediate decision.  We sent a clear message to the White House so what’s next in the anti-tar sands movement?

from The Chicago Tribune

 While, Congress battledthis out in Washington, just like business as usual, Tar Sands oil IS already being refined in US refineries.  Don’t be fooled. Just because the oil companies hit a snag in their fast-tracked plan to send 900,000 barrels of heavy crude DAILY from Canada all the way to Texas, doesn’t mean they weren’t successful in getting Tar Sands oil into places along the Canadian/US border, like Detroit, Whiting and Toledo.

from Informed Vote

Refining tar sands heavy crude oil is far more environmentally destructive, producing two to three times more carbon than conventional oil and using vast amounts of fresh water to extract.

So while the residents living along the proposed pipeline route might be able to breathe a little easier, the fight is not over for the communities living on the fenceline along the US/Canada border.

Global Community Monitor has been working with communities living on the fencline of oil refineries for over ten years so it’s no surprise we were ready to go and jump started the campaign with a recent trip to Toledo, Ohio in order educate the local community about tar sands and how it will affect them locally.  BP/Husky, located in Toledo, OH is slated for a $2.5 billion expansion, but has not made public a date and time when the tar sands expansion will happen.

Global Community Monitor’s Bucket Brigades have been launched in 27 countries, allowing residents to sample their own air to answer the question, ‘What’s in the air that we are breathing?’  

Even if we do win, and the Keystone pipeline is defeated, we still need to work to stop tar sands oil from and to protect communities like Toledo, OH, Whiting, IN and Detroit, MI.  Why should those communities live with the increased risk of reproductive harm, cancer and other diseases while the oil companies rake in big profits?  These families are already overburdened with toxic emissions from the polluting refinery next door, it would be an extreme injustice to even think of expanding it to create even heavier toxic emissions.

Last week, a national leader from across the globe visited Richmond, CA to show solidarity amongst fenceline communities.  Desmond D’sa, a South African native, living next to an industrial hub containing multiple petrochemical plants and two oil refineries, (one of which is the largest in the country), pointed out the vast similarities between his hometown of Durban, South Africa and the disproportionately effected fenceline community of North Richmond, CA.

Image from Richmond Confidential

At a community meeting in Richmond, hosted by International Development Exchange (IDEX), Desmond, the Director of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), told stories of corporate bullying, neglect and the corrupt government officials that idly stand by.  These stories rang true to the residents of Richmond who have seen many of the same corporate tactics.  After a toxic release in Richmond in 1991, West County Toxic Coalition wrote a letter to Chevron that included the same observation: “But when it comes to the company’s damage to human beings, who are your neighbors, you have ignored your responsibilities.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Thought we could get through this year’s Earth Day without an environmental disaster?  Me, too, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Late in the evening on April 19, 2011, an explosion occurred at a Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.  According to the Huffington Post, “The well blew near the surface, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.”

Anyone else feeling a flash-back to last year’s Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico?  The destruction has an eerily similar tone.
Read the rest of this entry »

For all of those who missed it, Global Community Monitor co-hosted a special event with Pacific Environment and The Sierra Club to honor the 2011 Goldman Prize Winners.  The event was a huge success and a lot of fun making it a great opportunity to chat with activists from around the world.

Hilton Kelley inspired all of us with his story of the fight against big oil companies in Port Arthur, TX while Dmitry Lisitsyn from Sakhalin Island, Russia, made saving critically endangered ecosystems from large-scale petroleum development sound easy with his grace and down to earth attitude.

If you weren’t there, well we missed you, but check out the pictures!  Hopefully it will keep you inspired until next year.

Rest in Peace?

Residents outside of Aztec, New Mexico are less worried about resting in peace and more worried about living in peace.

Since energy giant BP has bought up the majority of the mineral rights in the area, homeowners have had little say in the oil tycoon’s decision to drill a well in their own backyard.

With wells as close as 150 yards to peoples’ backdoors and coupled with the poor maintenance and upkeep BP is known for, homes are being infiltrated with toxic chemicals.  In many cases, residents can’t even leave their house without seeing and feeling the toxic scar of the oil and gas industry.

Residents of Aztec are being subjected to this nightmare so BP can frack the earth. Read the rest of this entry »

by Ruth Breech, Program Director

Returning from a recent trip to Michigan, I keep mulling over the shocking devastation that is Southwest Detroit. Years of environmental racism are taking their toll on this 10,000 family community.  In a five page, two day, news spread in the Detroit Free Press, 48217 was recently deemed the #1 most unhealthy ZIP code in the entire state of Michigan. Cancer and asthma plague this area that is surrounded by an expanding oil refinery, steel mills, a sewage waste incinerator, salt mine and littered with secondary chemical plants.

The pollution problems did not happen overnight. Regulators have been asleep at the wheel for over 20 years. Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) has cut their industrial and investigating staff from 50 to 10. The agency complains about budget cuts, but has not raised fees on industry since 2001.

Zoning changes and industrial expansions have put the neighbors and industry in a way too close for comfort distance – across the street from each other. Residential areas are thrust against an area zoned for the heaviest industry. There is a constant chemical stench in the air.

This is a true “dead zone” from which neighbors need to find a way out. Read the rest of this entry »

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