California Is Taking Tar Sands Seriously

No gunky tar sands for California, please.

Opponents of tar sands, take heart! One little speck in the rivers of the bureaucracy’s paperwork gives us great hope in the fight against this extreme fossil fuel.

Tar sands, for those of you who are new, are what they sound like – tar mixed with sand. It’s heavy, gunky, disgusting stuff that takes an incredible amount of energy to dig up, process, transport, and refine. In fact, it’s so inefficient that one must “spend” one barrel of oil to get only three back. Compare this to conventional oil, in which the energy of one barrel of oil is used to obtain 70 barrels of oil.

This has grave implications for emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. Because so much energy is used to obtain and refine tar sands, gasoline derived from tar sands has a lot more emissions behind it than gasoline from regular oil. So if we want to reduce our emissions, the first thing we can do is avoid using these extreme, unconventional fossil fuels.

Regional and State Agency Responses

We’ve seen that the San Francisco Bay Area’s regional air quality regulator, BAAQMD, recently passed a historic resolution to commit to doing its part to meet California’s goal of dramatic emissions reductions by 2050. This implies that Bay Area refineries will have to reduce their use of low-quality crudes, and over time reduce their operations and eventually shut down.

Now a new player is in the mix, from an unexpected quarter – the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, which is tasked with keeping an eye on California’s long-term plans and goals.

Over in Pittsburg, CA, a company named WesPac is trying to quietly build a major oil terminal with a huge rail component. They’re so quiet, in fact, that the vast majority of Pittsburg residents still have no idea that this project has been proposed. One of the concerns of the Pittsburg Defense Council, a grassroots group trying to stop the WesPac project, is that it would bring in particularly dangerous types of crude oil.

WesPac has downplayed the possibility of tar sands, but the OPR is not fooled. In a short letter just over one page long, they asked Pittsburg three simple questions, which basically boil down to: Will this proposed oil terminal receive tar sands-derived oil? This basic question was not covered in the draft environmental impact report, and, unconscionably, the Pittsburg Planning Department does not plan to directly address this issue in the final EIR.

Larger Implications

This is big news in a lot of ways:

  • It means California is taking tar sands seriously at the state level.
  • It means California is considering the impact of tar sands when evaluating new fossil fuel infrastructure.
  • It means that the local Pittsburg Planning Dept is acting cavalierly to ignore the key question of what types of crude oil would come in to the proposed WesPac oil terminal.
  • It should put fossil fuel companies and city and county planning departments on notice that regulatory agencies will look very carefully at what specific types of crude oil they deal with.
  • It drives another nail in the coffin of the tar sands industry.

So, tar sands opponents, celebrate this victory! More and more regulators are waking up to the terrible consequences of tar sands.

P.S.

If you live in or near Pittsburg, CA, email the Pittsburg Defense Council and help them out! If you live in the greater Bay Area, help the 350 Bay Area BayCAP campaign ensure that BAAQMD follows through on its strict new resolution.

Full text of OPR letter to Pittsburg concerning the WesPac project

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research recently sent a letter to the City of Pittsburg regarding the proposed WesPac oil terminal. Unfortunately, the Pittsburg Planning Department intends not to answer these three short questions in the final EIR. OPR has serious concerns about tar sands, because of California’s mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change).

For more on this, see the “Tar sands in Pittsburg? California government concerned.” post (letter on Scribd here).

Continue reading “Full text of OPR letter to Pittsburg concerning the WesPac project”

Letter to certain SF supervisors concerning bike funding.

San Francisco loves to think that it’s a world-class biking city, but it spends less than a half a percent of its transportation budget on bicycle infrastructure. The SF Bicycle Coalition is at last pushing them hard on increasing funding. Here’s my email to three of the supervisors concerning this pressing need.

more money for bikes, and soon!

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be at the hearing this Wednesday about biking in San Francisco. So I will share my thoughts with you now.

I have been biking in San Francisco for 13 years, and it’s gotten much, much better in that time. However, as a whole, SF is still way too car-centric.

A key point most people don’t mention is climate change. As part of our responsibilities under AB 32 and S-3-05, San Francisco must dramatically reduce its emissions – very quickly. This means consistently favoring transit and bikes over cars, even in cases – like Polk St – where it gets politically contentious.

Part of getting to those goals is putting our money where our mouth is. If bicycling accounts for 3.5% of all trips, and we have a goal to get to 20% by 2020, how can we have <1% of SFMTA funding go to bikes?

We need a massive increase in funding. It should be at least 5%, but 10% is much more realistic.

Thanks,
Martin

A fracking "long boom" is impossible

The Sacramento Bee has some great articles on the current fracking boom in the US. These include:

I wrote a letter to the editor of the SacBee, which they published with only small changes as “Fracking will soon lead to hardship” (since gone). Here is my original with hyperlinks added (note that their URL ended in “a-fracking-long-boom-is-impossible.html”, which uses my original subject):

 

A fracking “long boom” is impossible

I greatly enjoyed your collection of in-depth articles on the current US energy boom due to fracking.

However, I was disappointed that environmental concerns were sequestered in their own article; they are critical to understanding the phenomenon in full context.

The “Do the Math” campaign points out that we cannot, as a world, burn more than 20% of our proven fossil fuel reserves, or we will push the climate system into a radically different regime, one extremely harsh for our species.

We are already on track to burn up that allotment within 15 years or so. We must immediately, wrenchingly shift our energy system, or we will face severe hardship and death in my lifetime.

Either way, we won’t be mining natural gas at current rates for 100 years as Obama claims.

Martin MacKerel

#TastesLikeTarSands Banner Drop

bayinbackground
Incredible view of the Bay from the seats of San Francisco’s baseball stadium – but what’s that under the Coke bottle?

After having a blast doing a photo shoot for the Tastes Like Tar Sands campaign, I and some friends planned a supporting action that was not officially part of the campaign.

I had been in a bar which had a Giants home game on TV and I had noticed the giant Coke bottle in the background. Aha! So ripe for a banner drop of some kind!

After checking out the structure, we realized that it would take some serious skills and probably some climbing equipment to safely put a banner on or around the Coke bottle itself – it is a giant structure. Instead, we decided to hang the banner from the railing in front of the bottle, and furthermore we could just hold it rather than attach it. That way, we would piss off security and management less, and we would probably get to keep the banner.

In short order the banner was designed and printed just in time for the last game of the 2013 season. We set out with a few extra hands, a videographer, and a couple of photographers.

It was a beautiful day and an exciting baseball game. After watching two-thirds of it, we positioned ourselves, and at the conclusion of the seventh inning – so as not to distract from live gameplay – we unrolled the 40′ x 7′ banner and unfurled it over the railing.

closeup
It reads:
Coke: Rots Our Teeth, Ruins Our Climate.
#TastesLikeTarSands
www.forestethics.org/Coke

Here’s a shot of us from below (I’m in the green t-shirt):

closeupbelow

And here’s the best pic, a wide view with relatively clear text:
gooddetailfar
We had it out for a good couple of minutes before we were made to leave. We expected that we would get thrown out of the stadium, and that’s exactly what happened, but it was surprisingly civil. Outside, we held up the banner a few dozen feet away from the stadium and took some more pictures with the Bay in the background, and then rolled it up and headed out for some well-deserved drinks.

#TastesLikeTarSands Photo Shoot

Heading to Ocean Beach, with the beautiful Marin Headlands in the background.
The Golden Gate Bridge is just to the right, off-camera.

I recently had the opportunity to be part of a very fun bit of environmental activism: a photo shoot to support the “Tastes Like Tar Sands” campaign, which is pressuring Coke and Pepsi not to buy tar-sands-derived oil for their delivery fleet.

In the last few months, I’ve gotten involved in a lot of environmental activism, primarily focusing on the toxic, dirty tar sands and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Canadian tar sands across the US to Texas, endangering communities, ecosystems, and aquifers, as well as worsening global warming.

I’ve engaged in some civil disobedience in front of a State Department office, locked down in a non-violent direct action to shut down construction of a Keystone XL pumping station, participated in a huge demonstration at Chevron’s Richmond refinery, and am now helping Pittsburg, CA residents stop a proposed crude oil storage facility.

All of these things are great, but none can quite compare to dressing up in a modified Coke can costume (which reads “Tar Sands”) and heading to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach to cover myself in mud and sand for a photo shoot. I was joined by a Pepsi can and an activist/hazmat character for an afternoon of fun.

Continue reading “#TastesLikeTarSands Photo Shoot”

My Comments on the Proposed WesPac Pittsburg Crude Oil Storage Facility

For background, see the Contra Costa article on Oil storage and transfer facility proposed for Pittsburg waterfront. We need to make sure that NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE is built. (Pittsburg is a town in the San Francisco Bay Area.)

 

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing about the proposed WesPac Pittsburg crude oil storage facility.

Such a facility would risk the health of nearby residents by unusual events such as spills. Its day-to-day operations would doubtless also aggravate the existing asthma epidemic in Pittsburg.

Even if the facility operated flawlessly, however, it would contribute to the increased global use of fossil fuels, which generates greenhouse gases that through climate change endanger our physical infrastructure, our health, our environment, and potentially the very viability of human civilization.

It is imperative that we change our energy system. To start with, we must insist on NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE.

There is simply no excuse to do otherwise; any statement of environmental impact that claims low impact for additional fossil fuel infrastructure and allows its construction is extremely irresponsible.

Yours,
Martin MacKerel