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.
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.
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.