A filthy hydrocarbon that just won’t die

Proposed Channel Dredging Site


The comment period for a US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) dredging project in the San Francisco Bay was just extended until April 21. We submitted our comments last Friday, and I’ll let them stand.

The proposed plan is to deepen the channel from the deeper SF Bay up to Rodeo – by the Carquinez Bridge to accommodate Panamax tanker traffic to the Phillips 66 refinery. I usually don’t chime in on these sorts of projects, but this one has a particularly bad odor to it.  

For me it began back in 2018 when, against staff advice, and the Board’s recommendations, Jack Broadbent, President of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) permitted a doubling of capacity for the refinery. It was at this point that I started assessing the objective of the capacity increase, even while Broadbent claimed at the time that it was more of a “means testing” rather than a tacit approval of expansion.

When I heard about the dredging project last week (before the comment period was extended), all the pieces came together; this proposal is the last link in an effort to get Alberta Tar Sands to a refinery. This is the same product that has been tangled up in the Keystone XL Pipeline debacle.

When Trans-Canada was not getting their way with KXL, they bid for an expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline to Vancouver. (This project is also facing resistance with the Salish Coast First Nations People.)

The big problem with the tar sands is that they need to be heated up to pipe them. This heating is done with gas from Alaska, so even before the tar sands hit the pipeline, they have already contributed significant CO2 into the atmosphere. This turns the tar sands into the most CO2-intensive hydrocarbon.

Then there is the route: Should this proposal advance it will triple the shipping traffic in the Salish Sea – where the Southern Resident Killer Whales are just barely holding on by their fin tips. The noise from tripling shipping traffic will probably spell the end for this beloved and iconic family of Orcas.

The route will then travel down the Pacific coast and through the California Coastal Marine Sanctuaries – where there are already high incidents of ship-whale strikes.

And then there is the complimentary wharf expansion at the refinery – which will release a lot of toxic heavy metals from a smelter that was once at the site.

The Alberta tar sands are also heavily laden with Sulphur, which is expensive to remove. And given that the International Maritime Organization is cleaning up their recommendations on bunker fuel use, the market for high-Sulphur fuel oil will be drying up.

And the cost to you and me? Only $57million. All to prop up a refinery in a dying industry to move a toxic, poor quality product.

As mentioned above, public comments are being taken until April 21. If you’d like to chime in, send an e-mail to Paul DeMarco at US Army Corps of Engineers. You don’t need to get mad, just let them know that it is a lousy idea.

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