Pittsburg: Critics blast proposed oil terminal, even without Bakken crude trains
PITTSBURG — Train loads of Bakken crude oil are no longer in the plans for a proposed oil storage terminal near the waterfront, but that does not mean the project is being welcomed to town with open arms.
The City Council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve amending the environmental report for WesPac Midstream LLC's proposed Pittsburg Terminal Project, which would renovate and modernize a long-dormant PG&E tank farm between West 10th Street and the Sacramento River waterfront.
The key change is that the five previously planned 104-car trains of domestic oil, mostly the volatile Bakken crude, are no longer part of the project. The new EIR will reflect that.
Councilman Sal Evola stressed that the vote reflected the council's desire for "the process" to play out and fully vet the proposal.
"Every project at least deserves its fair process," Evola said. "I'm all for preserving our industrial base, but we have to do it safely, and fair process is needed."
Others were less interested in process, saying the WesPac proposal to bring an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily from ships and from pipelines, and stored in 16 tanks on 125 acres, is a problem for various reasons.
Speakers told the council that vapors from the storage tanks, the possibility of spills into the Sacramento Delta and the danger of the tanks exploding — all near hundreds of downtown homes — are potential issues, and that the project should simply be rejected.
"The only way you can mitigate this project is not do it," said Willie Mims, representing the NAACP and the Black Political Association.
And though some at the meeting Monday night are grateful that WesPac that no longer plans to bring crude oil to the terminal by rail, others told the council that leaving out rail shipments doesn't come close to salvaging the project. Some 30 people holding up "No WesPac" signs or wearing similar T-shirts crowded the council meeting.
Without the trains, the Pittsburg Terminal Project would now take oil from ships and a pipeline from the Central Valley and store it for later processing by refineries in Martinez, Benicia, Rodeo and Richmond.
Pamela Aranz of Antioch, representing the group Global Community Monitor, was one of several speakers who criticized the WesPac proposal as a dinosaur — old-fashioned, with increasingly outmoded technology. Others said the oil terminal would be at cross purposes with a nicely developing downtown area. Developing wind and/or solar power on that land, Aranz and others said, would make better sense.
Plans for the Pittsburg Terminal Project, first proposed in 2011, had been dormant for the past year, after local groups like Pittsburg Defense Council had protested the prospect of trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil rolling in to the city. Communities across the United States — including Pittsburg, Richmond and Berkeley — have come out in opposed to crude by rail shipments through their cities after several high-profile derailments, including one in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed part of that city.
The new environmental report, to be paid for by WesPac, will replace an earlier one that was criticized in 2014 by the state Attorney General's office because it did not suitably analyze air pollution impacts, address the risks of accidents involving storing and moving oil, consider the project's climate change impacts, and consider a "reasonable range of alternatives" that could reduce impacts. WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.
If the needed approvals come at a typical pace, renovation work at the old PG&E tanks could begin in early 2016, and likely would take between 18 and 24 months.
Representatives from several area labor union locals supported moving ahead with the environmental study. Some said Monday night they wanted the jobs, both to rebuild the terminal and to operate it. Others said they favored the environmental process determining whether the terminal would be a safe place for union workers to be.
That, Evola said, is one benefit of continuing the process. "We want to be overly transparent," he said.
That is fine with Lisa Graham and other members of Pittsburg Defense Council.
"We'll be shining a bright spotlight on the project in the coming months," she said.