2013/12/11

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 on the Pittsburg Defense Council website.

2013/12/03

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

2013/12/02

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. Here is my original with hyperlinks added (note that their URL 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