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Phasing Out Fossil Fuels: A Just Transition in the Oil & Gas Drilling and Refining Sectors

Letter to Contra Costa County, California on Just Transition from Fossil Fuels

By staff - Sunflower Alliance, November 20, 2020

Just weeks after Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors declared a climate emergency, a diverse group of environmental, labor, and public health advocates sent a letter to the Board calling for a planned and equitable transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy, in what many are calling a “just transition” that supports refinery workers and frontline communities.

“We applaud your recent Declaration of a Climate Emergency in Contra Costa County, which underlines the need to ‘plan for a ‘just transition’ away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy.’  In furtherance of this goal, we seek your immediate action to ensure just transitions for workers and communities threatened with sudden abandonment by refineries located in the County.  We believe climate protection must go hand in hand with environmental and economic justice,”  reads the letter’s opening paragraph.  See the full letter here.

The letter highlights concerns over recent news regarding changes to traditional refinery operations in Contra Costa County—including Marathon’s announcement of a permanent end to crude oil processing at its Martinez refinery, and Phillips 66’s notice of an impending partial closure of its San Francisco Refinery facilities in Rodeo, Franklin Canyon, and Arroyo Grande.

Both companies have proposed changes that would significantly decrease the production of non-petroleum fuels, which will involve shuttering large portions of the refinery.  Neither company has identified plans for full cleanups of their industrial sites, nor have they made adequate commitments to support the wages, health care, or pensions of workers whose jobs are threatened by these changes.

“The large oil companies who have for so long made their profits in Contra Costa County’s local communities ought to be the ones to pay the steep cost associated with their departure,”  the letter states.

The letter also identifies how the communities facing shuttered refinery operations are ultimately at risk for future prospects for environmentally healthy and economically sustainable development.

Decommissioning California Refineries and Beyond Workshop

Bay Area activists respond to Phillips 66's renewable diesel announcement

By Janet Pyegeorge, Shoshana Wechsler, Matt Krogh - Stand.Earth, August 20, 2020

Protect the Bay coalition calls the move ‘another example of what will likely happen in an unmanaged transition off fossil fuels’

RODEO, CALIFORNIA — Bay Area activists are responding to Phillips 66’s announcement made last Thursday, August 13, that the company would close its Santa Maria refining facility, its carbon plant in Rodeo, and convert its 122,000 bpd Rodeo petroleum refinery to a 42,000 bpd renewable diesel facility by 2024, saying this abrupt revelation — which joins the recent announcement of the idling of the Marathon Martinez refinery — is another example of what will likely happen in an unmanaged transition off of fossil fuels. Phillips 66 made the announcement without advanced warning to Contra Costa County decision makers and without community involvement.

Members of the Protect the Bay coalition, which was formed in 2019 to prevent the expansion of the Phillips 66 refinery and marine terminal in Rodeo, expressed the following concerns and questions in response to Phillips 66’s announcement:

Shoshana Wechsler, Sunflower Alliance: "We congratulate Phillips 66 on its long overdue admission that refining petroleum is toxic and harmful. But becoming the world’s largest supplier of biodiesel by merely recycling used cooking oil doesn’t quite compute. That’s a whole lot of freedom fries. Let’s face it — refining and burning 'renewable' transportation fuels is only a first step towards genuine sustainability.”

Wilder Zeiser, Stand.earth: “On the face of it, reducing Phillips 66’s refining capacity could be a positive step, in alignment with CBE’s recent report, “Decommissioning California Refineries.” But to understand the details — local pollution shifts, where the feedstock will come from, how many millions of acres could be needed for soy and palm trees — there must be a full scale environmental review combined with a 180 degree shift away from their planned tar sands expansion.”

Nancy Rieser, Crockett Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (CRUDE): "We need to be mindful of 'greenwashing' during these times when refineries look for ways to prolong their life cycles while the world moves toward solar energy and electrified transportation. This project, in particular, bears closer scrutiny. The first press release about this project stated that used cooking oil would be the primary feedstock and was silent about the need to turn millions of acres into soybean production. It also suggested that less harmful emissions will be coming out of the stacks."

Gary Hughes, Biofuelwatch: “The false promises of biofuels are being leveraged by Phillips 66 to hide their ambition to stay locked in on fossil fuel energy far into the future. Our organization stands with the residents and working people throughout the North Bay refinery corridor that are organizing for a just transition and demanding an end to the treatment of their communities as sacrifice zones.”

Janet Pygeorge, President, Rodeo Citizens Association: "Our vision for Rodeo does not include Phillips 66. How dare they use our community name in their project of fake promises. Read between the lines: What kind of feedstocks? There is no mention of scrubbers to prevent toxic emissions into the atmosphere. In Rodeo, our families live every day knowing the toxic air we breathe destroys our immune system and is a silent killer 365 days a year, 24/7. A few of us left to continue our fight to save lives. BAAQMD, listen to our plea to live. You must protect the people.”

Toxic Relationship: How refineries affect climate change and racial and economic injustice

By Jean Tepperman - East Bay Express - July 22, 2020

California should begin gradually reducing output from its oil refineries in order to avoid climate catastrophe and to make the transition to clean energy as equitable as possible. That's the conclusion of a major new report released July 6 by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), endorsed by more than 40 environmental and social justice organizations.

While most people agree on the need to use less fossil fuel, many fear that requiring refineries to reduce production could lead to higher gasoline prices and a big economic hit for workers and communities that depend on refineries for income. Report-author Greg Karras responded, "If we start now, doing it gradually, it will give us the time to replace refinery-dependent economics." The report calls for cutting production 4 to 7 percent a year, starting in 2021.

California has set targets for cutting carbon emissions between now and 2050: the state's share of global cuts needed to keep temperature increases below catastrophic levels. Because the carbon that causes climate change builds up in the atmosphere, California has a carbon "budget"—the total amount it can emit from now until 2050. According to Decommissioning California Refineries, California will have to refine much less oil per year to avoid blowing through this carbon "budget" by about 2037.

"California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America," Karras said. "Oil refined here emits more carbon than all other activities in the state combined." Even if all other sources of carbon are reduced on schedule, Karras said, "we must refine much less oil if we hope to meet the state's carbon limit."

"We have to break free from our toxic relationship with oil before it takes us over a cliff," Karras said. "When you're in a car heading toward a cliff, it matters when you start putting on the brakes."

The sooner we start, the more likely we are to escape the worst impacts of climate change.

The issue is not just climate, said Andres Soto of CBE. He pointed out that refinery pollution is concentrated in communities like Richmond, centers of racial and economic injustice.

"Only 20 percent of Richmond is Euro-American," he said.

And the health consequences of having a refinery as a neighbor are severe.

Rodeo, another Contra Costa refinery town, "is in the 98th percentile for asthma," said resident Maureen Brennan, and it has high rates of skin disease, autoimmune disease and cancer—all linked to refinery-generated pollution.

Retired refinery worker Steve Garey, past president of a United Steelworkers local in Washington state, said starting now to plan for reduced refinery production could actually benefit refinery workers, since "the movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewables is going to accelerate. It's an economic reality. Renewables are cheaper than fossil fuel and getting cheaper all the time."

Recently when the pandemic cut demand for gasoline, Garey said, the Marathon refinery in Martinez shut down, leaving the workers and community stranded.

The current drop in oil use, Karras said, gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn away from the cliff and build a cleaner and more equitable recovery.

Decommissioning California Refineries: Climate and Health Paths in an Oil State

By Greg Karras - Communities for a Better Environment, July 2020

Machines that burn oil are going away. We will burn much less oil, either to prevent the increasing accumulation of pollution impacts that could cause the collapse of human societies as we know them, or as a footnote to the collapse of our societies and economies on which the petroleum fuel chain now feeds. Which path we take matters.

Sustainable energy technologies that are proven, available now, and obviously more economic than societal collapse could replace oil and other fossil fuels. But critical oil infrastructure, permitted mainly in working class communities and communities of color, is still growing. Environmental, economic, and racial injustice weaken societal capacity to break free of this toxic path. Societal capacity to organize—political feasibility—has emerged as the primary barrier to solving our existential pollution crisis.

California has this problem. It hosts the largest oil refining center in western North America. It has the worst air pollution in the nation, and yet it has allowed its oil sector’s critical infrastructure to grow in low-income communities of color, where this pollution is disparately severe compared with the state average. It uses pollution trading—the exchange of money for permits to pollute—leaving communities largely on our own to fight refinery and oil terminal expansion projects.

Communities rose up to stop tar sands projects in many inspiring efforts that for a decade have held to a trickle the flood of cheaper, dirtier oil that refiners sought. But some projects slipped through. The petroleum fuel chain emits more carbon from extracting, refining, and burning fuels made from the oil refined in California than all other activities in the state combined, and as other emissions have begun to decline, its emissions have not.

In fact its emissions increased from 2013–2017 as refiners here increased production for exports that sold for more money than the entire oil sector spent on permits to emit under the state’s carbon trading scheme. They could do that because no refiner faced any limit on carbon emissions from its plant. They still can because politicians caved in to their demand to make carbon trading the only curb on those emissions. Since 2017, state law has prohibited state air officials from setting a carbon-cutting limit on any oil refining plant under this carbon trading scheme.

Governor Brown argued this law was the best “compromise” that was politically feasible. Yet state climate policy has ignored the need, first voiced by the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union decades ago, for a mandate that assures workers a just transition. Equally important to political feasibility, communities must predict how fast to transition their job and tax bases from oil to sustainable alternatives. But by letting any polluter delay emission cuts at any time, pollution trading makes it harder to make this very prediction.

Read the report (PDF).

Over 500 people in Sacramento stand in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux

By Dan Bacher - Indybay.Org, November 18, 2016

Over 500 Sacramento area residents, including Native Americans, social justice advocates and environmentalists, joined tens of thousands of others throughout the world on November 15 to demand that the Obama administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halt the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

They lined both sides of the street in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office on J Street, proclaiming their solidarity with the struggle of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and their allies to stop the pipeline that carries fracked crude Bakken oil. Many drivers passing by on the busy street honked their horns in support of the protesters.

The protest took place the day after the Corps announced it is delaying an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline project until it conducts further environmental review and discussion with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Corps said “construction on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement.”

The Standing Rock Sioux and the water protectors opposing the pipeline are worried that the final Corps decision won’t be made until next year after Donald Trump is inaugurated. Trump’s transition team has vowed to expand offshore and offshore oil production throughout the nation.

Even more worrisome, Trump has invested between $500,000 and $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, according to financial disclosure forms, Wes Enzinna of Mother Jones reported. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren also donated more than $100,000 to help elect Trump.

“Trump also owns stock worth between $500,000 and $1 million in Phillips 66, which will own a 25 percent share of the finished pipeline. One of Trump's key energy advisers is North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, who has encouraged him to dismantle key aspects of the Clean Water Act, which gives the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate the nation's waterways and wetlands,” Ezinna wrote.

Tuesday’s protest was one of the largest regarding an indigenous struggle ever held in the Capital City. “We had an incredible turnout at our event,” said Chris Brown, an organizer from the Sacramento Climate Coalition. “A special shout out goes to the Nevada County protectors of water, who came out in droves.”

Brown noted that the Corps approved the construction pipeline without proper consultation or adequate environmental studies.

“The Standing Rock Sioux are resisting the DAPL, which threatens their water, ancestral burial sites, and Native sovereignty,” according to Brown. “They have been met with militarized police using automatic rifles, sound cannons, tear gas and mace, flash-bang grenades, bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets. The courage of the Water Protectors has inspired people all over the world.”

Cosponsors of the local action included Sacramento Area Friends and Relatives of the Lakota Nation, Sacramento Climate Coalition, 350 Sacramento, Davis MoveOn, Davis Stands with Standing Rock, Raging Grannies of Sacramento, Sacramento Stands with Standing Rock, Alianza, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

"The state of North Dakota has deployed the National Guard, State and Local Police and police from several other states as well as the FBI to protect Energy Transfer Partners, a privately owned pipeline construction corporation,” said Francisco Dominguez (Tarahumara) of Sacramento Area Friends and Relatives of the Lakota Nation. “The last time I checked we were still a Democracy."

Mariana Rivera from the Zapatista Coalition noted the links between the Sioux Tribe’s struggle in North Dakota and struggles of indigenous peoples and their allies to stop the raising of Shasta Dam, the environmentally destructive Delta Tunnels of Governor Jerry Brown and fracking in California.

“Native people are taking the lead on something that concerns us all, protecting our water and land. All of us to need to take a stand with Standing Rock now,” said Rivera.

“Extracting fossils fuels jeopardizes water systems and native rights — and that’s why we’re here in solidarity with them,” explained Alicia Esquivido, a local Greenpeace activist, who was there with fellow activist Trent Pearson.

Rick Guerrero, an SEIU organizer and former president of the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) Board said, “I'm here to stand with our brothers and sisters in North Dakota. Last week’s election crystallized how our resistance needs to be immediate and sustainable. This destruction needs to be be stopped not only for native people, but for the earth and all workers.”

People Vs Big Oil, Part I: Washington Victory Over Shell Oil Trains Signals A Turning Tide

By Matt Stannard - Occupy.Com, October 17, 2016

A Bad Month for the Earth-Burners

From Standing Rock Reservation to the Florida Everglades, 2016 has been an unprecedented year in people’s resistance to the fossil fuel economy. October especially has been a banner month: Mass convergence around the indigenous-led Dakota Access Pipeline protests, activists in three states audaciously (and illegally) shutting down three pipeline valve systems, and groups in the state of Washington forcing Shell to abandon a dangerous oil train unloading facility it had proposed in Anacortes in the northwest corner of the state. The earth-burners have had a difficult month.

I asked Rebecca Ponzio, Oil Campaign Director at the Washington Environmental Council, what it took to accomplish that last goal: How does a group of citizens stop one of the most powerful, frequently vile and ruthless companies from doing something as routine as unloading rail-transported crude oil?

“We sued,” she answered, and through the lawsuit, WEC, Earthjustice, and other groups “won the ability for a more thorough and comprehensive environmental review.” That Environmental Impact Statement in turn concluded: “The proposed project would result in an increased probability of rail accidents that could result in a release of oil to the environment and a subsequent fire or explosion... [that] could have unavoidable significant impacts.”

The EIS wasn’t bullshitting about that. Oil train transport is disastrous, and companies lie about their safety records. Shockingly, trains racing at unsafe speeds with volatile, difficult-to-contain oil is incredibly dangerous. Accident risk is extremely high. Magnitude of impact of such an accident is also extremely high.

“This review process created the space to really evaluate the impacts of the project and to engage the public on how this project would impact them – from Spokane, the Columbia River Gorge, through Vancouver and the entire Puget Sound," Ponzio said. And upon the release of the draft EIS, Shell pulled the project. “Once the public had the chance to engage and evaluate this project for themselves, the level of risk became clear and the opposition only grew in a way that couldn’t be ignored."

Puget Sound refinery officials claimed the decision was purely market-driven, but the subtext was clear: Activists had forced a scientific review, and the review cast the project in the worst possible light. Fighting back worked this time.

California's biggest "secret" - oil industry capture of the regulatory apparatus

By Dan Bacher - IndyBay, July 27, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The biggest, most explosive story in California environmental politics is the capture of the regulatory apparatus by the regulated, but you wouldn’t know it if you rely on the mainstream media for your information.

While corporate agribusiness, the timber industry, insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry and other corporate interests spend many millions of dollars every year on lobbying and campaigning in California, Big Oil is the largest, most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento.

No industry has done a better job of capturing the regulatory apparatus than Big Oil. The oil industry exerts inordinate influence over the regulators by using a small fraction of the billions of dollars in profits it makes every year to lobby state officials and fund political campaigns.

Big Oil spent an amazing $266 million influencing California politics from 2005 to 2014, according to an analysis of California Secretary of State data by StopFoolingCA.org, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to “mislead and confuse Californians.”

The industry spent $112 million of this money on lobbying and the other $154 million on political campaigns.

2014 was the biggest year-ever for Big Oil spending on lobbying and campaigns. The oil industry spent a combined total of 38,653,186 for lobbying and campaigns in 2014. That is a 129 percent increase from the 2013 total of $16,915,226!

The top lobbyists in the oil industry during this 10-year-period were:

  • Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA): $50,111,867
  • Chevron: $23,442,629
  • BP: $6,788,261
  • Shell: $4,536,112
  • Occidental: $4,315,817

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), an oil industry trade association that every year tops the list of spenders among the state’s lobbying groups, spent a record $8.9 million on lobbying in 2014, nearly double what it spent in the previous year. WSPA spent $4.67 million in 2013.

WSPA spent much of its lobbying money on stopping a fracking moratorium bill in the Legislature and trying to undermine California’s law to lower greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The group also successfully opposed legislation by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson to protect the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve and the Tranquillon Ridge from offshore oil drilling plans. In a bizarre scenario that could only take place in the "green" state of California, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of WSPA and Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create questionable “marine protected areas” in Southern California, lobbied against marine protection in a "marine protected area" that she helped to create!

But for all of the millions WSPA and the oil companies spend every year on lobbying, they dumped even more money, $154 million, into political campaigns during the ten-year-period.

Oil Trains Pose Unacceptable Health and Safety Risks Reject Project that Puts Communities at Risk

By Sherri Stoddard - Santa Barbara Independent, July 24, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As a registered nurse, a member of the California Nurses Association, as well as a San Luis Obispo County resident and homeowner, I have been following Phillips 66’s attempt to win approval from the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, to build an expansive new rail spur at its refinery in Nipomo. The plans include a route through San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and up the coast through the heart of Santa Barbara County.

Under the Phillips 66 proposal, mile-long oil trains, carrying highly volatile oil tar sands from Canada, would run through San Luis Obispo (SLO) County several times a week to its refinery in Nipomo. However, the project requires a permit from SLO County to build the rail yard at the existing refinery to unload the oil trains. If Phillips 66 doesn’t get the permit, the oil trains cannot come.

This is a project that puts our local communities at risk, and one that should be firmly rejected.

This year alone, several derailments and explosions involving these trains have occurred around the country. July 6 was the two-year anniversary of the deadly Lac-Megantic oil train catastrophe in Quebec. On that date, 47 people were incinerated by an oil train derailment, explosion, and subsequent fire in the heart of their small downtown. Twenty seven children and adolescents lost either one or both of their parents. Despite a recently proposed legal settlement of $431 million to the town and to survivors of those killed, the actual cost of rebuilding the downtown could cost $2.4 billion over the next decade.

The real cost is the number of families devastated and lives lost and displaced.

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