Moving Beyond Dirty and Dangerous Fossil Fuels

The Bay Area is home to five oil refineries, which means that Bay Area communities are exposed to significant hazards from the transport, refining, export, and burning of dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. We're also under threat from Big Coal, which wants to export more coal through our ports — polluting our air, our water, and our climate. We also experience pollution from fossil fuels when we burn gas or diesel to fuel home appliances, cars, trucks, and railways. 

The threats

The fossil fuel industry poses serious threats to Bay Area communities and global climate, including:

  • Refinery emissions that pollute our air and water and create health risks that range from asthma to cancer
  • Toxic coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) dust in our air and water
  • Spills that pollute groundwater aquifers and disrupt fragile Bay ecosystems
  • Derailments and explosions of flammable crude transported by rail
  • Carbon pollution that contributes to global warming

How we're fighting back

In the face of these threats, the Bay Chapter is fighting to:

  • Block plans for refinery “upgrades” that would enable Bay Area facilities to process more highly polluting and volatile grades of crude oil like Canadian tar sands
  • Implement strong regulations that will track, cap, and reduce refinery emissions, which range from carbon pollution to cancer-causing chemicals
  • Stop the export of coal and petcoke through Bay Area ports
  • Prevent derailments, spills, and deadly explosions of trains carrying crude oil through Bay Area communities
  • Push for fracking bans at the state and local levels (read about our victory in Alameda County here)
  • Encourage divestment from fossil fuels at all levels

Stopping coal and petcoke exports from the Bay Area

> Download the Bay Area coal and petcoke exports fact sheet

In the face of declining U.S. markets, coal companies are seeking to massively expand exports of coal — particularly from the West Coast — to places abroad. Coal is the most carbon-intensive of all the fossil fuels and coal is the largest contributor to climate disruption. Whether it’s burned here or abroad, the effect of coal on global climate will be felt by everyone. Thus, the Bay Chapter campaigns to block coal exports and, better yet, keep it in the ground.

We are currently engaged in two main campaigns around Bay Area coal and petcoke exports :

  • In early 2020, the Richmond City Council passed an ordinance phasing out the storage and handling of coal and petroleum coke over three years in order to protect community health and safety. Visit the No Coal in Richmond website to learn more and look for updates on our blog.
  • We're standing with the City of Oakland to protect an ordinance, which passed unanimously in 2016, to ban coal and petroleum coke storage and handling in the city. Our goal is to prevent the coal industry from taking over the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project, which would expose West Oakland residents to harmful, dangerous coal dust pollution. Read about this ongoing campaign here.

In addition to contributing to climate change, coal exports pose significant threats to Bay Area air and water quality. Coal comes in to the Bay Area on open-top rail cars, which disperse coal dust and particulate matter from diesel engines into the air and water. About 60,000 pounds of coal dust is lost every time an open-top coal train makes the trip from the mine to the export terminal on the coast.

Coal dust creates toxic air pollution, contaminates crops, and pollutes nearby water supplies. Coal dust contains substances that pose serious threats to human health, such as arsenic, lead, chromium, nickel, selenium, and other toxic heavy metals. Petcoke, a byproduct of refining dirty and heavy crudes such as tar-sands oil, is transported and stored like coal and has similar adverse impacts.

The rise of “extreme oil”

Conventional crude oil, sourced from “traditional” drilling practices in California, Alaska, the Gulf, and various sites abroad, is running out. In response, oil companies are turning to what are called “extreme fuels”: crudes that are extracted through unconventional and often unsafe practices. These practices include fracking, well stimulation, and clear cutting forests to mine for tar sands. More energy, more toxic chemicals, and more dangerous practices are required to get these fuels out of the ground.

Once the messy process of extracting the crude from the ground is accomplished, it must be transported and refined — processes that use outdated, unsafe infrastructure and technology that doesn’t adequately protect people or the planet. Despite the disastrous impacts on climate and community health and safety, the Bay Area’s five fossil fuel refineries are scrambling to make the upgrades that would enable them to process two types of extreme crude: toxic Canadian tar sands and explosive, fracked Bakken shale oil.

The toxic pollutants emitted by extreme fuels translate to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and premature death. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible. Tar sands oil ranks among the most carbon-intensive oils on the planet, creating three to four times more greenhouse gasses than conventional oil and pushing the planet further along the path to irreversible climate disruption.

Join the fight!

If this fires you up, help us in our campaigns to protect Bay Area communities and global climate by pushing back against the fossil fuel industry. For more information or to attend a meeting of the Chapter's Energy and Climate Change Committee, reach out to that committee's chairs. You can also fill out the form on the Volunteer page and we'll be in touch with ways you can help out.

Read more

You can find articles about our work on dirty fuels on our blog.

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