New Study: Tar Sands to Skyrocket West Coast’s Climate and Air Pollution
SACRAMENTO (April 28, 2015) – The Pacific coast faces a looming health, climate, and environmental crisis posed by an influx of tar sands fuel from oil interests in Alberta, Canada, according to new analysis released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), NextGen Climate America, ForestEthics, and a coalition of 27 partner organizations. The tar sands industry’s long term goal to triple production will require flooding both Gulf and West Coast heavy crude refineries with tar sands crude in coming decades. The increased transport of tar sands by rail, pipeline, barge, and ocean tankers will threaten the water and air quality of hundreds of communities, heighten the risk of tar sands oil spills and explosions, and reverse decades of public health, energy, and climate successes from California to British Columbia.
“The West Coast is about to fall victim to a tar sands invasion, unless our leaders choose to protect the health and safety of our communities and say no to Big Oil,” said Anthony Swift, Deputy-Director of NRDC’s Canada Project. “New tar sands proposals on the West Coast would increase the region’s carbon emissions and create more than two and a half times the carbon emissions of San Francisco. At a time when the nation is moving toward a clean energy future, there is no reason to welcome the dirtiest oil on the planet into our communities.”
The report, West Coast Tar Sands Invasion, examines the spike in oil infrastructure, climate pollution, and public health risks that will result from oil industry proposals to expand tar sands refining and export capacity on the West Coast. The report finds that new oil industry proposals would result in the following:
- A greater than tenfold increase the amount of tar sands moving into and through the North American west coast by more than 1.7 million barrels per day
- Increase the region’s carbon pollution by up to 26 million metric tons – the equivalent of adding 5.5 million cars to the road
- Create1,500 miles of new pipelines in British Columbia
- Increase tanker and barge traffic twenty-five fold, from 80 to over 2,000 vessels along the Pacific west coast, on the Salish Sea, and down the Columbia River
- Increase tar sands at West Coast refineries by eight-fold, from 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 800,000 bpd by 2040
- Create a dozen new rail terminals that would significantly increase the region’s crude-by-rail traffic
- Place hundreds of communities, critical waterways and other environmentally-sensitive areas at risk of a tar sands oil spill
- Put fenceline communities and millions of West Coast residents at greater risk than ever to increased toxic air pollution, derailments, explosions, and other accidents that harm public health along with air and water quality
“Across North America people are saying no to the oil industry’s plans to move the world’s dirtiest, most explosive crude to the West Coast,” says Todd Paglia, ForestEthics executive director. “Tar sands threaten the safety of millions of Americans who live in the oil train blast zone, our drinking water supplies, and our coastlines. For oil companies with razor thin margins on this expensive oil, it’s safety last. But we are organized to fight and stop the oil trains, pipelines, and tankers that carry this explosive, toxic, unnecessary crude oil.”
The report also finds the proposed tar sands expansion puts iconic places such as Washington’s San Juan Islands, the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the Sacramento Watershed, and the San Francisco Bay at risk to spills and accidents. Tar sands spills have proven to be more damaging than conventional spills, as heavy tar sands bitumen sinks below the water surface making it even more difficult to contain or recover should a spill occur in one of the hundreds of rivers, streams and critical watersheds across the West Coast vulnerable to expanded tar sands pipeline and rail traffic. A spill could devastate local economies, harm human health, kill critical species, damage First Nation territories, devastate pristine wilderness, and lead to an especially costly and challenging cleanup.
The study had clear recommendations for decision-makers: States should aggressively pursue clean energy strategies that discourage dirty fuels like tar sands while decreasing the region’s dependence on oil, including policies that spur low carbon transportation and energy solutions such as broadened electric vehicle use and the development of clean fuels.
“As a nation we are at a critical juncture. We do not have to expose hard-working Americans to the health and safety risks of oil trains running through the heart of our communities,” said Tom Steyer, President of NextGen Climate America. “Instead, we can choose to support forward-thinking climate policies, like those being proposed by Governor Brown and the legislature here in California. Together we can build a safer, cleaner, healthier and more prosperous energy future – one that does not depend on tar sands and other dirty fossil fuels.”
Additionally, decision-makers must reject new major tar sands infrastructure projects and ensure all proposed fossil fuel infrastructure go through a thorough public health and environmental review process. State and federal regulators should enact safety, spill response, and air pollution standards that ensure the risk of a tar sands spills is eliminated, the public is safeguarded from derailments, and communities are protected from toxic refinery emissions.
“Dirty crude needs to stay in the ground, and we need to protect our communities and our planet from increases in carbon emissions and from these dangerous projects that are being proposed by the oil industry,” said Nile Malloy, Northern California Program Director at Communities for a Better Environment. “Environmental justice communities from Richmond in the San Francisco Bay Area to Wilmington in Los Angeles have been put in harm’s way for too long, and we are united to fight against this injustice towards creating meaningful and lasting solutions. We need a just transition away from fossil fuels and aggressive investments in a new thriving inclusive clean energy economy.”