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Hazards of Living Near Refineries and Rail Yards

Note: The E-FORUM will be off line for a week, while I raft the Grand Canyon.

 

Residents wary of Chevron proposal

  29 of 30 speakers at Planning Commission meeting oppose plan for hydrogen plant to refine crude oilBy John Geluardi

CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Contra Costa Times

Article Launched:06/09/2007 11:35:58 AM PDTThe public had its first chance this week to comment on Chevron's plans to install a hydrogen plant for refining poor-quality crude oil.

The inexpensive "dirty" crude will increase refinery profit margins but also increase dangerous emissions from the Richmond refinery by about 800 tons a year, according to the project's draft environmental report. In 2004, Chevron exceeded state limits for toxic emissions by 475,000 pounds, according to a Bay Area Air Quality Management District emissions inventory.

But Chevron officials say the project will make the refinery safer and reduce overall emissions by improving efficiency.

About 30 people commented on the project's draft environmental report during a city Planning Commission meeting Thursday night. All but one of the speakers opposed the project, saying it would have negative health impacts on nearby low-income communities such as North Richmond, Achenston Village, the Iron Triangle and Parchester Village.

"If this plan goes forward, it will lock Richmond into refining dirty crude for the next 30 years," said Carla Perez, a project director with the Oakland-based Communities for a Better Environment. "It will exacerbate health impacts on already heavily impacted neighborhoods and increase the risk of a catastrophic incident."

The Richmond Planning Department will accept comments on the two-volume report until June 25. The Planning Commission is expected to approve or reject the report by August.

The larger project would consist of four component projects, which are considered in the environmental impact report. The components include the replacement of an outmoded steam boiler plant with a gas turbine "cogeneration" plant, a new gasoline reformer and hydrogen purity improvements.

Chevron has an opportunity to develop a less-polluting project by making hydrogen from water instead of fossil fuels and by generating power for the refinery by developing a green-energy structure that relies on solar and wind power sources, said Better Environment scientist Greg Karras.

"Chevron says it has to rebuild, replace and upgrade," Karras said. "And it's true they do, but they also have an opportunity to do that in a way that puts us on a course toward renewable refining."

But effective technology for producing hydrogen from water does not exist, Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair said.

"I don't know of any technology like that that's available," O'Hair said. "This project is using the latest and most up-to-date technology available, which will make us one of the most efficient refineries in the United States."

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin remains skeptical of the refinery's arguments and wants to make sure the health of Richmond residents comes first.

"I'm very, very dedicated to the health of this community here in Richmond and making sure no further impact on an already-overburdened community is effected," McLaughlin said. "The pollution we've endured for decades has got to end."

Ruth Gilman, who lives near the refinery in Achenston Village, said she does not like the project.

"We had 30 people go to the hospital after Chevron's last accident in January, so why should we approve this expansion so they can produce hydrogen?" Gilman said. "Don't they pollute enough already?"

Reach John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or jgeluardi@ccctimes.com.

time to comment

Comments on the draft environmental impact report for Chevron's plans to install a hydrogen plant must be received by 5 p.m. June 25. Address comments to Lamont Thompson, senior planner, city of Richmond, Planning and Building Regulations Department, 1401 Marina Way S., Richmond, CA 94804.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-smog25may25,1,104561.story?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

From the Los Angeles Times

 

Chevron squeezed for oil sales

Company poised to pay millions over alleged kickbacks to Saddam Hussein

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

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Chevron Corp. is near an agreement to pay a $25 million -to-$30 million fine over alleged kickbacks in the company's purchases of Iraqi crude oil under Saddam Hussein, according to a published report Tuesday.

The New York Times reported that Chevron is negotiating a settlement with federal prosecutors investigating a scandal-ridden United Nations program that allowed Iraq to use oil exports to buy food despite international sanctions.

As part of the settlement, San Ramon's Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, is preparing to state that it should have known its purchases included kickbacks to Hussein's government, the paper reported.

Chevron Chief Executive Officer David O'Reilly, speaking in Chicago, declined to comment on the report, according to Bloomberg.

Company spokesman Kent Robertson said he could not confirm the report but said, "Chevron has cooperated with all inquiries into the oil-for-food program."

There have been several investigations.

The program began in 1996 as a way to ease the Iraqi people's suffering under international sanctions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq could sell oil abroad but use the proceeds only for food, medicine and humanitarian supplies.

The system was designed to maintain economic pressure on Hussein while placating United Nations members opposed to the sanctions.

But a series of government reports found that Hussein's regime found ways to squeeze money out of the program.

International oil companies such as Chevron couldn't buy directly from Iraq. Instead, they bought from traders who purchased the oil from Baghdad under United Nations supervision. Starting in 2000, the Iraqi regime used fees and surcharges built into the price to skim money from the sales.

A 2005 investigation by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker estimated the regime received $1.8 billion in kickbacks. The program was dismantled after the U.S.-led 2003 invasion that toppled Hussein.

Chevron had been buying Iraqi oil and bringing it to the company's California refineries, which are configured to handle the kind of high-sulfur crude Iraq produces. The company stopped importing from Iraq just before the 2003 invasion, saying it didn't want any interruption in supply.

Chevron started buying Iraqi crude again after Hussein's fall. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, the company received three shipments this year of Iraqi oil in January and one in February, the most recent month for which records are available.

Chevron's purchases from 2000 through 2002 included $20 million in surcharges that were paid by the traders dealing with Baghdad but were financed by Chevron, according to the New York Times.

Records obtained by American, Italian and U.N. officials provided information about the practice, the paper reported. The purchases, including surcharges, continued even after a high-ranking Chevron official warned in an internal communication that the company should scrutinize the "identity, experience and reputation" of the trading firms, the Times reported.

Some of the purchases happened while Condoleezza Rice, now the secretary of state, served on Chevron's corporate board and led its public policy committee, the Times reported. Chevron spokesman Robertson said, however, that a review of Chevron board records found no discussion of the oil-for-food program at any board meetings during Rice's tenure.

Rice left the board in 2001 when President Bush chose her as his national security adviser.

Chevron is not the first oil company ensnared in the current oil-for-food probe. In February, El Paso Corp. agreed to pay $7.73 million to settle with U.S. government investigators. The company's Iraqi oil purchases included $5.48 million in secret surcharges, according to government investigators.

E-mail David R. Baker at dbaker@sfchronicle.com..

Cancer risk rises for those near rail yards

A study says Commerce neighborhoods near several major facilities face a greater threat from diesel soot than residents elsewhere.

By Janet Wilson
Times Staff Writer

May 25, 2007

Residents who live in the shadow of Southern California's booming rail yards face cancer risks from soot as much as 140% greater than in the rest of the region, according to new studies by state air regulators.

In addition, clouds of diesel exhaust blown by the wind from the rail yards blanket wide swaths of Greater Los Angeles, upping annual cancer risks slightly for millions more residents.

"The risks are much higher than they ought to be, and we need to do everything we can to reduce them," said Michael Scheible, deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board.

The health risk assessments, which were released in draft form this week, were prepared as part of a voluntary agreement between the nation's two largest railroads and the state air board. Such assessments have been done only once before in California, at a Roseville rail yard.

Hardest hit in the region are neighborhoods in Commerce that are near one Union Pacific and three BNSF yards. Residents in the tidy, working-class neighborhoods of Bandini and Ayers-Leonis are 70% to 140% more likely to contract cancer from diesel soot than people in the rest of Los Angeles. Regulators said some homes are only a few feet from rail-yard fence lines, and there are schools and parks near the yards, which operate around the clock 365 days a year.

Other rail yards and neighborhoods covered by the initial round of studies include Union Pacific's Los Angeles Transportation Center, Mira Loma near Union Pacific's yard in Riverside County and a BNSF facility in Wilmington. In those places, residents are 11% to 26% more likely to contract cancer from soot.

Railroad officials said the studies showed that the rail yards produce less than 1% of the region's diesel particulate emissions. But they said they were concerned about their contribution to local health risks and were spending millions of dollars to slash emissions in coming years with hundreds of new locomotives, anti-idling devices, cleaner fuels and other measures.

"We're certainly part of the issue," said Lanny Schmid, director of Union Pacific's environmental programs. "We like to think we're a small part of the issue, and we're going to get it even smaller."

But angry, anxious Commerce residents and others who were informed of the higher health risks at a City Hall briefing Wednesday night said faster action was needed. They also were disturbed that risks of respiratory disease, asthma and impaired lung function all shown in numerous studies to increase with exposure to diesel soot were not included in the health assessments.

"We need to figure out what we can do now, right now," said Commerce Mayor Robert Fierro, who added that as a schoolteacher he regularly received absentee notes for children who have suffered from asthma attacks or bronchitis.

"We've lived in Commerce since the 1950s, and I come from a family of four generations of asthma in the home," resident Nancy Ramos said. "My 4-year-old grandson is already dealing with asthma, including two ambulance visits."

"Quite honestly it's laughable" not to include health risks such as asthma and respiratory disease, said Ian MacMillan, who conducts similar health risk studies for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Scheible said state health guidelines, which were prepared in the late 1980s, don't call for non-cancer health risks to be included, and, he said, they are more difficult to assess accurately. But he said that if enough people wanted officials to try, they would see if it could be done for the final reports.

The analyses showed that in addition to locomotives, giant cranes, refrigerated cars and aging short-haul trucks contribute to diesel emissions in the yards.

Trucks on nearby freeways and busy streets also add risk. The Commerce yards, for instance, spewed out a combined 40 tons of soot in 2005, while short-haul trucks on nearby streets put out about 113 tons.

Modeling and weather data used in the study showed that lower levels of soot spread for miles from the yards. The Union Pacific Los Angeles facility, which is less than a mile from downtown, spread a fine blanket of soot as much as four miles east and north of the facility, increasing cancer risk for 1.2 million residents by an average 10 chances in a million.

A past study has shown that cancer risks are highest at the ports that feed the rail yards.

But activists and local air regulators said the elevated cancer risks near the yards were "extremely high" compared with those near refineries and other "stationary sources," which are tightly regulated.

Allowable levels of risk from factories and other industrial sources are between 10 and 25 chances per million in the Los Angeles air basin, said South Coast Air Quality Management District spokesman Sam Atwood. Railroads claim exemption from local and state air pollution laws under interstate commerce clauses.

"Living next to a rail yard is like having a factory with 100 smokestacks going all the time," said Angelo Logan, head of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

Mark Stehly, assistant vice president of environmental for BNSF, said it was unfair to compare factories with rail yards because locomotives and other mobile equipment cannot be fitted with the same types of heavy, high-volume emission control devices as factories.

"For [a rail yard] to be treated as a stationary source, it's appealing in its simplicity, but it's really not true. They are mobile sources," he said.

Additional meetings will be held on the studies in the next two months. The study findings are at http://www.arb.ca.gov/railyard/hra/hra.htm


janet.wilson@latimes.com