The Tesoro Carson refinery would become the largest on the West Coast if its final environmental impact report is green lighted by the Southern California regulators. Photo: Building Healthy Communities
A project approval that could merge the Tesoro Refinery in Carson with a southern facility in Wilmington making it the largest oil refinery on the West Coast is nearing completion but questions surrounding the impact the project would have on an area of Southern California notorious for its refinery related pollution persist.
Known as the Los Angeles Integration and Compliance Project (LARIC), the $460 million merger, if approved by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), would increase the output capacity of the Carson plant from 380,000 barrels a day to over 400,000. It would also drastically increase its storage capacity with the addition of eight new storage tanks equalling 3.6 million gallons.
That crude oil is refined and turned into multiple petroleum-based products including gasoline that is sold under the brand names ARCO, Shell, Exxon, Mobil, USA Gasoline and Tesoro. The Carson refinery currently employs over 1,400 people but the company projects thousands of new direct and indirect jobs if the merger is completed.
In a letter to the community at the beginning of 2017, Vice President of Tesoro Los Angeles Refinery Dave Foster said LARIC would “slash greenhouse gasses and other emissions” while physically connecting the two sites via pipelines and that it would create local jobs and other benefits to the surrounding communities.
The process has been under review since early last year when the project’s draft environmental impact report (EIR) was first rolled out for public comment. Some community organizers in attendance at the May 2016 meeting alleged that it was full of Tesoro employees and affiliated groups that flooded the hearings with praise for the project. What was missing, they said was a meaningful amount of critiques of the project that could have impacts on quality of life for those in surrounding neighborhoods, including West Long Beach.
Julia May, a senior scientist for Communities for a Better Environment, said that the draft EIR was lacking nonetheless, and did not account for the proposed facility representing an expansion rather than a merger of the two plants or the corresponding emissions issues.
The largest omission, May said, is Tesoro’s unwillingness to state in the EIR that the types of crude being processed would change thus changing the types of emissions being put into the atmosphere.
She points to Tesoro’s own corporate earnings statements and December 2015 presentation to investors of the company’s plans to bring crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken region by rail to Washington State before transporting it via ship to the Port of Los Angeles for unloading and delivery to the Carson refinery.
A screenshot of a presentation given by Tesoro to investors in December 2015.
Bakken crude has a higher benzyne content than crudes currently being processed by the refinery, something that has been linked to increased risks of leukemia and other blood disorders by the National Cancer Institute. May added that the oil also has been labeled as more dangerous to transport by the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
“To add more corrosive crude oil and more explosive crude oil is really frightening,” May said. “It’s a step backward and it’s really unacceptable to do that without really doing a minimal environmental analysis.”
The draft EIR didn’t simply omit this change in crude, it actually stated the contrary.
“While the proposed project does not affect the types of crude oils processed at the refinery and, thus, will not have impacts due to changes in crudes, the proposed project may increase downstream unit processing rates on a monthly or daily basis,” the draft EIR stated.
To get to Long Beach, the Bakken crude would be shipped via rail from recently acquired lands by Tesoro in North Dakota to a port facility still under review in Vancouver, Washington. That project, known as the Savage Vancouver Energy Project, is on hold with the application process having been extended last month.
A rail car explosion in June of last year led to some officials calling for a moratorium on the project due to the unknown risks of transporting oil by rail. That moratorium was never put in place. To get to Carson that same crude oil would have to travel once again via rail from the port to the refinery.
The oil, which would partially come from the Canadian Tar Sands, would be from the same region as the Dakota Access Pipeline, something the Long Beach City Council unanimously passed a resolution to oppose in December. In addition to higher benzyne content, the process from which it’s extracted from the ground will contribute significant greenhouse gas emissions and pollution including possible local water source pollution, sources native tribes depend on.
Thus far, no members of the council have made public statements regarding the planned merger of the facilities in Carson and Wilmington. Mayor Robert Garcia, like Tesoro, did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Maria Reyes, a Westside Long Beach resident for nearly 30 years and an environmental activist for the last half of that stint, does not agree with the planned project.
She recalled the many maladies her children have suffered, including allergies, headaches and red irritated eyes from the refinery’s emissions. Reyes herself has had to visit the emergency room on multiple occasions due to respiratory issues. She says Tesoro is painting a “pretty picture” of the project, something they’ve always done to assuage residents’ fears of further pollution.
“I do not agree with what they want to do, expand production, because they really are very close to a populated area,” Reyes said. “And I think what Tesoro is doing, like other developments, is that they never believe that residents have a good argument to prove that all these projects are doing damage to the community.”
“Our complaints and what we ask for is never completed, and although we have scientific proof that it will cause health damages, [Tesoro] they become deaf, it is not about them protecting us, and the other thing, I do not agree with the development, with the handling of production.”
There is a planned community march against the facility scheduled for April 29 where groups from affected neighborhoods, including Long Beach, are expected to gather in Wilmington before making their way to the Tesoro gates.
The fate of the project is still undetermined, especially in the wake of the City of Carson threatening to file suit against SCAQMD earlier this month. The Daily Breeze reported that city officials were plotting filing the suit due to the district’s repeated ignoring of the city’s requests for greater safety protection measures under the merger.
In December, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a letter to the SCAQMD asking for a pause in certifying the environmental documents because of the project’s impacts not being “fully addressed” in the draft EIR.
Earlier this year, a spokesman for SCAQMD told the Post it had no plans of making Tesoro submit a new EIR to address those impacts that were not fully addressed in the original document. A decision on the final EIR could come in the next few weeks with construction to begin shortly after.
While the ultimate future of the refinery is still unclear, Elliot Gonzalez, the chair of Long Beach’s sustainability commission, said he wants the city to distance itself from the oil industry and oppose the building of new oil and gas infrastructure in surrounding areas like the Tesoro merger and a planned natural gas burning facility near the Los Cerritos Wetlands.
“I feel like the city at this point is speaking well but it’s the actions that matter and I don’t see any noticeable changes in terms of action,” Gonzalez said. “What difference doesn’t it make that [Mayor] Garcia says the truth about climate change if we don’t act on it?”
Jason Ruiz covers transportation for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or 951-310-1772.
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