california

Tue, 2014-09-23 14:00Mike G
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California Farmers File Suit Alleging Oil Companies' Faulty Wastewater Injection Caused Crop Loss

A farming company in Kern County, California, has sued four oil producers over claims that their faulty wastewater injection methods led to the contamination of groundwater it uses for irrigation.

Palla Farms LLC, a ninety-two-year-old family farm operation, says it had to tear out hundreds of cherry trees due to high levels of salt and boron in the groundwater it has used to irrigate its crops for the past 25 years. The company claims its almond orchard has also experienced production declines.

Palla Farms' suit alleges that the four oil companies—Crimson Resource Management Corp., Dole Enterprises Inc., E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. and San Joaquin Facilities Management Inc.—violated state environmental regulations when disposing of produced water, drilling mud, and flowback water from fracking, which led to the contamination of the groundwater.

The Bakersfield Californian has the details on the allegations:

Fri, 2014-09-12 12:25Mike G
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California Refinery Gets Green Light for Five Times As Much Bakken Crude By Rail

The Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved Alon USA Energy's plan to expand the rail terminal at its Bakersfield, CA refinery to receive five times as much crude oil by train.

Alon USA, which is based in Texas, hopes to take advantage of North America's booming oil production. The company plans to get oil from the fracked shale fields of Texas and North Dakota, which likely means a big increase in the amount of highly volatile Bakken crude imported into California. Reuters reports that the rail terminal will also be outfitted with the equipment to offload tar sands oil from Canada.

The Associated Press reported the news in stark terms: “Mile-long trains filled with millions of gallons of flammable crude oil may be rolling through Kern County next year.”

The company's plan is to increase the capacity of the refinery's rail terminal from 40 to 208 tank cars per day, which would make it the largest crude-by-rail facility in California (though Valero has similar plans for its Benicia, CA refinery, it would only increase its capacity to 100 cars a day). Alon USA's Bakersfield refinery, which has not been in full operation since 2012, will also be retrofit to process lighter Bakken crude.

Environmentalists are decrying the 5-0 vote to let Alon USA go ahead with the plan, saying the Board of Supervisors rushed its decision-making process and, in doing so, drastically understated the potentially devastating impacts that bringing more Bakken crude-by-rail to Kern County could have on public health and safety.

Sun, 2014-08-31 11:00Mike G
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Is California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan Really About Conservation?

To understand what California Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan is all about, you have to understand a bit of history.

Back in 1982, once and future governor Jerry Brown pushed through a plan to build a canal that would divert water from the Sacramento River before it gets to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to feed the voracious appetite for water among farmers in California’s Central Valley and municipalities in Southern California.

The canal plan was defeated by a state-wide referendum in a stinging rebuke of Brown’s plan. Californians’ objections were based largely on concerns about the impact it would have on the fragile estuary ecosystem of the delta.

Now, 30 years later, the same Governor Jerry Brown is pushing for the same plan, but he wants to build two tunnels instead of a canal, and is estimated to cost between $25 billion and $54 billion. Many Californians are once again questioning the wisdom of Brown’s plan, especially environmentalists, who worry that if you take away the Sacramento River — which supplies some 80% of fresh water to the delta — you will do irreparable harm to the estuary.

There’s a larger concern, too: Many Californians feel that, at a time of record drought, when we’re all being asked to think about how much water we’re consuming and make a concerted effort to use less, those billions in taxpayer money would be better spent upgrading outdated infrastructure to ensure we’re using water more efficiently and lowering our overall water usage.

Thu, 2014-08-21 12:26Steve Horn
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After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“ 

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary. 

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City's leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

Thu, 2014-08-07 10:56Mike G
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Four Years Later, Systemic Failures That Led To Gas Pipeline Explosion Revealed

Last Monday, the mayor of San Bruno stood on the steps of the California Public Utilities Commission offices in San Francisco and called for a complete overhaul of the state agency, including the firing of key CPUC officials.

The next day, a federal grand jury indicted PG&E on charges related to its handling of the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that destroyed 38 homes and killed eight people.

Mayor Jim Ruane says that emails exchanged between staff at the CPUC and employees of PG&E in the wake of the disaster show that a far-too-cozy relationship exists between the state agency and the public utility it is supposed to regulate.

PG&E has made illegal efforts to influence the CPUC decisions makers to protect the utility's financial interests,” Ruane said. “Sadly and shockingly, the CPUC has participated in the illegal conduct.”

Some 7,000 pages of emails were released to San Bruno by the CPUC only after the city filed a lawsuit to gain access to the documents.

City manager Connie Jackson says that the emails provide further evidence to support the official conclusions of the investigation carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“The NTSB produced a report within one year of the explosion that exhaustively demonstrated a number of conclusions and recommendations for correction in the wake of the explosion,” Jackson says. “And among the things they identified as a key causal factor related to the explosion was what they described as a too-cozy relationship between the regulator and the utility. These emails demonstrate that that is in fact true.”

Specifically, Jackson says that CPUC President Mike Peevey engaged in illegal ex parte communications with PG&E. “We are continuing to call for the removal, or minimally the recusal, of President Peevey,” Jackson says.

Peevey is not alone in being implicated for having engaged in illegal communications with PG&E employees who were responsible for the company's response to the disaster. As KTVU reported, one email, “from no less than PG&E's head of regulatory relations to a CPUC administrative law judge, ends with 'love you.'”

Fri, 2014-08-01 06:00Mike G
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Fracking Is Making California’s Drought Worse, Say Activists

California is in the middle of an epic water shortage, with nearly 80% of the state experiencing “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions. Check out this animated map to get a sense of how extensively the drought has impacted the Golden State.

Things have gotten so bad that California enlisted Lady Gaga to record a public service announcement (PSA)

Given the situation, anti-fracking activists say it’s time for Governor Jerry Brown to put a stop to water-intensive fracking, claiming that the controversial oil and gas production method is exacerbating the problem.

“We’re talking about a triple threat to our water from fracking,” says Adam Scow, the California Director for Food & Water Watch.

The first threat: The fracking process requires a lot of water, which then becomes unsuitable for any other use.

While it’s true that fracking in California doesn’t require as much water as it does in Texas and Pennsylvania, Scow contends that any amount lost to fracking is unacceptable: “In the middle of the worst drought in 50 years, they’re taking 140,000 to 150,000 gallons of water out of the water cycle per frack job. They’re destroying that amount of water on a daily basis.”

It’s also possible that fracking fluid could leach into underground aquifers, and of course the toxic wastewater left over from fracking has to be disposed of somehow — and therein lies the second threat to California’s water supply.

The California Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (known as DOGGR) recently ordered 11 fracked wells shut down over fears that they were contaminating potential sources of potable water. As many as 100 other fracking sites are under review, as well.


An unlined pit of unknown neon green fluid leading to a fracking injection well. This pit is in the middle of almond fields and chicken coops. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

Thu, 2014-07-31 13:42Steve Horn
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Documents: Cheniere Fuels ALEC’s New Push for Fracked Gas Exports

Today, legislative and lobbyist members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) voted on model legislation promoting both exports of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG)

Dubbed a “corporate bill mill” by its critics, ALEC is heavily engaged in a state-level effort to attack renewable energy and grease the skids for exports of U.S. oil and gas. Today's bills up for a vote — as conveyed in an ALEC mailer sent out on June 25 by ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force — are titled “Resolution In Support of Expanded Liquefied Natural Gas Exports“ and “Weights and Measures and Standards for Dispensing CNG and LNG Motor Fuels.” 

An exclusive investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog reveals that Cheniere — the first U.S. company to receive a final liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permit by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — has acted as the lead corporate backer of the LNG exports model resolution. 

Further, Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, owned by energy baron T. Boone Pickens, of Pickens Plan fame, and trade associations it is a member of, served as the main pusher of the CNG model resolution.

ALEC has served as a key vehicle through which the fracking industry has curried favor and pushed for policies favorable to their bottom lines in statehouses nationwide. Now ALEC and its corporate backers have upped the ante, pushing policies that will lock in downstream demand for fracked gas for years to come. 

With Cheniere becoming an ALEC dues-paying member in May 2013 and with America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) — the fracking industry's tour de force — crowned an ALEC member in August 2013, it looks like many more fracking-friendly model bills could arise out of ALEC in the months and years ahead.

Mon, 2014-07-21 14:07Mike G
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California Orders Emergency Shutdown Of Fracking Wastewater Injection Sites Over Fears of Contaminated Aquifers

California officials ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in Kern County earlier this month, fearing they may be contaminating sources of drinking water that are sorely needed in the drought-stricken state.

No contamination has actually been found in any drinking or irrigation water, but, according to The Bakersfield Californian, “Pollution has not been ruled out… as regulators conduct site inspections and await test results and other information from the companies” that were operating the injection sites.

State officials are reviewing not just the 11 wells that were ordered to be shut down but as many as 100 more in northeast and east Bakersfield, CA over fears that fracking fluids and “produced waters” (the toxic and potentially radioactive fluids that come up with oil) may be leeching into potential sources of potable water.


As ProPublica reported, California's Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources issued the shutdown orders on July 7 to seven different energy companies, saying that they may have injected wastewater into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, which “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.”

A review of wastewater injections sites is long overdue in California. The state had exempted as many as 100 aquifers from environmental protection after they were found to contain water unfit for consumption or to be too deep to make their use feasible. But a 2011 report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found significant shortcomings with how the state was managing its wastewater injection program:

Sun, 2014-06-22 08:36Mike G
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Oakland Opposes Fossil Fuel Transport By Rail As Sacramento Imposes New Fees To Help Fund Spill Response

The City Council of Oakland, California has passed a resolution opposing the transport of coal, oil, petcoke (a byproduct of the oil refining process) and other hazardous materials by railways and waterways within the city.

The resolution is a response to “a new push by the fossil fuel industry to transport, export, and/or refine coal, crude oil and petroleum coke (“petcoke”)… on the West Coast and in California,” as well as efforts by California refineries to build new rail terminals that would allow them to import more crude oil from the tar sands in Canada and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

Crude-by-rail shipments are expected to travel through some of California's most ecologically sensitive areas, as well as some of its most populated cities.

Oakland's resolution is the first of its kind for California, as it goes further than similar resolutions passed by Berkeley and Richmond opposing crude-by-rail.

“Oakland is leading the way for Californians who want to tell Big Coal and Big Oil that we cannot bear the risk they impose upon on our town,” said Lynette Gibson McElhaney, one of three council members who sponsored the resolution.

State legislators are also taking steps to minimize the threat to California's ecosystems and human health posed by shipping fossil fuels via rail. The state will soon begin charging a 6.5-cent fee on every barrel of oil shipped by rail into the state or piped within the state, which is expected to raise some $11 million in its first year. The funds will be used to better train and equip first responders in spill response, with a special focus on spills in waterways, and to hire more rail inspectors.

Thu, 2014-06-05 13:00Mike G
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California State Senators Who Voted Against Fracking Moratorium Took 370% More From Oil Industry

Even though a sizable majority of Californians favor a moratorium on fracking until its impacts on the environment and human health are better understood, California's fracking moratorium bill, SB 1132, died in the state Senate last week, voted down for the final time on Friday evening.

Four Democrats joined all 12 Republicans in voting nay on Friday, while five more Dems abstained, making the final vote 16 to 16. A simple majority of the 40-member body was needed to pass (three Senators are currently suspended and unable to vote).

Big Oil spent big to defeat this bill. The Western States Petroleum Agency, widely regarded as the most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, spent $1.5 million lobbying the state government in the first three months of 2014 alone (and according to Truth Out, the WSPA spent $4.7 million in 2013, more than any other group). A statewide coalition of environmental groups called Californians Against Fracking estimates that, all told, the oil industry has spent $15 million lobbying state legislators to stop SB 1132 from becoming law.

It would appear that Big Oil got what it paid for. According to a DeSmogBlog analysis of contributions from fossil fuel interests to California State Senators, those who voted no have taken some 370% as much money in campaign contributions from the oil industry as did those voting yes.

Over their lifetime, the 16 Senators who voted against SB 1132 have taken $590,185 from the oil industry, while the 16 who voted no have taken $159,250.

This data is via Oil Change International's Dirty Energy Money database, and only tallies contributions made through 2012, the last year campaign contribution numbers are available.

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