BERKELEY — A coalition of environmentalists warned against the ravages of the “oil economy” Tuesday, noting that Americans, reversing a years-long trend, have begun to drive more again now that gasoline is relatively cheap, putting more pollutants and greenhouse gases in the air, with ominous implications for public health and climate change.
“The world is awash in oil,” journalist and author Antonia Juhasz told an audience of several dozen people at the David Brower Center. The author of the books “The Tyranny of Oil” and “Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill” noted that the industry is in a “state of turmoil.” Cheaper oil means less profit for oil companies at the production level but potentially more profit “downstream” at the refining level, she said, notably in California, where several refinery expansion projects are in the works.
“A Just Transition: From Refineries to Renewables,”co-sponsored by the Sunflower Alliance, was held in conjunction with an exhibit by photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose work focuses on the way industry alters and reshapes natural landscapes.
Images on display include: nickel tailings outside a mine in Ontario; an abandoned granite quarry in Vermont; Shasta Lake Reservoir; polders in the Netherlands; dry land farming in Spain; the Xiaolangdi Dam in China; and salt ponds in the Colorado River Delta. The exhibit runs through Feb. 4. Gallery hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. The Brower Center is at 2150 Allston Way.
Greg Karras, senior scientist for Communities for a Better Environment, brought the global oil picture into local focus with a PowerPoint presentation that included slides of exploding oil trains and burning refineries in Canada and the United States.
He segued to the Bay Area, where communities along the shores of San Francisco and San Pablo bays could become a thruway for oil trains from out of state to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery on the Central California Coast, where a rail spur project is under review by San Luis Obispo County. The Santa Maria refinery and the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo together form the Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery.
Karras said Phillips 66 wants to bring dirty, diluted bitumen — or “tar sands oil,” in popular parlance — from Canada to the Santa Maria refinery. But Phillips 66 spokesman Paul Adler earlier this week said,”That has not been determined and it is premature to assume what type of crude will be transported to the facility until the project advances through different phases.”
Other speakers Tuesday included: Jack Lucero Fleck of 350 Bay Area; Jessica Hendricks of Global Community Monitor; Colin Miller of Bay Localize; Janet Pygeorge of the Rodeo Citizens Association; and Nancy Rieser of the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition and C.R.U.D.E.
Across the Carquinez Strait, in Benicia, a project to bring crude oil by rail to the Valero Refinery is under review by that city.