PITTSBURG -- Company officials who want to build a massive $200 million crude oil storage and transfer facility next to a residential neighborhood will answer questions about the project at a community forum on Monday.
The WesPac project calls for an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily from both marine vessels and railroad cars and stored in 16 tanks once used by Pacific Gas and Electric to store fuel oil two decades ago. A network of mostly underground pipes would transfer oil to local refineries that ring the bay.
The project would replace, upgrade or repair an existing marine terminal, storage tanks and transfer facilities on a 125-acre industrial parcel near the Pittsburg Marina, homes, churches and parks.
Proponents say the project would help refineries take advantage of increasing production of domestic crude oil at a time when California oil fields are declining, while adding storage when existing capacity in the Bay Area is nearly gone. The project would also bring in revenues and up to 295 construction jobs and 40 permanent jobs to Pittsburg and is an appropriate use for an area zoned industrial, they say.
Opponents argue the project has many safety, health and environmental concerns, including reducing air quality and creating the potential for devastating oil spills or fires, and that proposed mitigation measures fall short.
Pittsburg is the lead agency on the project. Planning commissioners are expected to consider a permit for the project at a Dec. 10 meeting. Commissioner Dave Fogleman organized Monday's forum.
"I have a lot of questions myself," he said. The project's final environmental impact report could be before the City Council as early as its Jan. 21 meeting.
"The big concern is our health," said Kalli Graham, a member of the Pittsburg Defense Council, a grass roots community group that gathered more than 1,000 signatures opposing the project in the past month. "This is too close to us."
The rail component, which would accommodate a locomotive pulling 104 rail cars, would be built first. WesPac has said the project would bring in domestic crude oil from North Dakota, Colorado, west Texas and New Mexico and that delivering crude oil by rail creates less than one-tenth of the air emissions per barrel compared with crude oil delivered by ship.
But there is nothing in the draft environmental impact report, which is more than 2,000 pages long, that specifies what kind of crude oils, including Canadian tar sands crude oil, would be stored.
"Tar sands are the world's dirtiest and most dangerous crude oil," Diane Bailey, a senior scientist in the San Francisco office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said at meeting this month of the Pittsburg Defense Council.
If the proposal is approved, Bailey said it "could be replacing up to one third of the crude oil that is processed at Bay Area refineries. ... And what if the crude oil is dirtier than what the refineries are using now?"
Eric Zell, a spokesman for WesPac, said the company has no current plans to bring in Canadian tar sands crude oil, and the project is not being designed to handle it.
"None of the suppliers of crude oil and none of the customers of crude oil have made any request for (WesPac) to bring in any Canadian tar sands crude," he said. "If per chance, they end up having suppliers that want to bring in Canadian tar sands to the facility, WesPac would have to go back to the city to get a new permit."
An EIR is not the proper place to say what specific types of crude will be brought in for the project, because such reviews look at potential environmental impacts and not "business models," he said.
Several crude-oil storage facilities have been built elsewhere in California to bring in more domestic crude via rail. In Benicia, city officials are considering a proposal by the Valero refinery to increase its rail shipments by 70,000 barrels a day from unidentified sources of North American crude oil.
WesPac identifies four refineries -- Shell in Martinez, Phillips 66 in Rodeo, Tesoro's Golden Eagle refinery in Avon, and Valero in Benicia -- as potential customers in the draft EIR.
"We believe that it is an interesting proposal and know that the Pittsburg waterfront has a long history of industrial use dating to the late 19th century. While we support development of options to support the transportation of North American crudes to the West Coast, we are not committed to using the facility," Tesoro spokesman Mike Marcy said in an email.
Shell spokesman Steve Lesher declined to comment. "It's an industry competitive issue," he said.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.
What: Community forum on proposed WesPac crude oil storage and transfer facility
When: 2 p.m. Monday
Where: Pittsburg Yacht Club, 3 Marina Blvd.