Posted on December 8, 2020
A four-year battle over a plan to dredge 13 miles of waterways to clear San Francisco Bay for larger oil tankers ended Monday.
BAY AREA, CA — A four-year battle over a plan to dredge 13 miles of waterways to clear San Francisco Bay for larger oil tankers ended Monday, with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers announcing it was scuttling the project.
The announcement came officially as a notice of intent to not move forward, published in the Federal Register and dated Nov. 30.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is issuing this notice to advise Federal, State and local governmental agencies and the public that USACE is terminating the San Francisco Bay to Stockton California Navigation Study and withdrawing its Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for said study,” it said, in a summary.
Bay Area environmental groups cheered the announcement, “This proposal is dead in the water, for all intents and purposes; said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, the executive director of Oakland-based
environmental advocacy group San Francisco Baykeeper. “It was just an ill-advised favor to the oil industry. The purpose was to allow larger oil tankers, which can have a negative impact on the bay. The savings to the oil industry would be only $11 million a year.”
“There were a lot of harmful consequences the Army Corp of Engineers didn’t consider,” she said. “Like on organisms at the bottom of the bay. And endangered Delta Smelt. This drudging would really disturb their habitat and stir up toxins.”
Having shallower shipping lanes in the bay frequently requires oil companies to load their product onto smaller ships with smaller drafts, resulting in more trips. They typically also wait for favorable tides to move toward refineries. Advocates also said the plan could reduce ship traffic in the bay and lower fuel prices.
The affected area would’ve totaled 13.2 miles, from what USACE called “Central San Francisco Bay” to Avon, just east of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. The area is currently maintained at 35 feet deep at lowest tide, though USACE said it’s authorized to go to 45 feet.
The project would’ve looked at expanding the depth to 38 feet at low tide in the Pinole Shoal Channel and Bulls Head Reach portion of the Suisun Bay Channel. Environmental groups say the project would’ve increased the chances of oil spills in the bay and the pollution of area drinking water with sediment from the bottom of the bay. They also said it would increase air pollution in communities around the refineries and threaten local wildlife.
“Good riddance to this boondoggle of a project, which would have wreaked havoc on wildlife and public health,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Using taxpayer money to dig a 13-mile ditch through San Francisco Bay to help oil
companies refine more tar sands oil was a terrible idea.”
Monday’s announcement noted that the Port of Stockton and Contra Costa County – both of which were previously thought to have considered a cost-sharing arrangement with the government on the project – both informed USACE they were no longer interested. The Bay Area is the second largest oil refining center on the West Coast with five refineries, three of which are located in Contra Costa County.
“Over the last few months, the USACE has confirmed that there is no other entity interested in supporting project implementation and consequently, the decision was made to terminate the study,” the USACE notice said.
When the project was proposed at the end of the Obama administration, the economy was healthy and there was speculation growing oil demand would facilitate companies to build pipelines leading from tar sands sites in Canada into the U.S.
The pandemic, of course, has changed both the economy and the demand for refining oil into gasoline, as fewer people are commuting. Plans to pipe Canadian oil south have also been put on hold.