Feds Shelve Plans to Dredge San Francisco Bay for Oil Tankers

(CN) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has abandoned plans to dredge a 13-mile stretch of the San Francisco Bay to make it easier for oil tankers to access oil refineries in the area.

According to the corps, its about-face stems from the Port of Stockton’s decision to drop out as a non-federal cost-sharing partner for the project and no one else stepping up to fill the void. Contra Costa County — which hosts several of the refineries — had considered partnering with the corps but ultimately declined.

“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 agency wrote in a document published Monday in the Federal Register.

The study refers to a final environmental impact statement, which studies the environmental effects of proposed projects. Such analysis is a critical step in any proposed project receiving approval, but the corps abandoned the project before the analysis began. 

The project is the second to be scuttled by the corps in the aftermath of the presidential election. Last week, the Alaska Division of the Army Corps of Engineers rejected a permit for the Pebble Mine project planned for the pristine Bristol Bay.

As for the San Francisco Bay dredging project, environmental groups said it would have been an ecological disaster, endangering the native fish during construction and allowing faster ship speeds that would have harmed marine mammals in the area. 

“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. “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, and local groups weren’t fooled.”

The center noted the news means less oil will be refined at the Bay Area’s many oil refineries, which will prevent an increase in air pollution. 

“The writing is on the wall for fossil fuel companies,” Kretzmann said. “The refineries are already laying off workers. We need a just transition to make sure we responsibly phase out fossil fuels and move to a cleaner future.”

Had the project sailed through the environmental analysis process to approval, the corps would have increased the medium level of depth by three feet from the center of the bay to Avon, just east of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. 

The corps would have also installed a 2,600-foot sediment trap at Bulls Head Reach, a portion of the Suisun Bay Channel. 

The plans prompted fierce opposition from many groups in the Bay Area, which continue to put pressure on state and local officials to curtail the activity at area refineries rather than abet it. 

While most business sectors have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic, the oil and gas industry has keenly felt impacts of lockdown policies and reduced travel. 

This past April, union workers announced Bay Area refineries had laid off as many as 1,000 contract workers, as some of the refineries idled their production indefinitely. At the depth of the pandemic economic shock, the price of oil per barrel plummeted so sharply that companies were paying storage facilities to take the commodity off their hands. 

The Marathon oil refinery at Martinez was just one of the area refineries to announce it would halt production indefinitely. The Phillips 66 refinery in nearby Rodeo announced it would use its facility to produce renewable biodiesel. 

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