Lawsuit Targets 30-year Plan for Bay Area Marine Terminal Receiving Ships Full of Dangerous Crude Oil

Groups seek full environmental review of facility’s pollution, safety threats to San Francisco Bay


Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2123


Roger Lin, Communities for a Better Environment, (510) 302-0430, ext. 16


Patrick Sullivan, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 517-9364

Environmental groups sued the California State Lands Commission today for approving a 30-year lease for a Suisun Bay marine terminal that will ship hundreds of tankers full of dangerous crude oil, including highly explosive Bakken crude, and petroleum products.

Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company LLC (“Tesoro”) owns and operates California’s fourth-largest refinery, the Golden Eagle Refinery, located near Martinez, California. The refinery depends on its two marine terminals to import crude oil feedstocks and export finished petroleum products, such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Last month, the California State Lands Commission approved a new, 30-year lease for Tesoro’s Avon Marine Terminal.   

Over the coming years, Tesoro plans to switch to processing lower-cost, lower-quality crude oil, like Bakken crude, California heavy crude, and Canadian tar sands, which would be transported through the marine terminals connected to its refinery. These types of crude oil are dangerous to transport and difficult and expensive to clean up in the event of spills. Recent years have seen a spate of deadly incidents involving these types of oil, including the explosion of a train bearing Bakken crude in Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, Canada, which killed 47 people and destroyed nearly half the town.  

Low-quality crudes also burn dirtier than other types of crude feedstocks, releasing greater quantities of air pollutants and toxic chemicals. These pollution burdens would impact a region of the Bay Area already heavily contaminated by the effects of Tesoro’s and other nearby refineries, where residents suffer from high rates of asthma due to these industrial activities.  

But, the environmental impact report for Tesoro’s Avon Marine Terminal lease renewal fails to provide crucial information about the environmental and public health risks posed by the dangerous cargo it is intended to handle over the next 30 years.

“The California State Lands Commission has a duty to protect the public and engage in responsible stewardship of public lands with input from affected communities,” said Earthjustice attorney Irene Gutierrez. “Instead, it is turning a blind eye to the impacts that opening the Bay Area to a flood of toxic and volatile crude oil could have on this area and the health of the San Francisco Bay Delta. It should not allow Tesoro to turn a quick profit, while leaving the public in the dark about the effects of its activities.”

"When you take a close look at what is going on in the marine oil terminals along the refinery corridor from Richmond to Stockton, it's chilling to imagine what could happen if a huge oil tanker carrying tar sands crude crashed in the Bay! And as we begin to understand our extended drought as one of the effects of climate change, it's clear our reliance on fossil fuels must continuously lessen, not ramp up as the oil companies would have us believe." Tom Griffith, Martinez resident and co-founder of the Martinez Environmental Group and founding member of the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition.

“This terminal aims to bring oil tankers carrying dirty crude oil, like explosive Bakken crude, into the San Francisco Bay, ramping up the risk of a terrible accident,” said Vera Pardee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “State officials shrugged off the dangers of these crude-carrying ships and rubberstamped a 30-year lease for a facility that pollutes our air and increases the threat of a catastrophic oil spill.”

Today’s suit was filed by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Communities for a Better Environment. Their lawsuit aims to halt terminal activities until a full environmental review can be completed.

Read the legal document.

A refinery in the city of Martinez, next to the San Francisco Bay. The region is already heavily contaminated by the effects of Tesoro's and other nearby refineries.
A refinery in the city of Martinez, next to the San Francisco Bay. The region is already heavily contaminated by the effects of Tesoro's and other nearby refineries. (Photo courtesy of Jaeger Moore)

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