We Must Protect San Francisco Bay and Other Waterways from Tar Sands Oil Spills

California’s bays, rivers, and coastline are some of the most stunning and important natural resources in the world, and we need to be vigilant in safeguarding them from destructive oil spills. While we have laws in places to deal with traditional spills of floating oils, these laws don’t address sinking oils, like those derived from tar sands. These sinking oils are highly destructive to the environment and cannot be effectively cleaned up.

We must protect San Francisco Bay, California’s coastline, and other waterways from devastating tar sands oil spills. To do so, I’m announcing a bill — Senate Bill 709 — that will protect California’s bays, rivers, and coastline from dangerous tar sands oil spills. It does so by requiring oil companies to describe how they will clean up a sinking oil spill. If they cannot do so — there is currently no known way to clean up these sinking oils effectively — their transport permit will be denied.

Tar sands oils are mined and then shipped by rail and pipeline to the coasts where they are either refined or shipped elsewhere to be refined. The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline will ship tar sands oil south from Alberta to Nebraska, where it will join an existing pipeline that continues south to the Texas Gulf Coast. President Obama denied the issuance of the Keystone XL permit to allow construction in the United States, but four days after taking office, President Trump granted the permit.

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(Photo: Albert tar sands, producing some of the dirtiest oil in the world)

There are other pipelines like the Keystone XL that carry tar sands west from Alberta to Vancouver, where these tar sands oils are then shipped down the west coast and into our California waterways, including the San Francisco Bay. A tar sands oil spill in San Francisco Bay would be devastating, but right now, we don’t even require oil companies to state how they will clean up this sinking oil if it spills.

That’s why I’ve introduced SB 709, which requires that any operator wishing to transport tar sands oil or other non-floating oil in or near a California waterway must have a contingency plan specifically outlining how it will clean up non-floating oils and identifying an organization that can and will engagement in that clean up. If the operator cannot provide such a contingency plan or identify such an organization, the transport permit will be denied. Currently, there is no known organization capable of cleaning up tar sands if a spill occurs.

The bill is sponsored by San Francisco Baykeeper, the nonprofit pollution watchdog for the San Francisco Bay. SB 709 also has the support of Save the Bay, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Water Action, the Bay Institute, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. The NRDC recently published a study titled The Tar Sands Tanker Threat: American Waterways in Industry’s Sights, that looked at the destructive impacts that shipping these dangerous sinking oils in our rivers and along our coastlines will have.

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(Photo: Proposed tar sands transportation network)

I care deeply about protecting and preserving California’s natural beauty, like San Francisco Bay. We need to protect our coastline and our waterways from these dangerous sinking oils. SB 709 will help us to do just that.

CA State Senator. Urbanist. Environmentalist. Advocate for transit, housing, clean energy, criminal justice reform, health, ending poverty. Democrat. 🏳️‍🌈

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