Gobs of GOBs (and this has to change!)

BAAQMD (Bay Area Air Quality Management District), quite honestly, rocks.  More specifically, Inspector Simon Winer rocks.

You’ll remember the November 4th Wall of Stink we all sucked into our eyes and lungs from the illicit crude oil transfer between Public Service Marine’s (a misnomer if there ever was one!) Jovalan barge and the Olympic Spirit barge out at Reefer Dock…

Here are the facts about that day, and the facts are outrageous.

Public Safety Marine Inc. (PSMI) was “founded in 1978 to build and operate the barge Jovalan, which transported petroleum products for public utilities in Southern California.” PSMI has been the exclusive shipper of crude oil out of VENOCO’s Ellwood, California terminal (formerly ARCO) in Santa Barbara County.

The Jovalan, a single hull barge, was state of the art in the 1980s. Not so much, however, after the 1990 Oil Pollution Act (OPA) went into effect requiring crude oil to be transferred in double-hull crafts. Yet the Jovalan continued to be given a state permit to run crude oil up from SoCal to the SF Bay Area. (In fact, its current permit does not expire until 2012.[!]) Sometime between 1990 and now, local refineries stopped accepting deliveries from single-hull crafts.  Yet VENOCO continued to load crude oil onto the Jovalan, a single-hull barge whose singular activity is transporting petroleum to the SF Bay Area.  Neither VENOCO, the Santa Barbara County Energy, nor any of those in the petroleum industry in the SF Bay Area thought this enough of a problem to speak up or do something about it. Huh?

In 2002, Harley Marine (Seattle, WA) who bought Public Service Marine and the Jovalan with it. …

Harley Marine’s Founder and current Chairman, Harley Franco, says this: “We are a highly safe, environmentally responsible….company in the marine services business. My vision for the Company upon its inception in 1987, was to become the safest and most environmentally responsible marine transportation company in the country.”

Yet Harley/PSMI has been doing illicit crude oil transfers from the Jovalan to a double-hull craft right here on the City of Alameda coastline, in a populated area and at an unauthorized location for lightering for years, if not decades.  Lightering is typically unloading cargo from one large ship to several smaller craft but regulations for lightering crude oil apply to all marine activity—it has to be conducted away from populated areas, in designated locations, with air district permits, and with oversight by a United States Coast Guard (USCG) Captain of the Port (COTP).

How was it even possible that PSMI was able to conduct these ongoing illicit crude oil transfers–replete with pollution to our bodies, air and water—unchecked?

As far as I can gather because:

1. The Jovalan lightering to the Olympic Spirit was from same-size barge to same-size barge,

2. PSMI never notified BAAQMD,

3. the Good Old Boys (GOBs)-at Reefer Dock and nearby marine companies, and the USCG–allowed, enabled, and dissembled, even out right lied, and

4. Harley Marine’s shareholders must be really happy with the profits this illicit strategy must generate (profit from running crude oil cargos up the coast in an old, derelict barge that has more than paid for itself many times over by now, as well as foregoing the recurring costs of air district permits and a ginormous costs of a new/replacement barge),

the GOBs were able to ‘help each other’ to play fast and loose with the regulations and rules that are in place. You know, those things that protect public and environmental health. Thank you guys! NOT.

Until now, the GOBs thought it just find to let PSMI do whatever they wanted, however they wanted, on our populated shoreline all the while telling any inconvenient and concerned strangers (unfamiliar with the industry and its rules and regulations) some pretty hefty flat out lies.

We called the USCG.  Lt. Rubini answered the phone that night at Coast Guard Island. He told many lies from submerged or buried derelict tanks in the coastline or estuary (the location varied based upon who phoned) that smell at low tide. When we cross-referenced those stories among us, those lies didn’t make sense. When we pushed the USCG further for the truth and we pushed them to do their job (go out on the water, find the oil spill, and protect us!), they turned on us: Rubini became hostile, threatening (“you’re wasting our time, we can have you arrested”) and even went so far as send someone out to visit the caller’s home (tracked the telephone number), knocking on the door that night to reify his threat! This! When they are in charge of the oil spill that was under their very noses!

The day after the last known illicit crude oil transfer conducted by Harley/PSMI, I went down to Reefer Dock.  Well, I tried.  The GOBs wouldn’t let me near. “This is private property and you’re not allowed” I was told. “It’s fine” and  “It’s not toxic” I was told.  “It’s the same thing you smell in Santa Barbara” I was told.  “Perfectly safe, unregulated Black Oil” I was told.

But facts are stronger than lies: there is no such thing as Black Oil. And there’s no such thing as an unregulated oil that is transported to refineries.

Fortunately, enough residents complained to BAAMQD that Mr. Winer came down on 11/5/2010, and boarded the Jovalan at Reefer Dock and the Olympic Spirit at Conoco Philips.

The Jovalan’s equipment was broken, leaking or old, maybe all of the above. BAAQMD’s equipment registered fumes the next day when the equipment was not even in use!  Imagine if our first responders (Alameda Fire Department [AFD]) had accurately described the November 4, 2010 illicit crude oil transfer event to BAAQMD so that BAAQMD would have come out onsite during the event….imagine what their equipment would have registered!

Sidebar: Like the 2009 FISC fire, our AFD fails time and time again to engage regional and state agencies during toxic events, agencies that have the responsibility, money and tools to protect public and environmental health. Not Oz is working on getting this fixed soon.

The Olympic Spirit is the shiny new double-hull craft that Harley’s Olympic Tug & Barge recently commissioned, the barge that PSMI was lightering their crude oil cargo to.  My best guess is that Olympic Spirit staff didn’t know how to operate the new equipment well enough to protect us from fumes during the transfer.  Otherwise the new equipment on the Olympic Spirit would have been able to protect us from the highly toxic Wall of Stink Oakland experienced on 11/2/2010 (their first attempt at the crude oil transfer from J to OS) and Alameda from the highly toxic Wall of Stink on 11/4/2010.  Took them two tries, they still couldn’t get it right. That tells me that they didn’t know what the hell they were doing!

To summarize, PSMI is required to do the following every time it enters the bay with a hull full of crude oil:

1. get a permit from BAAQMD

2. conduct pier-side lightering (transferring cargo from ship to ship) at the only location approved for this in the SF Bay: Anchorage 9 (south of the Bay Bridge)

3. Maintain equipment in good condition so that lightering can be done safely, i.e., no spills, no fumes

4. Provide well-trained staff who know how to properly use the equipment and prevent air and water pollution (fumes, spills)

PSMI failed at all four.

PSMI got slapped with BAAQMD Notices of Violation for equipment leaks aboard the barges, failure to provide advance notification (air district permits for two crude oil transfers [September and November 2010]) and for causing a Public Nuisance in the downwind community. That last one is a doozy.  It’ll cost them. Significantly. Whether PSMI opts to go to court against BAAQMD and fight, or whether they will simply pay the fine, we won’t know until the infractions are paid for, and that could take months.  I imagine also that the Harley companies can no longer run barges into the SF Bay Area without scrutiny, without BAAQMD’s eyeballs watching them.  But that in and of itself doesn’t fix the problem.

It’s a little complicated, but Simon Winer (BAAQMD Inspector, Refinery Group), went above and beyond the call of duty.  He brought the Harley/PSMI issues to the January 2011 meeting of the Harbor Safety Commission (HSC), a clearinghouse for maritime safety issues with special focus on oil spills, at the Port of Richmond.  Because of that meeting, USGC COTP Captain Cynthia Stowe’s updated her December 29, 2010 Marine Safety and Security Information Bulletin 10-06 to say “Pier-side lightering of Noxious Liquid Substances… (crude oil) is permitted only at fixed oil facilities (the oil terminals that are equipped to handle these activities).” So that means that Harley/PSMI can no longer conduct lightering at Reefer Dock.  Almost. She also included the following wording “The COTP will consider requests to lighter and bunker at other locations”.  Which worries me.  The GOBs allowed this before, what’s to stop them from doing so again? And as long as the Jovalan’s state license is good (through 2012), what’s to stop Harley/PSMI from trying?  But I think, truly, that this is done. The Jovalan will be mothballed and the regulation agencies are apprised.  Harley Marine’s activity will be scrutinized if they try anything again. Fingers are crossed!  I have a hopeful feeling that, after all of this, Harley Marine companies, the other marine companies on Main Street, and the USCG are all going to be on best behavior for a while: OSPR cannot have been happy with what they’ve recently learned has been going on down in Alameda town.

And about that USCG: I’ve made an FOIA request for documents from that night; the USCG has been unresponsive. We will be filing formal complaints soon.

HUGE SHOUT OUT & THANK YOU especially to Mr. Winer who took such great care, acted with such diligence, and went beyond the call of duty.

Note to elected officials in the City of Alameda: that’s how it’s supposed to be done. If you’re not on board with this–you know, doing things the right way—feel free to throw yourself under the bus.

About Denise Lai

Alive. Swim (fly is the best). Walking with my dog (weims are the best). Life is good. Would prefer people understood negative externalities and prevented themselves from creating them. Feeling the love anyway. View all posts by Denise Lai

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