This past Friday, Chevron scored a 30-year lease renewal for its offshore marine terminal near El Segundo over environmentalists' objections and despite an environmental review that cited "a reasonable possibility that operation of the Marine Terminal offshore loading facilities during the 30-year lease period will cause an oil spill."
Environmental groups argue that open-water terminals — where tankers pump their oil into pipes leading to refineries — are "more susceptible to spills and harder to clean up" than those at port, as Santa Monica Baykeeper marine programs manager Brian Meux put it. Baykeeper and other groups say that the open-water facilities should be phased out in favor of new terminals at the Port of Los Angeles, which would have the additional benefit of safeguarding the Santa Monica Bay.
"Clearly, Santa Monica Bay is an important asset for the region," acknowledged Chevron public affairs manager Rod Spackman. "We understand that in the same way that the environmental community does. But that shouldn't mean that we should not be able to continue to operate there under the most rigorous standards.... That would be unfair, given our track record."
But would it? According to Rainforest Action Network, which is leading a corporate social responsibility campaign against Chevron, in the week prior to getting its marathon lease, Chevron experienced no fewer than three spills: Chevron's Richmond refinery spilled 1,300 barrels; a Chevron pipeline spilled about 500 barrels in Salt Lake City, Utah; and it was revealed that the company's North Burnaby refinery in British Columbia is still discharging oil into the Burrard Inlet seven months after the leak was discovered. Chevron's Pascagoula, Mississippi, refinery also reported a release of the known carcinogen benzene.
Chevron's record at the El Segundo terminal isn't spotless, either. Small spills have occurred periodically, and, in 1980, a tanker with a fractured hull spilled 105,000 gallons. Chevron's Spackman insists that industry advances since then make it unlikely that such a spill would occur again. But isn't that what all the oil companies said about offshore drilling leading up to the summer's catastrophic BP spill? It's a marker of the media's complicity in such baseless talking points that the L.A. Times repeats them without a challenge.
But the industry might be facing a surprising adversary in the near future: the Lieutenant Governor-elect Gavin Newsom. At a recent speech at the Green California Summit in Sacramento (which this writer attended), Newsom reminded the green crowd that his position would allow him to influence the decisions made by the State Lands Commission — the body which gave Chevron its 30-year pass.