Valero’s Dirty Record Spills Onto Charity Golf Green

Greg Harman

I’ve been known to tap out some disgusted words about major SA employer, Valero Energy. There was a time the petrochemical company was buying (and begging) its way into the biodiesel universe and unwary and optimistic enviros may have thought the nation’s largest refiner could be planning to transform itself something cleaner.

valeroUnfortunately such Aquarius-smacking dreams haven’t proven out. Recent company decisions to invest more deeply into heavy crude processing capacity, including tapping the Canadian tar sands that could one day bisect the U.S. via an expanded Keystone XL pipeline. And failures to address community concerns over air pollution at its Houston Ship Channel refinery have proven Valero is no aspiring green energy outfit.

With its seemingly insatiable appetite for heavy crude, San Antonio’s fifth-largest employer is banking hard and fast for the dirtiest of the dirty.

Why are the tar sands evil?

Oil Change breaks it down pretty well, but not as succinctly as newly minted private agitator (and former NASA scientist) James Hansen who simply called the extreme extraction source “game over” for the climate.

In a touchstone editorial in The New York Times, Hansen wrote:

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

And Valero?

Check this from Corporate Watch:

Valero has committed to taking on at least 100,00 barrels a day (20% of initial capacity) from Keystone XL until 2030. It is the only US company among the six customers who have committed to purchase 76% of Keystone XL’s initial capacity between them. The others are Motiva (a joint venture between Shell and the Saudi government), Total, two Canadian producers and one international oil-trading firm. [5]

The company has also recently upgraded its Port Arthur refinery, increasing its ability to process ‘heavy sour crude’ to 80% of its 310,000 barrels per day capacity (crude oil can be ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ depending on its density, and sour -with a high sulfur content or sweet -low in sulfur. Tar sands oil is a form of heavy sour crude). The Port Arthur refinery is located where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is planned to finish, on the Texas Gulf Coast. This, along with the purchase of the Pembroke refinery, puts Valero in the ideal position to take crude from tar sands via the XL pipeline, convert it to diesel and transport it Europe.

Commenting on Valero’s Commitment to Keystone XL, Bill Klesse, Valero CEO said:

For some time, Valero has been communicating its intent to secure Canadian crude oil delivered to the Gulf Coast, and we believe our participation in the Keystone pipeline expansion is the best opportunity to carry that forward,” Klesse said. “Canada is the United States’ leading trading partner and one of its closest allies, and it has very large undeveloped crude oil reserves, so bringing Canadian crude oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast makes sense on many different levels.”

Good on many different levels, we’re sure. Just not from the level of saving human civilization from climate-destabilized chaos.

Today tar sands activists took on Valero on its own turf, challenging the company in the middle of a charity golfing event with a sign at the 18th hole reading: “TAR SANDS SPILL. VALERO KILLS. ANSWER MANCHESTER.”

tar sands protester at valero open

Here’s the Tar Sands Blockade press release in full:

For Immediate Release
April 6, 2013

Tar Sands Blockader Disrupts Valero-Sponsored Golf Tournament, Demands
Accountability for Manchester

Contact: xxx

A Tar Sands Blockader disrupted the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio this afternoon during the PGA tournament. Douglas Fahlbusch was a standard bearer for the event and used the opportunity to bring attention to Manchester, a low-income Latin@ community where Valero operates a refinery on Houston’s toxic East End. Once the tournament reached the 18th hole, he changed the sign, ordinarily used to display the players’ names and scores, to read “TAR SANDS SPILL. VALERO KILLS. ANSWER MANCHESTER.” He refused to leave the green and was dragged the entire way off the premises by police.

“Business as usual is over, between the BP spill, the current Arkansas spill, and daily life in Manchester,” Fahlbusch said. “Why won’t Valero tell the Manchester people what it is they are breathing every day?”

San Antonio-based Valero is poised to refine as much as 75% of the tar sands coming from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast via the Keystone XL pipeline. The southern segment of the pipeline is under construction and is expected to be operational by the end of this year. If the Keystone XL pipeline is completed, pollution on Houston’s toxic East End is projected to increase by over a third. The East End, and Manchester in particular, are already plagued by high rates of various cancers, asthma, and leukemia. A recent study found that children in Manchester have a 56% higher likelihood of developing leukemia than children living ten miles away, and the air consistently tests positive for at least eight different carcinogens.

Despite attempts to make Valero accountable for the pollution, including delivering a letter to CEO William Klesse amid a 45-day hunger strike by Gulf Coast activists Diane Wilson and Bob Lindsey, there has been no response to Manchester’s demands for transparency. You can learn more about the community of Manchester by visiting their new website, Manchester: Voices from a Frontline Community.

{More on the Tar Sands Blockade website.}

UPDATE: On the media response so far: KENS5 got the first blog up last night, but erroneously reported the protester “got violent” and waited til the fifth and final graf before attempting to explain the purpose of the protest. (You can see the protester getting “violent” in video at top, paradoxically as his limp body is carried off the course and then dragged away with his arms cuffed behind him.) The Express-News followed up a couple hours later. While they got more of the story, they regrettably gave the Valero spokesperson the only opportunity to contextualize the protest (it’s about “politics,” apparently). No one bothered to scratch the ironic sheen of Valero raising money for children’s charities while poisoning communities across the state.

As the protester’s sign read, dear watchdogs of the public’s interest: “ANSWER MANCHESTER.”

For that, a Valero Emissions Information Packet has assembled some useful links, concluding:

The Houston Press reported in 2009, that over a three year period Valero’s Houston refinery violated the Clean Air and Water Act 397 times. [2]

Simple reports of how many pounds of each pollutant Valero over-emits each year are not made readily available to the public, and the magnitude of each over-emission is scattered throughout thousands of pages of cryptic bureaucracy. For example, on December 24, 2011, a broken valve caused almost a dozen EPA-regulated chemicals to be over-emitted in a period of just 36 hours. 24,764 lbs of sulfur dioxide leaked, reaching roughly 12% of their annual limit in just one event. 1000x the legal limitof particulate matter and 1,280x the legal limit of hydrogen sulfide. Another shocking accident occurred on May 31st, 2012 when a malfunction caused a leak of 3,300x the legal limit of Propylene and 1,300x the legal limit of propane. These events are not as rare as you might think. They occur multiple times per year, and are never reported to nearby residents.
It is important to note that these are the accidents that Valero reports on themselves. These are just two incidents among hundreds of violations that occur in this refinery each year.