Saturday, June 30, 2012

2012-06-30 "Meeting in Crockett to address concerns about plant's recent chemical release" from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
A community meeting will be held Monday in Crockett to discuss the recent ConocoPhillips Rodeo chemical release that affected Crockett, Vallejo and Benicia residents.
The meeting will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Crockett Community Center, 850 Pomona St.
The June 15 hydrogen sulfide release resulted in a "rotten egg" smell that persisted throughout the area. An investigation found that a seal on a tank storing processed water at the refinery separated, allowing the vapors to escape into the air, Contra Costa County health officials said.
The release may have caused nausea, headaches or affected those with respiratory problems.
Monday's meeting will describe the county's response to the incident -- including follow-up actions -- and give residents a chance to ask questions, health officials said.
Speakers will include representatives from ConocoPhillips and Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover's office as well as public health and hazardous materials officials.

Friday, June 29, 2012

2012-06-29 "Breeding population of ducks down" by Todd R. Hansen from "Tri-County Newspapers"
Not every plane flying low and at a flagging speed of 100 to 115 mph is dropping seed or spraying fields.
In late April and early May, California Department of Fish & Game was in the air over the Sacramento Valley and other parts of the state counting ducks as part of its annual waterfowl breeding population survey.
The results are in, and the overall breeding population — a combination of pairs and drakes — is down.
However, the number of mallards are up 5 percent, and the habitat areas are good, so officials are looking for an above-average brood.
"Surveys indicated an increase in mallard abundance and habitat conditions were good in most of northeastern California and good throughout the Central Valley, so we expect above-average production for all waterfowl species," Waterfowl Program Biologist Melanie Weaver said in a statement.
The total number of all species decreased from 558,600 last year to 524,500 this year, largely because of a decline in gadwall and cinnamon teal populations, the state agency reported.
This survey result is 11 percent below the long-term average, which is calculated from surveys starting in 1992, although surveys actually started in 1955.
The breeding population of mallards increased from 314,700 in 2011 to 381,900 this year. Mallard numbers are above their long-term average, the state reported.
The survey areas include wetland and agricultural habitats in the Sacramento Valley, northeastern California, the San Joaquin Valley, the Suisun Marsh, the Napa-Sonoma marshes, the San Joaquin Delta and some foothill areas.
The duck populations in the Sacramento Valley, which includes Colusa, Glenn and Tehama counties, was down slightly with 105,482. The mallard population was up at 85,641.
The survey is conducted in planes, with helicopters coming in to sample areas after the original count is completed. Any difference in the counts is calculated as an adjustment.
"It is not easy, but the planes are able to go pretty slow: 90 to 100 knots (103-115 mph)," Weaver said. "But that is why we also have a helicopter that comes in."
The survey is not only important to track the duck population as a natural resource, but is also used in setting the length and bag limits for the fall and winter hunting season.
"DFG survey information, along with similar data from other Pacific Flyway states, is used by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service when setting hunting season frameworks for regulations in California and other Pacific Flyway states," Weaver said.
Most of California's wintering duck populations originate from Alaska and Canada, and the results of those federal surveys should be available in July. The terms of the hunting season are generally set in August.
So a survey that holds promising waterfowl production is viewed as a plus for hunters, bird watchers and the casual recreationalist.
"The more you have the better off you are," Weaver said.
The state and federal surveys, however, cannot predict the return of the male falcated duck to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.
It is estimated that more than 10,000 people — some from international locations and others from around California and the country — came to the area to see the duck.
It is an Asian species in the teal family, but is believed to have come to the Colusa area from Alaska.

Friday, June 22, 2012

2012-06-22 "Global sea-level rise could hit California hard" by David Perlman from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Global sea-level rise, induced by the warming climate, will hit California's coastline harder than the other West Coast states over the coming decades and on through the end of the century, according to a new report from the National Research Council.
Oceans around the world are rising, but seas around California will rise even higher - by more than 3 feet before 2100, the report says. Tide gauges and satellites show that the rate of sea-level rise has increased steadily since 1900, and with each passing decade, storm surges and high waves will put low-lying regions like the Bay Area at heightened risk of dangerous flooding.
The forecasts come from the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which appointed the 12-member committee to investigate earlier estimates of sea-level rise and factor in all new available evidence. The result was a 260-page report issued Friday.
The report was commissioned primarily by California's Department of Water Resources, along with state agencies from Oregon and Washington in order to aid their planning efforts.
The scientists estimated the rates of global sea-level rise, and compared their findings with other forecasts of the global future. The report did not recommend ways to deal with future issues.
"This is physical science, not political science," said committee member Gary Griggs, an oceanographer and director of marine science at UC Santa Cruz.

Oceans rising -
The report estimates that California's sea-level rise south of Cape Mendocino could range between a mere 1.5 inches to a full foot by 2030; the rise could range between 4.5 inches and 2 feet by 2050 and between 16 inches and 4.5 feet by the start of the next century.
"However," the report's scientists warned, "an earthquake of magnitude 8 or larger in this region could cause sea level to rise suddenly by an additional meter (3 feet) or more" beyond those estimates.
The estimates of future sea-level rise are so broad, the scientists said, because of all the uncertainties and knowledge gaps involved in this kind of forecasting.
The sea-level forecast for California below Cape Mendocino is substantially higher than projections for Mendocino north along the coasts of Oregon and Washington because of the great differences in the nature of the Earth's crust between the two regions, the scientists noted.
 From Cape Mendocino north, the coastal land mass lies along what is called the Cascadia Subduction Zone. There the entire sea floor beneath the Pacific is slowly diving beneath the coastal crust and pushing the land upward, which means that the sea is slowly receding. That's not happening along the rest of California.
But if a major earthquake hits on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, as it did in 1700, records show, then the diving would stop, and sea level would rise more swiftly, the report said.
The new estimates of sea-level rise are substantially greater than the projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC, in 2007. The effect of melting polar ice on sea level has been calculated since then far more precisely, Griggs said.

The Arctic effect -
The council's scientists calculated that the melting glaciers in the Arctic and the breakup of vast ice sheets in the Antarctic due to climate change are dumping water into the oceans at an ever-faster rate. The melting ice accounts for 65 percent of total sea-level rise, while the expansion of all the world's oceans as they warm up accounts for the rest, said Robert A. Dalrymple, professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University, who headed the committee.
During a telephone press briefing Thursday, Dalrymple noted that as sea level rises more and more rapidly, California's coastline will become increasingly threatened by erosion, crumbling cliffs, and larger and larger waves hitting farther and farther inland.
"California wetlands are likely to keep pace with sea-level rise," he said, "and sea-level rise will magnify the effects of every storm."
The Bay Area will be particularly hard hit because its airports and many cities are barely above sea level now. With every few inches of sea-level rise, more and more of those urban areas will be flooded - and particularly so by storm surge waters, the report said.
Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager for California's Department of Water Resources, called the report "extremely helpful in planning for the future."
 The new sea-level estimates mean, she said, that "winds, waves and weather will need a lot more prediction and more monitoring than ever."

Friday, June 15, 2012

2012-06-15 "Strong, 'broken egg' smell around Rodeo stems from leak at ConocoPhillips refinery" from "Bay City News" and "Vallejo Times-Herald" newspaper
Strong odors are expected to last all day following a gas leak at the ConocoPhillips oil refinery in Rodeo Friday morning, a Contra Costa County hazmat official said.
 Crews were responding as of 8 a.m. to the refinery at 1380 San Pablo Ave., said Steve Morioka, assistant director of the county's hazardous materials program.
 There are strong odors in the surrounding area resulting from egg-type odor," he said.
 Prevailing winds carried the odor toward Crockett, Vallejo and Benicia, said Randy Sawyer, the county's chief environmental health and hazmat officer.
 The odor was reported by numerous Benicia residents as well as a construction crew near Birds Landing, a Solano County hazmat official said.
 Health officials have advised people to stay indoors if they have respiratory problems.
 The odors are the result of a hydrogen sulfide release tied to a tank failure at the refinery, Sawyer said.
 "The tank over-pressurized and a welding seam failed," Sawyer said. Crews were responding by covering the tank with foam, he said.
 The levels of gas that were released were well below levels of concern, health officials said.
 The Bay Area Air Quality Monitoring District is investigating to determine the leak's exact cause. Sawyer said the refinery has been asked to submit an investigation report to county officials by Monday.
 City of Benicia officials issued an advisory this morning advising residents that the odor they are noticing "is following the prevailing winds and will dissipate shortly."

2012-06 Chemical spill at ConocoPhillips in Rodeo

2012-06-15 "Rodeo refinery spill prompts Benicia alert"
by Donna Beth Weilenman from "Benicia Herald" []:
A strong odor in Benicia caused by a spill at a Rodeo-based refinery prompted a communitywide alert Friday morning, though Fire Chief Steve Vucurevich said no shelter-in-place warning was required.
The city’s dispatchers handled more than 300 calls from residents who were worried about the smell, and of those, 30 were directed to the fire department, Vucurevich said. “It was definitely a strong odor.”
The ConocoPhillips refinery, 1380 San Pablo Ave., experienced the release about 7:45 a.m. It was handled by Contra Costa Fire Protection District, according to information Vucurevich and the city alert system provided.
Contra Costa Environmental Health was told of the spill, the notification said.
Vucurevich said he learned from Colby LaPlace, Solano County Department of Resource Management specialist, that the ConocoPhillips refinery experienced overpressurizing in a sour water tank, causing it to leak.
“That’s what is causing the odor,” he said.
The smell, which residents said was like rotten eggs, was from hydrogen sulfide contamination in the tank’s water. Prevailing winds were expected to dissipate the odor, residents were told.
“They’re putting foam on it to reduce the vapors and odor, and they hope it will be mitigated by 4 p.m. today,” Vucurevich said Friday.
Contamination near the Contra Costa County refinery reached 1 part per million, said Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer.
The gas becomes a hazard at 30 parts per million, but the odor becomes more offensive long before it reaches that level, Sawyer said.
He explained that the smell might make some motorists in the vicinity of the ConocoPhillips refinery might feel nauseated if heavy traffic slowed their driving times.
Valero Benicia Refinery employees checked the refinery’s ground level monitors’ measurements, and were able to to provide information to local officials, Vucurevich said.
Based on the data provided by the local refinery, which otherwise was not involved with the spill, the city authorized the notice to the public, but learned it did not need to issue a shelter-in-place warning or sound alarms.
“We activated the CAN (community alert network) system to get the information out to the community,” Vucurevich said. “It’s not a health risk to us.”