On Saturday, April 18, a group of local residents will be walking – yes, walking – from Pittsburg to Martinez as part of the 2015 Refinery Corridor Healing Walks. The April 18 walk will kick off four walks this summer that will take us from Pittsburg to Martinez to Benicia to Rodeo to Richmond. Led by Idle No More, the 17-mile nonviolent walk from Pittsburg to Martinez will call attention to the pollution caused by local refineries and envision a “just transition” from fossil fuels to a cleaner, more habitable community. The walks are not protests – they are led by Native American elders in prayer, focusing on healing the land, air and water from the devastation of the oil industry.
The reason the April 18 walk will begin in Pittsburg is because of the proposed WesPac oil terminal, which – if approved by the Pittsburg City Council – would activate a huge oil infrastructure project that has the potential to pollute and endanger families who are literally living across the street from the site.
The following month on Sunday, May 17, a second walk will begin in Martinez at Marina Park, at the end of Ferry Street. We will walk from Martinez and go across the bridge to the Valero Refinery in Benicia. The focus of that walk will be on the issues affecting Martinez residents, and how we want to re-envision our future beyond fossil fuels.
Why do we need to think about moving beyond oil? Because the limitations of oil are real. British Petroleum (BP) reported in July 2014 that “total world proved oil reserves…are sufficient to meet 53.3 years of global production” (Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2014). That means in 53 years, these refineries will run out of stuff to process. At that point, what will be left of our communities, our jobs, and our transportation options? And who will clean up the land and water that Big Oil leaves behind?
Here in Martinez, the refineries, coke plants and other industrial facilities around us produce a toxic soup of pollution that we breathe in every day. While this pollution may be mostly invisible, it is still deadly. Pollution hurts our children and our elderly, and yet these cumulative effects are never acknowledged. In the past few months, Martinez residents have witnessed a spill in the Carquinez Strait, as well as a fire, equipment malfunctions and heavy flaring at the Shell and Tesoro refineries, while the refinery repeatedly assures the community that “there’s nothing to worry about.” Late last year, the Tesoro refinery had loud booming noises and massive flares raging for over a month, turning the night sky a pulsing orange, but the refinery told the community it was just “normal flaring.” Without adequate air monitoring or ongoing cancer and asthma studies, we are left to trust the word of those who profit from the yearly massive tonnage of pollution released in our neighborhoods. In the last two months, we have also heard horror stories from both union oil workers and union train conductors about unsafe working conditions present in both industries.
It might feel like all of this is just overwhelming and impossible to address. But one of the greatest things about the Refinery Corridor Healing Walks is that they are incredibly positive, forward-looking events. They connect our communities and bring together people who want to ensure a future for our children. In addition to Idle No More, the walks are also sponsored by the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition, a group of Solano and Contra Costa residents living in fenceline refinery communities and working for environmental justice.
If you are interested in learning more about how to participate in the Healing Walks, go to the website atwww.refineryhealingwalks.com. The April 18 walk from Pittsburg to Martinez will begin at 8 AM with a water ceremony and registration at 3 Marina Blvd in Pittsburg, and then will depart at 9:30 AM. Walkers do not need to walk the whole way to Martinez – there will be support vehicles along the way to take people back when they get tired. If you do plan to come, please bring a reusable water bottle and food for yourself.
We hope you will join us!
– Aimee Durfee & Tom Griffith