By Tom Lochner 2/4/15 Oakland Tribune
MARTINEZ — A propane and butane recovery project at the Phillips 66 petroleum refinery in Rodeo won approval Tuesday from the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors after more than a year of wrangling over the project’s scope, its impacts on health and the environment, and safety concerns.
The 4-1 decision, with board chairman John Gioia dissenting, “will help ensure the long-term viability of the Rodeo Refinery and the many jobs it provides,” Paul Adler, the new spokesman for the refinery, said after the vote.
“Protecting our people, our environment, and our communities guides everything we do,” added Adler, who previously worked for the county as a district representative for Supervisor Federal Glover.
But opponents, including the environmental advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment, vowed to continue the fight.
“This is an example of environmental injustice,” said Roger Lin, attorney for CBE, adding that “procedural and substantive errors” accompanied the board’s decision.
The group contends that the Rodeo project should be considered as one with a crude-by-rail project at another Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County, currently under that county’s review.
That project calls for crude oil to be transported by rail, possibly along the shores of San Pablo and San Francisco bays, to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery, where crude oil is partially refined and sent on to the Rodeo refinery via a 200-mile pipeline.
The Rodeo project calls for installation of new equipment to recover and sell propane and butane instead of burning it as fuel at the refinery or flaring off excesses. Phillips 66 maintains that the project would reduce emissions of several pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, partly by using cleaner-burning natural gas as refinery fuel and because sulfur would be extracted in preparation of butane and propane for sale.
The new equipment would include a hydrotreater, six storage vessels and two new rail spurs related to shipping the recovered propane and butane out of the refinery in tank cars.
The county Planning Commission granted the refinery a land use permit in November 2013; Commissioner Rand Swenson, a former Phillips 66 Rodeo refinery manager, was absent.
CBE and the law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, representing the Rodeo Citizens Association, appealed the Planning Commission decision and contested the initial Environmental Impact Report, saying it understated potential consequences of the project and warning that Phillips planned to process more and dirtier crude oil.
Phillips 66, in a Jan. 14 letter to the board, characterized the opponents’ assertions as “speculative, erroneous and false” adding that the size of the project is based on the existing volume of refinery fuel gas derived from the existing crude oil it processes.
Greg Karras, senior scientist for CBE, said after the meeting that Phillips 66 “doctored the science” by using future volumes of propane and butane as a baseline rather than basing it on existing conditions.
Lin declined to say what steps CBE will take to continue the fight.
Tuesday’s vote came after the matter was agendized and postponed several times over the past year.
Gioia voted no after other board members balked at including a condition of approval he proposed that reiterated some points of the county’s Industrial Safety Ordinance and assured that at the moment of construction, Phillips 66 will use the most advanced and safest technology, and that county health officials first must approve it.
In a recent example of regulatory guidelines known as Inherently Safer Systems, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommended that Chevron use more corrosion-resistant pipe at its Richmond refinery to replace piping that failed in August 2012, leading to a fire that sickened thousands, Gioia noted.
In rejecting the appeals and approving a Recirculated Environmental Impact Report, the board also adopted a condition of approval that includes a Community Benefits Package worth $4.2 million for improvements in the Crockett-Rodeo area in Glover’s District 5.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.