OPEN FORUM in SF Chronicle
By Janet Pygeorge and Laurel Impett April 6, 2015
The fracking boom in North Dakota and increased recovery of tar sands oil in Canada have prompted dramatic growth in transport of crude oil by rail throughout the United States from regions that pipelines don’t serve. Bay Area refineries and oil and gas companies already are planning for increased rail traffic and expanded operations. These plans are understandably alarming residents because of the potential for oil-train explosions. The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, however, does not share this alarm.
The supervisors made that clear in February when they rubber-stamped a proposed operational expansion of the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Analyses done by Communities for a Better Environment, a nonprofit environmental justice organization that has sued to overturn this approval, show that the refinery’s expansion would significantly increase air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and public safety risks.
The board’s position defies both science and common sense. This refinery is located in the middle of an earthquake liquefaction zone. Phillips 66 plans to dramatically increase the number of railcars that are regularly staged at the plant; it also plans to begin processing propane and expand its processing of butane, both highly explosive.
The proposal includes plans to store 630,000 gallons of liquid propane about half a mile from homes, churches, a school and a park. And yet the environmental analysis approved by the board claimed that there would be no significant risks associated with this operational expansion.
In the case of a large earthquake, Phillips 66’s operational expansion would place huge swaths of Rodeo at significant risk of death and destruction, with damage radiating from the refinery up past San Pablo Avenue to as far away as where I-80 runs through Rodeo. It is simply unacceptable for our county officials to allow this expansion without requiring stringent attention to public health and safety by putting aggressive safeguards in place.
In terms of air quality impacts, this refinery has a dismal track record. It received more than 200 notices of violation from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District between 2003 and 2014. According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, it is the seventh-most-toxic polluter of all California facilities with large chemical releases. Phillips 66’s proposed changes would significantly increase the level of air pollution the facility produces, but the company used accounting tricks to hide the ball in its air-quality analysis. County officials did not question the refinery’s flawed analytical approach.
The Board of Supervisors showed its hand when it approved Phillips 66’s operational expansion without requiring investments to protect the health and safety of residents. Three different lawsuits have been filed against the county for lack of appropriate oversight in this matter. Contra Costa residents must demand better from local elected officials.
Join us in demanding that the county put an end to approving dirty industry at the expense of the public’s health and safety. Enough is enough.
Ultimately, if elected officials won’t stand up for health and safety, the court should intervene and protect the best interests of this community.
Janet Pygeorge is president of Rodeo Citizens Association, one of the groups that has filed suit in this matter. Laurel Impett is a planner with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, the law firm that represents the association.