Communities for a Better Environment sues Contra Costa County and Phillips 66

Repost from The Contra Costa Times

Rodeo refinery project subject of legal challenge

By Tom Lochner, 03/04/2015 11:37:08 AM PST

MARTINEZ — An environmental group has sued Contra Costa County over its approval of a propane and butane recovery project at a Rodeo refinery, contending it is a piece of a grander plan to process heavy, dirty tar sands crude that would come to California by rail.

Phillips 66, which owns the Rodeo refinery and another refinery near Santa Maria, in San Luis Obispo County, is a co-defendant in the suit, filed Wednesday in Contra Costa Superior Court in Martinez by Communities for a Better Environment. The two refineries together constitute the two-part San Francisco Refinery, according to the Phillips 66 website.

“Phillips 66 cannot meet its propane recovery objective without switching to a lower quality feedstock, like tar sands, and without other Phillips 66 projects to assist in that overall switch,” CBE attorney Roger Lin said in a news release.

CBE has said that the refinery, with the acquiescence of authorities, seeks to “piecemeal” what the environmental group describes as “a tar sands refining project that could worsen pollution, climate, and refinery and rail explosion hazards.” The environmental impact report, CBE contends, “hid the project from the public and failed to mitigate its significant environmental impacts.”

A rail spur project at the Santa Maria refinery, designed to receive about five trains a week, each with about 80 tank cars of crude oil, is under review by San Luis Obispo County.

The trains could arrive at Santa Maria from the south, via the Los Angeles basin, or the north, possibly along the shores of San Pablo and San Francisco bays and through San Jose.

Crude oil is partially refined at the Santa Maria refinery, then sent on to Rodeo via a 200-mile pipeline.

Phillips 66 spokesman Paul Adler said Wednesday that the Board of Supervisors got it right on Feb. 3 and that its decision “will help ensure the long-term viability of the Rodeo Refinery and the many jobs it provides.”

“Our plans for this project reflect our company’s commitment to operational excellence and safety while enhancing the competitiveness of the facility,” Adler said in an email.

“Following two years of careful analysis by the Contra Costa County board and its expert staff, claims that this project is a crude by rail project were dismissed,” Adler added. “Continued allegations by Communities for a Better Environment that this is a crude-by-rail project are inaccurate and misleading.”

Officials at County Counsel Sharon Anderson’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Along with the Rodeo project’s environmental impact report, the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 3 rejected two appeals of a November 2013 county Planning Commission-approved use permit for the project. The appellants were CBE and the law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger on behalf of the Rodeo Citizens Association. The board vote was 4-1, with Supervisor John Gioia voting no.

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 has said 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 to prepare the propane and butane 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.