The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved a new environmental impact report for a plan by Phillips 66 to convert its Rodeo oil refinery into a biofuel refinery after a judge last year ordered the county to redo a previous report.

In October, a judge ruled Phillips 66 needed to do more environmental review of its plan to turn the refinery into a biofuel facility.

Environmental groups Communities for a Better Environment and the Center for Biological Diversity sued Contra Costa County after the Board of Supervisors approved the company’s plan on May 3, 2023.

The groups asked the court to stop what they said would be one of the world’s largest biofuel refineries while the county addresses what the groups called “major legal flaws in its environmental analysis.”

Project’s scope clarified

Judge Edward Weil wanted clarification regarding whether a renovation project done at the nearby NuStar terminal was part of the Phillips 66 project, being that NuStar offloads renewable feedstock used at the Phillips refinery.

County officials say the new EIR now makes it clear NuStar’s project is separate. But the judge still wanted NuStar’s project to be included in the cumulative impact analysis of the Phillips 66 project.

The new EIR also addresses Weil’s questions over whether Unit 250 at the Phillips 66 refinery was part of the project and whether it should be included in the report, which now says Unit 250 is part of the refinery that already produced biofuel and isn’t part of the new project. But, like the NuStar terminal, its cumulative effect is now part of the new EIR.

YouTube video
An introduction to biofuels. (U.S. Department of Energy/YouTube)

The third and final requested adjustment of the EIR addresses possible odor from the Phillips 66 biofuel plant, which Weil said wasn’t adequately addressed.

County staff told supervisors Tuesday they updated the odor section of the report to clearly identify what technologies and procedures Phillips 66 will put in place to make sure that there are no odor impacts to the surrounding community.

The revised report also addresses other possible biological impacts, hazards, and impact to nearby water quality, county staff said.

A minute for your thoughts

After board chair Federal Glover limited public comment to one minute per person — prompting boos from the audience — about a dozen members of the public spoke on the matter, most having to do with the concept of biofuels production.

Other concerns mentioned included the impact on countries where the feedstock to make the biofuels come from, how wastewater will be disposed, hydrogen pipelines coming from the plant and their safety in the event of earthquakes, and the recent spate of incidents involving other refineries in the county, including releases, flares, and at least one fire.

Despite industry and county officials saying converting from oil refining to biofuels refining will help the environment, groups opposing the project — as well as the recent refinery-to-biofuel conversation project at the nearby Martinez Refining Company — say both will be harmful. They’ve said both refineries would require at least 82,000 truck trips, nearly 29,000 railcars, and more than 760 ship and barge visits annually, adding to pollution, traffic and the risk of spills and accidents.

They also said communities neighboring the refineries are categorized by the state as “disadvantaged” because of their high exposure to pollution from existing industries.