Phillips 66 wants to increase the number of tanker ships bringing crude oil, including heavy tar sands oil, to its refinery in Rodeo—from 59 to 135 tankers per year. The refinery is located on the San Francisco Bay shoreline, and more tanker ships will mean a bigger risk of oil spills in the Bay.
The oil arriving at the Phillips refinery will likely be dirty, heavy tar sands oil. This type of oil is difficult, if not impossible, to remove after a spill. In 2010, when tar sands oil spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, response crews were unable to completely remove the oil from the riverbed, even after five years of cleanup efforts. If tar sands oil spilled in San Francisco Bay, it could irreparably smother bottom-dwelling life forms that are critical to the Bay’s food chain.
The Phillips refinery also has a poor track record of oil spills. Last September, oil was spilled during the unloading of a tanker ship, causing large oil slicks in northern San Francisco Bay. Over 100 nearby residents sought treatment at hospital emergency rooms for exposure to unidentified fumes, and Vallejo officials urged community members to stay indoors with their windows closed. Until recently, the refinery denied any responsibility for the oil spill that is now linked to the nearby air quality complaints.
More than doubling the number of oil tankers on their way to Phillips 66 via the Bay would increase the risk of spills. What’s more, the oil tankers will need to navigate through a San Francisco Bay shipping channel that is scheduled for less frequent dredging than in the past, due to new budget concerns raised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the exact effects of reduced dredging on tanker traffic are unclear, it is possible that the risk of tankers running aground will increase.
This proposal to increase the number of oil tankers arriving at Phillips’ Rodeo refinery via San Francisco Bay follows Phillips’ recent failed effort to expand its operations in San Luis Obispo. The San Luis Obispo City Council, in a move to protect their community from spills and the health impacts of additional refining, rejected Phillips’ proposal to transport more oil by train to San Luis Obispo for refining and export. Phillips is now seeking other outlets for its expanded operations.