Baykeeper Update

Green Light for More Tar Sands Oil Threatens the Bay

In a ruling that poses risks for San Francisco Bay, regional regulators recently approved an increase in the refining of heavy tar sands oil at the Phillips 66 oil refinery in Rodeo.

The refinery claims the increase is insignificant. But the change amounts to nine more oil tankers on the Bay every year. 

And there’s a greater danger in allowing Phillips 66 to refine more tar sands oil. It moves the oil company closer to its goal of more than doubling the number of tanker ships permitted to transport crude oil across the Bay to its refinery—from 59 to 135 tankers per year. Baykeeper has been fighting to prevent that increase of tankers for years.

Any increase in the transport of this heavy crude oil across the Bay raises the risk of a disastrous oil spill. Unlike lighter oils, which float on the water’s surface, and can be at least partially skimmed and removed, tar sands oil sinks, making it virtually impossible to remove. If spilled in the Bay, it would likely sink to the bottom. There, it would smother plants and wildlife, causing irreparable harm to the ecosystem. And the companies that handle and transport tar sands oil are not required to demonstrate that they are ready to clean up this kind of spill.

Compounding the danger, Phillips 66 has a bad record on oil spills. The refinery has had two crude oil spills into San Francisco Bay within the past two years. Fumes from one of those spills sickened hundreds of residents in the nearby community of Vallejo.

The regulatory agency that greenlighted Phillips 66’s refining more tar sands oil, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, has chosen to ignore public concerns about the community’s health and San Francisco Bay’s water quality.

For future rounds of decision-making involving more oil tankers on the Bay, Baykeeper is advocating for Contra Costa County’s elected government to make the call, rather than the appointed members of the Air District. Increasing oil refining is an important decision that could harm San Francisco Bay and communities near the refinery. It should be made by officials who are more accountable to the public.

Baykeeper worked in coalition with community and environmental groups to successfully defeat two previous Bay Area oil industry expansion proposals, in Pittsburg and Benicia. We’re using the same effective coalition strategy on Phillips 66’s proposal, and we will keep working to oppose any increase of oil tankers carrying tar sands oil on San Francisco Bay.