MARTINEZ -- Health impacts related to a propane and butane recovery project at the Phillips 66 petroleum refinery in Rodeo should be studied before moving ahead with approvals, according to county officials, but the refinery claims that delay could doom the project.
The board voted last week 5-0 to recirculate the project's environmental impact report and continue the public hearing, which also includes consideration of two appeals of the project's land use permit, to Sept. 23.
Conservation and Development Director Catherine Kutsuris noted that the EIR does not include a cumulative study of health impacts on the surrounding communities recommended under a 2011 revision of the guidelines of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The health study must be completed and submitted for public comment before the EIR can be certified, Kutsuris said.
The Phillips 66 Liquid Petroleum Gas Recovery Project calls for installing new equipment to recover and sell propane and butane instead of burning the fuel at the refinery or flaring off excesses. The refinery says the project will reduce pollution while creating well-paying jobs and generating taxes.
"The economic realities are, if we recirculate and we have another delay, we will be canceling this project," Sam Parino, operations manager at Phillips 66 Rodeo, told the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors at the June 3 public hearing, although the company later softened its stance.
The project has suffered a string of recent setbacks after breezing through the early stages of the approval process, beginning with the endorsement of the Rodeo Municipal Advisory Council last summer, followed by county Planning Commission approval of a land use permit in November.
A packed January hearing on the EIR and appeals of the Planning Commission land use permit led to passionate testimony from both sides.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District also weighed in at that time, saying the environmental report should include calculations of toxic air contaminant emissions from the refinery and assess cumulative health risks of other refinery projects in the region. There are pending projects at Chevron in Richmond, Shell in Martinez and Valero in Benicia. Also pending is an oil storage and transfer joint venture in Pittsburg by WesPac Energy and Oiltanking Holding Americas, with rail, marine and pipeline components.
Refinery spokesman Mark Hughes urged the board to order the health study without recirculating the EIR, saying it would be "tragic" if the refinery suffers economic loss and the community misses out on emission reductions and jobs promised as part of this project.
On Monday, Phillips 66 appeared to be backing down from its threat to scuttle the project.
"We will continue to pursue the land use permitting approvals of the LPG Recovery Project to ensure the long-term viability of the Rodeo refinery and the many jobs it provides," Hughes said in an email. "We are confident that a revised EIR will ultimately help decision-makers and our community to better understand the benefits of the project and approve the application."
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.