Environmental justice: Tar sands refinery would threaten health of neighbors (also the planet)

  • Published on March 8th, 2019

The tar sands expansion proposal at Phillips 66’s San Francisco Refinery in Rodeo would impact local health and the climate by increasing refinery emissions and worsening air quality for nearby communities, while also increasing tanker traffic and the risk of a devastating oil spill in the San Francisco Bay Area.

environmental justice: NO tar sands refinery

By Dan Bacher

Local environmental and community groups hosted a town hall on Thursday evening, March 7, in Rodeo to discuss the risks of the proposal to bring in more oil tankers and process more heavy crude oil like tar sands. A video of the event is at facebook.com/standearth.

Town Hall: No Tar Sands Refining in Rodeo!

TUNE IN: Town hall to address increased tar sands traffic in the SF Bay Area and along the West Coast.Watch and listen in as health professionals, expert scientists and community leaders discuss threats to our climate and the health of surrounding communities already suffering from intense industrial pollution. Tar sands is some of the dirtiest oil in existence, and now oil giant Phillips 66 is trying to expand tar sands refining at it’s SF Bay Area refinery in Rodeo. Increased tar sands crude in the refinery slate means vastly increased tar sands oil tanker traffic in the Bay, an increased risk of spills that can’t be mitigated, and increased assaults on community health and the worsening climate.Speaker list:Andres Soto, Communities for a Better EnvironmentPennie Opal Plant [and or Alison Ehara Brown], Idle No More SF BayLaDonna Williams, All Positives Possible and Fresh Air VallejoJanice Kirsch, MD, 350 Bay AreaJanet Pygeorge, President, Rodeo Citizens AssociationGreg Karris, Senior Scientist, Communities for a Better EnvironmentIf you haven’t yet, sign the petition urging decision makers in California to reject this dirty and dangerous refinery expansion! Sign: http://bit.ly/TarSandsFreeBayThank you to Rodeo Citizens Association, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, Fresh Air Vallejo – Nonprofit opposed to VMT/Orcem Cement Plant, Idle No More SF Bay, Sunflower Alliance, 350 Bay Area, Communities For A Better Environment, and all our wonderful volunteers for supporting this movement. None of this is possible without you!

Posted by Stand on Thursday, March 7, 2019

“Many of our First Nations relatives in Canada are doing all they can to resist the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which would allow the transport of tar sands through our Bay via over 120 tankers. This type of oil cannot be completely cleaned from water. What are we willing to lose?” -Pennie Opal Plant, Idle No More SF Bay

“The refinery’s latest plan to expand dilbit imports, cracking of that bitumen, and recovery of those diluent oils threatens to lock in a worst-case future for our climate, air, health, safety, and Bay. People have a right to know about this unnecessary threat.” -Greg Karras, Communities for a Better Environment

“As a physician who is also trained in public health, I’m deeply opposed to this proposed refinery expansion. It will expose the community to toxins that cause or worsen lung and heart disease, lead to stroke and other nervous system abnormalities, and cause reproductive problems, as well as cancer and leukemia. Together, let us be guided by the motto of medicine: ‘First, do no harm.’” -Jan Kirsch, M.D., M.P.H

“Our community knows refinery expansions are a dead end. We need our public officials like the Contra Costa County supervisors to stand with us in preventing new pollution sources from harming our health, and supporting real solutions like a just transition for refinery workers and local economic development that protects air and water quality.” -Isabella Zizi, Stand.earth

Rodeo Citizens AssociationCrockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment(CRUDE), Fresh Air VallejoIdle No More SF BaySunflower Alliance350 Bay AreaCommunities for a Better Environment(CBE), and Stand.earth sponsored the town hall. A chairperson from the Benicia Planning Commission also presented.


Bay Area residents — including the communities of Richmond, San Pablo, Pinole, Hercules, Rodeo, Crockett, Vallejo, Benicia and Martinez — are concerned over plans to bring in more oil tankers and process more heavy crude oil like tar sands at Phillips 66’s San Francisco Refinery. The refinery is currently seeking permits to expand its wharf capacity and increase the number of oil tankers traveling to its refinery through San Francisco Bay. No environmental impact report (EIR) has been released for this project. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District asked Contra Costa County to lead that environmental review, but the County has not yet agreed to do so.

If the refinery’s full expansion and increased wharf capacity is permitted, more than twice as many crude oil tankers could travel to the refinery, many of them carrying tar sands from Canada. The refinery expansion alone could mean a tenfold increase in the amount of tar sands passing through San Francisco Bay. A September 2018 panel in Oakland detailed the connection between Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline and the Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery expansion.

Tar sands is one of the dirtiest crude oils on the planet and is extremely difficult to clean up in the event of an oil spill. Tar sands is high in sulfur and heavy metals. Extracting and refining it creates an outsize climate impact, and refining it increases disparately severe health impacts in nearby communities. Tar sands is so thick when it comes out of the ground that it is thinned for transport, creating diluted bitumen or dilbit. The toxic and flammable diluent makes it unsafe to approach a tar sands oil spill until the chemicals have evaporated.


About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.