Agencies Investigate Another Oil Spill at Phillips 66 East Bay Refinery

The Phillips 66 oil refinery in the Contra Costa County town of Rodeo.  (Craig Miller/KQED)

State fish and wildlife officials have launched an investigation into a new oil spill at the Phillips 66 refinery marine terminal in Rodeo.

The spill in San Pablo Bay was discovered Monday morning and comes as the energy giant pursues a major expansion of the number of oil tankers that unload crude at the facility. It's the first spill since another one in September 2016 at the same terminal that was believed to have been the source of noxious fumes that sickened dozens of people in Vallejo.

"These kinds of small spills are like death to the Bay from a thousand small cuts," said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, one of the organizations hoping to block the refinery's expansion proposal.

"After their spill last fall, we would have hoped that they would have improved their operations to better prevent oil spills like this," Choksi-Chugh said in an interview Tuesday. "This spill is definitely another black mark for Phillips 66 in their proposal to expand."

The refinery told the Governor's Office of Emergency Services about the spill shortly before 9 a.m. Monday.  A report filed with the office said a spill of a gas and oil mixture had created a 20-by-20-foot rainbow-like sheen in the water.

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Officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) were called in. The Coast Guard is investigating the spill.

OSPR crews spent most of the day monitoring the incident, which took place at the marine terminal's wharf, according to Mary Fricke, an agency spokeswoman.

The spill was caused by an equipment failure, according to U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Nicole Emmons.

An undetermined amount of light petroleum was released from a transfer pipe, a device used used to load and unload fuel to and from oil tankers, Fricke said in an email.

Phillips 66 is cleaning up the fuel, said Randy Sawyer, the chief environmental health and hazardous materials office for Contra Costa County Health Services.

The county has asked the refinery to submit a report on the cause of the malfunction by Thursday, Sawyer said.

Phillips 66 has not responded to requests for comment.

The spill comes amid growing opposition to a push by Phillips 66 to more than double the number of oil tankers that travel through San Francisco Bay to unload crude at the terminal.

Currently, 59 ships a year are allowed to make crude oil and gas oil deliveries at the facility. The company wants to increase that limit to 135.

Phillips 66 says the extra tanker deliveries would replace crude oil currently delivered by pipeline.

The company has applied for a permit with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to raise the daily average of oil unloaded at the terminal from about 51,000 barrels to 130,000.

Last week, Baykeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and several other environmental groups called on the district to reject the Phillips 66 proposal.

On Aug. 28, the "scoping comment period" for the project ended. The Air District plans to work on its draft environmental impact report into the next year, according to district spokesman, Ralph Borrmann.

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