RODEO -- Phillips 66 pitched a project to Rodeo residents this week promising to make their air cleaner, create jobs, bring business to downtown merchants, and generate tax revenue for public agencies.

And according to Mark Hughes, community relations manager for Phillips' Rodeo refinery, it comes with "no significant environmental impacts."

Hughes' upbeat portrayal of the proposed Phillips 66 Propane Recovery Project was seconded by Rodeo Chamber of Commerce officials; the steelworkers union Local 326 president; an armed forces veteran; and Contra Costa County Democratic Party Chairman Chuck Carpenter, appearing on behalf of Rodeo's New Horizons Career Development Center.

A view of the Phillips 66 refinery shows rail tracks in Rodeo, Calif. on Wednesday, May 29, 2013.(Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
A view of the Phillips 66 refinery shows rail tracks in Rodeo, Calif. on Wednesday, May 29, 2013.(Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

But a gallery of skeptical residents at a Rodeo Municipal Advisory Council meeting Thursday at the Rodeo Senior Center warned that the projected 200 new high-paying jobs would be mostly temporary and filled by nonresidents, and that the propane project would bring more noise to Rodeo and threaten the town's safety at a time when the downtown fire station has been shuttered for budgetary reasons.

Several portrayed the refinery as a bad neighbor and major polluter and warned that an accident or terrorist act could set off the large quantities of potentially explosive propane and butane that would be stored nearby and rolling through on rails, and possibly wipe Rodeo off the map.


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Hughes assured the residents, many of whom recall a 1994 release of the toxic chemical Catacarb at the refinery that sickened hundreds, that safety is paramount at Phillips 66.

"Safety, in our industry -- it's the North Star," Hughes said. "That's what guides us."

The project, currently under county review, calls for installing new equipment to recover propane and butane for sale from the fuel gas used for heating in refinery processes. It would require treating the gas to reduce its sulfur content, leading to lesser amounts of sulfur dioxide releases into the atmosphere when the fuel is burned, according to a county staff report.

New equipment could include a large steam boiler, storage tanks and railroad infrastructure to accommodate butane shipments, as well as piping and storage facilities for the propane. The project would take 12 to 15 months to build, according to the staff report.

The public comment segment went sour early after Janet Callaghan, a longtime community activist and former ¿school board member, read into the record a letter from a resident who could not attend. When Callaghan sought her own turn to speak, advisory council Chairman Anthony Hodge turned her down, ruling that she had already gotten her three minutes.

"Let her speak. Let her speak," several of the attendees shouted, but Hodge stood firm.

The skeptics said the project's draft environmental impact report gives short shrift to the hazards of storing potentially explosive hydrocarbons and transporting them by rail. Resident Carmen Gray said the environmental report does not sufficiently study the dangers of an earthquake, given the proximity of Rodeo to the Hayward Fault, among other hazards that could trigger an explosion.

"We're going to be a greater target for terrorist attacks," she warned. "We are a ticking bomb, with propane tanks."

Resident Teagan Clive distributed a newspaper clip of the July 6 explosion of a runaway train carrying crude oil in Quebec that had killed more than 20 people, with about 30 still missing and presumed dead.

Clive also noted that Phillips' Rodeo refinery was at the top of a list of Bay Area industrial polluters, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, an apparent reference to an internal agency watch list reported in 2011 by the Center for Public Integrity. Said Hughes, "I had not heard that we were the No. 1 polluter."

"We're engaged in our community," Hughes said, "whether it has to do with our schools or our jobs."

Another resident warned that the risks of human error need to be studied, too, but Carpenter noted, "Your car sitting in the parking lot could get hit and blow up and take us all with it."

Hughes warned that refineries are closing or about to close in parts of the nation, adding, "In this day and age, we're fighting for our economic lives."

Several residents countered that the petroleum industry is awash in profits.

The advisory council voted 4-2-1 to support the project, with Dan Hardin abstaining and Marina Ramos and Leila Flores voting no. The dissenters had argued that too many safety issues remained unaddressed.

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or tlochner@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.

IF YOU GO
What: Public hearing
Where: Contra Costa County Zoning Administrator, 30 Muir Road, Martinez
When: 3:30 p.m. Monday

IF YOU GO
What: Community meeting
Where: Crockett Community Center, 850 Pomona St.
When: 6:30 p.m. July 22

to learn more
The Phillips 66 Propane Recovery Project's draft environmental impact report is at www.cocoplans.org. The deadline for written comments is 5 p.m. July 25.