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Phillips refinery increase OK'd by county

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A request by oil company Phillips 66—formerly ConocoPhillips—to increase production at its Santa Maria refinery in Arroyo Grande has received a nod of approval from the county.

On Dec. 13, Phillips 66 reps went before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission, seeking a modification to the company’s existing permit to allow for a 10 percent ramp-up in throughput—the process of moving product in and out of the refinery.

Currently, the 1,780-acre facility, which employs 133 workers and about 90 contractors, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It produces about 44,000 barrels of crude each day; the increase would increase that number to nearly 49,000.

Following hours of questioning both the company rep and county safety officials, the commission unanimously approved the request, but not before asking some tough questions about how the change will impact safety and other issues at the plant.

In the end, commissioners included a condition that Phillips 66 pays for additional safety training to address the increased risk for accidents or fire hazards at the refinery and to the surrounding community, which is in the jurisdiction of CalFire.

“Any time you increase the workload it increases the potential for us to have to respond to an incident,” CalFire Chief Rob Lewin told the commission. “It all affects the potential for something to occur.”

“There’s no question that increasing throughput increases cost,” Commissioner Tim Murphy said. “We’ve see refinery fires around the state and what they can be … and I’d like to see [Phillips] pay for that.”

Phillips 66 management has come under fire recently for demoting and reassigning key safety staff at the facility.

The plant processes heavy, sulfur-rich crude. Once semi-refined, the liquid product is sent via pipeline to the Rodeo Refinery approximately 200 miles to the north for upgrading into finished petroleum products. Solid petroleum coke and recovered sulfur are also shipped out of the facility by rail or truck.

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