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Phillips 66 celebrates 125 years in Bay Area with nod to past, commitment to future

For the Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery in Rodeo, 125 never looked so good. 

The oldest refinery in operation on the U.S. West Coast is marking the milestone anniversary with a nod to its past and a commitment to a lower-carbon future with Rodeo Renewed, an ambitious project to transform the refinery into one of the world’s largest renewable fuels plants. 

“We take great pride in celebrating 125 years in Contra Costa County; our roots here run deep,” Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery General Manager Rich Harbison said. “We look forward to continuing to make good on our vision of providing energy and improving lives and playing a leading role in California’s energy future.” 

The refinery kicked off a year-long celebration Wednesday by raising a commemorative flag outside its administration building. Refinery leadership was presented with a plaque by the Bay Front Chamber of Commerce and the refinery’s Community Advisory Panel, which includes residents and representatives from local businesses and agencies. 

First barrel processed in February 1896 

The San Francisco Refinery traces its beginnings to the late 19th century and the Union Oil Company, a then-nascent enterprise that settled on an 18-acre site in present-day Rodeo to build a refinery, just as California’s crude oil production boomed.  

The refinery, originally named Oleum, processed its first barrel of crude on Feb. 24, 1896, according to at least one newspaper report. It was geared to make asphalt but also well equipped to produce other in-demand products at the time, including kerosene and fuel oil. Its initial crude throughput capacity was between 600 and 1,200 barrels per day.  

The rise of the internal combustion engine in the automobile changed the demand landscape, and the refinery grew and evolved into a key supplier of transportation fuels and lubricants. It continues to play a major role in helping California meet its fuel demand.  

Today’s 120,000-BPD San Francisco Refinery consists of two facilities located 200 miles apart. The Santa Maria plant in Arroyo Grande processes crude oil into semi-refined products and ships them via pipeline to the Rodeo plant for upgrading. Santa Maria celebrates its 66th anniversary later this year. 

Rodeo also operates a carbon plant near the refinery, while Santa Maria produces petroleum coke and sulfur. 

Rodeo Renewed slated for startup in 2024 

The next step in the San Francisco Refinery’s evolution is its foray into renewable fuels. Later this year, Rodeo plans to begin production of up to 9,000 BPD of renewable diesel. Rodeo Renewed, the much-larger project currently in the permitting stages, will aim to pivot the refinery completely away from crude oil processing and turn it into a renewable fuels plant.  

Pending receipt of county authorizations, work on the proposed complex is slated to be completed for startup in early 2024. The converted complex is expected to produce 800 million gallons per year — or more than 50,000 BPD — of renewable diesel, renewable naphtha and sustainable aviation fuel. It will do so from feedstocks such as used cooking oil, animal fats, greases and soybean oils and in support of growing demand for these fuels and California’s environmental goals. 

The conversion is expected to cut the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, contributing to cleaner air in the Bay Area. The refinery also is pursuing additional projects such as solar to power its processes.  

“As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, we’re excited about the transformation we’re about to embark on,” Harbison said. “We also want to continue to be a model for safe, reliable and environmentally responsible operations — and a trusted partner in our community. 

“As we honor the legacy of our predecessors, we want to set the facility on a path to make the next 125 years the best ones yet.”