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Phillips 66 begins soil excavation, moving contaminated dirt to Utah landfill

Phillips 66 Oil Refinery
Posted at 11:55 AM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 14:55:02-04

Cleaning up dirt… that’s what’s going on at the Phillips 66 Santa Maria oil refinery on the Nipomo Mesa.

The contaminated soil is going to be excavated, which means dug up and moved to a landfill out of state.

“It's covered it's been sealed, it's controlled," said Matt Keeling, Executive Officer of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The organization is collaborating with the refinery during the excavation.

On Tuesday, the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery started the process to clean up contaminated soil and make the site usable in the future.

The facility is expected to close in 2023 and this is part of that process.

“So as part of those activities, they're going around and they're addressing all the existing sources of potential contamination on the site and cleaning it up, so they can formally close the facility,” Keeling said.

Over the years, he explained, the facility received refinery wastes, garbage and potentially some domestic waste.

“The site, historically based on our records, the information that we have is that it was operated as kind of an informal landfill from about 1955 to 1974,” Keeling said.

The plan is to move the soil via rail car from here to a landfill in Utah which is permitted and meant to store contaminants forever.

“Landfills now have to have liners and caps on them to encapsulate the waste that they receive and, depending on the types of waste, there are more stringent requirements associated with how those landfills are designed and operated such that they're protective of public health and the environment,” Keeling said.

He says crews expect to finish transporting the soil to Utah by November of this year.

The soil currently contains asbestos, petroleum, and other chemicals that are harmful to humans.

Removing those toxins is part of Phillips 66's plan before shutting down the facility.

“Right now, the contaminants don't affect humans because there's no pathways for human exposure,” Keeling said.

Moving the soil to a Utah landfill will happen with a safety plan in place to protect the workers and to keep fugitive dust and contaminants from blowing around.

“The work that they're doing is to remove the soil, to remove a potential source at the refinery site from causing any environmental degradation there on the site,” Keeling said.

“Environmental monitoring of soil and air in the workspace is being conducted during work activities to ensure there are no adverse effects to the community or the environment,” Phillips 66 told KSBY News in a statement.

We asked if nearby households will be affected during the excavation process.

“Not a lot of households in the immediate vicinity of that refinery and, you know, it's a very rural area kind of out in the coastal dunes,” Keeling said.

Phillips 66 will be using water trucks, forklifts, cranes, and excavators with automated water misting during the excavation. The misting and water trucks, they say, help with the dust.

“So the waste currently is encapsulated and it's not going off-site as dust,” Keeling said.

It is about 14,000 cubic yards of material.

Keeling explained they have a monitoring well at the waste site to measure the levels of contaminants in groundwater, and there are plans for another.

“We are asking them to place another monitoring well, either within that excavation or immediately adjacent to it to confirm the presence of any potential contaminants in groundwater that may be associated with that former waste site,” Keeling said.

Keeling estimated that the groundwater level is about 90 feet below ground. The process of excavating the soil will go about 20 to 30 feet.

Phillips 66 said they will start habitat restoration activities this December, and habitat restoration monitoring and maintenance will happen from April 2022 until April 2027.