The Port of Los Angeles will conduct a full environmental study on a proposal to upgrade the nearly 14-acre Phillips 66 Marine Oil Terminal and Wharf, which has come under criticism by community members and several environmental groups.

The massive project is intended to bring the terminal up to all present-day oil terminal health and safety standards. Construction would take about three years, said Juliana Moreno, public affairs senior advisor for Phillips 66.

Temporary improvements at Berths 148-149 for alternative use during construction also is provided for in the project.

But construction is still a ways off, with the process of creating the environmental study, which port officials announced during this week’s LA harbor commission meeting, taking up to a year.

While the port did not provide additional details during the meeting, a spokesperson said in a subsequent email that the coming study, called an Environmental Impact Review, stemmed from public response to the mitigated negative declaration, which essentially listed all the ways officials planned to reduce the project’s potential environmental impacts.

“After evaluating the public responses to the MND,” POLA spokesperson Rachel Campbell said, “the port has released (the new notice) to address potential environmental impacts” associated with the project.”

The port will seek public feedback on its initial plan for creating a draft EIR — called a Notice of Preparation/Initial Study, which came out earlier this month — during a Zoom meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. March 14.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, lauded the decision to have an EIR.

“This is a very positive development,” David Pettit, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a phone interview, “that the port is going to do a full EIR, which we and a whole bunch of community groups asked them to do.”

The port, Pettit said, has also agreed in the preparation document to look at the issue of greenhouse gas impacts, something critics also had asked the port to do.

Berths 148-151 Phillips 66 Marine Oil Terminal and Wharf Improvement Project (Courtesy Port of Los Angeles)
Berths 148-151 Phillips 66 Marine Oil Terminal and Wharf Improvement Project (Courtesy Port of Los Angeles)

The proposed project would provide up to a 40-year lease agreement for Phillips 66 to continue operating at Berths 148-151, at the foot of “A” Street in Wilmington.

The site is basically a cargo terminal, except it’s only for imported oil, which then gets sent to refineries. There are 26 storage tanks of various sizes that have a combined capactiy of 850,000 barrels, according to the project’s planning documents. From there, the oil gets transported, via pipeline, to the Phillips 66 refinery plants in Carson and Wilmington, collectively known as the Los Angeles Refinery; the oil gets sent to other facilities as well.

The entire 13.8-acre site presently includes backlands and a non-operational wharf at Berths 150-151, along with an adjacent wharf at Berths 148-149, where the terminal’s marine tanker vessel operations are conducted. The parcel features a deteriorating, 575 foot-long, non-operational timber wharf at Berths 150-151.

The site has been a marine oil terminal since 1919, when Union Oil began operations using a wharf that has since been replaced, according to the preparation notice.

The proposal calls for demolishing and reconstructing the existing Phillips 66 wharf structures at Berths 150-151. Vessel berthing improvements would be made at Berths 148-149.

A concrete wharf, with associated mooring and berthing capacity, would be constructed at Berths 150-151, along with an oil commodity transfer and pollution control facilities.

“The primary objective of the proposed project,” a Phillips 66 spokesperson said in an email, “is to ensure that our marine oil terminal at Berths 148-151 complies with Marine Oil Terminal Engineering and Maintenance Standards (MOTEMS) to protect public health, safety, and the environment.”

The plan has been in the works for years.

In 2021, the port filed a mitigated negative declaration, a document explaining why the proposed project would not have a significant effect on the environment and, as a result, does not require a full EIR; state environmental law mandates EIRs for projects that could have significant impacts.

But the project drew criticism from three neighborhood councils, as well as the California Coastal Commission and a group of environmental advocacy organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council. That ultimately led to the port’s decision to conduct a full EIR.

In a Feb. 18, 2022, the NRDC — along with Communities for a Better Environment, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and others — argued a full EIR was needed. The project, the letter said, was being disguised as an improvement effort but that it would nearly double crude oil throughput at the terminal.

And that, Pettit said in a Thursday, Feb. 23, interview would have greenhouse gas impacts down the line, as petroleum products are used for gasoline and “would get burned somewhere.”

“There is a way to make it safe, in my opinion,” he said of the project, “but it’s whether the port and Phillips 66 will agree.”

Another issue, he said, is whether the project will increase capacity at local refineries.

But the Phillips 66 spokesperson defended the project, saying it “does not expand the capacity of either the terminal or the refinery.”

The spokesperson also stressed Phillips 66’s efforts to operate cleanly.

“Our commitment to a lower-carbon future,” the spokesperson said, includes our investment in technology to improve our assets, products, and processes for increased efficiency and the ability to capitalize on emerging possibilities as the energy market transforms.”

The port, which announced its plans to create an EIR on Thursday, will accept written comments until April 10.

To comment, email ceqacomments@portla.org or send your thoughts to “Christopher Cannon, Director of Environmental Management, Los Angeles Harbor Department, 425 South Palos Verdes St., San Pedro, CA 90731”

For emails, the subject line should say, “Berths 148-151 (Phillips 66) Marine Oil Terminal and Wharf Improvement Project,” and the body of the email should include the commenter’s mailing address.

The harbor commission will have to eventually approve the final EIR and the project itself before construction can begin. There’s no timeline yet on when work would begin.

For more information, go to portoflosangeles.org/ceqa.

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