Bay Area refineries Phillips 66 and Marathon, and the oil industry as a whole, have come up with a new strategy for refining biofuel as a way to spike COVID-weakened profits and assure their longevity. But promoting biofuel as an enlightened, low-carbon climate “solution” could lock us in to a disastrous strategy. Like natural gas, it’s being touted as a “bridge fuel”—and like natural gas, it’s a bridge we don’t want to get stuck on. We’ve put together a list of resources to help you understand the coming battles over biofuel, and specifically the “renewable” or “green” diesel that Phillips 66 and Marathon are both planning to refine.
First, a brief overview:
Biofuel claims to be green and “climate friendly” because it’s derived from living plants, which absorb carbon as they grow, balancing the carbon emissions when they burn. But producing enough soy and other agricultural products to substitute for petroleum in our current machines would require so much land that it would mean destroying massive amounts of forest in the Amazon and elsewhere, as well as using land needed for agriculture. Proposed Bay Area biorefining—Philips 66 in Rodeo wants to become the world’s largest renewable diesel facility—would eat up a huge chunk of the current U.S. soy crop. (See “Biofuels: Burning Food?” below.) The resulting loss of the planet’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and feed the world’s people would be devastating.
While burning biofuel produces less toxic pollution than combusting petroleum, it still fills the air with deadly particulate matter and other toxins. The most harmful effects of this fall on people who live near fuel-processing facilities and highways—disproportionately low-income people and people of color.
Petroleum companies, in addition to being able to continue profiting from their investments in facilities and distribution systems, get so much money in public subsidies and credits for producing biofuels that it’s basically free, so the money they get when they sell it is pure profit, at a sweet $3.32 per gallon. Meanwhile we are diverting all those resources from what we really need to be doing: creating a truly green and sustainable transportation and energy infrastructure.
Check out these invaluable resources:
A thorough investigation into U.S. renewable fuel policies and their impact on deforestation by global advocacy organization Mighty Earth.
November 2021 Rodeo community meeting on biorefining (renewable diesel) proposals in Contra Costa County, CA.
May 2021 webinar with two academic experts on low-carbon fuels and clean energy, Drs. Stephanie Searle and Chris Malins.
Your headquarters for information about biofuel is Biofuelwatch, which has tons of articles on every aspect of this issue.
A blog post by Gary Hughes of Biofuelwatch about the recent Bay Area refinery proposals offers serious food for thought.
Bay Protectors Skeptical about Biofuel Refinery Ploy: A radio interview with Ben Eichenberg of Baykeeper focuses on threats to California marine environments from the oil industry and the risks of the proposed conversions of refineries to biofuels.
Shoshana Wechsler and Steve Nadel of Sunflower Alliance talk about Phillip 66’s Rodeo Renewed “renewable” diesel project on KPFA’s Terra Verde, 1/24/21.
This article explains the difference between biofuels and “renewable” diesel.
A summary of biofuel issues relating to local Bay Area plans for biorefining by Phillips 66 and Marathon was published in the East Bay Express.
Here’s the LA Times coverage of the Phillips 66 announcement of its pivot to biofuels.
Refiners are competing for ever-dwindling sources of used cooking oils because of restaurant shutdowns.
March 2021 economic analysis describes continuing supply chain challenges and feedstock scarcity.
This Stand.earth blog raises questions about a comparable P66 proposal for renewable diesel refining in Whatcom County, Washington.
A recent Reuters article provides a perspective from Europe.
A U.S. Energy Information Agency report shows how oil companies use California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard for profit.
“Overcapacity Looms as More and More US Refiners Enter Renewable Diesel Market” documents the renewable fuel credits received by refiners (three in total)—amounting to $3.32 per gallon. This amount covers all “renewable” diesel production costs! Still think refiners are turning to alternative fuels out of sheer altruism?