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Reports outline repurposing potential for Phillips 66 Santa Maria Oil Refinery

Phillips 66

The Central Coast Economic Recovery Initiative (ERI) partnered with a group of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students to produce two reports on six potential repurposing uses of the Phillips 66 Oil Refinery in Santa Maria.

The repurposing reports were produced through student-led projects at Cal Poly for the Phillips 66 facility that is expected to shut down in the next few years.

The six potential reuses analyzed for the site include desalination, green hydrogen generation, grid-scale battery storage, plastics recycling, an anaerobic digester for organic waste and conservation.

Jonathan Reich is a professor at Cal Poly and co-teaches one of the classes that facilitated these reports.

He said his class brings students together from multiple disciplines to address local issues of sustainability that are solutions-based.

Reich said these repurposing ideas are just that — ideas. He said his students are providing the community with something to bounce off of ahead of any future decisions about the oil refinery.

“Look at all the wonderful opportunities there are,” Reich said. “Let’s not get stuck in some single idea with blinders on. Let’s think big and think globally about what could happen there.”

Reich said his students’ projects have made significant change over the years, doing things like pushing Cal Poly to adopt LEED sustainable rating systems for buildings and influencing local bicycle infrastructure.

Last year, Reich said his students did a repurposing analysis for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which is expected to be decommissioned in 2025.

Jimmy Paulding is one of the co-founding members of the Central Coast ERI. He said he hopes these repurposing ideas influence engagement from the community and ultimately cause change.

“Maybe these ideas will get picked up by industry leaders that look at the opportunities that were highlighted and presented in these reports,” Paulding said. “Our objective is to continue to push these ideas into the community and see what sticks.”

Reich said he won’t predict how these reports may be used. But he said the students set a good example of how we can begin to think critically about the fate of the Phillips 66 Oil Refinery.

“I hope that people who have the power to actually make decisions will eventually follow that example and say, ‘Yeah we should be really well-informed and consider lots of alternatives,’ and the chips will fall where they will,” Reich said.

The Phillips 66 Santa Maria Oil Refinery employs 140 full time workers. It is slated for closure in 2023.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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