County OKs Big West expansion

County OKs Big West expansion »Play Video
Big West Vice President Gene Cotton
A crowd overflowed the chambers of the County Administrative Building as the Kern County Board of Supervisors gave thumbs up to the long-debated refinery expansion plans by Big West of California.

After nearly two years of controversy, and more than four hours of debate on Tuesday night, the supervisors voted 5-0 to allow the expansion of Big West's oil refinery on Rosedale Highway.

Big West officials have said the $700 million expansion would produce an addition of more than 1 million gallons of gasoline and diesel daily, create 700 hundred temporary construction jobs, 100 permanent "high-paying" jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy.

The expanded refinery would produce 4 percent of the state's gasoline and 12 percent of the diesel fuel consumed in the state, according to an Associated Press report.

Not everyone attending Tuesday's supervisors' meeting was happy with the approval.

"The impacts to the community were not taken into consideration," said Ingrid Brostrom of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, which has opposed the expansion because it claims plans don't mitigate impacts on pollution, traffic and water quality.

Big West, a Flying J subsidiary, originally wanted to use a toxic chemical called hydrofluoric acid in its refining process. The company agreed to drop the chemical after county officials said they would not approve the use of the chemical in expansion plans.

County supervisors instead proposed an alternative plan, and Big West agreed to go along. With the refinery sitting in the middle of nearby
businesses, schools and homes, the worry among many was whether expansion would be safe.

Opponents worried about a serious industrial accident with chemical vapors drifting into the area.

Big West Vice President Gene Cotton said he could not guarantee the project would be completely safe from accidents, but he said he was committed to making the facility safe for everyone.