Rail spur impacts outweigh any benefits
August 11, 2015
OPINION By LAURANCE SHINDERMAN and TOM RYAN
Who doesn’t like the sound of a train whistle in the distance, or standing by and waving to an engineer as a freight train rumbles through town. So when Phillips 66 proposed a rail spur, this sounded like just a little addition to the Union Pacific (UPRR) mainline.
Well folks, that little addition is anything but; and has turned the project into a nightmare scenario. When the scope of the Phillips 66 Rail Terminal Project was presented in the RDEIR (Re-circulated Draft Environment Report); it was apparent that the project would impact not only the local refinery operations with the construction of an intrusive crude oil rail transfer facility, but every municipality and school district along the UPRR main line that the crude oil trains would pass.
What was called a benign rail spur; was in fact a huge rail yard containing five long railroad tracks fanning out to accommodate and off load 80 tanker/ mile long crude oil trains that would be coming into the refinery five days a week.
Class one impacts that impact your health
The project creates 11 class one impacts that could not be mitigated, including five directly related to air pollution:
1. Operational activities associated with the rail spur project at the refinery. would generate criteria pollutant emissions that exceed SLO County Air Quality Control District thresholds.
2. Operational activities of the additional trains along the mainline rail route outside of SLO County associated with the rail spur project would generate criteria pollutant emissions that exceed existing thresholds.
3. Operational activities at the refinery associated with the rail spur project would generate toxic emissions that exceed SLO County Air Quality Control District thresholds.
4. Operational activities of the additional trains along the mainline rail route associated with the rail spur project would generate toxic emissions that exceed existing thresholds.
5. Operational activities associated with the rail spur project would generate GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions that exceed SLO County Air Quality Control District thresholds.
The air pollution credits that Phillips 66 has acquired will not reduce any of the additional pollution created as a result of the rail spur project. Those credits are a financial slight of hand, and they will not take the additional pollutants out of the air we breathe. It’s simply an accounting maneuver.
The viability of the refinery
Phillips 66, through its spokesperson Dennis Nuss, has stated that there has been “no discussion to close the refinery if the rail spur project is not approved.”
Those refinery jobs at the Santa Maria refinery are safe. In addition, so are the property taxes that Phillips 66 pays to SLO County. Those taxes will continue to help pay for schools, police, fire protection, etc.
However, many jobs in the local oil fields could be lost if Phillips brings in oil by rail, rather than bringing in local area crude oil by pipeline. Local oil field jobs, that pay good wages and have existed since the Santa Maria refinery was built, are in jeopardy. The crude by rail strategy to source the “advantaged” (meaning cheaper) tar sands; will come from Alberta, Canada.
The scope of the project
Phillips Is minimizing the enormous scope of what they intend to bring to SLO County.
Phillips states that all they’re asking for is “five trains per week, 80 cars each.”
But each year, throughout SLO County and elsewhere, the very fabric of our lives would be changed, forever.
• 260 trains arriving + 260 trains departing = 520 additional trains traveling through SLO County.
• Each train would be a mile long often cutting off grade crossing impacting commerce and emergency vehicle response when minutes count.
• Each year the trains would haul 20,800 fully-loaded crude-oil tankers + 20,800 “empties” departing … 41,600 tankers in total. It’s worth noting that the “empties” contain residual crude, including volatile vapors that also present a danger should there be a derailment.
• Each arriving tanker would hold 27,000 gallons of volatile tar sands crude. That comes to 562,000,000 gallons … more than one-half billion gallons per year that can literally obliterate a city should there be a derailment and explosion.
Tar-sands would be coming down the tracks…it’s not the same crude that P66 now refines. Its from the Alberta tar sands region. It’s highly volatile and as dangerous as Bakken (Railway Age Magazine; 2/23/2015).
To put a potential spill in perspective, the Refugio spill was the equivalent of three tanker cars, and the cost of the cleanup is in the millions; not including the cost of lost tourism and the reputation of Santa Barbara as a tourist destination… and is still on-going months later.
The project creates countywide and statewide impacts
The project is a statewide and county issue. The reality is that Phillips is trying to make all of SLO County an epi-center for crude-by-rail … which would impact communities throughout northern and southern California along the UPRR mainline.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated one mile on each side of the tracks as a blast/evacuation zone in case of an oil train derailment. The percentage of population living in this zone for our major cities are Paso Robles at 45 percent, Atascadero at 52 percent, Templeton at 63 percent, Santa Margarita at 100 percent, San Luis Obispo at 71 percent, Pismo Beach at 37 percent, Grover Beach at 76 percent, Oceano at 88 percent and the overall county at 35 percent.
More than 56 public and private schools are in the blast zone as well as major hospitals and public safety facilities. These hospitals that are in the blast zone would have to be evacuated should there be an explosion with a debris field of toxic ash raining down; thus where would those needing treatment go?
That’s why more than 22 municipalities and school districts along the mainline including: Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Fremont, as well as the National Education Association and the local Lucia Mar Teachers Association and California Nurses Association have written letters to the SLO Planning Commission and County Supervisors in opposition to this dangerous project. Simply stated; lives matter, not profits.
Phillips 66 has repeatedly included comments in their corporate publications that higher profits from cheaper crude oil are the reason for bringing in oil by rail. This is a project that benefits the singular interests of one large multinational company, Phillips 66, the sixth largest company on the Fortune 500, while putting at risk the health, safety and financial well being of thousands of residents along the UPRR mainline.
A simple question
What are more important, higher profits for Phillips 66 shareholders, or the health and safety of you and your family? Make your voices heard. Write to your SLO County Supervisors and tell them to vote No. There is no upside to the Phillips 66 Rail Project.