Phillips 66 rail spur project is wrong for SLO County
October 29, 2014
OPINION By LAURANCE SHINDERMAN
A little over two weeks ago, Phillips 66 released a re-circulated draft environmental impact report (DREIR) for the Phillips 66 Company rail spur extension project.
The report addresses the proposed rail spur extension projects impacts on land use and recreation, traffic, air quality and green house gases, noise and vibration, water resources, hazards and hazardous materials, public services, housing, aesthetics, biological, cultural and agricultural resources.
Phillips categorizes this project as a 6,915 eastward extension of an existing rail spur off the Union Pacific rail main line, a crude oil railcar unloading facility, a pipeline and other supporting infrastructure.
If you go to Google Earth, you will see the current rail spur that traverses piles of “petcoke” blights the landscape at the refinery. The proposed “rail spur” will be located at the terminus of the coke fields. Thus the tanker cars and associated diesel engines will flume up the “pet coke” dust and add it to the already toxic stew of dust that emanates from the refinery and across the Mesa.
Phillips has been operating the Santa Maria refining facility since 1955. An agreement was put in place that was acceptable to all parties, and limited the pollution and potential for danger. Under that scenario, Phillips has proven to be a relatively “good neighbor.”
However, under the new proposal, the Phillips facility will undertake an entirely new method of doing business. In effect, they’re turning over the tables on our citizens, and starting all over again … with a potential disastrous impact on those who live in the county. The fact that Phillips has been a “good neighbor” and taxpayer, has nothing to do with granting them the right to introduce a completely new, different and dangerous way to conduct their operations.
So what is it that Phillips proposes:
• Ship oil by rail to the refinery in non jacketed CPC 1232 tank cars
• The capacity of each tank car is in approximately 31,808 gallons
• Each car is approximately 90’ feet long
• That translates into over a mile long string of black tanker cars blighting the scenic vistas of the Mesa and impacting traffic along the main line and traffic at grade crossing including emergency vehicles; where a few minute delay could be the difference of life and death. The Phillips consultants call the serpentine length of 80 tanker cars a “horizontal, linear, discordant coloration” when viewed along the mainline.
They propose shipping five trains a week, each delivering up to 38,237 barrels of crude in a train configured with three locomotives, two buffer cars, and 80 rail cars each carrying between 26,076 and 28,105 gallons for a total of between 49,670 and 53,532 barrels of crude per unit train. The trains will arrive from different oil fields and or crude oil loading points depending on market economics and other factors. While the DERIR states no Bakken, the source of the heavy crude would be tar sands that has its own litany of health and safety issues; such at the inclusion of Dilbit (diluents bitumen) which makes the crude more viscous as it has the consistency of peanut butter, when it is comes out of the ground. Dilbit is acknowledged to be highly volatile and explosive.
When you do the math, that’s 250 unit trains a year with a total capacity of 520,100,00 gallons of crude. The proposed routes for the tanker cars are through the UPRR yards in Roseville Calif., or Coulton Calif., which means that the tanker cars will come from either the north or south along the pristine coastline.
This is hardly a benign euphemistically called rail spur…it’s an oil transfer facility that will operate at least 10 to 12 hours a day with an unloading shed handling 40 cars at a time with the associated noise, vibration, and fugitive dust and vapors wafting into the environment.
Upon unloading the empty tanker cars will be reconfigured along five additional tracks. To mitigate this view, Phillips proposes building an earthen berm of 20 feet. While this berm may mitigate some of the blight from U.S. Highway 1; many homes in the Monarch Dunes community are on the Monarch Ridge and some 100 feet higher in elevation. Add to that the lighting on 30 foot light stanchions, and the transfer site will be lit up like a movie set obliterating the night time sky.
When the first DEIR was submitted in 2013, it was sent back for re-circulation because the community wrote letters of opposition as there were many issues not addressed. The re-circulated DEIR is a document exceeding 800 pages, yet it still has not addressed how they will mitigate 12 Class I impacts, defined as impacts that may not be fully mitigated to less than significant levels.
These include aesthetics and visual resources, agricultural resources, air quality and greenhouse gases, biological resources, cultural resources, geological resources, hazard and hazardous materials, land use and recreation, noise and vibration, population and housing, public service and utilities, transportation and circulation and water resources.
Lets’ briefly look at agricultural resources:
The project could result in effects that impair adjacent agricultural uses along the UPRR mainline in the event of a derailment and or spill, including the generation of contaminated air emissions, soil and water contamination and increased risk of fire which have the potential to adversely affect adjacent agricultural areas. The UPRR traverses the Cuesta Grade; snakes a few yards from the Cal Poly Stadium, makes several grade crossings in San Luis Obispo, crosses U.S. Highway 1 and Marsh Street, and continues behind French Hospital. That means that the tanker cars present an “imminent hazard’ within our community.
Or air quality and greenhouse gases:
The operational activities associated with the rail spur project at the refinery would generate criteria pollutant emissions that exceed SLOAPCD thresholds.
Operational pollutant emissions (i.e., NOx, ROC, and DPM) within San Luis Obispo County and outside the county on the mainline could be potentially significant and unavoidable (Class I).The operational pollutant emissions associated with operation of the Rail Spur Project within the county would exceed the SLOCAPCD thresholds. Outside the county the mainline emissions would exceed most other air district thresholds.
It is suggested by Phillips that this impact can be reduced to less than significant with the use of Tier 4 locomotive and the application of emission reduction credits, which would make the impact less than significant with mitigation (Class II). This assumes that the Phillips purchases Tier 4 locomotives and that these do in fact release fewer diesel particulates and that emission credits can be used. With emission credits, Phillips may skirt around the issue, but the pollutants are still poisoning the air and you will be breathing them.
These 12 impacts are termed significant and unavoidable.
So who are we? We’re the Mesa Refinery Watch Group. We are a grass roots organization of concerned citizens who vehemently object to this project. This is not just an issue that impacts the residents of the Mesa, but the entire San Luis Obispo County. If the refinery is not built, then we will not have 5 80 tanker car trains per week coming down the Cuesta Grade with the potential of disaster that could literally obliterate down town SLO. If you think that it can’t happen here…ask the citizens of LacMegantic Canada, where 47 people were literally vaporized by exploding tanker cars.
In fact, there were more derailments in the past year than in the previous four decades. Oil by rail has become a national issue and impacts communities across the United States. Read the oil by rail safety report.
Winners and losers:
This project is a heads Phillips wins and tails SLO loses, because if there were a disaster; who would compensate businesses for their economic loss, or compensate farmers for their land that could be potentially made useless due to the fall out of toxic soot and ash. Are the health, safety and the vitality of San Luis Obispo county worth granting Phillips the go ahead with this project so that they could garner a few extra dollars/barrel from “advantaged” crude? We think not.
Here’s what you can do. Download the DEIR from the Planning Department website at: www.sloplanning.org under Environmental Impact Reports.
Attend a public workshop at 2555 Halcyon Road, Arroy Grande on Nov. 4, at 6:00 PM
Send your comments to: email@example.com. Your comments must be in by 4:30, Nov. 24.
Plan on attending a public hearing on before the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission on Jan. 29, 2015 (tentative date).
To learn more about this project and what you can do to “Derail the Rail Project” contact: firstname.lastname@example.org — member of the Mesa Refinery Watch steering committee.