Phillips 66 rail spur project is wrong for SLO County

October 29, 2014


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: 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: 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: — member of the Mesa Refinery Watch steering committee.



  1. JMO says:

    Although my posts were intended to show the bias of Mr. Shinderman, this topic actually does deserve attention. Chemical plants (and I lump the Phillips 66 plant in this) do need oversight as was learned in the Bhopal disaster. After the disaster, the U.S. passed a law called the Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act. In a nut shell, the community has the right to know the danger potential of a chemical plant and what emergency planning is in place in the case of an accident. Whether the rail spur is allowed or not, it would be good for the community to be aware of risks of the Phillips 66 plant. Primarily the First Responders (Fire and Police, but mostly Fire) are the most closely involved with this process, but all the public has the right to know. If you live in the Nipomo area, you have the right to ask questions about the plant. It might be a good idea for someone, whether they support the plant or not, to inform the public how they could get more information.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
    • laurance says:

      Google Oil by Rail in California…I think it’s in my post. It details the issues with first responders and their training. My issue is the construction of a Rail Terminal Project which would bring 80 car tankers into their facility 5 times a week. The added “touch” associated with oil by rail vs their current pipe line adds to potential troubles. The CPC 1232 Tanker cars I have learned from another reader will not require “rail bit” to make the product flow should the source be tar sands (Phillips is literally all over the map) as to what and where the crude will be coming from. But if the its heavy crude with the consistence of “peanut butter” the rail cars will have to be fitted with heating coils so that they could be emptied. I would think that this adds safety as well as health related problems due to fugitive fumes and potential spill. The refinery currently uses emission credits or intends to use them to mitigate the increased diesel pollution. Credit work for them, but the toxicity will be incremental. The APCD in SLO should be a source of data.

      (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down
  2. AGDon says:

    Sadly, your retraction did not reach to the deceptive ads on KVEC I just heard. You are undoubtedly intelligent but your obsession with Ray and her campaign has blinded you to the truths in the campaign and from looking into the conduct of the ugliest campaign in the counties history, the Compton Campaign. As they get more desperate, the attacks continue. Compton supporters have been seen tearing out Ray signs on private property in broad day light today. AG police union has taken the unprecedented step of using a robo call to attack a candidate using their position as law enforcement to render a legal opinion with out any due process. Talk about taking away rights. The police union has gone way over the line on that one. Endorsing and attacking are far apart.

    (2) 6 Total Votes - 4 up - 2 down
    • Kevin Rice says:

      ABSOLUTELY FALSE. Upon becoming aware of the issue I notified KVEC and produced a different ad inside of one hour. The rest of your post is rhetoric and hypocrisy. Ray supporters have also been caught red-handed vandalizing Compton signs. Tu quoque.

      But WAIT– I’m taken aback on your next pointed finger… are you really saying (as a Caren Ray supporter) that unions shouldn’t get a voice in elections? That would be astounding to me and every labor union, I’m pretty certain. You’re very confused. Police unions aren’t “law enforcement”, nor do police render “legal opinions”, nor can a political ad strip “due process”, nor can a political communication “take away rights”.

      And unions attack ALL THE TIME. Here: Let Me Google That For You.

      (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down
      • AGDon says:

        In brief, you dodge the point that your unbiased integrity research is focused solely on Ray and you have a history of being wrong such as this. You said Byrd and Compton did not have errors on their filings. That of coarse is not true, but you chose to spin it. You said Ray would use the deceptive slate mailers, again not true, only Compton. The Compton campaign has much fertile ground for honest investigation. Burlington Northern Railroad make a sizable donation t the local Republican Central Committee and Compton receives a big pile of money from the committee. Odd coincidence to be sure. Certainly worth questioning. Compton shows up at a rotary function as a guest of the manager of Philips 66. Certainly worth questioning. The list is long is anyone cared to look.
        The signs are meaningless but a quick drive down major streets in Nipomo will show that all the Ray signs have disappeared overnight but not the Compton ones. Again, if it was the other way around, we would hear it.

        More importantly, I never said unions should not have a voice. Both candidates have some union support. The AG police did something different. Police are a perceived legal expert. An officer identified himself and then used language that has legal meaning. He did not say Ray exaggerates, or twists the truth, He said slander, which has a legal definition. That is rendering a legal opinion as a perceived expert will out any due process. It is way over the line. I will be surprised if a complaint is not filed at some point.

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        • Kevin Rice says:

          You’re making a helluvalot of baseless assumptions and inaccurate claims of what I said or didn’t say.

          Police are not legal experts. They don’t have a law degree. Only an attorney can render a legal opinion; what you dispute is not a legal opinion, it is an allegation.

          You are clearly very biased on these topics, so let’s just call it a day. I provided you with an enormous spreadsheet which you dispute, but you’ve provided nothing and cited nothing. I don’t find this productive at this point. We’ll just disagree.

          (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down
          • AGDon says:

            I prefer not.
            While police are not legal experts, they do carry more weight in the public eye, a trust that the AG police union has stepped on. In addition, a call to the Compton campaign has indicated that the officer on the robo call was from Guadalupe department. Even more deception.

            Again you dodge the point of biased research. Of course the discussion is unproductive for you when I point out your errors. You even acknowledged one yourself that others have pointed out. Actually you said all those things in these forums and have failed to focus on any other candidate. Yes, its unproductive because you choose it so.

            (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
      • AGDon says:

        Your continued deception should also be noted on the radio ad. After hearing another the radio station was called. They indicated you never altered your ad nor did you indicate an intent to.
        I suggest you call the station to correct if that was your intent to establish credibility

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  3. Kevin Rice says:

    Caren Ray took money from Union Pacific railroad, just so you all know.

    (3) 11 Total Votes - 7 up - 4 down
    • Kevin Rice says:

      UPDATE: It was pointed out that Caren Ray refunded Union Pacific (page 16, Form 460, dated May 22, 2014.)

      You can view ALL of Caren Ray’s campaign contributions at

      (-1) 3 Total Votes - 1 up - 2 down
      • MajorityFan says:

        Or better yet, a real source with all of the facts.

        (0) 4 Total Votes - 2 up - 2 down
        • Kevin Rice says:

          First, dismissiveness is a form of fallacious argumentation. If you wish to point out an error on my part we can then debate it. I have asserted FACTS. If you have no non-fallacious rebuttal, then you are acquiescing.

          You are welcome, of course, to transcribe 715 contributions to Caren Ray from several hundred FPPC filings yourself. But I’ve already done that for you and I proudly share it transparently at

          If you find an error, I’d love to hear about it. And I will amend, if need be. However, I’ve already compared my balances for each and every filing period against Caren’s filings—and except for three “clerical errors” on her part (which I point out specifically in my spreadsheet on the tab labeled “Verification”)—my balances exactly match Caren’s.

          I can absolutely GUARANTEE you Caren Ray’s bank account doesn’t match what she reports in her FPPC filings because of the “clerical errors” in her filings.

          Hence, I don’t know what “source with all of the facts” exists, since even the candidate doesn’t have “the facts” straight on her own filings, and I am forced to rely on her filings, which are fraught with “clerical errors”.

          (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
          • AGDon says:

            When errors are pointed out in your statements, the “GUARANTEE” is of little value. That coupled with a clear bias leaves your investment in becoming a political force a poor one indeed.

            I urge you to find balance that will make your extensive knowledge and research a respectable value.

            (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down
            • Kevin Rice says:

              (1) There is/was no error in my spreadsheet whatsoever.
              (2) Caren Ray took a contribution from Union Pacific railroad. That is a FACT reflected in her own filings.
              (3) A refund does not travel backwards in time and undo that FACT.
              (4) The refund does change the light in which the FACT should be weighed, and changes to communications were made immediately.
              (5) NO CHANGES were made to my spreadsheet because it did and does reflect EXACTLY what Caren Ray reported as a contribution. Refunds are “expenditures” and do not erase “contributions”.

              Hence, my GUARANTEE stands. And, if you are capable of plainly seeing a simple addition error, or seeing that a figure was carried forward from another page incorrectly, then you will realize my guarantee is correct. But, if you wish to blow smoke without evaluating anything, then you’re just blowing smoke.

              Bottom line: More “clerical” errors on Caren’s part.

              (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down

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