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.

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Quite possibly the most dangerous way to move crude. For example….The Lac-Mégantic derailment in Quebec, Canada. Fifty people killed and half the town destroyed…over 30 buildings.

Pipe it….don’t rail it.

If people used the same scrutiny every time a new vineyard was created, perhaps individuals who live on small acreage wouldn’t see their wells dry up. But because it’s oil and not wine, every word, every action is put under a microscope, criticized, and opposed. Try living without the benefits of oil and see how long you would survive. Most materials we use on a daily basis have their origin in oil either directly or indirectly. Perhaps most who oppose here drive electric cars, but remember part of the electricity you use to recharge your car comes from Diablo Canyon.

All that coming down the grade. Really? If the Sups allow that to happen, there should be a recall.

In related news, a worthy read on where things did go wrong (Gulf – Deepwater Horizon incident),how it played out for the actual survivors. This is for perspective to some of the glib comments makers above. You will recognize yourself, perhaps learn something about your lack of comprehension what these scenarios entail on a personal level.

Make that “comments below”

Mr. Shinderman, how many tank cars pass through the county now? If Phillips 66 does or doesn’t have a rail spur, what effect will that have on how many tank cars pass through the county? Is there a limit to how many tank cars pass through the county or can that even be limited by local ordinance? How fast do the trains that travel through the county go? How fast will the trains go when they go onto the propose spur at Phillips 66? What benefits are there from Phillips 66 increasing their use of oil brought in by rail?

I know you want to be impartial, so here above are a few questions you might consider answering.

Google oil by rail in California. It’s linked in the viewpoint. Presently two tanker trains come down from San ardo to Torrence. They by pass Phillips. The national transportation safety board has proposed new standards for tanker cars that are less prone to puncture and explosion. Speeds along the mainline are approx 40mph for unit trains of oil. But in Lynchburg va a train going but a few miles per hour derailed and spilled hundreds of barrels into the adjacent river.

Within the refinery the EIR says 3 miles per hour, there would still be increased noise and pollution and the potential of fire as cars are uncoupled and connected to output valves.

The benefit to Phillips is cheaper crude. Considering the current crash in prices of crude and increased touch costs to handle the trains in lieu of just turning on a pipeline valve plus the fees added per barrel to pay for hazmat training and first responders; the financial picture get cloudy. My personal opinion is that Phillips has another agenda to get their nose under the tent with this project and then expand refining capacity.

Mr. Shinderman, from New York via San Jose, comes to Nipomo to become a NIMBY activist in a field where he has no training. He has a BS from Queens College, and an MA/LS from Stonybrook. He describes himself as an Inside Sales Manager:New Business, and as an IT Business Development Strategist, neither of which have much to do with oil or rail transport. His LinkedIn page proudly displays the logo of Obama For America, the disingenuously named successor to the discredited Organizing for America. It is clear from his prior writings with hysterical doomsday references to past and distant incidents, and from this piece, that he is against any oil development anywhere in our country. We don’t need elite activists, we need good jobs.

One need not be a specialist in oil to understand the risks. Here’s a homework assignment for you. Set up google alerts for derailments and spills and tar sands. You’ll learn that derailments and spills are an everyday event.

If you’re local, you must read this article! It is well written, founded on real issues, concerns, potentiality for disastrous accidents, increased pollution, little to gain job-wise in return.

Personally, I’d be much happier with a “passive” pipeline, rather than rolling stock of volatile material in single-hulled train cars rolling through SLO county.

It would entail massive movement of 80 TRAIN CARS A DAY through our counties rail system. Think Cuesta Grade, tunnels, downtown SLO, bridges, unguarded crossings, etc.

Add reckless drivers, bad weather, tired train operators, throw in a quake, etc. and you’re in for a non-viable attempt to move hazardous material for processing to the Mesa with the inherent risks associated with such movements. Daily…!

There has got to be a better way to move such volatile material than by trains!

How about we all sign a letter to POtuS to allow Keystone to be built? Meanwhile we need jobs and oil.

If you read oil reports we are floating in oil. Brent crude is down to where it’s now uneconomical to drill for more. By the way the products of Phillips are not for domestic consumption. They are for export in the main. As to jobs a growing and vital economic climate generated by us NYC elitists as I have been characterized create jobs for hundreds of tradesmen and their companies. Plus the added property taxes that we pay help pay for the schools and roads plus the money we spend in and around Santa Maria, arroyo grande, Nipomo and SLO create jobs I. Those towns.

If you understand the multiplier effect; each dollar spent generates five more dollars within the community. Simply state we are a self sustaining stimulus program that adds to growth and income of the community. All with no government money.

They have good jobs there now. This project would not appreciably add new ones. The issue is the health and welfare and the economic vitality of slo.

If there were a derailment or fire the only jobs would be clean up and moving companies as people leave the area. You might want to stop with labels and understand the issue.

As a elitist from New York City I created hundreds of jobs by building companies and not mouthing the mantra of jobs and less regulation and less taxes.

Get your neighbors to attend the the events to learn more about the EIR and what you can do to stop this madness

Wow! 80 train cars A DAY!. Let’s see. That is probably an average train. It takes about 3 minutes for a train to pass my house. That means we will have train cars for 3 MINUTES A DAY!. Now that is what I call massive movement.

It’s a rail terminal. That means trains in the refinery for more than 12 hours a day. Take your head out of the sand and read oil by rail articles. When a train blows up or derails it’s moving at zero mph. It burns for hours or days and take months to clean up spills. A mile long train may seem nostalgic with a distant whistle, but trains trundling through down town slo is a disruption to traffic And potential hazard to police and first responders waiting for the trains to pass that’s the least iof the problem. The diesel particulates spewed make the air quality more toxic. If that doesn’t disturb you , stay in your alternative universe

I like the proposal actually. Brings revenue, jobs and boy do I love trains moving product through! Sorry……fire at will.

(2) new refinery’s in the US over the past 20 years while consumption continues to grow? Its basically impossible for new refinery’s to be built in California. Only option left is to expand existing facilities.


Hope you know how to fight fires and enjoy toxic air. . You might want to research the issue, then make a decision.

If you could read you will understand that they are not increasing capacity. It’s bringing in oil by train rather than pipeline. Their capacity is fixed. The issue is Phillips wanting advantaged tar sands. Hey, it’s your air too!

Half truths Laurance. Their capacity is fixed? Yes! Are they reaching their capacity No! That takes infrastructure upgrades and new tech.

I’m glad you can read but try reading all of their existing and proposed use permits. You see a pattern yet?

I love the idea…. drill baby drill.

Move to North Dakota. Lots of drilling is going on there. The issue is not drilling it’s a rail terminal. By the way, the by product will not be for domestic consumption. It will be shipped off shore to china.

Local jobs producing something for sale in China. Sounds like a win-win to me.

A train blowing up or an oil spill will send jobs out of the county. Who would want to live in a town that could be the poster child for a train disaster. Who would want to invest here or move here. By the way our community pumps millions into the local community. A potential disaster and the property values tumble and the tax base diminishes. Is that worth a handful of jobs.

Our position is. Continue business as you do now. By pipeline.

I think the goal of narrow-minded self-righteous people like Mesa Refinery Watch Group is for all of us to huddle around in tee-pees and burn open fires. Then watch what happens to the environment.

Read the EIR. I know it may be a challenge before you retreat into a banal simplistic comment

Laurance, your “opinion” sounds a bit over the top don’t you think?

A few facts:

The “coast oil cans”, the UP oil train that runs from near San Ardo to Wilmington, has been operating for over 15 years without having one serious accident or derailment. That’s a damn good safety record if you ask me. There is no reason to believe the safety record would be any different for the Phillips 66 trains, no matter what direction they arrive at the new facility.

You are wrong assuming (and yes you are making an assumption) that IF Phillips 66 had oil sands crude brought down from Alberta it will be “dilbit”. That is incorrect. Tank cars are being built that have internal heating coils so that a thinning agent is not required. And whether or not Phillips 66 needs this type of oil brought in is up for debate. IF Measure P passes then it becomes more likely since Phillips 66’s access to local heavy crude oil could be greatly reduced.

Phillips 66 has it’s own fleet of the new tank cars. If the county stipulates that only the newest design (and built) tank cars be used I’m sure Phillips 66 would readily agree to it. It would not be difficult for them to comply.

When people moved to Trilogy and Monarch Dunes they did so knowing full well the refinery was there, and has been there since 1955. One should NEVER assume, when moving to a new location, that there won’t be changes in the neighborhood at some future time. That is the fault of the buyer. You also have problems with sand being blown over from the Oceano Dunes, which I consider to be a far worse problem long term. Did any of this even enter the minds of home buyers or were all of you fleeced by real estate agents??? If buyers failed to do their “homework” then it’s on them and nobody else. You’ve also got something else you can’t control…ever increasing vehicle traffic on Highway 1. You can’t stop emissions drifting over the area from all those cars and trucks can you? The reality is this: when the economy is good more people drive, more trucks move goods, and more people use the dunes for recreation, which equals more emissions. It’s really that basic…

The Phillips 66 SLO County refinery is “landlocked”, meaning they cannot receive oil delivery via ocean vessel. If they did there would probably be no need for this project. If the main refinery up in Rodeo (just north of Richmond) had room to build a crude oil by rail facility there then, again, there wouldn’t be a need to build it in SLO County. Unfortunately, the circumstances are that Phillips 66 needs to build this facility in SLO County. They have the right to access cheaper domesticly produced oil instead of higher cost foreign imports if they so choose. This is a capitalist county, not a socialist one.

While I believe Phillips 66 should refrain from bringing in both Bakken/Three Forks crude oil from North Dakota and, for now, Alberta oil sand crude (for several reasons) I believe they can and should be able to bring in medium grade crude oils from West Texas, Colorado and Wyoming, when the API gravity rating is below 31. This type of oil (very much like Alaskan crude) is NOT even remotely as volatile as Bakken crude which is high in NGL’s (natural gas liquids). I believe Phillips 66 should be able to build the facility but phase in it’s use in gradually to lower the “fear factor”. I don’t think that is unreasonable.

And your fears the Phillips 66 has some sort of other motive for building the facility is ludicrous and pure folly.

Thank you, A well reasoned and articulated response.

Yes we were aware of the dunes and the refinery. The issue is that they are currently exceeding SLOAPCD emission standards, and are stating that they will be using emission credits to mitigate the increased diesel emissions.

They list 12 areas of significant impact that they cannot readily be mitigated. Yes they have the refinery there, but oil by rail was not in the cards; and is only a recently defined new direction by their senior management.

I understand the Redo connection; so this is a piece meal EIR inwhich they are submitting two EIRS when they should be addressing a cumulative impact of both projects.

Look I’m a capitalist…I understand profit and loss; I’ve been through too many business cycles and thus understand that business evolve; and if they don’t change they can be toast…but then again at what cost.

The Phillips Project is a new way of doing business. I’ts a rail terminal! Having just a few trains or all 5 trains is pretty much the same thing…it’s still a visual blight in term of despoiling a panoramic vista, along with the noise and vibration of trains in the yard for at least 12 hours a day, and a lighting system that will pollute the night sky. As to the emission from the plant, in my opinion that’s reason enough to deny the EIR.

The County Planners had it in mind to grow Nipomo with new development and as such, they would be remiss in their re interpreting land use. (But that’s for the lawyers).

But I do thank you for the comments….it’s much easier to disagree without being disagreeable