Rail spur impacts outweigh any benefits

August 11, 2015


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.

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I don’t live in SLO, but I appreciate its beauty, and that it is not over developed. I am disappointed that it is so closely tied with chemical industries and nuclear power. This is despite the fact that I have personal motive for keeping those industries in SLO, which is namely that I work for those industries.

Yet I am compelled to lean towards doing the right thing. I have moral conscience, and I personally am a risk taking personality but usually calculated risks. I think these chemical industries have SOOO MUCH MONEY ITS RIDICULOUS! and to see how in their pursuit of greed they have found ways of stepping on people (including workers) is a shame.

They should be required to hire all workers and employees directly, and stop abusing contract workers. This trend needs to stop. They can afford to do the right thing. This includes upgrading all the rail cars to the newer standards.

“…Ted makes an excellent point that there are hazardous and toxic products coming down the tracks now. That being said, why invite more risk when it benefits only Phillips…”

Your premise is false. The spur benefits every ultimate consumer of the refined tar sands and SLO County is filled with THOUSANDS of such consumers. Until you no longer consume petrochemicals in your daily life, your comments are without merit.

The spur should be built because as petro consumers, those living in SLO County need to shoulder their share of the load. It’s simply wrong to force risks of the refining onto another community when the facilities have existed here since 1955.

NIMBYism is wrong. It unfairly impacts certain communities through efforts such as your own.

Hypocrites ‘O’ plenty round these parts. All who drive cars should zip it! Only those who transport by solar or peddle power may argue the merits of this hazardous transport. Lots of folks have purchased homes and moved into areas previously devoid of high density residential housing. Now that woodlands is partially developed and occupied by affluent people who have created wealth by the same fossil fuel that they don’t want processed up wind from them, they are against anyone else benefiting from the exploitation of a resource that they continue to use and need. This plant has been around a long time and peoples livelihoods depend on it. Move to Sacramento – you’ll find plenty of like minded folks there.

Kayaknut. I guess you enjoy the sport of kayaking and from your comments you are not fan of government

But the issue is the potential economic impacts should there be a derailment. If you think such an issue doesn’t resonate with local tourist boards, you are mistaken. Especially cities that have tourism S their signature brand. A derailment and fiery explosion would devastate pismo or Grover beach Refugio lost millions. Read this link http://www.itopf.com/knowledge-resources/documents-guides/economic-effects/

Just try to find a camping spot down near Refugio, they are all reserved, people have a short memory.

You are well informed but myopic. The issue here is not adding more risk. The project will open up more communities to the risk of derailments. We could make a bill board sized sign. Folks who fail to understand the proposed danger would be oblivious to the added information. For some reason they believe that poor Phillios is being picked on. as to the speed of trains being reduced to mitigate the risk, there have been derailments with trains going 17mph. What’s more the biggest risk is human error and that too adds an element as to why the project is simply wrong for this area. The new regulations will at least inform the first responders as to what the tankers hold. Initially the rail roads were against making this information available.

You are obviously well informed. I’ve read many of you comments in other ccn posts. So let me ask why would you want this project to move forward. What is the upside other than the possible incremental profits for Phillips. It’s not jobs, it’s not energy independence, it’s not cheaper prices, it’s not the possibility of the refinery closing.

sirlaurance says:

08/14/2015 at 12:13 am

“Ted makes an excellent point that there are hazardous and toxic products coming down the tracks now. That being said, why invite more risk when it benefits only Phillips.”

sirlaurance says:

08/14/2015 at 4:06 pm

“You are well informed but myopic. The issue here is not adding more risk. The project will open up more communities to the risk of derailments.”

Barring the fact of your convoluted thinking in that your first proposition alluded to a derailment by using the term “risk”, then stating in your second proposition that the issue is not “risk”, but then following this up with the “risk” of derailments in communties is contradicting and convoluted to the maximum. And this is the logic and reason that you use to have others commit to your way of thinking? Surely you jest?

You have the audacity to ask me why I would prefer the Phillip’s 66 project to go ahead, when in fact you have yet to answer me on what I proposed to you relative to why, FOR THE THIRD TIME, aren’t you campaging against those “other” aforementioned hazardous materials shipped by rail and tanker truck so as not to be a blatant hypocrite?

You seem to be under the impression that you want something for nothing. Please don’t tell me that the sophomoric word salad that you posed above was your answer, okay? With specificity, it did NOT address my question to you once again, other than to throw another red herring into your fish pond to run from the question once again.

Your comedy relief in the notion of trains going at slower speeds still derail, then the risks within the same manner of automobiles being limited to slower speeds through a School Zone would be equally dangerous. Under your equal situation and wording, would you also propose that no kind of transportation should be within any school zone where “human error” could run over a child and kill them in the same vein as a derailed train of oil cans at your exampled slower speed? How far do you want to take your skewed logic down the proverbial rabbit hole?

“The new regulations will at least inform the first responders as to what the tankers hold. Initially the rail roads were against making this information available.”

BULLSHIT! Your perceived knowledge, or it may be outright ignorance, is waning rather fast with such inept statements like the one you made above! The Hazardous Material Transportation Act (HMTA) became law in 1975 for the purpose of providing protection against the dangers inherent in the transportation of hazardous material in commerce, and hazardous placards of the contents of freight cars were applied upon the cars in question!



If I may be Frank, and you can remain sirlaurance, maybe you need a rest upon these facts being proposed to you by many here on CCN that seem to be “derailing,” (no pun intended) your perceived and wanting propositions to your cause.


To use another one of your weak arguments, pertaining to the additional hazardous materials transported by rail and truck which you state provides even more risk beyond Phillips 66 shipping oil trains, then why are you only making a stand against Phillips 66? If you’re that concerned about the rail safety in San Luis Obispo County, then why aren’t you addressing the following types of dangerous rail transport tank cars that go through our area as well?! THIS IS THE SECOND TIME THAT I’VE PROPOSED THIS TO YOU!

Anhydrous Ammonia, Liquefied Petroleum Gas, Ethylene Oxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Vinyl Chloride, Anhydrous Hydrofluoric Acid, Anhydrous Ammonia Metallic Sodium Chlorine, Liquefied Hydrocarbon Gas, Motor Fuel Anti-Knock Compound Vinyl Chloride, Fertilizer Ammoniating Solution, Chlorine, Anhydrous Ammonia, Sulfur Dioxide, Butadiene, Refrigerant or Dispersant Gases, Nitrosyl Chloride, Helium Hydrogen Oxygen, Nitrogen Fertilizer Solution, Ethyl Chloride.

For the sake of brevity, a few examples of the outcomes of these tank car loads in explosive accidents are as follows ………


To be TRUE to your cause, you must take the same position against rail propane tank cars that also can explode as well. This link shows the aftermath of such an explosion.



Nineteen cars were derailed, all of which were carrying ethanol, a flammable liquid, according to the NTSB. Thirteen of the derailed tank cars were breached, or leaked their contents and caught fire.


Since you’re an advocate for train safety in our area, then you have to address ALL of the railroad tank car loads that are dangerous in the case of a derailment, along with tanker trucks that carry equally dangerous loads upon our highways where they too could be in an accident! Do you understand this simple premise by taking the position that you have? Yes?

In not addressing this notion above in previous posts, is it because of the heavier cost of making more insidious yard sign placards to address ALL of the dangerous railroad tank car loads, their destinations and ownerships? Or, are you lacking the help needed in producing these erroneous countless signs to begin with? Or maybe, you can’t make the signs big enough to include ALL of the dangerous tank cars shown, and the “plethora” of tanker truck dangerous loads too? You fail to address this notion in my previous posts to you, why is that? Your silence says volumes to many here on CCN regarding your hypocritical stance to your main cause.

Again, you’re conveniently not adding the additional precautions that are in effect at this time over the previous derailments, and the most important being that all tank car trains are to be operated at 40mph in urban areas, along with these CPC-1232 tank cars Phillips 66 will be using, they all have “tight-lock” couplers for additional safety.

“The safe transportation of hazardous materials in bulk by rail and cargo tank truck is a priority for the U.S. Department of Transportation. There are an estimated one million daily shipments of hazardous materials transported in the U.S. via rail, truck, air and waterways, and 99 percent arrive at their destination safely without incident.”


You will NEVER have 100 percent safety in any hazardous material transportation, therefore you’re pissing in the Mississippi River to try in vain to change it’s direction!