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.


The anti-spur activists seem largely to be elderly and bored transplants to this area looking for a cause to give their lives some meaning and to uphold their NIMBYism. It appears that anti-spur activism is more about socializing and attempting to feel good about oneself rather than to actually make things safer for local inhabitants.

Ted Slanders

The solid “Oil Can” trains running through San Luis Obispo at this time are from the San Ardo oil fields South of Salinas, and are restricted to 50mph, and they terminate at the former SP yard at Dolores (Carson, California) for LA refineries. These trains are hauling San Ardo crude oil, where the crude does not burn like the Bakken crude from North Dakota, so the risk with a train like this is pretty small.

What makes the news in oil train derailments are the ones hauling the Bakken oil and tar sands from North Dakota. The Phillips refinery in Nipomo can’t handle the sweeter, lighter Bakken crude, as it specializes in the ultra-heavy crude and tar sands. Canadian tar sand oil is safer than the Bakken oil because it does not contain natural gas and propane, which fuels explosions in tank cars carrying Bakken oil in derailments. This type of oil is not suppose to travel through our area.

The irony is that when the Southern Pacific Railroad was still running their trains through this area, their train consists had class 1 explosives, class 3 flammable and combustible liquids, class 4 flammable solids that were spontaneously combustable, that if derailed and exploded, make the Bakken Oil train explosions look like a Boy’s Scout picnic! The good old days, “ignorance was bliss.”

Anyone that is against this project, and so as not to be hypocritical or a NIMBY, make sure that the gasoline that you purchase hence forth is not in any way related to the Phillips new proposed refineries oil in Nipomo. Do your homework!


Canadian Tar Sands Safer than Bakken…Really?

And yes we use gasoline..that is not the issue…the issue is the potential havoc that this Project will bring up and down the coast. It’s not a bet that I think you would want to make. What is the upside potential for the Project when weighed against the risk…the refinery will be in operation without a terminal. The issue is the sourcing “advantaged” crude from Alberta. It’s your county too. Why invite more risk?

RAILWAY AGE: Why tar sands train became a fireball – bitumen isn’t necessarily safer than Bakken

February 25, 2015 Roger Straw

Repost from Railway Age

[Editor: Significant quote: “This blend of bitumen and petroleum-based diluents, known as “dilbit,” has a low flash point. Thus, the widespread belief that bitumen from Alberta’s northern oil sands is far safer to transport by rail than Bakken crude is, for all intents and purposes, dead wrong. This may be disruptive news for bitumen shippers, carriers, and regulators.” – RS]

Ted Slanders


Okay, let’s deduce this situation to it’s irreducible primary, Phillips says there will be no Bakken crude oil shipped to their Nipomo refinery, period. One reason being, that they’re not set up for this type of sweet crude. End of discussion.

Where were you when it really mattered when the Southern Pacific Railroad shipped “actual” liquid flammable gas tank cars, flammable tripropylene, pesticides, flammable ethylene oxide, and a “plethora” of other dangerous flammable liquids and solids in the years past through this area?

Here is the irony, the Union Pacific still ships these aforementioned dangerous loads throughout California, and at times, though San Luis Obispo County. Mostly these dangerous tank cars traverse the San Joaquin Valley and the Coast is basically for Amtrak trains, and crude oil from San Ardo at this time. This does not mean that these dangerous loads can’t be shipped through our area again on a regular basis by the Union Pacific. Will you be protesting at San Luis Obispo station if these trains start running again in a NIMBY fashion?

Question, are you going to take your initiative to the Highways of SLO County as well because of trucks transporting the aforementioned dangerous materials as well? Truck accidents with dangerous loads can create the same potential havoc that you speak of in your post. Now what?

Yes, you use gasoline, and as long as it is NOT made in your back yard, but in someone else’s, you are okay in using it at another’s expense. The crude oil that Phillips is set up for at their Nipomo refinery, and that they want to ship through are area, is the same oil that has been traversing our rails for years. Seemingly, they want to ship more of it, therefore, the extra trackage at their Phillip’s plant to handle the unloading of these trains.

Just admit that you are a NIMBY.


I wonder if it would bring decent paying JOBS to our area. I know some people, like retired people, don’t want to talk about jobs, but we need living wage jobs here. When a crappy starter house costs $360k and rent for a 2 bedroom shanty is like $1200/month (and that’s a bargain). we HAVE GOT to look at ways for jobs to come here.

I would not simply write my supervisor and say “no”. I would write my supervisor and say they should explore fully the REASONABLE concerns addressed by citizens of the community. People cannot just keep vetoing ideas to bring revenue, jobs, tax dollars to our community.


No one said to close the Refinery. Thus the jobs issue is a red herring. If there were a disaster there would be jobs aplenty for a clean up….but weigh that against the “brand” of the central coast for tourism and economic growth as a destination location. Those are jobs too.

Ted Slanders


You seem to be taking the position of closing the barn door subsequent to the horses running out. The Phillip’s refinery has been on the Mesa since 1955.

Individuals that purchased property in this area were made known of it’s existence, and for anyone that now takes the position against the Phillip’s plant in any way is insidious to say the least.

Question, and within the same vein, what about the “possibility” of a leak at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant at the cost of tourism and economic growth that you mention? Barring the fact that it’s there in the first place in addressing tourism and economic growth?


I wouldn’t be opposed to this if the tar sands were here, and the risks could be mitigated. It doesn’t make much sense to ship over such a great distance. Why doesn’t Phillips build a refinery in Alberta, or maybe Washington or Oregon? That would cut the multiplied and distributed risks, cut the environmental impact, and cut some of the costs. The infrastructure must be expensive, but I doubt there will be a diminishing demand for the finished product with global demand on the rise.


Not to argue this project, but what are the 50+ tankers cars placarded with crude ID numbers I see on the tracks several times a week?.Where are they going, and where did they come from?


Here’s an analogy. If you already have rattle snakes in your front yard, why invite more into your living room. The current crude tankers come from San Ardo. Their crude is not the same that would be coming from Alberta. Another “gent” was noted the origin and destination of the San Ardo crude. More trains, mean more risk….remember; this is not a one time event, but should the project be approved; this will be an ongoing operation for 20 years or more….

Ted Slanders


“More trains, mean more risk…”

More cell phone texting means more auto accident risk, more drunken drivers means more auto accidents and possible deaths, more swimming pools means more drowning risks, as population grows in San Luis Obispo County, there is a risk that the per capita of death rates will be higher, the more cars in San Luis Obispo County means there is a higer risk of auto accidents, the more cars traveling through our area on holidays mean there will be more risk in accidents, as the drought continues, means there is more of a risk we’ll run out of water, etc., etc., etc., get it? Life alone, has it’s own risk factor!

Cite your factual information on the type of oil that the Phillip’s refinery will be getting.


“Plains estimated that, when all is said and done, it will incur a total of $257 million in costs related to the spill. That includes cleanup expenses, fines, and claims settlements but does not include any lost revenue from the continued pipeline shutdown.”

—Santa Barbara Independent



“Each year the trains would haul 20,800 fully-loaded crude-oil tankers + 20,800 “empties” departing … 41,600”

Nope! Counting the same railcars twice does not double the number of railcars. 20,800 railcars will make a stop and the same 20,800 will leave once emptied.

If people don’t want a rail spur, then perhaps they shouldn’t object when someone wants to build a pipeline. “Not in my backyard” isn’t a good enough defense any more. Everywhere is someone’s backyard.



We are very much aware of the toxic chemicals that pass through SLO. It is through our efforts that this information will be made available to first responders so that they will know what to contend with should there be a derailment and spill.

What’s more in lieu of yelping NIMBY; learn what the project entails.The issue is health and safety, no NIMBY. It’s a statewide, and county wide issue….


Your efforts have absolutely nothing to do with long, long standing laws.


Raising the awareness as to what would be coming down the tracks has changed the regulations as to informing the first responders.

In the past, traditional heavy crude emergency incidents were considered a low probability–high consequence for rail and over the road events since the majority of crude was transported through the pipeline system. Now that production has increased, especially light sweet crude from the Bakken region, more crude oil is being transported by rail and cargo tank truck. Hence, crude oil emergency incidents have now become a higher probability-high consequence event.

First responders must remain vigilant of the type and amount of crude oil passing through their response area. An understanding of the chemical properties of this type of light sweet crude oil is paramount. PHMSA and the FRA have stressed to the providers of crude oil to make sure that the information provided on their shipping documents and the placarding of cars is appropriate for the characteristics of the product. PHMSA will be conducting tests on the chemical properties of this type of crude oil to assist in determining the suitable shipping information.

The first responders need to know what they will be facing. The laws are changing for more transparency in terms of what the “unit trains” will be carrying. Both Bakken and Tar Sands have changed the equation.


It might well be a good thing that the anti-spur activists such as the author remain ignorant of the sorts of toxic chemicals that have long been shipped by rail through SLO and SB Counties. NIMBYs indeed.


Huh? How does this make anybody a nimby? By the way, why do you keep calling people names? Isn’t “nimby” just as disrespectful as the other N-word? Would you use that one? How about stating your point without all the name-calling? Calling people names is childish.


If calling someone names is so bad, why did you call him “Childish” dah!


You really have no idea what a “nimby” is, do you?

Not In My Back Yard….n.i.m.b.y.

So, no. Nimby is NOT like calling someone a nigger. A “nimby” is nothing more than a hypocrite…..but “nimby” is more fun to say :)

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