Tag Archives: Nipomo CA

San Luis Obispo Phillips 66 oil-by-rail hearing packed, continues next month

Repost from the San Luis Obispo Tribune

Phillips 66 oil-by-rail hearing continues next month

By Cynthia Lambert, February 25, 2016 11:11am

HIGHLIGHTS
• After a third all-day hearing, the county Planning Commission will revisit the issue March 11
• Hundreds of speakers have praised or panned the plan to bring crude oil by rail to the Nipomo Mesa refinery
• Supporters stress the refinery’s safety record and jobs; opponents cite environmental worries

A packed room listens to comments on the Phillips 66 oil-by-rail plan Thursday before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission.
A packed room listens to comments on the Phillips 66 oil-by-rail plan Thursday before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission. David Middlecamp

After a third all-day hearing with more than 100 speakers decrying or praising a plan by Phillips 66 Co. to upgrade its Nipomo refinery to receive crude oil by train, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission said Thursday that no decision will be made on the project until March 11 — or even later.

The dozens of speakers Thursday were fairly evenly split on either side of the debate, with supporters stressing the need to maintain about 200 “head-of-household” jobs at the refinery, as well as its long track record of safety and that it’s been a good neighbor in the community.

“The actual crude production in California is going down, not going up,” said Richard Black, a training administrator at Phillips 66’s Rodeo refinery in the east San Francisco Bay Area. “We have to make up the difference from somewhere.”

Opponents, meanwhile, said commissioners should not take into account the company’s safety record or personal relationships. Residents and elected officials from communities along the main rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles have told commissioners they fear a catastrophic train derailment.

“Their plan is an irreversible disaster,” Nipomo resident Nora Lee said. “The effects will be felt instantly with poisonous air pollution.”

The company has applied to San Luis Obispo County to build a 1.3-mile spur with five parallel tracks from the main rail line to the Nipomo Mesa refinery, an unloading facility at the refinery and on-site pipelines.

The public has another chance to speak March 11 — county planning staff believe they’re nearing the end of public comments — and then the commissioners can ask questions, deliberate and even make a decision, or continue the process once again to a future date.

Whatever decision they make is expected to be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors, and a new round of hearings would be held.

The first two days of the Planning Commission hearing, held Feb. 4 and 5, drew hundreds of people to San Luis Obispo from around the state, with many urging the commissioners to reject the project. Planning staff has recommended denial of the project, which as proposed would allow five trains a week, for a maximum of 250 trains per year to deliver crude oil to the refinery.

Each train would have three locomotives, two buffer cars and 80 railcars carrying a total of about 2.2 million gallons of crude oil, according to county planners.

During a previous hearing day, representatives from Phillips 66 urged the commissioners to approve an alternate plan to allow three trains a week instead of five, or a maximum of 150 trains a year.

The county staff report states that three trains a week — or 150 a year — would reduce the significant toxic air emissions to no longer be considered a “Class 1 significant impact” at the refinery, which refers to the highest level of negative impacts referenced in the project’s final environmental impact report.

But emissions of diesel particulate matter would still remain a “Class 1” impact on-site, according to the staff report, and there would still be 10 “Class 1” impacts along the main rail line, such as impacts to air quality, water resources, potential demands on emergency response services and an increased risk to the public in the event of a derailment.

A few residents brought some audio-visuals along: One person showed a news clip of coverage of a massive train derailment in West Virginia last year; another played an audio recording of what he said a “typical crude oil terminal” sounds like, with train wheels squealing along tracks.

And the commission also watched a video comment from Marilaine Savard, a witness of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic, Québec, oil train disaster.

“Once an oil train derails and catches fire, you and your town will never fully recover,” she said. “Lac-Mégantic was a peaceful and beautiful community, just like San Luis Obispo.”

In response, supporters of the Phillips 66 project said that heavier crude oil — not lighter crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota or Canada that was linked to the Lac-Mégantic disaster and was being carried by a CSX train when it derailed in West Virginia — would be type of crude oil that would be transported and can be processed at the refinery.

The commission heard from more than a dozen Phillips 66 employees who work at the Nipomo Mesa refinery or at the company’s other facilities in California, as well as union representatives and other businesses owners and individuals in support of the project.

Rachel Penny, a safety and health professional at the Nipomo Mesa refinery, said she chose to work in the oil and gas industry because “it’s vital to the economy.”

“In order for us to continue providing energy and improving lives, we need crude oil,” she said, noting that the refinery would not be increasing the amount of crude oil processed at the refinery with the project.

“It is the safest company that I’ve ever worked for,” said Jerry Harshbarger, who works in purchasing. “We still have a strong demand for fossil fuels and stopping this project will not stop that demand.”

Another San Luis Obispo resident said the products of gas and oil could be seen throughout the room, and he urged: “We as a community should work toward how to do this.”

“You drive a car and go up to the pump,” Laura Mordaunt said. “A truck is there filled with gas that is way more volatile. Your vehicle parked in your garage is far more dangerous than this process and yet you continue to drive.”

But another local resident, Gary Lester of the opponent organization Mesa Refinery Watch Group, said Nipomo residents moved there knowing the refinery existed and are not calling for it to be closed.

“We respect you as individuals and the work you do,” he said. “We are objecting to the construction of a loud, dangerous, invasive rail terminal just 3,000 feet from our homes.”

Phillips 66 officials have said that California crude oil production is declining and the company is looking for alternate sources outside the state. According to the company’s website, “The proposed change will help the refinery, and the approximately 200 permanent jobs it provides, remain viable under increasingly challenging business conditions.”

An attorney for Phillips 66 said during a previous hearing that crude oil would still come into California by rail should the project be denied — a point that is included in the “no project” alternative as laid out in the project’s environmental impact report, Phillips 66 officials said.

An average of about 6,800 barrels a day of crude oil is already being delivered by truck from the Paloma rail unloading facility near Bakersfield to a pump station east of Santa Maria, where it is moved by pipeline to the Nipomo Mesa refinery. That could increase to 26,000 barrels a day, according to the environmental document, adding about 100 truck trips a day traveling to the pump station for unloading.

If the rail project does not move forward, it’s likely that additional out-of-state crude oil would be brought to various rail unloading terminals in California and transferred to trucks to deliver to the Santa Maria pump station, according to the environmental report.

If this happened, some impacts would be shifted to the area in and around Santa Maria: trucking would generate higher levels of air emissions, resulting in significant cancer risk to the residences in close proximity to the roads; traffic congestion impacts; and potentially significant impacts to biological and water resources from an oil spill because of a truck accident.

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    Mayor of San Luis Obispo: Safety is not a partisan issue

    Repost from The Tribune, San Luis Obispo, California

    Put politics aside and think safety first when it comes to oil trains

    Risks associated with increased oil train activity are too great; supervisors must act to protect our communities from disaster
    VIEWPOINT, By Jan Marx, July 17, 2015
    Jan Marx | Photo by Joe Johnston

    Like other residents of the city of San Luis Obispo, I am proud of our beautiful 165-year-old city, dubbed the “Happiest City in North America.” Residents may be happy about our city, but we are not happy about the risks proposed by the Phillips 66 rail spur expansion project.

    Why? As we’ve all seen on the news, when trains carrying this oil derail, they don’t just spill — they explode, and burn for days. Those derailments and resulting hazardous air and soil contamination have increased as oil-by-rail transport has increased. The Phillips 66 project would result in five or more additional trains a week bearing highly volatile crude from far away oil fields, traveling through our communities to Nipomo, each train approximately a mile in length. Residents, to put it mildly, do not want these oil trains traveling through our city.

    In response to concerned city residents , the San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously to write a letter to the county Board of Supervisors opposing this project and asking them to protect the safety, health and economic well-being of our city. The city of San Luis Obispo is honored to lead the way in our county and stand alongside a growing number of cities, counties and public agencies throughout the state, allied in opposition to this project.

    The increased risk posed by this project is a major statewide issue and is a threat to every community with a railroad running through it. However, this project poses a uniquely extreme risk to the city of San Luis Obispo, made even more extreme by our unique topography.

    Just to our north, in the open space immediately behind Cal Poly, is the mountainous Cuesta Grade area, which Union Pacific Railroad has rated as one of the state’s highest risk areas for derailments.

    This unspoiled and beautiful part of our greenbelt, full of sensitive species and habitat, with the railroad tracks and Highway 101 snaking through it, is also rated by Cal Fire as being at extreme risk for wildfire. The current extreme drought has created a tinder-dry situation, and when under Santa Ana-downdraft conditions, our city is often downwind from Cuesta Grade.

    Were there to be an oil car derailment in the Cuesta Grade or Cal Poly area, the campus — with its 20,000 students and 10,000 staff members — as well as the densely populated downtown and northern part of our city would be extremely difficult to defend from the ensuing oil fire.

    However, that is not the only area of our city that would be threatened, because the railroad tracks go right through the heart of our city, putting most of our residents, visitors, businesses and structures at risk.

    Our emergency responders are simply not funded, trained or equipped to deal with a disaster of the magnitude threatened by this project. If there were an oil disaster in our community, we taxpayers would be stuck with the bill for firefighting, hazardous material cleanup and repair of infrastructure. The damage to our lives, our environment and our economy would be devastating.

    Like all businesses, Union Pacific and Phillips 66 desire to increase profits for their shareholders. But the problem is that these businesses wish to do so by vastly increasing our community’s risk of exposure to an oil-train disaster. Are we going to be forced to bear that risk? Is there no way to protect ourselves?

    The answer to that question is up to the Board of Supervisors. As the permitting agency, the county Board of Supervisors is in a uniquely crucial position. It is the only entity in the county with the land use authority to deny the permits, which are needed for the project to proceed.

    County residents have the opportunity to urge the Board of Supervisors to reject this project. They should do so for the sake of the health, safety and welfare of everyone who lives or works within the “oil car blast zone,” approximately a half-mile on each side of the railroad tracks.

    The supervisors have the opportunity to put political differences aside and make the safety and wellbeing of their constituents their first priority by rejecting this project. Hopefully, they will rise to the challenge.

    Safety, after all, is not a partisan issue.

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      Communities Fight to Prevent ‘Bomb Trains’ from Passing by the L.A. River

      Repost from KCET, Los Angeles CA

      Communities Fight to Prevent ‘Bomb Trains’ from Passing by the L.A. River

      By Carren Jao, July 9, 2015
      unionpacificlariver.jpg
      A train on the Union Pacific tracks a long the L.A. River | Photo: ATOMIC Hot Links/Flickr/Creative Commons

      Church bells rang 47 times last Monday in Lac-Mégantic as locals came together to remember each of the victims of a horrific rail disaster in the Quebec town two years ago. Aside from the cost to human life, all but three of the buildings in downtown had to be demolished due to petroleum contamination when an unmanned 72-car train rolled downhill and derailed, spilling and igniting six million liters of carrying volatile fracked shale oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota.

      These trains have become known as “bomb trains” due to their destructive track record. At any given time about 9 million barrels of crude oil are moving over the rail lines of North America. In less than a decade, there has also been 43 times more oil moved through U.S. railways, increasing the likelihood of tragic explosions and spills.

      SoCal environmentalists are trying to prevent the same type of tragedy from happening in Los Angeles and by the Los Angeles River, an area slated for a $1-billion facelift in the coming years.

      “We don’t need to put our water sources and communities at risk from bomb trains when we can invest further in public transit, more efficient cars that would run from solar power or advanced biofuels, heating and cooling using renewable energy sources,” says Jack Eidt, urban planner and environmental designer. He is also the publisher of Wilder Utopia and directs Wild Heritage Planners.

      He, along with about thirty organizations such as Burbank Green Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, SoCal 350 Climate Action, and Tar Sands Action Southern California, are working hard to oppose the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery crude expansion, which would extend the existing rail track by 6,915-foot east on the Union Pacific rail mainline and install equipment needed to enable rail delivery of North American crude oil. It would up the volume of oil transported via rail through major cities on its way to Philips’ Santa Maria Refinery, a 1,780-acre property adjacent to State Highway 1 on the Nipomo Mesa.

      They are holding a Stop Oil Trains Day of Action at Union Station this July 11, as part of the National Week of Action to Stop Oil Trains. Environmentalists, community organizers, people from the indigenous community, as well as poets and musicians, will be present to educate the public about this looming issue.

      They’re hoping that the Los Angeles City Council will join in the chorus of over 30 city and county governments to stop this project expansion. “We would love to see Councilmember Huizar sponsor the measure, because his district encompasses many neighborhoods that could be affected by a rail accident,” says Eidt.  Resolutions have already been introduced and approved Mar Vista Community Council, as well as the Echo Park and Silver Lake Neighborhood Councils the City to take action.

      With the extension, the company to plans to move 20,800 crude tankers to and from their Nipomo facility every year. These can be 80-car trains that stretch a mile-long.

      Environmentalists worry this would jack up the risks for communities that exist along the Union Pacific Rail lines. “Maps in the EIR show these trains proposed to pass back and forth between Colton and the Central Coast, passing right through downtown, along the L.A. River and out toward Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley,” says Eidt, “In the future, we are sure that the trains would also be running south toward the Port of Los Angeles.”

      Mainline Rail UPRR Routes to the Santa Maria Refinery | Image: SLO County

      Mainline Rail UPRR Routes to the Santa Maria Refinery | Image: SLO County

       

      The project’s required environmental review offered no reassurance either. A document released last November garnered 20,000 comments from organizations and individuals across the state opposing the project. The review showed that more than 20 significant and unavoidable adverse impacts to the environment, including rail accident risks along the main line that could result in oil spills, and fires and explosions near populated areas.

      There have already been six major accidents across North America in this year alone, including one last week in Tennessee when a train carrying hazardous material derailed and caught fire. Five thousand people living within a mile and a half of the site had to be evacuated.

      Atwater Village residents will remember the oil spill last year, when above-ground pipeline burst in the 5100 block of West San Fernando Road. It sent a geyser 20 to 50 feet into the air. Quick action prevented the oil from spilling into the Los Angeles River, but we might not be so fortunate the next time.

      “The project is part of a wider expansion to bring tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada, into West Coast ports for processing and export,” says Eidt. “Because activists, like our coalition, have fought hard to stop projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline across the middle of the U.S., the oil industry has turned to shipping crude by barge and rail.”

      Though the project isn’t in the city, “this is a health and safety issue for the City of Los Angeles,” says Eidt. “The P66 Santa Maria EIR stated that emergency responders would not be equipped to deal with a derailment or explosion of a 100-car train carrying toxic crude. We need to focus on optimizing our rail transportation network with high-speed rail and Metrolink/Amtrak, which will use the same right-of-way/rails respectively. Metrolink has had a difficult history of accidents that have caused a significant toll on communities. Factor in volatile crude oil into the mix and we are looking at trouble.”

      Rather than invest in these projects, Eidt says we should find more sustainable methods of transportation, heating, cooling, and manufacturing. Eidt recommends looking at Mark Z. Jacobsen’s Solutions Project and Amory Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute, both of which say we can transition to an economy that doesn’t degrade the environment, but uplifts it. For example, if cars were made out of fiber composites as opposed to 19th century steel, it would keep them moving faster and longer.

      “Crude oil, natural gas, and coal need to be phased out today, and the workforce must be retrained, our consumer choices must be more informed and in most cases curtailed,” says Eidt. “We should consider eating lower on the food chain, we must pass a carbon tax to get the fossil fuel companies to pay for their pollution, and that dividend should be given back to households to meet the cost of a just transition off fossil fuels.”

      Learn more about the event here.

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