Tag Archives: San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors

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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      SANTA BARBARA INDEPENDENT: Oil Train Roulette

      Repost from The Santa Barbara Independent

      Oil Train Roulette

      Oppose Bringing Dangerous Cargo Through

      By Arlo Bender-Simon, February 22, 2015

      Russian roulette is a dangerous game of chance. A bullet is placed into a revolver, and the chamber is revolved. You’ve got a one in six chance that when you pull the trigger a bullet will come out. Be careful where you point that thing!

      Allowing oil trains to pass through a community is like playing a game of Russian roulette. Granted, your chances are exponentially better than 1 in 6, but if a disaster were to happen, it would not be just you who gets hurt.

      Right now, Phillips 66 (an oil refining company that recently spun off from ConocoPhillips) would like to be allowed to expand its refinery in Nipomo so that it can process shipments of crude oil delivered by trains. The tar sands crude is thick and shipped as “diluted bitumen” — in other words, with chemicals added to make it more fluid and easier to transport. A highly flammable byproduct even remains in the tank cars after they’ve been emptied.

      Nipomo is in San Luis Obispo County, so our local officials can do little about this. But they can do something! They can join officials up and down the train route and pass a resolution, or send a letter, in opposition. This has been done by Ventura County, and the cities of Oxnard, Moorpark, Camarillo, Simi Valley, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, and many others.

      This refinery may be in a neighboring county, but this is a big deal for Santa Barbara. Trains will be allowed to arrive at this refinery on the coast from either the north or the south. If this project is approved, oil trains will be passing through Santa Barbara County.

      The proposal from Phillips 66 would allow 260 mile-and-a-half-long trains to offload crude oil at the Nipomo refinery every year. This translates to 520 trips up and down the California coast by crude-carrying trains that will shut down intersections, blare their horns, rumble through our communities, and spew gaseous contamination into the air. The inconvenience, air deficits, and upset are nothing compared to the real threats the loads pose to the health of our communities.

      The Phillips 66 tanker fleet is composed entirely of model DOT-111 tanker cars. In July 2014, the US Department of Transportation decided that DOT-111s are extremely failure prone and outmoded; the newer, thicker-walled DOT-117 is recommended. Unfortunately, even the train-car builders warn no amount of extra metal or engineering can protect against breakage during a high-speed derailment.

      The reality of oil train derailments is horrifying. With the jump in crude produced by fracking, the shipment of crude oil by rail has also jumped by thousands of percent. Unsurprisingly, the number of oil train derailments has also accelerated rapidly. So much so that in 2014, more crude oil was spilled in the U.S. from train derailments than in any year since data has been collected.

      In just the past week there have been two major oil train accidents in North America. A train derailed in Ontario, Canada — pretty much directly north of Ohio — the night of February 14. Several tank cars caught fire, and the remote location made it difficult for emergency teams to arrive.

      Two days later, midday on February 16, another train pulling DOT-111 cars derailed, exploded [Editor: no, they were the “improved” CPC-1232 tank cars], and leaked oil into the Kanawha River amid a snowstorm in West Virginia. At the time of this writing, roughly 15 tanker cars were still burning, hundreds of families have been evacuated from their homes, and two water treatment plants downriver from the spill have been shut down.

      The question you have to ask the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors is this: If an oil train explosion is not currently a serious possibility in our part of North America, why would we do something to change that?

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        Contra Costa Times Guest commentary: Say no to toxic oil trains for the future of our children

        Repost from The Contra Costa Times

        Guest commentary: Say no to toxic oil trains for the future of our children

        By Carolyn Norr, 01/12/2015

        I haven’t met Greg Garland, CEO of Phillips 66. I don’t know if he has kids, and if he does, I don’t know what he tells them about the world. But I know he has a plan, one I’m not sure how to explain to my own children, to ship tar sands crude oil by rail through my town.

        As a mom, this is in no way OK with me. These oil trains spill poisons, leak toxins into the air, and contribute to the climate chaos my kids will be dealing with their entire lives.

        In June, the Oakland City Council took an admirable stand against oil trains coming through our city. But now Phillips 66 proposes an expansion of its facility 250 miles south of here, that would bring a mile-long toxic train every day past our homes and schools.

        It’s up to the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors to decide whether to allow that. Supervisors will be voting in early 2015. So now, I’m inviting any concerned parent, along with the City Council, to speak and urge them to protect our families by rejecting Garland’s plan.

        Phillips’s latest environmental review admits that the proposed facility would create “significant and unavoidable” levels of air pollution, with increased health risks — particularly for children — of cancer, heart disease, asthma and more. Oakland already has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country.

        Garland must not be one of the growing number of people who watch our kids deal with this, or he might reconsider.

        Meanwhile, across the U.S. and Canada, oil train derailments, spills and fires are increasing as Garland and his colleagues in big oil move more oil by rail. The tar sands crude Phillips would be moving through our city is particularly toxic: the same carcinogenic, impossible-to-clean-up stuff of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline.

        In Oakland, the potential spill zone includes much of downtown and the flatlands, where kids are already dealing with more than their fair share of dangers.

        Besides, tar sands oil creates particularly huge amounts of the global warming gasses that are driving the climate into chaos.

        What we burn now, our kids will be dealing with their entire lives. Scientists agree that a global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees may well be inevitable, and with it a level of droughts, super storms, forest fires and famines beyond anything we’ve seen.

        Now we are fighting against the real possibility the temperature could increase twice that, making my kids’ very survival uncertain. As a mom, it’s crazy for me to know that. And when I hear about plans to deny or ignore those facts, I have to say no.

        I don’t know Greg Garland personally. I don’t know if every night he tucks in his kids and tell them they are safe. But that is what I do, and I don’t mean my reassuring words to be hollow.

        I invite the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors, my City Council, and everyone who cares about the safety and future of families in California, to join me in doing everything in our power to stop this plan. No to the expansion of Phillips 66, no to oil trains in our communities.

        Carolyn Norr is a resident of Oakland. To get more involved, email momsagainstfossilfuels@gmail.com or contact Forest Ethics.
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