Phillips 66 rail spur likely to get planning commission approval
May 17, 2016
The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission has indicated it will approve a scaled-down version of Phillips 66’s proposed rail spur. Commissioners are expected to voted 3-2 in favor of the project at a meeting in September.
Phillips 66 plans to build a rail spur so that crude oil currently delivered by pipeline could be transported to the Nipomo Mesa refinery by train. The proposed project includes a 6,915-foot rail spur, an unloading facility, on-site pipelines, replacement of coke rail loading tracks and the construction of five parallel tracks with the capacity to hold a 5,190-foot train.
Company officials initially proposed five train trips per week to the refinery. Faced with opposition from the public, they scaled down the plan to three trains a week.
On Monday, planning commissioners Don Campbell, Jim Harrison and Jim Irving expressed support for the project. Commissioners Eric Meyer and Ken Topping, who serve at the will of supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson, oppose the rail spur. A motion to reject the project failed on a 3-2 vote.
The planning commission has already held several meetings on the rail spur project. Hundreds of people have made public comments, the majority of which have been in opposition to the rail spur.
Environmental activists have come from across the state to protest the project. Opponents have stressed the risk of a train derailment and oil spill.
Supporters of the rail spur spoke about Phillips 66’s strong safety record and the jobs the refinery provides.
Phillips 66 officials say oil production is decreasing in California, and the rail spur would allow the company to bring in crude from new suppliers. Company officials have also said Phillips 66 would deliver the additional oil by truck if the county rejects the rail spur.
Still, county staff recommended rejecting the project. Planning staffers said the rail spur could result in oil spills and fires, and the project would generate toxic air emissions that exceed county thresholds.
The next hearing on the project is scheduled for Sept. 22. Regardless of how the planning commission rules, the rail spur project is expected to be appealed to the SLO County Board of Supervisors.
From: “Stop Oil Trains Campaign” Date: May 16, 2016 3:35 PM Subject: BREAKING: Planning Commission set to APPROVE P66 project; Emergency Town Hall Wednesday
Incredibly, despite overwhelming opposition, today the SLO County Planning Commission indicated that it is set to approve the dangerous Phillips 66 oil trains project with a 3-2 vote. The hearings have been continued until September, where County Staff must bring forward conditions of approval for consideration and public comment.
But the fight is far from over. Will you join us for an emergency town hall Wednesday at 6pm? [Link removed, event now past.]
Over the past few years, we’ve worked incredibly hard to build a powerful movement together, here in SLO and up and down the tracks. We wrote tens of thousands of public comments, organized dozens of rallies, and spoke out by the hundreds at the Planning Commission hearings. Despite the infuriating vote, we will carry our power with us to the next stage of the campaign when we appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the County Board of Supervisors.
To respond to the Planning Commission’s vote and organize next steps, we’re holding an emergency town hall this Wednesday from 6pm – 8pm at the SLO City Library.
Can you join us? Click here to RSVP [Link removed, event now past.]
We are thankful to the two commissioners (Ken Topping & Eric Meyer) who heard the public outcry, understood the issues, and voted no. While the ultimate Planning Commission vote is disappointing, we know the fight has only just begun. We need to build on our momentum to make sure the Board of Supervisors reverses the Commission’s careless decision, and we need you with us!
From: “Stop Oil Trains Campaign”
Date: May 16, 2016 3:49 PM
Subject: **CORRECTION** clarifying what happened at the hearings
Just writing to clarify exactly what happened at the Planning Commission hearings today. An email was just sent that may have confused folks into thinking the project was approved. The commissioners indicated approval but have not formally voted yet.
Here is the rundown of what happened:
• The commissioners laid out their positions: 3 in favor (Campbell, Harrison, & Iriving) of the project, 2 opposed (Topping & Meyer)
• A motion to deny the permit failed
• Commissioners informally directed staff to amend their recommendations to include conditions for approval
• They ultimately voted to continue the hearings until September 22, where they will reconsider the item with conditions for approval
What today indicates is that the commission is dangerously close to approving the project. We need now more than ever to organize opposition to make sure they do the right thing.
That’s why we’ve invited you to the town hall meeting on Wednesday, May 18 to work on next steps: Click here to RSVP! [Link removed, event now past.]
No decision on Phillips 66 oil-by-rail proposal after fifth day of hearings
By David Sneed, April 15, 2016 10:27 AM
• Planning Commission continues the discussion to May 16, when a decision is expected
• Panel considered a range of issues, including air quality, bridge safety and emergency response
• Public turnout Friday was light because no public comment was taken
After a fifth daylong hearing, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission did not come to a decision on a controversial proposed rail spur project at the Phillips 66 Nipomo Mesa refinery and scheduled a sixth and possibly final hearing for May 16.
During Friday’s hearing, the commission considered a wide range of issues associated with the project, including air quality, bridge safety, hazards, emergency response and the composition of the oil to be shipped. One of the greatest fears regarding the proposed rail spur at the Phillips 66 oil refinery is that one of the long trains supplying the refinery could derail in a fiery crash.
“What is a rail car going to do if it turns over on the (Cuesta) Grade,” asked Commissioner Jim Irving. “Is it going to blow up?”
Jim Anderson, refinery manager, said the company will use the latest, most up-to-date tankers to transport the oil according to the Department of Transportation requirements to prevent that from happening. He also said the type of crude oil the tankers will be hauling is the heavier, less flammable kind.
“These cars are the state-of-the-art according to the DOT,” he said. “We will not start this project without those cars.”
John Peirson, a consultant with Marine Research Specialists of Ventura, which prepared the project’s environmental impact report, said even with the heavier crude oil, crashes have resulted in explosions and fireballs. He also said a thinner would be added to make the oil easier to pump and transport, and that this would increase its flammability.
“It is less likely, but it is possible,” he said.
For oil train accidents, the evacuation zone along the railroad is half a mile on either side. In San Luis Obispo County, 88,377 people live within half a mile of the tracks, said Ryan Hostetter, senior county planner.
The evacuation zone is the area adjacent to the tracks in which a person is liable to be injured in the event of a fire and explosion. Of greatest risk are densely populated areas and public facilities such as schools and hospitals. For example, Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo is near the railroad.
“These are areas where you would expect very severe consequences,” said Steve Radis, another MRS consultant. “Potentially, if you were outdoors, you could be injured, and evacuating a hospital would be a major disruption.”
The amount of crude oil transported by rail has increased 50 times since 2009. Since that time, three accidents a year involving oil cars have occurred nationally, none locally, Radis said.
In October 2015, Cal Fire conducted a simulated oil car derailment accident drill at the California Men’s Colony prison that involved 100 people. The simulation included multiple fires, creek pollution and inmate injuries, Battalion Chief Laurie Donnelly said.
It took several hours to put the oil fires out, but the most time-consuming part of the drill was treating the injured inmates.
“We did well, but we found a few areas of improvement, which is to be expected in a drill like that,” she said.
More than 50 people were in attendance Friday at the commission’s fifth hearing on the project.
Public turnout at Friday’s hearing was light compared with past hearings, which attracted hundreds of people. The light turnout was attributable to the fact that no public comment was taken.
The oil company has applied to build a 1.3-mile rail spur with five parallel tracks from the main rail line to its Nipomo Mesa refinery, an unloading facility at the refinery and on-site pipelines.
These improvements would allow the refinery to accept 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 rail cars carrying a total of 2.2 million gallons of crude oil.
County staff is recommending the proposal be denied. The project drew more than 400 speakers at previous hearings as well as thousands of letters and comments sent from around the state.
Opponents say the project will cause air pollution and other environmental consequences. They are also concerned about a derailment causing an oil spill and fire.
In order to reduce these environmental impacts, Phillips 66 has offered to reduce the shipments to three trains a week, or 150 per year.
Supporters say the project is needed to keep the refinery economically viable and protect its 200 jobs. They also point out that the refinery has operated safely and the state needs the oil products it will produce.
Whatever decision the Planning Commission makes will certainly be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.