Category Archives: Santa Maria Refinery

San Luis Obispo victory: media roundup

In an email from Ethan Buckner…

SLO victory: media roundup

By Ethan Buckner, STAND.earth, 10/6/2016 2:23 PM

Sacramento Bee: California rejects another oil company’s plan to ship oil on trains

San Luis Obispo Tribune: SLO Planning Commission rejects Phillips 66 oil-by-rail proposal

KSBY News:

KCBX: SLO County Planning Commission votes to deny Phillips 66 rail spur project

Lompoc Record: SLO County Planning Commission votes down oil-by-rail proposal

CalCoast News: SLO County Planning Commission denies Phillips 66 rail spur project

Pacific Coast Business Times: Phillips 66’s crude-by-rail proposal denied

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    San Luis Obispo Supervisor Candidate received money from Phillips 66

    Repost from The Tribune, San Luis Obispo CA
    [Editor: Significant quote: “Peschong — who has said he supports the Phillips 66 proposal — said Monday that if elected, he would not vote on the project. ‘I would recuse myself because that’s the right thing to do,’ he said in a phone interview.”  – RS]

    Candidate John Peschong’s firm received money from Phillips 66

    By Cynthia Lambert, September 26, 2016, 9:02PM
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      LA TIMES: Will San Luis Obispo County follow the lead of Benicia and ban oil trains, or capitulate to Phillips 66?

      Repost from the Los Angeles Times
      [Editor: This is an incredibly entertaining as well as informative article. Recommended reading!  – RS]

      Will San Luis Obispo County follow the lead of Benicia and ban oil trains, or capitulate to Phillips 66?

      By Robin Abcarian, September 24, 2016 2:25PM

      latimes_abcarianThere were a couple of light moments Thursday at the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission’s interminable, inconclusive public hearing about whether it should allow the fossil fuel giant Phillips 66 to send crude-oil trains across California to its Santa Maria Refinery.

      A local named Gary, one of only four citizens to express support for the project, took the microphone and announced, “Anybody opposed to something because it’s dangerous is my definition of a coward.” As he walked away, the audience, packed with oil train opponents, howled.

      “My name is Sherry Lewis,” said the next speaker, “and I come from Cowards Anonymous.”

      After several hearings, reams of public comment and a few concessions by Phillips 66, commissioners were finally supposed to put the matter to a vote this week.

      Would they approve the construction of a new rail spur and oil transfer operation that would give Phillips the ability to send three new crude-oil trains through California each week, or would they defy their staff, who recommended denial because the project would have significant negative effects, particularly to air quality and sensitive habitats?

      Would they disregard their pleading constituents, and the letters that have poured in from cities, teachers and boards of supervisors from San Francisco to Los Angeles asking commissioners to deny the project because those mile-long oil trains bring increased risk to every California community along Union Pacific tracks?

      (Not to belabor the point, but if you live, work or study within half a mile of those tracks, you’re in what is known, for emergency planning purposes, as the “blast zone.” Even the mayor of nearby Paso Robles, who has offered lukewarm support for the project, once referred to them as “bomb trains.”)

      Last spring, three of five commissioners indicated they were leaning toward approval. But one of them, a local realtor named Jim Irving, now appears to be on the fence.

      The regulatory issues around oil trains are complex and somewhat maddening. Local and state governments, for example, have no say over what is carried on railroad tracks, because the federal government regulates interstate commerce. Think of the chaos if individual cities tried to impose rules on railroads.

      Even though cities and counties have no control over railroads, they still want assurances that tracks and bridges are safe for the heavy, mile-long trains that carry highly flammable crude oil. We all do, don’t we?

      Thursday, Irving asked about the Stenner Creek Trestle, a picturesque, 85-foot-high steel railroad bridge just north of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus that was built in 1894.

      Could Union Pacific reassure the county that the bridge is sound enough to carry those heavy tanker cars? As recently as June, a slow-moving Union Pacific oil train derailed near an elementary school and a water treatment plant on the Columbia River Gorge in Mosier, Ore. That derailment has weighed heavily on people’s minds around here.

      “We tried to request documentation from Union Pacific related to the stability of bridges,” county planner Ryan Hostetter told Irving, “and all we got was a form with a checked box that they had inspected.”

      “That’s kind of appalling,” said Irving.

      ::

      These are not idle questions, and they are being faced by communities all over the country.

      As my colleague Ralph Vartabedian has reported, some of the nation’s top safety experts believe “the government has misjudged the risk posed by the growing number of crude-oil trains.”

      The Mosier train derailment was caused by failing bolts that allowed the tracks to separate. This was particularly worrisome because the tracks had been inspected the previous week.

      “For me, that was a game changer,” said Benicia City Councilwoman Christina Strawbridge. “I just don’t think the rail industry has caught up with safety standards.”

      On Tuesday, Strawbridge and her colleagues on the Benicia City Council voted 5-0 to deny a project very much like the one under consideration in San Luis Obispo County. This one was proposed by energy behemoth Valero, which owns a refinery in Benicia.

      Unlike Phillips’ Santa Maria Refinery, which employs only 120 people full time, Valero is Benicia’s largest employer. The refinery provides nearly 25% of the city’s annual $31 million budget. It has been a good neighbor, said Strawbridge, and charitable.

      But she and her colleagues could not put their town at risk. After four years of debate, and a last-minute declaration by the federal Surface Transportation Board that oil companies cannot claim they are exempt from local regulations just because they use the railroads, the council said no to oil trains.

      “I’ve gotten a lot of hugs on the street,” Strawbridge told me Friday.

      They are well deserved.

      ::

      Next month, the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission is scheduled, finally, to vote on this thing. After that, the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors will weigh in.

      The wild card seems to be the board’s one open seat, in District 1, which comprises towns in the more conservative north side of the county. That supervisor has often functioned as a swing vote on the board. Two conservatives are vying for the seat, the aforementioned mayor of Paso Robles, Steve Martin, and John Peschong, a well-known Republican operative whose firm, Meridian Pacific Inc., received $262,000 from Phillips 66 in 2015, according to the oil company’s website.

      Maybe the leaders of San Luis Obispo County will look north to the tiny city of Benicia for inspiration. That town, after all, had far more at stake.

      They have a chance to do the right thing, not just for their county, but for all of California.

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        THE TRIBUNE, SAN LUIS OBISPO: Decision on Nipomo refinery’s oil-by-rail plan put off again

        Repost from The Tribune, San Luis Obispo CA
        [Editor:  Additional coverage: The Lompoc Record, “SLO County Planning Commission delays decision on oil trains, again”.  – RS]

        Decision on Nipomo refinery’s oil-by-rail plan put off again

        By Cynthia Lambert, September 22, 2016 6:55 PM
        Phillips 66 hopes to extend a rail line to its Nipomo Mesa refinery, which would allow deliveries from three oil trains a week..
        Phillips 66 hopes to extend a rail line to its Nipomo Mesa refinery, which would allow deliveries from three oil trains a week. Joe Johnston

        After several more hours of public comment on a controversial oil-by-rail plan Thursday, San Luis Obispo County planning commissioners started to debate various conditions to approve the project, but they did not reach a decision.

        Instead, the proposal by Phillips 66, which has been the subject of numerous Planning Commission meetings this year, will again be continued. It is scheduled to return Oct. 5.

        In May, a move to deny the project failed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Jim Harrison, Jim Irving and Don Campbell voting “no.” The commission directed planning staff to return with conditions for approving the proposal to allow the oil company to build a 1.3-mile spur that would connect to the main rail line so the Nipomo Mesa refinery can get crude oil by rail.

        The proposal calls for deliveries from three trains per week. Each train would have three locomotives and 80 rail cars to haul about 2.2 million gallons of crude oil.

        It’s expected that any decision by the commission will be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.

        “I’m concerned that if we were to deny the project today without establishing conditions of approval for a smaller project with fewer trains and specific hours of operation, that this would leave a wide-open project for the Board of Supervisors to consider next year,” Irving said.

        In the afternoon, the commission started working its way through a 33-page document of 97 conditions for the project, asking questions and making minor changes and additions.

        I’M INTERESTED IN SAFETY, IN RENEWABLE CLEAN ENERGY AND IN BEING A GOOD STEWARD OF OUR ENVIRONMENT. THIS PROJECT COMPROMISES ALL THREE OF THOSE INTERESTS.
        Lisa Ritterbuck of Avila Beach

        Commissioner Eric Meyer suggested the commission take a straw vote to see which way commissioners were leaning on the project.

        Commissioner Ken Topping agreed, saying, “I think the public deserves to know where we stand individually.”

        But Harrison pointed out that they had already taken one vote on the project in May.

        Irving said his mind is not made up on the project, and he said he wants to look at it point by point and then make a decision.

        “I know it drags it out more,” he said. “I know we are on our seventh hearing, but that’s the way I would like to proceed.”

        The commission did not reach a consensus to take a straw vote.

        Earlier this year, the Planning Commission held five days of hearings on the rail spur project that drew thousands of people from around the state, many opposing the project.

        Phillips 66 has said oil production in California is dropping, and they need to bring crude oil by rail from other areas.

        The refinery now receives crude oil by pipeline and by truck. The county found out about the trucking during the April 15 hearing on the project.

        Planning staff has recommended a condition that would not allow any further trucking of crude oil on or off the refinery property with the approval of the rail spur project. Phillips 66 suggests that “trucking of coke (petroleum carbon) and sulfur from the refinery and delivery of feedstock, including crude oil, to the refinery shall be limited to an annual average maximum of 49 trucks per day.”

        But the Planning Commission did not reach that condition — No. 33 out of the 97.

        ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THIS OIL IS GOING TO GET TO THE REFINERY. BUT IS HUNDREDS OF TRUCKS DRIVING DOWN THE HIGHWAY ANY SAFER THAN JUST A FEW TRAINS AND A SMALL RAIL TERMINAL?
        Devin Miller of Arroyo Grande

        Earlier in the day, public comment was opened to allow people to speak on the new conditions of approval.

        About 90 people spoke, with all but four opposed to the project. Most of the speakers live in the county, including more than two dozen Nipomo residents who suggested additional conditions to deal with air pollution, light and odor problems.

        Paul Stolpman suggested that Phillips 66 shouldn’t be allowed to operate the three locomotive engines on days when county air officials predict the area will violate air quality standards.

        Lisa Ritterbuck, who lives on an organic farm near Avila Beach, said, “I’m interested in safety, in renewable clean energy and in being a good steward of our environment. This project compromises all three of those interests.”

        The few supporters who spoke Thursday said there’s a need for the product the refinery is processing.

        “One way or another, this oil is going to get to the refinery,” said Devin Miller of Arroyo Grande. “But is hundreds of trucks driving down the highway any safer than just a few trains and a small rail terminal?”

        He added that the families of Phillips 66 employees also live in the community.

        “Why would they endanger those people?” he asked.

        Mike Brown, government affairs director for the Coalition of Labor Agriculture & Business of San Luis Obispo County, also reiterated his support.

        “What you’re being asked to do is deny the project on all these potential uptrack incidents that have a very small overall statistical chance,” Brown said. “… You can’t make these decisions based on emotion.”

        By the end of the hearing, the Planning Commission had reached condition No. 17 before adjourning at 5 p.m. Public comment will not be reopened at the October hearing.

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