Opinion » Commentaries

It's about more than oil

The unmitigable impacts of the Phillips 66 rail spur project are too big to ignore



We get it. The country runs on crude oil. We drive cars and use petroleum-based products. But the issue of expanding the Phillips 66 Refinery to add a 27-acre rail transfer terminal, to accommodate five mile-long crude oil tanker trains, each train carrying approximately 2,220,000 gallons of toxic and volatile crude through SLO County, presents an imminent hazard to not only SLO County, but to the communities up and down the UPRR mainline.

To use the specious argument that we already have risk and hazardous products coming down the track does not mean that we should add more risk. Phillips will lament that jobs are at risk. Well, if that’s true, then the onus is on them for partnering with Plains All American Pipeline. That may have been the only game in town for Phillips to source the crude from the Channel Islands; but they could have done their due diligence to assure that Plains had all the necessary fail-safe processes and procedures in place to identify the potential problems and have a “game plan” in place to respond to a ruptured pipeline. 

Well, obviously, they didn’t do that, and it was a business-as-usual arrangement; no matter what the risk. Well, a train terminal off-loading tar sands five times a week is not a risk we need to take. With 11 Class 1 impacts that cannot be mitigated both within the refinery and along the mainline as identified in the re-circulated DEIR (draft environmental impact report)—that relate to air quality and environmental and public health and safety—this project should be stopped in its tracks.

Phillips has circulated 11 reasons for the project to move forward; none of which stand up to the light of day and public scrutiny. So for those folks who are for the project for whatever personal self-interest they may have, read the following:

• The Final EIR cannot be materially different from the Revised DEIR; which means that what is in the current EIR is substantially what will be in the Final EIR. If this project is not approved, it will be business as usual. No jobs will be lost. They have said so as recently as a public forum on Oct. 14.

• If the project were to be approved, local budgets would be strained to fund hazmat resources and first responder training.

• The fact that the refinery has been a “good neighbor” is irrelevant when compared to the broader issue of health and safety.

• The proposed mile-long trains, transporting highly volatile and toxic Canadian tar-sands, would travel through many communities up and down the mainline through which they do not currently pass. It’s not the same crude oil that is currently being transported from San Ardo, and the introduction of even more oil trains, with their attendant health and safety risks, is a serious concern.

• That Phillips 66 and Union Pacific say they have a “strong safety culture” is admirable. But the new modern tanker cars have proved to be no safer the older models. The American Petroleum Institute and the Association of American Railroads have jointly asked the Department of Transportation for an extension of up to seven years to retrofit these “modern” tanker cars. The deadline for Positive Traction Control installation is Dec. 31, 2015, but the American Association of Railroads has lobbied Congress to extend the deadline to 2020.

• Utilizing 195 semi-trucks to transport oil is not a viable option. 

• Phillips is one of many refiners in California and gas prices are market driven. At a South County Advisory Council meeting, Jim Anderson, maintenance supervisor at the refinery, stated that we are awash in crude oil. Furthermore, with the new pipelines from Price Canyon and drilling permits in both Cat Canyon and Price Canyon, the refinery’s assertion of diminishing feedstock is not supported by the data. 

• Phillips states that the project would provide “flexibility” in the delivery of crude oil, but at what cost to the public? “Flexibility” implies options to source local crude, and those options currently exist as pipelines. 

• Granted we all use oil and oil-based products. For the better part of the last 40 years, the United States, in addition to using domestic crude from Texas, Alaska, and North Dakota, has sourced crude from global markets and will continue to do so based upon market pricing. In fact, there is current legislation to allow export of domestic crude in the global marketplace. We have a self-sustaining oil industry right now. If however, we import crude from Canada, we will be displacing local workers in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. Furthermore, when Phillips warns that there are “risks of a large oil spill at sea or polluting our coastlines,” they are acknowledging that environmental impacts must be considered when deciding whether to proceed with a project.

• The refinery states: “Governments frequently ignore any environmental concerns in the interest of short-term profits.” Crude-by-rail from Canadian tar sands is by definition all about corporate profit at the expense of the environment. 

So for those folks who say they have researched the issue, read what municipalities and school districts and unions have said about the project. They said NO!

Laurence Shinderman is a resident of Nipomo and a member of the Mesa Refinery Watch Group. Send comments to through the editor at [email protected].

Add a comment