Controversial Phillips 66 Oil Train Proposal Denied, Appeals Filed

Big Oil took a hit earlier this month, when the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission rejected an oil-by-rail plan that has garnered statewide concerns.

By a 3-2 vote, the commission shot down a Phillips 66 proposal that would extend the Union Pacific railroad to include a route to a 1,800-acre refinery in San Luis Obispo. The trains would haul 2.2 million gallons of crude oil through or near many populated urban environments, including Levi’s stadium, Santa Clara University, and Diridon and Tamien stations in downtown San Jose. Critics said running three 80-car trains per week through such a crowded corridor would pose a public health risk, as the oil being transported is especially volatile.

The two-week period for Phillips 66 to appeal closed Wednesday. Two appeals were received by the San Luis Obispo County Department of Planning and Building, one from Phillips 66 and another from private citizen James Edward, both arguing that the commission incorrectly applied provisions of the County’s Coastal Land Use Ordinance (CZLUO) regarding Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA). “An ESHA designation fundamentally affects the rules of development under the CZLUO and the refinery site slated for development is/was not Mapped ESHA by the Planning Department,” Phillips 66 argued in its appeal.

First coming to the public’s attention in 2014, Phillips 66’s plans have encountered pushback from environmentalists, concerned residents and elected officials. The San Francisco-based environmental nonprofit ForestEthics estimated that 195,000 people in San Jose would live in or near a potential blast zone, if the oil train proposal is approved.

In a memo to city staff, Betsy Shotwell, San Jose’s intergovernmental relations director, said that approximately 24,500 comment letters were sent to San Luis Obispo County regarding the rail plan’s environmental impact report, and “only about 150 supported the proposal.”

The oil the tankers transport is unrefined and poses more danger, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. If the heavier, mile-long trains were to derail, the potential explosion could result in extensive property damage and fires that can burn over a period of days. Unlike rural locations where oil accidents have occurred in the recent past, such as West Virginia, San Jose is densely populated and it would be much more difficult to put out a blast zone fire. Federal records show that oil trains spilled more than a million gallons of fuel in 2013.

Despite reassurances from Phillips 66, the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission decided the risk of emissions, oil spills and potential explosions outweighed arguments in favor of the crude oil rail fleets.

That county’s Board of Supervisors will now schedule a future hearing for the appeals. Considerations for the plan will not likely be heard until next year.

Phillips 66 officials have stated that the proposed project would benefit the local and regional economy during construction, despite projecting just eight to 12 new employment positions in the future.


  1. All of this danger could be eliminated with a pipeline and getting Warren Buffet to sell off his interest in railroad tank cars. Pipelines that made that practice obsolete a century ago!

    • EG says:

      All of this danger could be eliminated with a pipeline

      That’s exactly right. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines criss-crossing the country:

      Most of those pipelines were built more than a half a century ago, and they are extremely safe — pipelines are much safer than trucking tankloads of oil over our open roads or by rail (as the West Virginia link demonstrates).

      Like the Keystone XL pipeline, this pipeline would have been extremely safe, with the EPA scrutinizing every step of their construction (as for the EPA, do a search for ‘Animas River, EPA’).

      But the same enviro crowd requires Canadan oil to be shipped south by tanker truck. And now they want use rail cars and trucks, instead of using much safer pipelines… because, see, there is no way that people will do without fossil fuels. And I note that none of the eco crowd does without them, either.

      (Here’s a ‘heads up’ to the eco-contingent:

      EVERY tanker truck spill from now on will be your fault. And of course, it will also be the fault of every fool who pays dues to those enviro-racketeers who believe they’re ‘doing something’ to ‘save the environment’. As if. They’re just making life more difficult and expensive for the rest of us.)

      Here’s another scare, from the article:

      …ForestEthics estimated that 195,000 people in San Jose would live in or near a potential blast zone, if the oil train proposal is approved.

      “Estimated”? A “blast zone”?? They don’t have a clue, do they? They’re just guessing… no, not even that. They’re using Chicken Little scare tactics, because they have no credible facts.

      Even the author joins in the speculation, by fabricating this wild-eyed scenario:

      If the heavier, mile-long trains were to derail, the potential explosion could result in extensive property damage and fires that can burn over a period of days.

      This article should properly be an Op-Ed, because “News” is supposed to be factual. Instead, they use inflammatory emo-language, like:

      “If”… “mile-long… “heavier” …”could” …”potential explosion” …”extensive” …”fires that can burn over a period of days.”

      But if we remove their self-serving alarmist language, we’re left with this:

      If a train were to derail, it could result in property damage and fires.

      But that’s not very scary, is it?

      Because there are already pipelines coming transporting oil inland, from ports like Oakland, Alameda, San Francisco, Stockton, and others, and since pipeline companies “could” provide a big insurance policy that would make anyone really affected by a pipeline spill very rich, why aren’t these enviro groups suggesting that alternative? An insurance policy like that would be very inexpensive, since oil pipelines don’t “explode”. It would be a Win-Win… except for these enviro groups.

      But these eco groups don’t want other folks to get rich off their scare. That would result in a pipeline being built — and no eco-group has ever admitted that they were wrong about pipelines, versus tanker trucks or trains. (They will never admit that they were wrong about anything, for that matter. For example, see the nonsensical “dangerous man-made global warming” and “carbon” false alarms.)

      This is just another bogus environmental scare based on emotion, not facts. Because if they used credible facts, they would support the safest kind of oil transportation available: pipelines.

      But instead, these special interest groups are trying to alarm the public with their usual “But what if…” scare stories. That’s because they don’t have credible facts. If they did, they would have used them.

      Certainly this article doesn’t provide any convincing facts. Rather, the arguments are based on their standard logical fallacy:

      “But what if !!!?!?!”

      That’s not nearly good enough. Is it?

      • > …ForestEthics estimated that 195,000 people in San Jose would live in or near a potential blast zone, if the oil train proposal is approved.

        EEEEK! I’m frightened!

        Oh, right. It’s the politics of fear. I’m supposed to be frightened.

        I assume that at least some of the 190,000 people in San Jose that would be atomized, roasted, singed, charred, asphyxiated, and poisoned would probably be poor and minorities, refugees, unaccompanied chlldren of illegal aliens, or LGBT persons of some category. Wouldn’t it be more humane and progressive to build a safe and modern pipeline regulated by the Department of Energy and the EPA to protect these people?

        • Can we build this pipeline under your house? It sounds like you would have no problem with that ( “safe, progressive humane, modern, regulated by a government agency”). Sounds like a win win scenario. Let’s do it! Please forward your address and let’s make this happen!

          • Most pipelines are routed out along rural roads. Going to San Lois Obispo would likely come in from the I-5 area and in from the east.
            It way to expensive to drag one through an urban zone unless the refinery is there.

          • LDI! says:

            “Can we build this pipeline under your house?”

            Sure, have at it. Build a pipeline under my house. No problema.

            But you never read the comments you replied to, did you? They flew right over your head. You just picked out something that pushed your buttons.

            Sorry ’bout that. Next time, please read the comments before posting an answer; you’ll avoid being embarrassed like that.

            Here are the main alternatives we’ve been discussing:

            Are underground pipelines safer? Or are above-ground tanker trains safer?
            (Because everyone uses fossil fuels, and we always will. So we need ways to transport them.)

            Truth be told, I’ll bet you couldn’t name one pipeline accident. Ever. Because they rarely happen. VERY rarely. And even then it isn’t more than a cleanup problem.

            So before you post, try to get up to speed on the discussion. Don’t assume; actually read the comments you’re replying to.

            K? Thx bye.

  2. It’s obvious that he author of this story has sided against. The bias permeates every line of text. This is an op-ed piece and should be headlined as such.
    Just one question if you’d be so kind Mr. Tonel. In the first paragraph you write that there’s a public health risk because “the oil being transported is especially volatile”. Further down you write “the oil the tankers transport is unrefined and poses more danger”. Unless I’m mistaken unrefined oil is LESS volatile than refined oil such as gasoline, diesel oil, and aviation fuel. So my question to you. Are you drinking crude koolaid or refined koolaid?
    Frankly, Big Oil doesn’t scare me much. I’m a lot more worried about Big Koolaid.

  3. Here’s a fact for you from Wikipedia!

    The 2015 Mount Carbon train derailment refers to a derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia on February 16, 2015, which involved a CSX Transportation train hauling 107 tank cars of crude oil from North Dakota to Virginia.[3] It resulted in a large oil spill that caught fire with several subsequent large, violent fireball eruptions. The spill, fire, and eruptions destroyed one home, forced the evacuation of hundreds of families and caused the temporary shut down of two nearby water treatment plants.[3] Eventually, 19 railcars carrying crude oil caught fire with each car carrying up to 30,000 US gallons (110,000 l; 25,000 imp gal) of crude oil.

    Another Fact from Wikipedia:

    The Lac-Mégantic rail disaster occurred in the town of Lac-Mégantic, in the Eastern Townships of the Canadian province of Quebec, at approximately 01:15 EDT,[1][2] on July 6, 2013, when an unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken Formation crude oil rolled down a 1.2% grade from Nantes and derailed downtown, resulting in the fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Forty-two people were confirmed dead, with five more missing and presumed dead.[3] More than 30 buildings in the town’s centre, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed,[2] and all but three of the thirty-nine remaining downtown buildings are to be demolished due to petroleum contamination of the townsite.[4] Initial newspaper reports described a 1-kilometre (0.6 mi) blast radius.

    I live 2 blocks from the Dridion train line, There is no way that I want tanker cars filled with volatile crude oil running through my backyard. The Mount Carbon train derailment and the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster are enough facts for me to oppose this BoomDoggle of Big Oil!

    • But if you do away with oil trains, Warren Buffett won’t have any money left to make campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton.

      Think of the children!

  4. I am just happy we won’t have train rumblings turning into fireball explosions! For now that is good enough for me! Hurrah!

    • Now that we gave a recent and significant Oil pipeline fire in Alabama, it’s time tio give uo our addiction to fossil fuels and move to the more modern renewable energy!

      Our use of oil is SOOOO Eocene that it is obscene!!!

      • Renewable, I’m thinking wood fired steam powered airplanes for Al and his friends.
        Lots of dead wood to burn in California these days.

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