History of the Phillips 66 San Luis Obispo Oil-By-Rail Proposal
December, 2013 through October, 2016

Cheap Tar Sands Crude, Rube Goldberg Scheme

As the availability of large volumes of Canadian and Bakken crude oil increased and costs of extraction became favorable, Phillips 66 saw the opportunity to tap into those vast deposits.  Partnering with Union Pacific Railroad, Phillips 66 conceived of a Rube Goldberg-like scheme….

  • transport the tar sands crude by rail from either North Dakota or Alberta thousands of miles through the densely populated areas of Northern California
  • including the Bay Area East Bay cities and San Jose
  • to an existing Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria, just south of San Luis Obispo
  • where Phillips would partially refine the dirty tar sands crude and then
  • run it back upstate to a second Phillips refinery in Rodeo in an existing pipeline
  • where the final refining would produce gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel and other products, much for export vs. for domestic use.

December, 2013- Needed...a New Terminal and Rail Spur

To make this profiteering scheme work, Phillips 66 would have to build a tank car receiving terminal on a new rail spur at the Santa Maria refinery.  More than 3 years ago, Phillips first made this proposal to the SLO County Planning Commission who would have to approve the project.

Phillips 66 admits that the plan will mean “significant and unavoidable” levels of toxic sulfur dioxide and cancer-causing chemicals. What they don’t freely admit is that oil trains threaten the five million Californians who live in the blast zone, the one-mile evacuation area in the event of an oil train derailment and fire. These are the heaviest trains on the tracks, running over our water supplies and through the downtowns of nearly every city in the state.

Immediate Local Opposition

As soon as local SLO county residents learned of this proposal for a “pipeline on wheels” in their county, a group of retired residents in the Nipomo community closest to the refinery formed the Mesa Refinery Watch Group that has been opposing the project. Look here for past and current information on the P66 project.

Planning Commission Hearings and Environmental Impact Review (EIR)

The SLO Planning Commission staff in 2014 and 2015 did the required analysis of the P66 proposal.  The staff’s recommendation in the final EIR was to deny the project for several environmental impact reasons.  The 5-person Planning Commission held several required public input hearings where hundreds of local individuals and organizations plus representatives from other impacted regions in the state gave overwhelming testimony requesting the denial of the project.  More than 23,000 comments were received.

350 Silicon Valley’s Role in the Opposition

Partnering with Forest Ethics (now Stand.Earth) and with the Center for Biological Diversity, we held 3 well-attended San Jose public forums where a panel discussed the threat of oil trains and the growing campaign to stop them. San Jose City Council member Ash Kalra participated in the forums and the San Jose City Council passed a resolution to express grave concern over threats posed by oil trains, should Phillips 66 get their way. We also helped organize a Bay Area  busload to attend a large rally in SLO opposing the project. In a similar manner to San Jose’s opposition, 40 organizations sent similar letters to the SLO Supervisors voicing their opposition to the P66 project.

P66 Delay

Phillips 66 slowed the project for several months awaiting a decision by the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB).  The board was considering an appeal by another oil giant, Valero, on the rights of a local municipality like Benecia to reject a project such as a new oil terminal.  The STB ruled that cities or counties do have that right and so Phillips dropped their appeal and proceeded in SLO.

October, 2016- Planning Commission Denial

After 2 prior “straw votes” on the project, the SLO Planning Commissioners voted 3-2 last October to deny the proposal and thus to respect the findings of their staff and the overwhelming pressure from local and other communities. As expected, Phillips 66 appealed the Planning Commission’s findings to the SLO County Board of Supervisors and also filed a lawsuit claiming that several of the Planning Commission’s findings were not well founded.