Right now, Phillips 66 (part of the ConocoPhillips fossil-fuel-based energy empire—the third-largest energy company in the U.S. and the fifth largest refiner in the world) is fighting to upgrade its Santa Maria refinery, located just south of San Luis Obispo, so it can begin receiving one-mile-long trains carrying explosive “extreme oil” (for more information on extreme oil, see “Bay Area Air District moves to reduce oil refinery emissions 20 percent by 2020” on page 4). If approved, these dangerous “bomb trains” will roll through thousands of California communities each day, traversing the northern and western shorelines of Contra Costa County and traveling straight through the hearts of East Bay cities in Alameda County. This project will put the communities of Antioch, Pittsburg, Bay Point, Martinez, Crockett, Rodeo, San Pablo, Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, Union City, Fremont, and thousands more at risk for accidents and spills, threatening our air, water, and health, and contributing to climate disruption.
Our rail system was designed to connect population centers, not move hazardous crude oil. Emergency responders are not prepared for these heavy, dangerous trains, and current safety standards do not adequately protect the public. As the oil industry moves more crude oil across the U.S. and Canada by rail, oil-train derailments, spills, and fires are on the rise. Anyone within a mile of a rail line is within the dangerous blast zone if there is a derailment, spill, and fire. On July 6, 2013, one such accident occurred in Lac- Mégantic, Quebec, leveling the downtown and killing 47 people.
On top of the threats to public health and safety, trains carrying extreme oil also create dangerous air pollution and threaten California’s water supplies. Volatile toxic chemicals leak out of tank cars and into the air, poisoning communities along rail lines. In its latest environmental review, Phillips 66 admitted that its proposed oil-train facility will create “significant and unavoidable” levels of air pollution, including toxic sulfur dioxide and cancer-causing chemicals. The report cites increased health risks— particularly for children and the elderly—of cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and premature death.
In addition, the proposed route for transporting extreme oil to the refinery in San Louis Obisbo carries trains through the San Francisco Bay-Delta watershed and along California’s treasured central coast. Each oil train carries more than three million gallons of explosive, toxic crude oil. A derailment near a river, stream, reservoir, or above a groundwater aquifer could contaminate drinking water for millions of Californians.
A double threat
The proposed oil train terminal in Santa Maria is linked by pipeline to the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, located along the San Pablo Bay in west Contra Costa County. In addition to upgrading its Santa Maria facility, Phillips 66 proposes to modify its Rodeo refinery so that it can refine the most toxic crude oil on earth: Canadian tar sands. Transporting and refining tar sands will create more toxic air and water pollution for families living along the rail line and near the refinery. At every stage of the mining, transportation, and refining process, Canadian tar sands are more carbon intensive than other sources of oil. These crudes also have a higher content of sulfur and nitrogen, meaning they are more corrosive and more highly polluting.
The Bay Area would be doubly impacted by this project if Phillips 66 gets its way: the imminent threat of crude by rail to the Santa Maria facility—as well as also increased pollution and risk of accident at the Rodeo refinery. Moreover, bringing tar sands to California will drastically undermine the state’s efforts to be a global leader in addressing climate disruption.
The San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors is scheduled to make a decision on the crude-by-rail proposal in early 2015. However the environmental impact review (EIR) process required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is ongoing and could delay that action. Due to the submission of over 800 public comments questioning the thoroughness of the first version of the EIR, the report is being re-circulated. The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission will hold a hearing to consider the second round of comments in January, 2015.
This is our best chance to stop this dangerous project. We need everyone—whether you live along the rail lines or not—to write an email to the decision makers and let them know why California must reject this reckless and highly-polluting project.
Please send in comments to help stop this project to the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission at email@example.com or by mail to Murry Wilson, SLO County Dept. of Planning and Building - 976 Osos St., Room 200 San Luis Obispo, 93408