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Passions running high over Phillips 66 rail spur plan

Draft Environmental Impact Report

A plan to increase oil-by-train shipments to the Phillip 66 refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County has energy workers, community groups, and a growing list of municipalities speaking up about whether its an idea the county should embrace or shelve. 

Leaders representing the two sides in this debate confronted each other outside the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party Headquarters Thursday night.

Mike Miller is with Phillips 66 and expressed his concerns over job security if the plan does not pass.

"My biggest fear is for me to go back to my plant and say ‘hey look, we're closing down,'" Miller said during a discussion with a member of the Mesa Refinery Watch Group (MRWG), an organization working to stop the oil-by-train plan. "And I'm going to go back and tell ‘Hey I got a job for you, you're going to install solar panels on top of a three story roof and you're going to make 15 dollars an hour.’"

"Your job is a tough job, I wouldn't want to do it," said Laurence Shinderman with MRWG. "But, people have lost jobs in the past and people have been relocated in the past—it happens."

Shinderman says jobs are not the issue because Phillips 66 will not have to close the refinery should the proposed project fail to be approved.  He says the type of oil being shipped is explosive and dangerous, and the associated risks are not acceptable.

"You read the stuff about tar sands. It's the dirtiest. But be that as it may, they say that's the one that's highly volatile coming down the tracks," said Shinderman. "Thus, you call it ‘bomb trains’ because you add this diluent and it lowers the flash point which makes it much more incendiary. Any kind of inertia impact makes it explode."

The representatives from Phillips 66 said during the meeting, they understand the danger with this type of oil, but say that taking cautionary measures including the use of modern shipping containers will minimize the risk.

Dennis Nuss, a spokesperson for Phillips 66 based in Houston, said the proposed rail project is "key to the long-term viability of the refinery," but didn't say whether it would determine whether the plant would remain open or face closure.

"No decision will be made until after the proposal has been approved or denied," Nuss said in a written reply to KCBX.

The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission is waiting for the Final Environmental Impact Report to schedule a discussion.