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Phillips 66 asks SLO County for 6-month delay in hearing on oil-by-rail project

Opponents of a proposal by Phillips 66 to bring oil by rail to its Nipomo Mesa refinery, at a protest earlier this year outside a San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission meeting.
Opponents of a proposal by Phillips 66 to bring oil by rail to its Nipomo Mesa refinery, at a protest earlier this year outside a San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission meeting. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Phillips 66 has asked the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission to delay by six months its final hearing on the oil company’s controversial proposal to bring crude oil by rail into its Nipomo Mesa refinery.

The Planning Commission has scheduled a hearing on the project for Sept. 22, when it will decide whether to grant the request for a delay, County Supervising Planner Ryan Hostetter said.

“We are going to the Planning Commission on the 22nd, and they will let us know what to do,” she said.

In a letter dated Aug. 10, the oil company asked for a delay until March 2017 to wait for a ruling by the federal Surface Transportation Board on a similar oil-by-rail project in the city of Benicia. The agency’s decision in that case will clarify how much authority the county has in deciding the rail spur project — or whether the city’s authority is pre-empted by the Surface Transportation Board, according to the Phillips 66 letter.

There is no deadline for the Surface Transportation Board to make its ruling.

“Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that the Surface Transportation Board will issue a decision prior to Sept. 22,” refinery site manager S. Heath Wanamaker wrote in the letter to the Planning Commission.

“In the interest of efficiency of the commission as well as planning staff, we believe it would be prudent to further continue the hearing on Phillips 66 Rail Spur Extension Project until March 2017, so that all parties in this matter can benefit from direction expected from the Surface Transportation Board,” the letter concluded.

Phillips 66 has proposed installing a 1.3-mile rail spur connecting to the main line as a way to expand its sources of crude oil and continue to support the 200 employees who work at the Nipomo refinery. The proposal calls for deliveries from three trains per week; each train would have three locomotives and 80 rail cars to haul 2.2 million gallons of crude oil.

Earlier this year, the Planning Commission held five days of hearings on the rail spur project that drew thousands of people from around the state, many opposing the project. The main concern is that an oil train could derail and cause a fiery crash.

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