Environment

SLO passes resolution against new oil pipeline, oil trucks through SLO County

Drive the route oil trucks take to Phillips 66 Co.’s Nipomo refinery

Amid San Luis Obispo County's debate over Phillips 66 Co's proposed oil-by-rail project, the company has continued to deliver oil to its Nipomo Mesa refinery via oil tanker trucks. This video shows the winding route from Highway 101 to the Phillips 66.
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Amid San Luis Obispo County's debate over Phillips 66 Co's proposed oil-by-rail project, the company has continued to deliver oil to its Nipomo Mesa refinery via oil tanker trucks. This video shows the winding route from Highway 101 to the Phillips 66.

Doubling down on its commitment to advocate against the expansion of oil extraction, the San Luis Obispo City Council has passed a resolution opposing new proposals to truck and pipe crude oil from offshore platforms through San Luis Obispo County.

“We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Mayor Heidi Harmon said Monday in an interview with The Tribune.

Citing health and safety, environmental and climate concerns, the council voted unanimously on Jan. 15 to oppose the projects that would enable ExxonMobil to reopen offshore oil platforms that were closed when the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and spilled crude off Refugio State Beach in 2015.

To make reopening offshore platforms viable, permits need to be approved to transport the crude across Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties to processing facilities in Santa Maria and Maricopa.

Exxon applied to do that with around 70 truck trips a day, which would emit between 4,600 to 11,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to a city report.

Meanwhile, Plains Pipeline, the company that owned and operated the pipeline that broke and caused the Refugio oil spill, has applied to restore an outdated and deteriorating transmission pipeline that runs through all three counties. (For more information, Plains All American Pipeline is hosting an open house about the project from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on January 29 at the South County Regional Center at 800 W Branch Street in Arroyo Grande.”

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Plains Pipeline has applied for a land use permit to San Luis Obispo County and other agencies for the replacement of oil pipelines known as 901 and 903. San Luis Obispo County

Is this the first time you’re hearing about this? Read about the plan to increase oil trucks in San Luis Obispo County and the proposed pipeline.

Plains Pipeline was found guilty in September 2018 of nine criminal charges for failure to maintain its pipeline and for killing marine mammals, seabirds and other marine life. And while that fact is included in the city’s resolution, Harmon said she would oppose the projects if they were proposed by any company, saying “the entire industry is reckless and dangerous.”

While the city has no authority to deny permits to the company for either project, the county of San Luis Obispo does.

“We try and respect our local organizations to do the job they are entrusted to do,” Harmon said. “But when we feel the health and safety of our constituents is at stake, much like it was with the Phillips 66 oil trains, we feel we have an opportunity and responsibility to make a statement about that.”

She said the projects endanger the public not only because of the climate crisis, but also because of “the near-term danger of trucking these kinds of toxic fuels through our community.”

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A tanker truck carrying oil rests on its side after rolling off Willow Road in Nipomo in September 2018. Cal Fire

The resolution is the most recent action San Luis Obispo has taken to oppose fossil fuel infrastructure and advocate a transition to clean energy and carbon-free transportation.

The city supports a ban on new or expanded oil and gas leases and has a stated commitment to fossil fuel divestment. It opposed the Phillips 66 plan to transport crude by rail and is working to buy more energy from renewable sources through the Community Choice Energy program.

In addition, San Luis Obispo has the most ambitious municipal goal of carbon emission reductions in the United States with a goal of being carbon neutral by 2035.

“It’s not just about what you’re saying ‘no’ to, it’s really about what we’re saying ‘yes’ too,” Harmon said.

The city council’s action was encouraged by environmental organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo (ECOSLO) and the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We need to show that San Luis Obispo and California are united against the indefinite continuation of offshore oil production in California, which is what these two projects are designed to cement in place,” Andrew Christie, the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club said at the Jan. 15 council meeting.

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Exxon’s oil platforms off Santa Barbara County were shut after the attached onshore pipeline ruptures and spilled oil on Refugio State Beach in 2015. This photo by Drew Bird at drewbirdphoto.com was commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity, which is campaigning against plans to reopen the platforms and transport the crude via truck or pipeline across the Central Coast. Drew Bird Courtesy of Center for Biological Diversity

The Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, known for suing companies and government agencies over violations of environmental laws, has launched campaigns to combat both the truck and pipeline proposals.

“Californians shouldn’t have to choose between coastal oil pipelines and oil tanker trucks on coastal highways,” Miyoko Sakashita, ocean program director at the Center, said in a news release in response to the city’s resolution. “Both are bad news for wildlife and our climate. We need to phase out offshore drilling, not give it a new lease on life.”

The county Board of Supervisors has not yet stated opposition or support of the projects. It will be in the position to consider a land use permit for the stretch of the pipeline in the county following environmental review of the proposed project.

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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: mvaughan@thetribunenews.com
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