November 23, 2023
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Phillips 66 appeals denial of crude-by-rail expansion project


In a move many expected, Phillips 66 appealed the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission’s denial of its proposed crude-by-rail expansion project at its Santa Maria Refinery.

The commission narrowly voted down the proposal 3-2 after months of discussion and public comment, ultimately siding with staff’s recommendation. The potential harm of a derailment and the environmental impact outweighed the benefits, staff said.

Phillips 66 alleged that staff incorrectly applied provisions of the county’s Coastal Zone Land Use Ordinance regarding Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas. The company essentially said the county should have declared certain areas as protected habitat before or when the project application was accepted, not after.

“The Rail Spur Extension Project will support current and future operations at the Santa Maria Refinery, in the face of changing crude markets and increased competition, by better connecting the refinery to the larger North American crude oil market,” reads the appeal, which was filed on Oct. 19.

Phillips 66 strives to build a rail spur that would connect its refinery to Union Pacific’s major interstate railroad so it can import tar sands crude from Canada and other crude throughout North America.

The plan was to run three trains per week through its rail spur. A unit train consists of three locomotives, two buffer cars and 80 rail cars carrying approximately 27,300 gallons of crude each, totaling about 2.19 million gallons.

The SLO County Board of Supervisors will review the appeal but a meeting has not been scheduled, officials said.

• Contact Alex Kacik at