Santa Barbara County Planning Commission Rejects ExxonMobil’s Plan to Restart Offshore Platforms, Truck Oil
September 30, 2021
Commissioners Vote 3-2 Against Project, Joining Strong Community Opposition
SANTA BARBARA, Calif.— The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission has voted to deny ExxonMobil’s proposal to transport oil by tanker trucks along hazardous California highway so it can restart three drilling platforms off the Santa Barbara coast. The 3-2 initial vote came unexpectedly on Sept. 29, during the first of two days of scheduled public hearings on the project, and is expected to be followed Nov. 3 with a formal vote and findings recommending the Board of Supervisors deny the project.
ExxonMobil’s plan calls for up to 24,800 oil-filled truck trips per year on coastal Highway 101 and hazardous Route 166, 24 hours a day, to refineries for up to seven years or whenever a new coastal oil pipeline is completed, whichever is shorter. ExxonMobil’s three offshore platforms near Santa Barbara were shut down in 2015 after the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of oil along the California coast.
“Our community spoke loud and clear against this project, and the commission did the right thing in recommending denial of ExxonMobil’s application to restart its offshore platforms and truck its oil along dangerous and scenic county highways,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, which represents Get Oil Out! and Santa Barbara County Action Network. “The risk to our climate, the Santa Barbara Channel, and the safety of our communities justifies denial. We look forward to working with the county as we transition to a clean energy future.”
The revised final supplemental environment impact report considered by the commission concludes there would be significant, unavoidable impacts from the project, including significant impacts on wildlife and cultural resources in the event of an oil spill from a tanker truck. The document fails to analyze the numerous harmful impacts of bringing Exxon’s offshore platforms back online. The Planning Commission’s recommended denial of the project will go to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for a final county decision.
“The Environmental Affairs Board is thrilled the Planning Commission made the correct decision to recommend denial of Exxon’s trucking proposal,” said the Environmental Affairs Board at University of California at Santa Barbara. “Exxon’s proposal ignored the unavoidable risks of spills, crashes, fires, and the destruction of habitat. It would further delay our local transition to a clean, safe, and just future. Climate change is a looming crisis for our generation of students, and victories like this give us hope for the future.”
California suffers hundreds of oil-truck incidents a year, and many result in oil spills. There were 258 trucking accidents along the route from 2015 to 2021, California Highway Patrol data show, resulting in 10 deaths and 110 injuries. A tanker truck crashed off Highway 166 in March 2020, spilling more than 4,500 gallons of oil into the Cuyama River above Twitchell Reservoir.
“To hear the commissioners prioritize public safety and environmental protection over ExxonMobil’s unnecessary and dangerous oil trucking proposal was heartening,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It really feels like Santa Barbara County is poised to be a national leader in the clean energy transition.”
A majority of Santa Barbara County voters have said they oppose proposals to restart ExxonMobil’s offshore drilling platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a November 2019 poll. Nearly 3 out of 4 respondents said they were concerned “about the safety of our local highways if up to 70 oil tanker trucks are allowed on our roads each day.”
“Restarting these 40-year-old platforms, beyond their max 35-year life, with a history of corrosion and spills, puts our entire coastline at risk,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, which also submitted a petition, signed by more than 2,000 people, opposing the project. “Offshore oil is so risky even Republican states like Florida have fought off offshore oil development. It’s why 7,500 businesses and 90 cities on the Pacific coast are on record opposing offshore oil.”
ExxonMobil’s oil-trucking scheme is strongly opposed by a coalition of 35 community and conservation organizations, who recently sent the commission a letter urging it to reject the project. They cited the project’s threat of more offshore oil spills, fueling climate change, and endangering motorists and communities with dangerous oil tanker truck crashes.
“Now is not the time to turn the clock back and return to our old ways of relying on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs,” the letter concludes. “The County of Santa Barbara is moving towards a clean energy future by adopting renewable energy targets and joining the Central Coast Community Energy program. Allowing ExxonMobil to resume oil production off our coast will lead to decades of fossil fuel production that we cannot afford.”
ExxonMobil’s plans to restart its offshore platforms and onshore processing facility will also generate enormous levels of greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change, undermining state and national climate targets and goals set by the county’s Energy and Climate Action Plan adopted in May 2015.
The coalition opposing ExxonMobil’s trucking plan includes Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, 350 Santa Barbara, the Center for Biological Diversity, Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas (CFROG), Environmental Defense Center, Food and Water Action, GOO!, SBCAN, Sierra Club’s Los Padres Chapter, UCSB Associated Students External Vice President for Statewide Affairs Esmeralda Quintero-Cubillan, UCSB Environmental Affairs Board (EAB), Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara County Chapter, Los Padres ForestWatch, the Goleta Goodland Coalition, the Cuyama Valley Community Association and the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation.