Santa Barbara County Staff Recommends Approval of ExxonMobil’s Plan to Restart Offshore Platforms, Truck Oil
September 10, 2021
SANTA BARBARA, Calif.— Santa Barbara County’s Planning and Development Department has issued a staff report recommending that policymakers approve ExxonMobil’s proposal to transport oil by tanker trucks so it can restart three drilling platforms off the California coast. Opponents of the project vow to stop it, starting at Santa Barbara County Planning Commission hearings on the plan set for Sept. 29 and Oct. 1.
The report reverses the position staff took last year recommending against the use of hazardous Highway 166 as too dangerous. After that recommendation and the announcement by Phillips 66 that it will shut down its Santa Maria refinery and related pipelines — Exxon’s preferred destination for getting its offshore oil to market — by 2023, the company delayed the project. A revised final environmental impact report was released last month.
“The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission must reject the staff recommendation to allow ExxonMobil to truck crude oil along dangerous Route 166,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, which represents Get Oil Out! and Santa Barbara County Action Network in opposition to the plan. “Just last year, an oil tanker truck crashed on Route 166, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the Cuyama River. More accidents and spills that threaten our public safety, water quality, and wildlife are unavoidable. We call on the County to follow the recommendation from last year, which was to prohibit any oil trucks on Route 166.”
The plan calls for up to 70 oil-filled trucks per day on coastal Highway 101 and hazardous Route 166, 24 hours a day, for up to seven years or whenever a new oil pipeline is completed, whichever is shorter. This timeframe can be extended by the county. 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.
“County staff are prioritizing Exxon’s profits over protecting Californians from deadly oil tanker truck accidents,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Why else would they suddenly drop their concerns about hazardous Highway 166 and its history of trucking accidents? Left to its own devices, Exxon won’t hesitate to usher in climate chaos, more offshore oil spills and explosive tanker truck crashes. If the county won’t step in and make the right decision, we’ll do everything we can to stop this terrible project.”
The revised final environment impact report now being considered by county officials concludes there would be significant, unavoidable impacts from the project, including significant impacts on wildlife, water 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.
Offshore oil development also poses unacceptable risks of spills and air and water pollution. Oil spills along the Santa Barbara coastline threaten a wide range of federally protected endangered species, including blue whales, sea otters and California tiger salamanders.
“As Chumash people we continue to be concerned about the amount and methods of oil and gas extraction in our homelands and homewaters,” said Mariza Sullivan, tribal chair of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. “The proposed trucking of oil, while simultaneously moving forward with an entire oil pipeline replacement project, is unthinkable. Not only will it wind its destructive path through our ancestral lands, it will add to the long history of the systematic erasure of the Chumash people. As a community we need to stop the continued destruction of what few natural places we have left.”
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.
Tanker trucks spill hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil per year, according to an American Petroleum Institute report. These oil spills can cause fires and explosions. An Associated Press study of six states where truck traffic has increased because of ramped up oil and gas drilling found that fatalities in traffic accidents have more than quadrupled since 2004 in some counties.
“Trucking oil is the least safe way to transport oil with the highest rate of spills and accidents, and restarting the aging offshore platforms puts our entire coastline at risk,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter. “The county must deny this project and let’s focus on the clean energy transition of the future — where we are making real progress, creating jobs with community choice energy and building out solar, wind and storage.”
A majority of Santa Barbara County voters say 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.”
The company proposes to restart its platforms and load its offshore oil onto tanker trucks at its Las Flores Canyon processing facility. The trucks would transport up to 470,400 gallons of oil per day up to 140 miles to the Santa Maria Pump Station and then the Plains Pentland Terminal in Kern County. From those destinations the oil would be transported via pipelines to refineries in California and out of state.
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.