The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to recommend denial of ExxonMobil’s proposal to transport oil by tanker trucks along California highways.
If approved, the plan would help ExxonMobil restart three drilling platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara.
On Sept. 29, the commission made a conceptual decision to recommend denial. Wednesday’s vote finalized that recommendation.
The commission’s recommendation will now go to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for a final decision.
Planning commissioners recommended denial due to projected impacts to biological, water and cultural resources in the event of a spill, as well as the proposed trucking’s other impacts on health, safety, comfort, convenience and general welfare.
In the time between the planning commission’s votes, California has seen an oil spill off Huntington Beach, where more than 126,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean.
In addition to the oil spill, California saw an oil tanker truck accident and fire in Santa Maria as well as the Alisal Fire, which shut down Highway 101, the area’s main evacuation route for over a week. The fire also threatened ExxonMobil’s Los Flores Canyon oil processing facility.
“Even before the Santa Maria tanker truck accident, the fire near ExxonMobil’s onshore facilities, and the horrific offshore oil spill in southern California, the majority of commissioners rightly decided to deny ExxonMobil’s proposal to restart its offshore oil platforms and truck crude oil along scenic and dangerous county highways,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, which represents Get Oil Out! and Santa Barbara County Action Network. “We applaud the commission’s vote against ExxonMobil’s project, which puts the safety of our communities, climate and coastlines first.”
If approved, ExxonMobil’s proposal would have up to 24,800 oil-filled truck’s on Highway 101 and State Route 166, seven days a week, 24 hours a day for up to seven years or until a new coastal oil pipeline is completed.
According to data from the California Highway Patrol, between 2015 and 2021 there were 258 trucking accidents along the route resulting in 10 deaths and 110 injuries. In March 2020 a tanker truck crashed off of State Route 166, spilling more than 4,500 gallons of oil into the Cuyama River above the Twitchell Reservoir.
ExxonMobil officials have defended their proposal for bringing Exxon’s crude oil back to California as an environmentally friendly choice because it would reduce the amount of oil shipped into the state from foreign countries.
According to the California Energy Commission, the state received 47.5% of its oil from foreign sources in 2020 and 58.4% from foreign sources in 2019. These foreign oil producers operate under “less stringent” environmental restrictions than California producers, Exxon officials told the Planning Commission at its Sept. 29 meeting. They argued that sourcing locally is the better option for the environment.
Exxon officials also urged planning commissioners on Sept. 29 to consider the revenue and jobs the trucking will bring to the area. Prior to the Plains All American pipeline shutdown, Exxon paid more than $45 million in taxes to the county, according to Bryan Anderson, the asset manager for ExxonMobil’s Santa Ynez Unit. He told commissioners that approving this proposal could contribute $4 million in funding for schools and $2 million to public safety, while also creating new jobs in the region.
But most public commentators at the Sept. 29 meeting expressed opposition to the ExxonMobil plan, and the commission’s final decision to recommend denial was applauded by environmental groups.
“Kudos to the planning commission for putting public safety and environmental protection ahead of ExxonMobil’s dangerous oil trucking scheme,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The recent oil spill, oil truck accident and fires spotlight why Santa Barbara County can’t afford to greenlight risky and dirty projects like ExxonMobil’s.”
The planning commission’s recommendation received support from the UCSB Environmental Affairs Board, which issued this statement: “Exxon’s trucking proposal was a step in the wrong direction on climate and put Californians and our coastal resources in harm’s way from spills, crashes, pollution and fires. This vote gives our generation of students hope that the county is transitioning to a clean, safe and just future without delay.”
According to a poll taken in November 2019, a majority of Santa Barbara residents oppose restarting ExxonMobil’s offshore drilling platforms. The poll was commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity.
According to the poll, 44% were very concerned and 28% were somewhat concerned “about the safety of our local highways if up to 70 oil tanker-trucks are allowed on our roads each day.”
This story contained information from a previous story by former News-Press reporter Madison Hirneisen.