Board of Supervisors denies trucking proposal for safety reasons
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors nixed ExxonMobil’s proposal to truck oil along area roads due to what was seen as unmitigable safety impacts.
The board denied the project in a close 3-2 vote during its weekly meeting Tuesday.
Exxon had requested a development plan revision to install and operate a new oil tanker truck loading rack at the Santa Ynez Unit processing facility and transportation of crude oil from platforms Hondo, Harmony and Heritage to two receiving terminals in Santa Barbara and Kern counties.
Some supervisors, including chair Joan Hartmann, expressed concerns about the environmental impact of Exxon’s project.
“Is this really the direction to go when we are facing a climate crisis? For my way of thinking, that is just not the case,” said Supervisor Hartmann. “In conclusion, it’s detrimental to the health and safety of the neighborhoods that this trucking would go by, and it’s not compatible with the surrounding areas, and the streets — particularly (State Route) 166 — and also the 101 are not designed for this kind of traffic.”
Supervisor Das Williams said he anticipated the project would result in fatal traffic accidents, particularly along State Route 166.
“I will support denial of the project simply because I cannot see how the safety impacts are mitigate-able,” Supervisor Williams said. “While I validate all of our political opinions and where we’re coming from in life, what I don’t validate is our driving habits as a society.”
Exxon’s modified project plan included interim trucking of crude oil to the Santa Maria Pump Station until its estimated shutdown in 2023. The plan would include an estimate of 78 round trips per day, seven days a week.
The plan would then pivot to the Pentland Terminal in Kern County either for seven years or until a pipeline becomes available. This would require about 34 round trips per day when the SMPS has temporarily shut down or 78 round trips per day when it has been permanently closed.
Exxon’s plan set an annual limit of 24,820 trucks with an oil production maximum of 11,200 barrels per day.
In an effort to mitigate spills, Exxon said it would ban trucking during rainy periods to decrease the potential for oil to end up in waterways.
“Recent events have highlighted that energy independence, climate change and financial stability of the people of this county are important matters to all of us,” Bryan Anderson, the Santa Ynez Unit asset manager at ExxonMobil, told the board. “We need to come together to find solutions, local solutions, to help address the impacts these global issues have here in Santa Barbara County.”
Supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Bob Nelson, who voted in support of the project, said Exxon’s proposal would have helped constituents in their districts.
Supervisor Nelson said he supported the project because the “process was correct and legal.”
“The impacts that are going to be felt are going to be felt most significantly on my district and Steve’s district. It’s hard to be sitting here seeing a project like this go down,” said Supervisor Nelson. “This county has been making statements about equity for a long time. These are jobs that help generational equity and make a difference in this community.”
The county planning commission, in recommending denial, said the proposed project would only have a trivial impact on domestic oil use and demand. The commission also said there was not enough evidence to show the project would increase local jobs or expenditures at area businesses.
However, those in support of the project said it would enable local oil production during a time when gas prices are skyrocketing and President Joe Biden is starting a ban on all Russian oil imports in retaliation for President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Supporters also noted environmental regulations in California and Santa Barbara could be more stringent than in other places.
Kathy Vreeland, executive director of the Buellton Chamber of Commerce, said the project would be beneficial to the community.
“Restarting the SYU will bring back families back to their homes. It will also inject tax revenues and economic activity for businesses in our area,” Ms. Vreeland said.
However, those opposed to the project, including Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte, cited the potential ramifications it could have on the environment, pointing to the massive Plains All American Pipeline disaster in 2015, which resulted in about 140,000 gallons of crude oil spilled along the coastline near Santa Barbara.
ExxonMobil shut down its three offshore oil production platforms near the Santa Barbara coast following the pipeline spill in 2015.
Others said State Route 166 was too dangerous for oil trucks to traverse.
U.S. gas prices hit a record high Tuesday with a national average of $4.17 per gallon, according to the American Automobile Association. In California, the average price climbed to $5.44.
And in the Santa Barbara area Tuesday, the average for regular unleaded gas was $5.40 and $5.79 for diesel.