SANTA BARBARA, Calif.— There’s been a large truck collision every week, and almost two fatalities per year, on average over the past five years along the California highways where ExxonMobil wants to send up to 70 oil tanker trucks a day, according to California Highway Patrol data analyzed by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Santa Barbara County will soon vote on ExxonMobil’s proposal to restart its dormant offshore drilling platforms and truck that oil along coastal Highway 1, Highway 101 and the notoriously hazardous Route 166.
“This disturbing data shows that ExxonMobil will endanger California’s motorists and communities to get its offshore oil flowing again. Santa Barbara County officials can’t let that happen,” said Stephanie Prufer, an organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Route 166 is just too treacherous for these tanker trucks. A crash along coastal Highway 1 could cause yet another oil spill in the Pacific Ocean.”
The data shows there were 216 large-truck collisions requiring a police response, 92 injuries and nine deaths between January 2015 and March 2020 along the proposed trucking route. The data includes tanker trucks, tractor-trailers and box trucks. A time-lapse data visualization video shows the locations of the collisions and deaths, which are concentrated along the narrow, winding Route 166 that ExxonMobil wants to use to truck its offshore oil to a refinery in Kern County.
Santa Barbara County is scheduled to release the final environmental impact report on ExxonMobil’s trucking proposal next week. The proposal would allow the transport of up to 470,400 gallons of oil per day along 140 miles of highway, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is scheduled to hold hearings on the project on Sept. 2 and Sept. 9 before voting on it.
A majority of Santa Barbara County voters oppose proposals to restart ExxonMobil’s offshore drilling platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a recent 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.”
California suffers hundreds of oil-truck incidents a year, and many result in oil spills. A tanker truck crashed off Route 166 on March 21, 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 risen because of increased oil and gas drilling found that fatalities in traffic accidents have more than quadrupled since 2004 in some counties.
Oil spills near the Santa Barbara coastline threaten a wide range of federally protected endangered species, including blue whales, sea otters and California tiger salamanders. ExxonMobil’s three offshore drilling platforms have been dormant since the failure of a coastal oil pipeline in 2015.