SANTA BARBARA, Calif.— The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission voted today to recommend denial of ExxonMobil’s proposal to transport oil by tanker trucks along hazardous California highways. The plan would help the company restart three drilling platforms off the Santa Barbara coast.
Today’s 3-2 final vote finalizes the commission’s Sept. 29 conceptual decision to recommend denial. In the few weeks between the two votes, the state has seen the disastrous oil spill off Huntington Beach, an oil tanker truck accident and fire in Santa Maria, and the Alisal Fire that threatened the ExxonMobil’s Las Flores Canyon oil processing facility, where trucks would load crude.
The commission’s denial recommendation will now go to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for a final decision.
ExxonMobil’s plan calls for up to 24,800 oil-filled truck trips a year on coastal Highway 101 and hazardous Route 166, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, for up to seven years or whenever a new coastal oil pipeline is completed. 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.
“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.”
Today commissioners adopted revised findings recommending denial in light of the project’s significant and unavoidable 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.
“The Environmental Affairs Board celebrates the planning commission’s recommendation to reject Exxon’s trucking proposal once and for all,” said the Environmental Affairs Board at University of California at Santa Barbara. “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.”
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 shows, 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. On Oct. 11 an oil tanker crashed east of Santa Maria, causing a vegetation fire and small oil spill.
“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.”
A majority of Santa Barbara County voters oppose restarting 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 Huntington spill sadly brought into clear, devastating focus why restarting Exxon’s 40-year-old platforms, beyond their max 35-year life, with a history of corrosion and spills, would place 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 too risky. We know it, and the industry and regulators know it. It’s why 7,500 businesses and 90 cities on the Pacific coast are on record opposing offshore oil.”
“The planning commission has taken the right stance today and protected Chumash homelands and homewaters from this unthinkable project,” said Mariza Sullivan, tribal chair of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. “The Chumash people will not condone this or other destructive fossil fuel projects passing through our ancestral lands.”
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.