Sunday, January 17, 2021     Volume: 21, Issue: 46

Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on June 27th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 17

Spotlight on: Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport


About 140,000 gallons of crude oil gushed out of a corroded pipeline and into the ocean just off the coast of Santa Barbara in May 2015, killing wildlife and blackening beaches. 

The pipe was owned by Plains All American Pipeline—the Texas-based oil company that was later convicted of a felony for failing to properly maintain the pipeline—but it was used to transport crude oil to refineries from seven offshore oil rigs. Three of those rigs are owned by ExxonMobil, and all have been shut down since just after the spill in 2015. 

Now a group of ExxonMobil employees, city and county officials, and local businesses known as Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport is working to get one facility, the Santa Ynez Unit (SYU), up and running again.

Santa Barbara County has a history of ecological disasters due to oil. The Santa Barbara Spill in 1969 was the largest single event in state history while 2015’s Refugio State Beach spill killed hundreds of birds and stained beaches with crude for miles. ExxonMobil’s Santa Ynez Unit consists of three offshore platforms and an onshore processing facility at Las Flores Canyon.

The coalition launched in January as a joint effort between ExxonMobil and interested Santa Barbara County community members, according to Jing Wan, ExxonMobil’s SYU asset manager. Since then, more than 180 local businesses, organizations, and officials have joined the coalition, including the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, Guadalupe Union School District Superintendent Emilio Handall, and COLAB (The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, Santa Barbara County). 

“We basically really want to rely on the coalition members to essentially represent the community,” Wan told the Sun, adding that members are encouraged to call and write to their legislators, attend meetings, and provide public comment in support of reopening SYU. 

In mid-2017, Wan said ExxonMobil submitted an application for a temporary trucking permit that would allow ExxonMobil to truck oil from the SYU Las Flores Canyon facility to nearby refineries until a pipeline alternative is available. Trucking would give ExxonMobil the ability to open SYU again, but Wan said the application process is in the midst of an extensive public input gathering period and will eventually have to be approved by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. 

Coalition members are charged with urging the board to approve the trucking application, and Wan said that because many community members seem to recognize the good things ExxonMobil’s SYU rig did for the area, Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport has “overwhelming support.”

Prior to the 2015 shutdown, SYU employed about 200 workers and 130 contractors, many of whom were later relocated to other ExxonMobil operations around the world or laid off, Wan said.

“For ExxonMobil to restart,” she said, “we really want to bring back those skilled workers and bring those families back.”

Wan also noted that in the decade before the shutdown, ExxonMobil paid about $45 million total in taxes to the county—an average of $4.5 million a year—funds that went directly to local schools, public safety, and other important county services and that are no longer being paid. Vista del Mar Union School District in Gaviota is now considering closing for good after losing the oil and gas revenues, which made up about 40 percent of its budget. 

Still, community members have brought up numerous environmental concerns related to the project, citing the need for an environmental impact report and fears over another oil spill. Though the Santa Maria City Council voted to support the trucking permit in March, city council members in San Luis Obispo and Goleta voted to oppose it. 

Wan said ExxonMobil follows stringent safety guidelines, and that in 2016, Santa Barbara County allowed ExxonMobil to truck crude oil from its Las Flores Canyon facility to Santa Maria through an emergency permit. ExxonMobil made 2,500 deliveries without incident, she said. 

“ExxonMobil is a victim of the [2015 oil spill] as well as many other businesses,” Wan said. “As an industry, together we all learned a lot of things.”

Tessi Martinez, president of the Buellton Chamber of Commerce, which is a Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport member, said in an email to the Sun that the chamber supports the return of Exxon jobs and families to Buellton.

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce announced its decision to join the coalition in a press release on May 22, writing that SYU’s restart “will restore critical funding for public safety, fire, and schools, and allow displaced local workers and their families to return to Santa Barbara County.”


• The Natural History Museum of Santa Maria is looking for participants for its Western Bluebird Nesting Box Project, a program in which nesting boxes are placed on public lands in an effort to enhance nesting success for bluebirds. For more information contact Mike LeLane at (714) 673-3729 or Bill Decker at (805) 345-5738.

• The Santa Barbara Business College in Santa Maria is now enrolling students in its heating, ventilation, and air conditioning training program, which prepares students for careers in the field with hands-on experience. For more information, visit 

Kasey Bubnash wrote this week’s Biz Spotlight. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, mail, or email at

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