Monday, March 20, 2023     Volume: 24, Issue: 3

Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on March 14th, 2023, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 24, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 24, Issue 3

Pipeline pressure


Are residents right to be worried about a plan to update the valves on an oil pipeline that was so badly corroded it burst in 2015, spilling more than 120,000 gallons of crude oil along the Gaviota coastline?

If you ask the company that proposed the project, it’s just a matter of bringing the coastal pipeline into compliance with state law requiring the best available technology in said pipeline. If you ask the folks who appealed staff approval of the project to the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, there are ulterior motives afoot. 

“The valves are being installed in order to utilize the existing pipeline,” said Ana Citrin, an attorney representing the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.

She’s probably right. The oil companies surrounding that particular pipeline have been trying to figure out how to get oil coursing back through it since 2015. Not only is the pipeline shut down, it also stopped operations at the Santa Ynez Unit, which includes at least three nonoperating offshore oil platforms and a nonoperating onshore processing facility. 

ExxonMobil’s been making a big fat zero off that set of oil properties for almost eight years. But it doesn’t own the pipeline, or does it? 

Who knows, all of this oil company mumbo-jumbo is super confusing and hard to follow. So let’s start with the spill. Plains All American, which owned the pipeline (and a bunch of others that had major problems), didn’t propose the valve project. Plains Pipeline L.P. did. I’ll give you one guess as to who owns that. 

However, when the Sun reached out for comment on all of the recent hullabaloo, Plains told us that they no longer own the pipeline anymore so the company wasn’t going comment on the issue. So, even though Plains All American’s logo was plastered all over the applicant’s presentation at the March 1 Planning Commission appeal hearing on the project, Plains is no longer in charge. 

Instead, the pipeline now belongs to Pacific Pipeline—well, almost belongs to, because the sale isn’t finalized yet—which is a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. Jesus. How can I keep all this straight? But wait, there’s more. 

ExxonMobil sold that Santa Ynez Unit to Sable Offshore Corporation, a company that ExxonMobil holds interest in. So who owns what? Sounds like ExxonMobil still owns or will at least profit off everything and is betting on itself with this valve thing.

ExxonMobil has tried to restart the Santa Ynez Unit several times. Initially, Plains proposed replacing the existing pipeline with a new pipeline, but that project is still in its infancy with the county. Exxon tried a proposal to truck oil from the facility to various pump stations and got denied. Now, we’ve got the same corroded pipeline with updated valves. 

So is it as simple as replacing valves? Sounds like valves are a step toward flipping the offshore oil switch. 

I guess people aren’t as dumb as the oil companies hope they will be. 

“There [are] a lot of ifs and uncertainties out there that are surprising to the public,” 3rd District Planning Commissioner John Parke said. “They certainly woke up and made a lot of noise at the hearing.”

And they’ll probably make more noise in April, when the commission is set to discuss the project again.

The Canary is staying tuned. Send radio dials to

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