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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 5th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 23 [ Submit a Story ]
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Santa Barbara County releases environmental impact report for ExxonMobil trucking project


Santa Barbara County recently released an environmental analysis reviewing ExxonMobil’s proposal to transport oil on local roadways using tanker trucks so that it can resume the operation of three offshore oil rigs and a processing facility.

Santa Barbara County recently released a final supplemental environmental impact report on ExxonMobil’s proposal to truck oil through the county.

The final supplemental environmental impact report the county made public on July 29 assesses ExxonMobil’s plans to move about 11,200 barrels of oil per day on 70 trucks through most of Santa Barbara County on highways 101 and 166. This proposal would allow ExxonMobil to resume operations at its Santa Ynez Unit, a processing facility that has remained offline since the Plains All American Pipeline was shut off after a spill in 2015.

Shortly after releasing the report, a coalition of environmental groups released a statement pushing back on the findings. 

“The county’s final environmental impact report fails to disclose the devastating impacts that will result if ExxonMobil is allowed to resume oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel and truck oil along our scenic highways,” Environmental Defense Center Chief Counsel Linda Krop said in a statement. “ExxonMobil’s proposal will result in more oil spills, air pollution, and increased climate change at a time when we need to pursue clean energy alternatives.”

During the 2015 oil spill, which occurred near Refugio State Beach, nearly 3,000 barrels of crude oil poured into the ocean, killing birds, fish, and other marine life. Earlier this year, Plains All American Pipeline reached a civil settlement with the federal government that required it to pay more than $60 million in penalties and damages, according to a March statement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

ExxonMobil is pitching this trucking proposal as a temporary solution to resume operations at its Santa Ynez Unit until the pipeline is replaced. According to the report, Plains All American Pipeline is in the process of applying for a permit to replace the pipeline, and if it’s successful, ExxonMobil would resume transporting oil via the pipeline and the trucking would stop.

The report outlines the different impacts the proposed project could have on the environment, such as the increase of greenhouse gas emissions related to the construction and operation of the project. The report states that the most significant impact is the possibility of trucking-related oil spills and fires that would harm plants, animals, and other resources. 

As required under state law, the report lists alternatives to ExxonMobil’s proposed project that would have less impact on the environment. These include reducing the number of trucks allowed per day to 50, limiting trucks to driving from the Santa Ynez Unit to a pumping station in Santa Maria—which would prevent trucks from traveling on Highway 166—and prohibiting trucks from transporting oil on days when the National Weather Service predicts a 50 percent chance of at least half an inch of rain in a 24-hour period on areas along the truck routes. 

The report identifies the latter as the environmentally superior alternative.

“In the event of an accidental oil spill resulting from a truck accident, the potential to impact sensitive resources … exists,” the report states. “Spills that occurred near drainages or waterways during the rainy season could be transported downstream increasing the severity of the impacts to biological and water resources.”

On March 21, a tanker truck overturned on Highway 166, which led to about 4,500 gallons of crude oil spilling into the Cuyama River upstream of the Twitchell Reservoir. At the time, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Public Information Officer Eric Laughlin said that a Western pond turtle and a belted kingfisher were recovered from the spill and underwent veterinary care and cleaning. 

The environmental groups noted this spill in their statement pushing back on the project and the county’s final supplemental environmental impact report.

“Trucks are the least safe way to transport oil—in human death, property destruction, and amount of oil spilled,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club’s Los Padres chapter. 

While environmental groups are opposed to the project, it’s previously received support from local chambers of commerce and some cities, including Santa Maria, where the City Council voted 4-1 to support the project in March 2019. 

A coalition of local chambers commissioned a report from the California Economic Forecast in August 2019 that found the trucking project and eventual pipeline replacement would result in hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the county, cities, and schools. 

The report found that between 2015 and 2018, numerous property tax recipients lost a combined $10 million in revenue as a result of the shutdown of oil facilities related to the oil spill.

“Delaying this project delays meaningful revenues to schools in Santa Barbara County that are necessary for student development and enrichment,” the report states.

The county Planning Commission is scheduled to review this final supplemental environmental impact report and potentially make a decision on ExxonMobil’s trucking proposal during two hearings scheduled for Sept. 2 and 9. 

Reach Editor Camillia Lanham at

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