ExxonMobil’s Oil Transport Plan Passes Before Planning Commission
One of the last pending oil projects will land in the hands of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on Wednesday, when the panel decides whether to allow or deny the interim trucking operation of ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil has proposed a gradual restart of the Santa Ynez unit – the Hondo, Harmony and Heritage offshore platforms – by first transporting the produced crude oil by truck from the Las Flores Canyon facility.
These rigs have been closed since the Refugio oil spill in 2015, caused by a ruptured Plains All American transportation pipeline that carries oil from the south coast of Santa Barbara County to refineries.
In ExxonMobil’s proposal, crude oil would be trucked to the Santa Maria Pumping Station for eventual delivery to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County or the Pentland Terminal in County of Kern.
But staff recommended, and ExxonMobil agreed, a pair of changes, one of which relates to the planned closure of the Santa Maria refinery.
Under the revised proposal, trucking would only take place at the Santa Maria Pumping Station, 1580 E. Battles Road, until the refinery ceases to operate, possibly in 2023.
Additionally, trucking would not occur during periods of heavy rain, defined as a 50% chance of receiving half an inch of precipitation.
After considering four options ranging from no project to the proposed project, staff suggested the next, environmentally better option.
“Combining the no-trucking alternative during periods of rain with the trucking alternative to SMPS only (if available), would result in a reduction in the potential severity of an oil spill affecting sensitive resources (i.e. (biological, aquatic, marine and cultural resources) in relation to the proposed project, ”county planning staff said.
Tankers could make deliveries to the Kern County site if the Santa Maria pumping station is temporarily inoperative, but would be limited to 34 trucks per day.
From Gaviota, trucks would enter Highway 101 via Refugio Road and Calle Real Road before heading north with the oil loads.
To get to the Santa Maria site, trucks would leave Highway 101 at Betteravia Road and head east to Rosemary Road, then Battles.
Trucks heading to Kern County are expected to head east on Highway 166, a twisty two-lane road known to have fatal crashes.
Decisions of the Planning Commission on the trucking proposal will serve as a recommendation to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which will have the final say.
Opponents of the project cited several concerns, including the risk of oil spills, citing the March 2020 truck crash that sent oil into the Cuyama River.
Planning staff said they discussed lessons learned from this incident with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and added mitigation measures to the additional environmental impact report.
Other concerns included increased traffic, continued dependence on fossil fuels in the context of climate change and more.
County planning staff have received dozens of letters, spelling out concerns or support ranging in several paragraphs or, in one case, just five words: “PLEASE DO NOT ALLOW this!” “
Supporters of the trucking plan noted the significant tax benefits that would accompany the project with millions of dollars expected to be generated for local schools and other agencies.
Restarting offshore platforms would provide well-paying jobs, helping to boost the economy, supporters added.
Offshore platforms have been closed since the 2015 oil spill caused by a pipeline rupture near Refugio State Beach.
The trucking project is seen as a temporary plan as Plains All American Pipeline has offered to build replacement pipelines for the 123.4 mile system known as the 901 and 903 lines. The pipelines run from Gaviota to Sisquoc and then from Sisquoc to Kern County. Existing pipelines have been closed since the oil spill.
This week’s Planning Commission hearing and decision focuses on the trucking proposal with the replacement of the pipeline as a separate application that still finds its way into the county planning process.
Environmental documents for the pipeline replacement could be released this fall or winter, county planning officials said.
These are the only oil-related projects still on hold in the county.
Last year, three companies – Aera Energy, Terracore Operating Company (formerly ERG Resources) and PetroRock – rejected oil drilling proposals for Cat Canyon.
The remote planning committee meeting will start at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, with Friday set aside in case the commissioners need more time.
To make a public comment during the virtual hearing, register in advance by clicking here. After you register, a confirmation email will be sent to you with the webinar registration information.
Live stream of the county planning committee meeting is available on local cable channel 20, online at countyofsb.org/ceo/csbtv/livestream.sbc and on YouTube.