Court Upholds Denial of ExxonMobil Plan to Truck Oil in Santa Barbara and Restart Offshore Drilling

By the Environmental Defense Center

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California upheld Santa Barbara County’s denial of ExxonMobil’s proposal to transport oil by tanker trucks along hazardous California highways. The plan would have helped the company restart three 1980s drilling platforms off the Santa Barbara coast, shut down since the disastrous Refugio oil spill eight years ago.

ExxonMobil’s proposal would have allowed the company to truck vast quantities of oil on coastal Highway 101 and Route 166. The plan to haul millions of gallons of oil per week through Santa Barbara County would have been a step towards restarting the company’s offshore platforms and resuming operations at its Las Flores Canyon processing facility, which when operational was the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the County.

“ExxonMobil’s plan to restart its offshore platforms and truck millions of gallons per week through Santa Barbara County is reckless, dangerous, and totally unwelcome by this community,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, which represents Get Oil Out!, Santa Barbara County Action Network, Surfrider Foundation, and Sierra Club. “Recent oil tanker truck accidents and offshore oil spills show just how dangerous this plan is. Our research revealed that there have been eight serious accidents involving tanker trucks along the proposed route in the last several years, resulting in deaths, oil spills, injuries, fires, and road closures. Today’s decision puts the safety of our communities, climate, and coastlines first.”

In March 2022, the County rejected ExxonMobil’s proposal based on the project’s significant and unavoidable harms to biological, water, and cultural resources in the event of a spill, as well as the proposed trucking’s threats to public safety. ExxonMobil sued after the Board of Supervisors rejected its plan. In November 2022, a federal judge granted EDC and the Center for Biological Diversity’s motion to intervene on behalf of several environmental and Indigenous groups.

“Santa Barbara County courageously rejected Exxon’s trucking plan and we’re thrilled the judge concurred,” said Sierra Club Santa Barbara-Ventura Chapter Director Jonathan Ullman. “Today, Justice prevailed.”

California suffers hundreds of oil-truck incidents a year, and many result in oil spills. There were 258 trucking accidents along the planned route from 2015 to 2021; since 2007 eight oil tanker truck accidents have occurred that resulted in six deaths, multiple injuries, fires, road closures, and oil spills. In 2020, County planning staff recommended a prohibition on oil tanker trucks on Route 166 after a major accident spilled more than 4,500 gallons into the Cuyama River.

“It’s incredible that this project would even be considered. Each tanker truck and its full load of oil is essentially a ticking time bomb that threatens the lives of those on the highways and our environment. An oil spill catastrophe has been prevented,” said Michael Lyons, Board President of Get Oil Out!.

“I’m relieved the judge agreed it was reasonable to deny Exxon’s dangerous trucking project. Trucking oil through Santa Barbara County is so obviously risky for the people, wildlife and coastline,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time for Exxon to accept that the community won’t support drilling and transporting oil in their backyard. The next accident is a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ based on oil companies’ terrible track record in Santa Barbara County. The costs of oil spills are too high to risk, and this decision is a well-deserved win for the community, ocean life and ecosystems.”

Judge Dolly M. Gee’s decision comes on the heels of a disturbing new report from international scientists on climate change’s intense and mounting damages. It follows the disastrous oil spill off Huntington Beach in 2021, another offshore oil leak from DCOR Pipeline 0919, 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 tanker trucks would load crude.

“Indigenous peoples around the world are disproportionately burdened by the impacts of climate change and the exploitative nature of the fossil fuel industry,” said Mati Waya, Executive Director of the Wishtoyo Foundation. “We are not going to stop fighting or holding companies like ExxonMobil accountable for the harm they willingly cause in our homelands and waters.”

“Residents throughout Santa Barbara County, especially from the Gaviota Coast through all of Northern Santa Barbara County would have been put at serious risk if this had been approved,” said Ken Hough, Executive Director at Santa Barbara County Action Network.

“Santa Barbara hosts some of the most spectacular coastlines and natural coastal resources in our country. The decision today upholds the protections enforced by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, protecting the area from the additional risks of oil spills, traffic accidents, as well as air and water pollution from ExxonMobil’s dangerous project to transport crude oil through this sensitive region,” states Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation Senior Legal Director.

Watch the video produced by @vacationland for @environmentaldefensecenter. Directed by and @nicholas_weissman.

The coalition opposing ExxonMobil’s trucking plan includes 350 Santa Barbara, the California Coastal Protection Network, the California Wildlife Foundation/California Oaks, CalTrout, Carpinteria Valley Association, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Oceanic Awareness Research, and Education (COARE), Channel Islands Restoration, Citizens Planning Association, Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas, the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, Coastal Ranches Conservancy, Community Environmental Council, the Cuyama Valley Community Association, Eco Vista, Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo, Environmental Defense Center, Explore Ecology, Food & Water Watch, Food and Water Action, Fund for Santa Barbara, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Get Oil Out!, Goleta Goodland Coalition, Goodland Coalition, Heal the Bay, Heal the Ocean, the League of Women Voters (Santa Barbara), Los Padres ForestWatch, Northern California Recycling Association, the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Plastics Ocean International, Santa Barbara Audubon, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, Santa Barbara County Action Network, the Santa Barbara Standing Rock Coalition, the Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council, Save Our Shores, the SB Museum of Natural History & Sea Ctr, Seventh Generation Advisors, Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter, Society of Fearless Grandmothers (SB), Surfrider Foundation, Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara County Chapter, The 5 Gyres Institute, UCSB Associated Students External Vice President for Statewide Affairs Esmeralda Quintero-Cubillan, UCSB Coastal Fund, UCSB Environmental Affairs Board, UCSB Environmental Justice Alliance, UPSTREAM, WE Watch, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, and Zero Waste USA.

The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community based organizations to advance environmental protection. EDC’s focus areas include protection of the Santa Barbara Channel, ensuring clean water, preserving open space and wildlife, and addressing climate and energy.  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. 


Written by EDC

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    • Yeah, but not cars all are filled with hundreds of gallons of toxic sludge that will destroy our ecosystem if leaked, in addition to having a safe and practical alternative.
      It’s kind of like the “outlaw kitchen knives” argument that gun folks toss about whenever there’s a stabbing. Same faulty logic.

  1. Won’t they just truck it elsewhere instead, like down the I-5? The 101 has been chosen because it is the most efficient route. There could be major environmental impacts with an oil tanker crash anywhere else too – into an inland watershed for example. Seems like a classic hypocritical NIMBY from people with money who live on the coast, drive cars everyday, and can afford to fight big legal battles. Maybe I’m wrong.

  2. It’s not just us trying to protect our coastline and environment!
    From NY Times fact-checking:
    ““Ron DeSantis is against fracking. He is against drilling.”
    — Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina
    This requires context.
    While Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has recently said he supports offshore drilling and fracking in the country, he spoke out against it in Florida previously.
    It’s true, as Mr. DeSantis noted, that Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment banning offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters in 2018 — the same election in which he was elected governor. Before the amendment passed, Mr. DeSantis had campaigned against fracking in Florida, calling it a “danger to our state that is not acceptable.”
    Once governor, he issued an executive order directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to take “necessary actions to adamantly oppose all offshore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida.”

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