Op-Ed: ExxonMobil Drops Bid to Truck Oil in Santa Barbara

Oil on the beach at Refugio State Park in Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard)

By the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Defense Center

ExxonMobil’s dangerous proposal to truck massive amounts of oil along California highways is dead after the company dropped its lawsuit challenging Santa Barbara County’s denial of the plan.

Exxon’s plan would have helped the company restart three drilling platforms off the Santa Barbara coast. The platforms, built in the 1980s, have been shut down since the disastrous 2015 Refugio oil spill that leaked more than 140,000 gallons of heavy crude on the Gaviota Coast and into the ocean. Exxon notified the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California late Thursday that the company is dismissing its lawsuit.

The Environmental Defense Center and the Center for Biological Diversity successfully intervened in the lawsuit in 2022 on behalf of several environmental and Indigenous groups opposed to the trucking plan and the company’s intent to restart its platforms.

“ExxonMobil’s plan to restart its offshore platforms and truck millions of gallons per week through Santa Barbara County was 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 was. 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.

The county’s denial was based on the project’s significant and unavoidable harms to biological, water and cultural resources in the event of a spill, as well as threats to public safety.

“Santa Barbara hosts some of the most spectacular coastlines and natural coastal resources in our country,” said Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation senior legal director. “This dismissal affirms the action of 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.”

The court upheld the county’s rejection of the plan in a September 2023 decision but had not ruled on all the claims brought in the case. Exxon’s dismissal will terminate the lawsuit entirely. The company’s abandonment of its remaining claims coincides with its sale of its Santa Ynez Unit assets to Sable Offshore Corp.

“The dismissal of this case puts an end, once and for all, to this ill-conceived proposal,” said Michael Lyons, board president of Get Oil Out! “Each tanker truck and its full load of oil would have been a ticking time bomb, threatening the lives of those on the highways and our environment. An oil spill catastrophe has been prevented.”

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 was the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the county.

“It’s welcome news that Exxon’s dangerous trucking scheme is done with, but the fight to keep California’s coast safe from oil spills is far from over,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All oil companies should take note that California’s coastal communities don’t want oil drilling and transport that puts people and wildlife at risk. We’ll work hard to make sure no company has an opportunity to cause California’s next catastrophic oil spill or accident.”

“Exxon has long been one of the most heinous polluters of Chumash homelands,” said Mati Waiya, executive director of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “We celebrate this massive victory against Exxon and warn any and all future resource extractors that we will not stop fighting.”

“From corroded pipelines to tanker trucks to attempting to finance a sale of this troubled project to Sable to avoid direct liability, Exxon will stop at nothing to endanger the Santa Barbara coastline,” said Sierra Club Santa Barbara-Ventura Chapter director Jonathan Ullman. “The whole aging oil operation should be withdrawn along with the lawsuit.”

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 Santa Barbara 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.

Watch the video produced by @vacationland for @environmentaldefensecenter. Directed by @offline.media.account 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 Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, Seventh Generation Advisors, Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter, Society of Fearless Grandmothers (SB), Sunrise Santa Barbara, 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 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.

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.

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the author’s.

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    • Must be a corporate ethic to dump troubled infrastructure to a shell company prior to having to pay up to remediate or remove the messes they make. Local case in point: the ugly decaying tank farm on the UCSB campus, which Exxon conveniently sold to their created company “Venoco” a few years prior to the Refugio spill. That famous mess resulted in the closure of local platforms, pipelines and tank farms and supposedly bankrupted Venoco. The tanks sit there, five years after the contract with UCSB to remove them (it was leased land). Exxon came last year to empty out the last oil in the tanks (I saw their tanker trucks), but according to the environmental company folks hired by Exxon, the tanks are expensive to remove, as the “metal is soaked in oil and highly flammable.” Lets hope after the court fights that are ongoing, Exxon is forced to clean up their mess, rather than us taxpayers. They can surely afford it. https://www.syu.exxonmobil.com/history

  1. I think all car and other vehicle traffic should be outlawed on Hwy 166. Accidents can happen at anytime and there should not be any human blood that can be released onto the sacred Santa Barbara County/ Chumash Indian soil or waterways. We need to protect both. In fact, because of all of the drivers that commit accidents every year, all vehicle travel should be eliminated. We do not need it if everyone can communicate with cell phones, right?

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