During the last week of July, the County of Santa Barbara released its final environmental impact report (FEIR) for ExxonMobil’s proposal to resume operations in three offshore drilling platforms and transport the oil via tanker trucks, setting up plans for a vote on the project in September following two approval hearings on September 2 and 9.
Exxon’s plan would resume operations on three offshore oil platforms that have not operated since the Plains All American Pipeline spill in 2015, which released around 100,000 gallons of oil into the ocean off of the Central Coast. Under Exxon’s proposal, oil from its three offshore platforms would be processed at its Las Flores Canyon processing facility and then transported by 70 tanker trucks per day on Highway 101 and Route 166 to either the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Pump Station or the Plains Pentland Terminal in Kern County. The trucks would serve as an interim form of transporting the oil “until a pipeline alternative becomes available to transport crude oil to refinery destinations,” or for a seven-year period, depending on which comes first.
However, a handful of local environmental organizations are questioning whether the FEIR — which is to serve as an important source of information for the county as it weighs the decision to approve or deny the project — has all of the necessary information for such a decision.
“We’re pretty disappointed that this EIR doesn’t take into account the impact of reopening the offshore platforms and focuses more exclusively on the transportation of the oil,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Council (EDC). As such, the EDC and 14 other environmental organizations have called for the first approval hearing, on September 2, to focus on whether the FEIR is comprehensive enough to serve as a basis for a final vote.
Exxon states that the proposal would offer the county a much-needed economic shot in the arm, especially during the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Approval of our trucking permit will bring a number of benefits to Santa Barbara at a time when so many are struggling in our community to make ends meet,” said Julie King, a media relations advisor for Exxon. King also noted that a “broad coalition” of local elected officials, labor unions, and business groups support the proposal.
However, the Santa Barbara City Council recently passed a resolution opposing the plan, stating that the Las Flores Canyon processing plant was “the largest emitter of greenhouse gases … before Exxon’s offshore platforms were idled in 2015,” following the Plains All American Pipeline spill. The resolution also stated that the “extremely high rate of accidents makes trucking one of the worst and most dangerous forms of transport.”
“We’re definitely concerned about the potential for a spill if these platforms start running again,” Krop said, “not to mention greenhouse-gas emissions at a time when we’re supposed to be transitioning away from fossil fuels.” Krop also pointed out that in 2019, a hearing on the adequacy of the EIR for ERG’s proposed Cat Canyon Revitalization Project was found to be inadequate, and the Planning Commission requested additional information.
However, Krop did note that the FEIR deserved credit for pointing out that the risks of a spill from a tanker truck could not be effectively mitigated. While the FEIR concluded that spills could be expected once every 17-52 years (assuming the implementation of recommended mitigation efforts), Krop questioned whether or not this was realistic. “We had a tanker accident in March that resulted in several thousand gallons being spilled into the Cuyama River. If we have 70 of these trucks filled with oil making trips every day, there are inevitably going to be more spills.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on 8/6/20 to incorporate comments from ExxonMobil’s media relations advisor and mention the City Council’s recently passed resolution opposing the plan.
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