For hundreds of years, California has been at the forefront of the nation with innovative policies that balance our need for environmental protections with preserving jobs and a healthy economy. Santa Barbara is a fine example of these dynamics at work — home to many industrial neighbors who operate under the strictest environmental safety standards in the world in order to protect and preserve this beautiful space.
One of these neighbors, ExxonMobil’s local Santa Ynez Unit, has been offline for nearly seven years, and the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal to restart this plant with a temporary trucking permit on March 8. Opponents are already falsely linking this permit to offshore drilling and calling for an end to the oil and gas industry.
But ExxonMobil’s permit is simply for a temporary trucking operation — not for offshore drilling. The Santa Ynez Unit production facility is already permitted for safe operations and has been since the 1980s. They are already permitted to restart their operation but are temporarily reliant on trucking for a phased restart until a pipeline becomes available.
The interim trucking proposal would result in bringing back hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in new income and spending.
After the Santa Ynez Unit and Las Flores Canyon shut down, most of the 330 employees were relocated or laid off. We have a chance to bring these families back home. Restarting unit will add 218 direct jobs with average salaries that are 27 percent higher than the average county resident salary.
In addition to well-paying, family-supporting jobs, restarting the Santa Ynez Unit will provide millions in additional annual revenues to the Santa Barbara County General Fund, local K-14 schools, and Santa Barbara County Fire.
The numbers don’t lie. During normal operations, the Santa Ynez Unit was one of the single largest taxpayers in California. During the 10 years prior to shut-in, ExxonMobil paid more than $45 million in taxes to Santa Barbara County.
If approved, the restart would provide more than $4.5 million a year in crucial funding for schools all over Santa Barbara, providing more resources for some of the highest need schools in our community. Many North County schools stand to benefit from those revenues, including Santa Ynez Valley High School, Lompoc Unified, and Allan Hancock Community College.
Nearly $2 million a year in additional tax revenues would go to support public safety and local services, covering vital services and infrastructure like roads, homelessness assistance, libraries, and parks.
Santa Barbara County has seen the highest gas prices on record these last few weeks. The reality is that as California transitions to renewable energy sources, residents will still need oil and gas for their daily lives for years to come. Calling for the end of local oil production in California does not reduce our demand for energy and petroleum products. We rely on oil to power our cars, heat our homes, and live our lives. California is already forced to import more than 70 percent of needed oil each year from other states and foreign countries. Imported oil come from many areas with fewer environmental and safety protections and the transportation to get this oil to California increases global emissions.
Restarting the Santa Ynez Unit will mean oil produced here will stay here, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping to reduce reliance on foreign countries for our energy needs. In the end, it is difficult to deny the benefits within the scope of the project. This is a win-win for Santa Barbara County and the State of California in terms of sustainable local energy with minimal environmental impact.
Finally, we represent businesses throughout the county that are watching this Board of Supervisors vote carefully. Because the Santa Ynez Unit is a fully permitted business and has a right to operate according to the permit conditions established by the county, if the board were to deny their temporary permit, it would set a negative precedent for all businesses looking to find new opportunities here in Santa Barbara, whether it be trucking or otherwise.
To put it plainly, denying this temporary trucking permit is to deny a permitted business the right to operate under their permit conditions.
We simply can’t wait any longer — we must restart the Santa Ynez Unit now.
We encourage the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors to approve this temporary trucking permit on March 8. It is long overdue.
Kristen Miller is the President/CEO of the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce.