ExxonMobil has purchased Plains All American Pipeline’s Line 901 (above), which ruptured and leaked 142,000 gallons of crude oil in 2015 in what became nationally known as the Refugio Oil Spill. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

ExxonMobil has purchased a 123-mile stretch of two pipelines — 901 and 903 — from Plains All American Pipeline, the responsible party for the May 2015 pipeline rupture and oil spill that effectively shut down all oil production off the coast of Santa Barbara County at Las Flores Canyon. 

ExxonMobil and county energy planners have confirmed the sale took place, but the sale price is not being publicly released. The deal now puts ExxonMobil directly in the driver’s seat in seeking permits to replace the two stretches of corroded pipeline needed to get the company’s oil from its processing plant at Las Flores canyon to Sisquoc and from Sisquoc to refiners located in Pentland. 

The acquisition comes just a few months after the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to deny ExxonMobil’s request to truck its Las Flores Canyon oil to Pentland. ExxonMobil vowed to sue the county for that denial, but the rejection puts greater urgency on ExxonMobil’s need to get the defective pipeline replaced. 

The permit application process for Pipelines 901 and 903 promises to take many years — seven is the rough estimate — and involve multiple state, federal, and local jurisdictions. It is currently stalled pending the submission of certain information needed to reactivate the preliminary environmental review process. 

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In May 2015, 2,940 barrels of oil escaped from Plains All American’s Line 901 — determined to have become badly corroded — along the Gaviota Coast, with about 500 barrels making it into the ocean. Since several oil companies relied on that pipeline for their offshore production, the rupture effectively put them either out of commission, like ExxonMobil, or out of business, like Venoco. 

Venoco’s lawsuit against Plains is still wending its way through the county’s court system — though breaching for procedural rulings this week — as is a parallel lawsuit filed by the State Lands Commission. A month ago, Plains All American settled a class-action lawsuit with members of the local fishing industry for loss of business inflicted by the spill to the tune of $230 million. 

What difference it makes that ExxonMobil has taken ownership of the pipelines in question remains to be seen. County energy planners say they have yet to meet with the new owners over the matter. 

Linda Krop with the Environmental Defense Center noted that Plains All American is currently on the hook to fund a major restoration effort for the terrain impacted by the Refugio Oil Spill. Will ExxonMobil assume that responsibility, she wondered, or will it remain with Plains?

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