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ExxonMobil sues Santa Barbara County over denial of oil trucking plan

Flickr member Mike Baird

The multinational oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil filed a lawsuit against Santa Barbara County last week after the Board of Supervisors denied the company’s proposal to truck oil along Highways 101 and 166.

Exxon’s plan proposed almost 25,000 truck trips a year to transport oil from its Santa Ynez Unit to refineries on the two highways. This would allow the company to restart three offshore drilling platforms that were shut down in 2015 after the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and caused the Refugio Oil Spill near Santa Barbara.

Both the County’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors voted to deny the proposal, although the decision was not unanimous. Supervisors who voted to deny the proposal back in March said their concerns were primarily environmental.

“Our county, along with the truck route, will bear the brunt of environmental impacts including [greenhouse gas], air quality impacts and potential significant impacts from potential spills,” said Supervisor Das Williams.

KCBX News, Randol White
Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County.

Others in favor of allowing the oil trucking said it would benefit the local economy and add jobs.

“There’s a strong contingency that disagrees with me that thinks the protections of the environment outweigh these other needs of our community and I just fundamentally disagree with that,” said Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.

Now, Exxon’s lawsuit is seeking to set the denial aside, saying it violates the company’s constitutional rights to restart and operate its three offshore platforms at the Santa Ynez Unit.

Exxon’s lawsuit says the company’s proposal complies with federal, state and local law, and that the Board was meant to look at that issue alone.

In the lawsuit, the company says the Board ‘improperly treated the consideration of the project as a referendum on offshore production as well as the transportation and use of crude oil in the County of Santa Barbara.’

But the environmental nonprofit the Center for Biological Diversity disagreed with Exxon’s initial proposal and is now speaking out against the lawsuit.

“We completely stand by this local government’s decision to put public health and safety and the environment above oil industry profits and resuming oil production offshore,” said Center for Biological Diversity Senior Attorney Julie Teel Simmonds.

Teel Simmonds said, although the Center is not named in the lawsuit, they are considering intervening as defendants with Santa Barbara County.

The County of Santa Barbara declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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