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Santa Barbara County Planning Commission denies oil pipeline upgrade proposal

 In 2015 oil spilled into Refugio Beach from Plain All American's pipeline 901.
U.S. Coast Guard
In 2015 oil spilled into Refugio Beach from Plain All American's pipeline 901.

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission has denied plans proposed by ExxonMobil-affiliate Pacific Pipeline Corporation, to upgrade an oil pipeline that caused the 2015 Refugio Beach oil spill.

Oil isn’t flowing through Pipeline 901 in Santa Barbara County right now, but it is possible it could be restarted one day.

Representatives from Pacific Pipeline Corporation (PPC) insisted at the April 26th Planning Commision meeting that approving these plans will not restart the use of the pipeline. They said the proposal is only meant to replace valves to meet state demands, which mandates pipeline operators install the best available technology to their pipelines.

In this case PPC is proposed to install five check valves with automatic shut-off and 11 motor operated valves, which would stop oil flow in case of an emergency — if the pipeline were in use.

Many residents showed up at the planning commission meeting to argue the pipeline should be fully decommissioned rather than upgraded or replaced — especially in light of the 2015 Refugio Beach oil spill.

The meeting was filled with students, property owners, and tribal and nonprofit leaders — most advocating for the County to either demand an updated Environmental Impact Report from PPC or to deny the upgrade.

UCSB student Cat Lane is one of the executive chairs for the university’s Environmental Affairs Board.

“We have seen the devastations that pipelines and indeed this very pipeline cause to our local communities, ecosystems, economies and [we] have indisputable scientific evidence that our future can't be rooted in fossil fuels,” Lane said.

The original Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, that was used for the pipeline was written in 1985. Lane and many other attendants, said too much is on the line to trust an over 30 year old EIR which was also in place when the pipeline ruptured, spilling over 100,000 gallons of oil into the ocean off of Santa Barbara County.

A different oil company, Plains All American, owned the pipeline at the time of the spill. Now, PPC, an affiliate of ExxonMobil, is the owner.

Mike Cash is a representative with PPC. At the meeting he said the company doesn’t want another oil spill to happen again, which he said is why they’re proposing the upgrade.

“We want to protect the environment too. We don’t want what happened to Plains in 2015. That’s why we proposed a valve upgrade project, to add more safety measures to avoid exactly what happened,” Cash said.

The debate over oil pipelines comes as California is transitioning to carbon-free energy production, but many pro-oil advocates say pipelines like this are needed to help meet energy demand until then.

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission denied the oil pipeline’s safety valve upgrade in a 3-2 vote.

You can view the meeting here.

Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an Associate Producer on the TahoeLand podcast.
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