ExxonMobil’s Plan to Truck Crude Across Central California Nixed by Federal Judge

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ExxonMobil’s Plan to Truck Crude Across Central California Nixed by Federal Judge

The Mobil logo is displayed at a gas station in Los Angeles on April 28, 2022. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

9/28/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

ExxonMobil lost its latest bid to transport millions of crude from shuttered offshore oil platforms off the central California coast to state refineries.
Judge Dolly Gee in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles Sept. 28 denied a request for summary judgment by the energy giant. Her decision upheld Santa Barbara County’s May 2022 decision to deny the company a permit to restart offshore oil production platforms and transport oil by tanker truck through central California.
County supervisors were concerned about the possibility of oil spills and accidents along trucking routes and especially about traffic safety along State Route 166, a narrow two-lane highway across difficult terrain with few turnouts and passing lanes. ExxonMobil estimates 70 or so trucks would be used per day to move the oil.
The company sued the county in May 2022 after its permit denial, accusing supervisors of abusing their discretion and “improperly” considering the project as a referendum on offshore crude oil production instead of deciding the permit on its own merits.
ExxonMobil’s struggles began in Santa Barbara County after one of the pipelines owned by Plains All American Pipeline, broke in May 2015, spilling crude oil onto Refugio Beach and into the Pacific Ocean in one of the most biologically diverse areas of the West Coast.
About 143,000 gallons of crude spilled in the area, causing an immediate closure of seven offshore drilling platforms, closing multiple beaches, and impacting recreational activities.
ExxonMobil previously used two pipelines to move oil out of the county, but both were closed after the spill. The company also shuttered production in the county a month following the accident.
In September 2017, ExxonMobil asked the county for a permit to begin trucking about 11,000 barrels of crude oil every day to onshore processing plants in Santa Maria, north of Santa Barbara, or to Kern County, about 150 miles inland from Santa Barbara.
Oil covers rocks and sand at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, Calif., May 19, 2015. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Oil covers rocks and sand at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, Calif., May 19, 2015. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

The company also wanted to restart a production unit in Santa Ynez—about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara—and three offshore platforms, and to reopen a processing facility in the area.
The federal judge declared that ExxonMobil did not have a vested right to transport the oil by truck, and the original permit didn’t guarantee transportation by any other means than a pipeline.
“Having considered the evidence in the record regarding traffic safety, the Court finds that the Board’s decision is supported by substantial evidence,” Ms. Gee wrote in the judgment.
Environmental groups cheered the judge’s decision.
“ExxonMobil’s plan to restart its offshore platforms and truck millions of gallons per week through Santa Barbara County is reckless, dangerous, and totally unwelcome by this community,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel in the lawsuit of the Environmental Defense Center, representing the plaintiffs Get Oil Out!, Santa Barbara County Action Network, Surfrider Foundation, and the Sierra Club.
According to a statement on the Environmental Defense Center’s website, it claims there have been eight serious accidents involving tanker trucks along the proposed route in the last several years, resulting in deaths, oil spills, injuries, fires, and road closures.
“Today’s decision puts the safety of our communities, climate, and coastlines first,” Ms. Krop said in the statement posted Sept. 27.
ExxonMobil did not return a request for comment on deadline.
Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

Author

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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