The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is poised to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny ExxonMobil’s application to truck crude oil from its Gaviota Coast processing plant to Santa Maria and another site in Kern County.
In a 3-2 vote Sept. 29 after a daylong hearing, commissioners directed staff to return with findings that a proposed statement of overriding consideration does not outweigh the potential for a significant unavoidable Class 1 environmental impact from a tanker crash and oil spill.
The findings could include that adverse impacts are not mitigated to the maximum extent possible and that the project will be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the community and out of character with the neighborhood.
The staff is scheduled to return with the revised findings at the commission’s Nov. 3 meeting, when a final decision is scheduled on a recommendation to supervisors.
The commissioners' decision Sept. 29 resulted in the cancelation of a second day of the hearing Oct. 1.
Fourth District Commissioner and Chairman Larry Ferini and 5th District Commissioner Dan Blough dissented in the vote, as both were prepared to recommend approval to the Board of Supervisors.
Blough said the millions of dollars in taxes the county would receive and the hundreds of jobs the project would provide local workers formed the overriding consideration for accepting the unavoidable Class 1 impacts.
The vote came at the end of a relatively short period of deliberation after some 60 members of the public spoke, with those opposing the project outweighing those in favor by about nine to one.
Much of the opposition focused on the potential environmental impacts of a tanker truck crash and subsequent oil spill, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the project, the limited benefit from the oil it would provide and the need to move away from fossil fuels.
Proponents focused on the company’s safety record, the tax dollars the project would provide the county, the imported foreign oil it would replace and the high-paying jobs in would provide across the educational spectrum of local workers.
During subsequent deliberations, Ferini held up an inch-thick sheaf of documents he said contained 1,680 signatures of people in favor of the project from the South Coast all the way up into Santa Maria.
“So there was a lot of support for the project but a lot more vocal support against it,” Ferini said.
ExxonMobil intends to restart production from three offshore platforms and pipe the crude oil to its Las Flores Canyon facility, which was forced to shut down after a Plains All American pipeline ruptured in May 2015 and spilled 100,000 gallons of oil, some of which made it to the beach.
After that line and another Plains pipeline were shut down, ExxonMobil had no way to deliver its crude oil from Las Flores Canyon to the Phillips 66 pumping station east of Santa Maria.
ExxonMobil was seeking a permit to truck crude oil up Highway 101 to the Phillips 66 station and, after its anticipated shut down in 2023, along Highway 166 to the Plains Pentland Terminal in Maricopa.
Trucks could make a maximum of 70 trips per day to Santa Maria or 25,550 trips per year and 68 per day to Pentland, with a maximum of 24,820 trips per year. Trucks could not travel during heavy rain periods, and an ExxonMobil spokesman said they would not travel along Calle Real during times when school buses were picking up and dropping off children.