Planning Commission denies ExxonMobil trucking permit

The following article was posted on October 6th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun – Volume 22, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]

The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] – Volume 22, Issue 32

Planning Commission denies ExxonMobil trucking permit

By Taylor O’Connor

More than 30 community organizations, 58 speakers, and thousands of letter writers gave their input on a plan to restart offshore oil platforms and truck oil through Santa Barbara County.  For organizations such as the Los Padres ForestWatch, community participation was a movement in the making for months prior to the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission‘s Sept.

29 hearing on ExxonMobil‘s oil trucking project permit, ForestWatch’s Conservation Director Bryant Baker said.  “This was probably the most interaction the commission’s received from the general public in a long time,” he said.

Planning Commissioners Larry Ferini and Daniel Blough were in favor of the permit for the benefits of added jobs and ExxonMobil’s response to environmental concerns.

The project, which commissioners voted 3-2 to deny, planned to transport 11,200 barrels of oil per day from Exxon’s Santa Ynez Unit along Highways 101 and 166 to pumping stations in Santa Maria and Pentland.

Exxon’s goal is to restart its offshore oil platforms, which have been shut down since the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured in 2015 along the Gaviota Coast. ForestWatch set up an webpage where people could submit comments for the meeting and received more than 900 emails, Baker said. “We were working together to make sure that accurate and useful information was getting out to the public and that the public could submit comments to the Planning Commission,” Baker said.

Project documents addressed community concerns, including risks of oil spills, traffic safety, and greenhouse gas emissions. However, many area residents expressed remaining concerns about these issues and urged the Planning Commission not to approve the plan.  During the Sept.

29 meeting, 3rd District Commissioner John Parke said he was worried about potential spills and higher traffic rates in regards to Cuyama residents.  “Cuyama residents don’t have cities sticking up for them, they have us. When they–almost unanimously–express their concern in the meeting, I want to show them that I am concerned,” he said. 

Although there was a lot of verbal support against this proposal, a significant number of residents still expressed interest in the oil trucking project, 4th District Commissioner Larry Ferini said.  “There’s 1,680 signatures [for approval], and I was really surprised. It looked like there was a lot of support for the project,” Ferini said. 

After listening to more than an hour of public comment and ExxonMobil’s response, the Planning Commission denied the project permit.  ExxonMobil Operations Media Manager Julie King sent a statement to the Sun on behalf of the oil company.  “We appreciate the thorough evaluation of the Santa Barbara County planning department staff and professional consultants prepared to recommend approval of the permit.

We are disappointed the Planning Commission did not adopt the staff’s recommendations,” King stated via email. “We also appreciate the continuing support of numerous organizations and community members who recognize the many benefits that resuming safe operations at [Santa Ynez Unit] would bring to Santa Barbara County, including local jobs and millions in vital tax revenues for county schools, public safety, and health care services.” 

The commission’s decision will go before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for a final say on ExxonMobil’s proposal.

No date is set for the meeting as of press time.