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09 • 01 • 2022

Surfrider Motions to Intervene in Litigation to Stop Santa Barbara Oil Trucking

By Angela Howe

Today, the Santa Barbara Surfrider Chapter and local environmental organization partners have filed a Motion to Intervene in the ExxonMobil v. Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors case regarding an oil trucking plan for the region.  Surfrider Foundation advocated to the County Board of Supervisors against the project and claimed a Coastal Victory in March 2022 with the County Board of Supervisors' decision to deny oil trucking throughout the County. The Santa Barbara coast has been especially susceptible to the harms of oil spills due to the impacts of oil production in the Santa Barbara Channel. Residents are now very sensitive and wary of the costs of offshore oil production.  The Environmental Defense Center (“EDC”) is representing Surfrider as outside counsel and the intervenor group broad coalition includes Wishtoyo Foundation, Sierra Club, Center or Biological Diversity, EDC, Santa Barbara County Action Network and Get Oil Out!

This matter originated with the shutdown of three offshore drilling platforms that Exxon operates off of the Gaviota Coast following the major oil spill that occurred in 2015. The Refugio State Beach spill resulted in 142,800 gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean after a corroded pipeline burst, devastating the coastline and marine environment. After the Refugio oil spill shut down Plains All American’s pipeline, ExxonMobil proposed in 2017 to transport its oil via tanker truck. Exxon applied for approval to restart its platforms and move crude from its Las Flores Canyon facility via 140 oil-truck trips up the 101 to Santa Maria and then inland. However, Surfrider Foundation and other local groups pointed out that the proposal put the entire community at risk from offshore and onshore oil spills, tanker truck accidents, wildfires, air and water pollution, and further exacerbating climate change. The County Planning Commission recommended denial of the Project, and environmental groups urged the Board of Supervisors to deny Exxon’s proposal because it would cause significant and unavoidable impacts and that the application was inconsistent with County policies pertaining to oil transportation and community welfare.  

In seeking to override the County’s denial of the “ExxonMobil Interim Trucking for the Santa Ynez Unit Phased Restart Project,” ExxonMobil aims to restart its three platforms offshore Gaviota and truck its oil throughout the region. The oil company's legal challenge of the County’s project denial in federal court was filed on May 11, 2022. Exxon claims constitutional violations and that the County exceeded its authority and misapplied the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).  However, in the record, environmental organizations point out the consistency of the Board of Supervisors' decision under CEQA.  Our proposed intervenor group contends that the project presents an unacceptable risk of harm to communities and the environment, including from the risk of tanker truck accidents. Proposed Intervenors seek to protect their significant interests in ensuring that the County’s denial of the Project is upheld, and that the proposed intervenors have significantly protectable interests in this matter.

“This project undoubtedly threatens our coastline and local watersheds with the unacceptable risk of oil spills. After the 1969 massive oil spill and then the more recent, May 19, 2015 oil spill it is now apparent that oil wells, oil pipelines and trucks all pose a huge hazard to the health and economy of our County. I also recall the March 2020 oil spill when a tanker overturned on Highway 166 and spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Cuyama River. Enough is enough!” stated Surfrider Santa Barbara Chapter Litigation Liaison Ken Palley.   

The hearing on the Motion to Intervene is proposed for October 21st in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.