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Exxon Drops Lawsuit for Dangerous Oil Trucking Plan Opposed by Surfrider

The Surfrider Foundation is celebrating a major victory over Exxon’s dangerous oil trucking plan proposing to carry crude oil in Santa Barbara from three offshore rigs through coastal communities via tanker trucks moving millions of gallons of oil per week. The Surfrider Foundation, along with a strong coalition of environmental and community groups, successfully persuaded the County Board of Supervisors to deny the trucking plan in March 2022.  However, Exxon quickly challenged this decision three days later with litigation in federal court. To defend the strong County decision, the Surfrider Foundation joined forces with Environmental Defense Center, Sierra Club, Get Oil Out!, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Santa Barbara County Action Network to enter the litigation to defend the County’s decision in court and prevent the restart of offshore oil drilling. 

Exxon notified the United States District Court for the Central District of California on February 15, 2024, of its intent to dismiss the case against the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. Exxon originally filed the litigation to challenge the County Board of Supervisors decision based on claims of (a) unconstitutional takings, (b) violations of the commerce clause, (c) violations of the implied commerce clause, and (d) illegal exercise of police power. Exxon dropped the federal court challenge to deny the plan after Judge Dolly Gee ruled in favor of the County and Environmental Groups this past September, pointing out the County’s appropriate consideration of the accident rates on relevant segments of Highway 101 and State Route 166, which were above the state average and would generate even more risk. Exxon’s dismissal will terminate the lawsuit entirely. The company’s abandonment of its remaining claims coincides with its sale of Exxon’s Santa Ynez Unit assets to Sable Offshore Corp. 

Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara Chapter joined over 50 groups in the community to challenge the oil trucking plan and successfully advocated for its denial. The County’s denial was based on the project’s significant and unavoidable harms to biological, water, and cultural resources in the event of a spill, as well as threats to public safety. The plan to haul millions of gallons of oil per week through Santa Barbara County would have been a step towards restarting the company’s offshore platforms and resuming operations at its Las Flores Canyon processing facility, which when operational, was the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the county.

California suffers hundreds of oil truck incidents per year, and many result in oil spills. There were 258 trucking accidents along the planned route from 2015 to 2021; since 2007 eight oil tanker truck accidents have occurred that resulted in six deaths, multiple injuries, fires, road closures, and oil spills. In 2020, Santa Barbara County planning staff recommended a prohibition on oil tanker trucks on Route 166 after a major accident spilled more than 4,500 gallons into the Cuyama River. Santa Barbara’s thriving coastal economy is directly threatened by oil spills, which are an inevitable and routine component of offshore drilling, oil trucking, and moving oil through pipelines. Surfrider celebrates the protection of these coastal communities through this dismissal of the court challenge and litigation win over Exxon!