ExxonMobil filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ decision to deny an oil trucking project.
The supervisors voted 3-2 in March to turn down ExxonMobil’s request to restart Santa Ynez Unit oil and gas production and truck the oil to out-of-county refineries.
The board majority members said the economic benefits of the project did not outweigh the risks.
ExxonMobil proposed a phased restart of its Santa Ynez Unit, including three offshore platforms and its Las Flores Canyon processing facility on the Gaviota Coast, which stopped operating in 2015 shortly after the Refugio oil spill.
The company proposed building truck loading racks at Las Flores Canyon and transporting oil to the Santa Maria Pump Station for delivery to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County (until the refinery’s 2023 closure) and the Pentland Terminal in Kern County.
ExxonMobil would restart production at 39% of its previous capacity, and transport oil to refineries by tanker truck for seven years, or whenever a pipeline becomes available.
“We believe the denial was improper and seek reconsideration of the project, declaratory relief, and other damages,” Santa Ynez Unit asset manager Bryan Anderson said in a statement.
The complaint for the case — Exxon Mobil Corporation v. Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors — was filed in federal court in the Central District of California on Wednesday.
The document, which ExxonMobil provided to Noozhawk, alleges the Board of Supervisors “improperly treated the consideration of the project as a referendum on offshore production as well as the transportation and use of crude oil in the county” rather than the project merits.
When the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors voted to deny the project, they relied on “faulty, unsupported reasoning” that the project benefits did not outweigh the risk of oil spills, the complaint alleges.
“The commission ignored the staff report’s finding that the project’s one significant and unavoidable impact, oil spills — which had been mitigated to the fullest extent feasible — is acceptable when weighed against its environmental and economic benefits,” the complaint alleges.
ExxonMobil says restarting production would bring back 200-250 employees and contractors for jobs in offshore operations and Las Flores Canyon, and the company would pay about $1 million more in property taxes to the county, on top of the $1 million it pays now while the facilities are shut down.
In its project denial, the Board of Supervisors said the economic benefits of the project (local jobs, tax revenues and local spending) “may not be as secure or as high quality as indicated by the applicant, and they do not outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental impacts of the project.”
The supervisors also were concerned about the impact of the increased number of tanker truck trips on Highway 101 and Highway 166 between Las Flores Canyon and the Pentland terminal, about 135 miles away in Kern County.
Planning commissioners, who voted 3-2 to deny the trucking request in November, said the law requires denying a project with significant and unavoidable impacts unless a statement of overriding considerations can be made.
ExxonMobil, FreePort-McMoRan and the now-defunct Venoco Inc. shut down their offshore oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel shortly after the May 19, 2015, Refugio oil spill, which was caused by a rupture in the Plains All American pipeline that carried oil from the platforms to refineries in neighboring counties.
Plains All American Pipeline is proposing replacement pipelines to be constructed through the county, and that project is still in the environmental review process.
ExxonMobil has a vested right to restart and operate the Santa Ynez Unit, and the oil trucking project is “essential to restarting SYU,” the company asserts in its complaint, written by ExxonMobil attorney Dawn Sestito of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
Attorneys ask the court to issue a writ of mandate directing the Board of Supervisors to vacate and set aside the project denial and reconsider the application “in light of the court’s judgment.”
They also ask the court to award ExxonMobil financial damages and attorney costs.
Santa Barbara County Counsel representatives said the office does not comment on pending litigation.