Environmentalists and pro-oil advocates clashed Monday night at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors room over ExxonMobil’s proposal to restart oil production off the Gaviota Coast, and truck oil to Santa Maria and Kern County.
All of southern Santa Barbara County’s offshore oil platform production has been stalled since a crude oil transportation pipeline, owned by Plains All American Pipeline, ruptured and caused the Refugio Oil Spill on May 19, 2015.
ExxonMobil has three platforms – Heritage, Harmony and Hondo – that feed into the Las Flores Canyon facility, which lies about 10 miles west of Goleta. The oil was then shipped north using the Plains pipelines.
Since the pipeline is closed, the company wants to restart oil production and is seeking a permit for up to seven years, or until a pipeline alternative is available.
The proposal calls for the production of 10,000 to 12,000 barrels per day, and up to 70 tanker trucks during each 24-hour period.
Monday’s hearing on the supplemental environmental impact report suggests that the environmentally superior alternative to the project is for ExxonMobil to be barred from transporting oil when the National Weather Service predicts a 50-percent chance of a half-inch of rain within a 24-hour period.
Proponents for restarting oil production and trucking the oil said it will boost jobs and rescue families who have faced turmoil since the pipeline closure.
“I get calls every day of the week from these displaced employees,” said Matt Foster, superintendent of ExxonMobil’s offshore facilities. “Our livelihood is based on restarting. Hundreds of our employees have been sent around the world. This permit is a step toward getting our families back home.”
Kristen Miller, president of the 450-member Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, said her organization backs the county’s supplemental EIR.
“The chamber supports bringing back local jobs and revenue for local schools,” Miller said.
Andy Caldwell, president of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, said that “the bottom line is that consumerism drives production.” He said that if the oil doesn’t come from local sources, companies will still find a way.
“It will come from another part of the world,” Caldwell said. “This will lessen the use of foreign imported oil, and it will help serve the long-existing demand of petroleum. We believe that producing here locally is the responsible, environmental thing we can do.”
About 90 minutes into the presentation, a group of environmental justice advocates disrupted the meeting when they broke into song at the back of the room: “When the people rise up, the powers come down. . . . We gonna rise up rise up until its won,” they sang.
The group sang for about one minute, then strolled out of the room.
Opponents of the project called on the county to take another look — and stop the oil trucking.
John Douglas said he empathizes with ExxonMobil employees who have concerns about job security, but that the company is bad news.
“ExxonMobil has a well-documented history of deceiving the public in hiding its knowledge of the impact of fossil fuels on climate change,” Douglas said.
Jonathan Ullman, Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, said trucking oil is dangerous.
“We have a couple ways out of here, and we have disasters all the time,” Ullman said. “We need to look at what is the impact to waterways. Exxon is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases in Santa Barbara.”
The project has 46-day public comment period, which ends May 28.
The matter will go to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in the fall of this year.