Roy Reed of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.
Roy Reed, representing the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, urges the Santa Maria City Council Tuesday night to support ExxonMobil’s request to temporarily transport oil in tanker trucks from its Gaviota processing facility. The council backed the plan on a 4-1 vote. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Maria City Council voted Tuesday night to support the temporary transportation of oil by truck to refineries so ExxonMobil could resume offshore drilling operations in Santa Barbara County.

With little discussion, the council voted 4-1 to adopt a resolution urging the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to approve the application from “a thriving business that has won national safety awards, and is an essential part of the community.”

Councilwoman Gloria Soto cast the lone opposition vote after suggesting waiting for the environmental impact report’s release. Soto said that without a completed EIR, she felt ill-informed to make a decision.

ExxonMobil has applied to Santa Barbara County for permission to truck limited crude oil from the firm’s facility in Las Flores Canyon (LFC) on the Gaviota Coast until a pipeline alternative become available.

Since the Plains All-American Pipeline ruptured in May 2015 near Refugio State Beach, ExxonMobil suspended oil and gas production of its offshore operations and those at Las Flores Canyon, which had employed approximately 200 employees and 130 contractors, the city resolution said.

ExxonMobil has filed for a temporary permit to make up to 70 oil tanker truck trips per day from the Gaviota facility along Highway 101 to either the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County or east on Highway 166 to another site in Kern County. 

The Santa Maria action differed from ones taken by the Goleta and San Luis Obispo city councils, which both opposed the project in recent weeks.

The council’s proposed resolution drew speakers in support and against the proposal. 

Bryan Palmaro from the Coastal Energy Alliance spoke in favor of producing oil locally, saying California uses 2 million barrels of oil per day but imports 1 million barrels, mostly from overseas sources. 

“As long as we continue to produce petroleum to power our economy, we should produce it here in Santa Barbara County under the safest regulatory framework in oil,” he said. “I ask you tonight to support the resolution and to support the trucking project.”

Other speakers included employees at the Gaviota site who live in the Santa Maria Valley.

One representative said that in 2016, the firm safely completed 2,500 truck trips, adding up to 350,000 miles, without incident. That operation involved offloading remaining pre-spill and stored oil, taking some 16.8 million gallons from the facility.

Roy Reed, representing the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, said the oil industry provides well-paying jobs for local residents.

He called for Santa Maria city leaders to allow “this vital piece of infrastructure to emerge from its current state of suspended animation, and renew its key contributions to our county’s economy and the families of Northern Santa Barbara County.”

But David Dennis was among several residents who spoke out against the proposal, expressing concerns about the risk to public safety due to the increased oil tanker traffic.

“Certainly it poses a potential risk to the public that I don’t think the public should support this at this time,” Dennis said. 

Kate Adams, a 21-year-resident, said she was alarmed at the council’s proposed action.

“Citizens are right to be concerned about safety and about the long-term effects of short-term, stop-gap decisions that serve to solve problems for oil companies while leaving unresolved the larger environmental hazards that such decisions kick down the road,” she said.

The environmental impact report on ExxonMobil’s truck plan could be released as soon as this month, according to some estimates.

The ExxonMobil proposal is considered a temporary solution because Plains All American has submitted an application to replace the 123-mile pipeline system from Gaviota to Kern County. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.