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After Marathon Hearing, Key Commission Rejects Controversial Oil Trucking Plan In Santa Barbara County

ExxonMobil Map
Map of ExxonMobil's proposed oil truck shipping routes.

Issue now goes to Santa Barbara County Supervisors for final decision.

It was a marathon hearing on a controversial proposal to move oil by tanker truck in Santa Barbara County. Dozens of people spoke at a Santa Barbara County Planning Commission’s virtual hearing on the issue.

The commission reviewed ExxonMobil’s request to use tanker trucks on Highway 101 and 166.

The Plains All-American Pipeline rupture on the Gaviota coast in 2015 forced the shutdown of three of the company’s offshore oil platforms. Without the pipeline, there is no way to move crude oil. ExxonMobil wants to use tanker trucks to ship oil to facilities in the Santa Maria area, and in Kern County.

County planners recommended a pared down version of the plan, which would involve more than 70 trips a day, or around 25,000 trips a way.

It’s created a firestorm of controversy. There’s concern about the potential for accidents and spills, as well as air pollution caused by the truck trips.

ExxxonMobil officials contend there are ample safety measures in place. "ExxonMobil number one priority is the safety of our employees, our contractors, and the people who live and work in our community," said Brian Anderson, who is with the company. "We must follow more than 100 laws, rules, regulations, and policies at county, state, and federal levels which are among the strictest in the world."

But, many of those who testified raised safety concerns. Brenton Kelly lives along the proposed route in the Cuyama Valley. "Any more truck will compound safety on our only rural road through Cuyama," said Kelly.

Larry Bishop of Buellton points out his city is bisected by Highway 101. "Having 70 trucks per day full of fuel a day, and 140 trucks a day round trip a day going though our town is a big risk," said Bishop.

And, Ann Shaw says given climate change, it doesn’t make sense to enable more fossil fuel use. "In the face of the most dire warnings ever from climate scientists, deciding to support the extraction of oil in our current climate emergency is the equivalent of stepping on the accelerator when your car is about to hit a tree," said Shaw.

But, boosters contend the trucking can take place safely. Roy Reed is President of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayer’s Association. "The application before you is the result of years of effort," said Reed. "It's comprehensive, and well mitigated."

The Commission voted 3-to-2 to recommend Santa Barbara County Supervisors reject the proposal. The issue goes to County Supervisors next for a final decision.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.