Considering the oil industry’s history on the Central Coast, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors took what many may consider a bold step last week, beginning the legislative process that eventually leads to an oil pipeline from Cat Canyon to Sisquoc.
Final approval may come as early as this week for the nearly three-mile-long pipeline system that will have the capacity for transporting 25,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the Phillips 66 pumping facility in Sisquoc.
The proposed system would consist of two eight-inch pipes in a single trench along Santa Maria Mesa Road, Andrew and Stewart streets, then to Foxen Canyon Road.
The twin pipes facilitate a switch from one to the other, in case something goes wrong with the pipe in use.
It seems unusual there was no one in the audience at last week’s board meeting to question such a project. Local folks are well-known for their blanket objections to oil industry activities in general, and to pipelines specifically. Perhaps there will be an anti-oil presence at the final reading of the ordinance scheduled for this week.
Or maybe not. There is a chance that after years of back and forth between the oil companies and local anti-oil activists, there is now a better understanding of why the industry does the things it does, and how it does them.
It is evident that a pipeline is cheaper than other forms of transporting oil. The Congressional Research Service reckons shipping oil by pipeline runs about $5 per barrel vs. up to $15 a barrel when the oil is shipped by rail or truck.
But using rail or truck to transport oil is much faster, meaning oil companies can get product to the marketplace sooner, which translates to quicker profits.
Another study took into account the number of accidents — spills, explosions and leaks — per million barrels of oil and gas transported. The result was that while both over-the-road and rail transport and pipelines are safe, the pipelines are the easy winner when it comes to the safest way to transport oil and gas. A pro fossil-fuels organization headquartered in Canada insists pipelines are nearly five times safer than rail and/or trucking.
All of which makes it easier to understand the Board of Supervisors giving a green light to the Cat Canyon-to-Sisquoc pipeline. All things considered, the line would be the safest option, because it would eliminate about 7,000 tanker truck trips along that route every year.
The proposed pipeline will be equipped with state-of-the-art control and data-gathering capabilities that will monitor the status of either line and crude oil movement. If a problem is detected quickly — which it should be, given the high-tech gear involved — company officials can shut down the line immediately.
In a related action, the board approved a resolution opposing new offshore oil development in federal waters, part of the Trump administration’s announced energy strategy.
This might seem in conflict with the board’s approval of an oil pipeline, but it really isn’t. Offshore oil production was the cause of one of this nation’s worst spill disasters in 1969, the memory of which is renewed every April with Earth Day.
The resolution vote was split, with North County Supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam voting against it. The resolution now gets forwarded to President Trump and other federal officials, and to California Gov. Jerry Brown.
The board majority’s objections likely will die a quick death at the president’s desk.