Exxon Mobil Corp. filed a petition last week asking a federal court to overturn the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ denial of a temporary oil trucking permit, order a reconsideration of the permit and award compensation, with interest, for damages caused by the decision.
The petition for a writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory relief and damages was filed May 11 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, with a demand for a jury trial.
It claims the supervisors’ March 8 denial of the permit was “an arbitrary, capricious and unlawful prejudicial abuse” of discretion, violates the U.S. and California constitutions and impairs ExxonMobil’s vested right to restart and operate its Santa Ynez Unit.
The petition says the board rejected the permit application for reasons unrelated to the merits of the project.
“Rather than focus on the merits of the project, however, the board 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 of Santa Barbara,” the petition alleges.
“But that was not the issue before it,” the petition continues. “The only question before the board was whether the project complies with federal, state and local law. It does.”
Santa Barbara County Executive Office did not have a statement on the ExxonMobil petition.
"The county does not comment on pending litigation, so we have no comment at this time," a spokeswoman for the office said.
The litigation stems from ExxonMobil’s application to temporarily transport crude oil, produced offshore, from its processing facility on the Gaviota Coast initially to a pumping station near Santa Maria and subsequently to one in Maricopa.
ExxonMobil’s Las Flores Canyon processing facility and the offshore platforms Hondo, Harmony and Heritage, which make up the Santa Ynez Unit, have been shut down since 2015, when a Plains All American Pipeline that transported the product to market ruptured and spilled oil near Gaviota State Beach.
The company says the wells beneath the three platforms still have significant oil reserves and the platforms have been well-maintained.
To restart production in the Santa Ynez Unit, the company applied for a permit to temporarily haul crude oil by tanker truck from the Las Flores Canyon facility to the Phillips 66 pipeline pumping terminal east of Santa Maria.
Phillips 66 plans to shut down its Nipomo Mesa refinery, along with the pipeline and pumping station, and once that takes place, the oil would be trucked to the Plains Pentland pumping station in Maricopa.
The project would generate up to 78 round-trips per day to the Phillips 66 pumping station and 68 round-trips per day to Plains Pentland pumping station, with annual limits of 25,550 trips to Santa Maria and 24,820 to Maricopa.
To address safety concerns, ExxonMobil agreed to extra measures that included not trucking during significant rain storms, providing extra training for drivers and limiting truck speeds, among others.
ExxonMobil’s petition cites a report from the County Planning and Development Department that recommended the Planning Commission advise supervisors to approve the permit.
The report said the project mitigated the only unavoidable potential impact of oil spills to the maximum extent feasible and mitigated significant impacts on air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and traffic to the point of insignificance.
But the Planning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend the board deny the permit, asserting the benefits would not outweigh risks and the project would be detrimental to the general welfare, health and safety of the neighborhood.
“These conclusions were based on unsupported public comments and pure conjecture,” ExxonMobil’s petition says. “That is not substantial evidence. Indeed, they are directly contradicted by the findings in the staff report, final [supplemental environmental impact report] and the voluminous record underlying those analyses.”
The Board of Supervisors subsequently voted 3-2 to deny the permit, with 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino dissenting.
Supervisors voting with the majority said the benefits of hundreds of jobs, overall economic impact and more than $1 million in tax revenue to the county did not outweigh the risks of truck crashes and the impacts of oil spills on the environment and hospitality industry.