ExxonMobil is trying to restart its three dormant drilling platforms off Santa Barbara’s coast and truck that oil along California roadways. (Credit: Drew Bird, DrewBirdPhoto.com)

Exxon, Be Gone

Why Deadly Oil Tanker Truck Crashes Aren’t Even the Biggest Reason to Oppose Restarting Offshore Drilling in Santa Barbara

ExxonMobil is trying to restart three oil-drilling platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara and truck its oil to refineries along two hazardous California highways. That’s because those platforms have been idled since a 2015 coastal oil pipeline failure that coated miles of beaches with sticky oil and killed hundreds of birds and marine mammals.

Exxon’s dangerous trucking scheme would threaten motorists, communities and waterways with potentially explosive oil-tanker crashes, particularly along Highway 166. Truck crashes are disturbingly common along that narrow, twisting, precarious highway, including one last year where a tanker crash spilled about 4,500 gallons of oil into Cuyama River.

Image from video showing trucking accidents along Exxon’s proposed trucking route. (Credit: Curt Bradley/Center for Biological Diversity)

There were 258 trucking accidents along Exxon’s proposed route from 2015 to May 2021, killing 10 people and injuring 110. And we’ll likely see many more if the plan is approved to put up to 70 more oil-tanker trucks on that route, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Exxon’s trucking scheme is reckless and dangerous — Santa Barbara County planners advised against it for those reasons and may again in the coming weeks when a new staff report is released. But the main reasons to oppose the project are even greater: climate change and coastal protection.

Offshore drilling is inherently dirty and risky, and we need to phase it out, not revive it. Santa Barbara has experienced too many oil spills over the years, including a catastrophic one in 1969 that helped trigger the modern environmental movement. If Exxon brings its decrepit platforms back to life, chances are we’ll see more coastal oil spills.

And even if Exxon manages to pump its offshore oil into a parade of tanker trucks without a spill — and even if we get lucky and those trucks don’t kill anyone — we’ll all still pay a very high price so that one of the richest companies in the world can get even richer.

We need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately to keep our planet livable, as the most recent IPCC report makes clear. That means we need to stop pumping and burning huge volumes of oil, particularly the carbon-rich crude found in Southern California.

Before the Refugio oil spill shuttered Exxon’s three platforms here, they were churning out an average of more than 1.2 million gallons of oil every day. Burning that oil emitted about 4.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, about the same as one coal-fired power plant. So the shutdown on just these three oil platforms has prevented more than 26.7 million metric tons of carbon pollution and counting.

Exxon’s position that it has a legal right to bring its oil to market ignores far more important moral and societal arguments. Oil giants have profited off cooking the planet for far too long, and Exxon has more than recouped its investments in its Santa Barbara leases and platforms. These platforms are a public nuisance that should be abated.

Enough is enough. It’s time to take bold action to protect people and the planet. And that starts with telling Exxon to get out of Santa Barbara and leave the last of this oil safely in the ground.

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Kristen Monsell

Kristen Monsell

Kristen is the Legal Director of the Oceans Program at the Center for Biological Diversity.