Exxon Mobil Corp. won’t be able to revive oil platforms off the California coast by relying on trucks to ship crude to refineries on shore.
Three offshore platforms, known as Exxon Mobil’s Santa Ynez Unit, have been shut down since 2015 when a pipeline ruptured and created the worst coastal oil spill in the state in 25 years.
Exxon Mobil figures it’ll probably take five more years to repair or replace the pipeline. The company estimates it spends tens of million of dollars to maintain the facilities and pays $1 million annually in taxes while SYU is shut down.
US District Judge Dolly M. Gee in Los Angeles on Wednesday denied Exxon Mobil’s request to overturn a 3-2 decision by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to reject the oil company’s trucking plan in 2022. The judge said while Exxon Mobil has every right to operate its offshore oil platforms, it doesn’t have a right to truck the crude.
“The Board’s decision in this case does not permanently implicate Exxon’s vested right to use its SYU facilities, but only halts its proposed ‘restart’ which itself was a temporary fix to a bigger problem: the lack of viable pipeline transport,” Gee wrote. “That is a problem not caused by the Board’s decision.”
Exxon Mobil didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“It’s time for Exxon to accept that the community won’t support drilling and transporting oil in their backyard,” Liz Jones of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. “The costs of oil spills are too high to risk, and this decision is a well-deserved win for the community, ocean life and ecosystems.”
The oil company claimed the board was improperly using the Exxon Mobil project as a referendum on offshore production. Board Chair Joan Hartmann cited the current climate crisis for her decision to vote against the plan.
Exxon Mobil proposed sending almost 25,000 tanker trucks a year on coastal Highway 101 and State Route 166 for as long as seven years, or until the pipeline is repaired or replaced.
The judge found there is “substantial evidence” to support the board’s decision to deny the project because of the safety issues the trucks would create along Route 166.
The judge also rejected Exxon Mobil’s claim that the county supervisors’ opposition to oil production caused them to act improperly.
“It is undeniable that there are comments in the record — both by the public and some planning commission members and county supervisors — that reflect a desire to end oil production in Santa Barbara County altogether,” Gee wrote. “But their expression of these concerns does not mean they acted contrary to law.”
The case is Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, 2:22-cv-03225, U.S. District Court, Central District of California.