Opinion » Rhetoric & Reason

It's getting slippery for Big Oil



Katie Davis, chair of Sierra Club's Los Padres Chapter (Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties), recently described what it was like to live through the Refugio Beach oil spill five years ago:

"You can't completely clean up an offshore oil spill. The oil sinks into the marine environment, damaging fragile underwater ecosystems, killing or contaminating fish and smaller organisms that are essential links in the food chain, including the food we eat. The environmental damage can last for decades. More than 300 dolphins, seals, sea lions, pelicans, and other birds and animals washed up dead. Many others were found alive and suffering. Oil clogs the blowholes of whales and dolphins, affecting their ability to breathe and communicate. It coats the fur of seals and birds, impairing their ability to float, fly, and regulate temperatures. They die of hypothermia or toxicity or starvation. They go blind or develop birth defects or tumors."

Ms. Davis also described what it was like to live through the 2018 Holiday Fire, turbocharged by global warming, while Exxon pressed for approval of more oil projects that will lead to more oil spills and worsening climate change. (A recent scientific study confirmed that every barrel of California oil left in the ground will result in a net decrease of about half a barrel of oil consumption globally.)

Exxon's offshore platforms and Goleta processing facilities—major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions on the Central Coast—shut down when the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured onto Refugio State Beach in 2015 and have not reopened. Now, Exxon—in the midst of a pandemic and an oil glut—is seeking a permit to allow up to 70 oil tankers a day to truck oil from its Goleta facility to Santa Maria, and then across the Twitchell Reservoir and the length of the Santa Maria watershed to the San Joaquin Valley on Highway 166, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

From the resumption of offshore drilling to a spike in regional greenhouse gas emissions to impacts on a coastal watershed and the danger to drivers on our highways, there is nothing good awaiting the residents of San Luis Obispo County in this unnecessary project.

For Santa Barbara County, a touted $2 million increase in property tax payments to the county general fund resulting from the restart of offshore drilling amounts to 0.2 percent—one-fifth of 1 percent—of the county's $950 million annual budget. It cost $257 million to clean up the 2015 Refugio spill.

In response to proposals by the Trump administration to dramatically expand drilling off the California coast for the first time in more than 30 years while simultaneously rolling back protections that prevent catastrophic oil spills, more than 80 West Coast communities have formally voiced their opposition to offshore drilling. More than 1 million Americans have submitted comments to the administration demanding that we keep offshore oil in the ground and not prioritize the profits of the fossil fuel industry over the interests of our communities and the health of our oceans.

The cities of San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Goleta, and Santa Barbara, as well as UAW2865, Environmental Justice Alliance, Sweetwater Collaborative, Mercury Press International, Quail Springs Permaculture, Sunburst Sanctuary, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, and the Cuyama Valley Community Association have let the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors know that they oppose Santa Barbara County Planning Commission Project Case No. 17RVP-00000-00081, an application to truck offshore oil along Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Kern county highways.

Review of the environmental impact report by Santa Barbara County was scheduled to commence in September. County planning staff have recommended a slightly reduced version of the project—one that would involve truck transport only to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria facility, not the trip across Highway 166. The recommendation does nothing to address the impacts of the revival of the offshore platforms and the restart of the biggest carbon-emitting facility in the region. It does nothing about the fact that burning the 4 million barrels of oil intended to be trucked every year would result in more than 1.7 million metric tons of carbon pollution, equivalent to burning nearly 2 billion pounds of coal.

That Planning Commission meeting is now looking iffy. On Aug. 13, Phillips 66 notified SLO County that it will be shutting down the Santa Maria refinery in 2023 and converting to renewable fuels. It also withdrew an application for the replacement and relocation of the local portion of the pipeline between its Santa Maria facility and its refinery in the Bay Area, which will also be closing.

Phillips 66's announcement is a reminder that the era of oil is coming to an end. For communities, public health, and the climate, it's time to terminate oil drilling off the coast of California and ensure a just transition for workers. ExxonMobil should follow Phillips 66's lead and withdraw its dangerous offshore drilling and oil trucking project. #ExxonBeGone. Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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