Opinion » Rhetoric & Reason

Sloshing toward SLO

Fifty years after the Santa Barbara oil spill, guess who wants to roll those dice again?


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In 2015, a corroded Plains All American pipeline ruptured just north of Santa Barbara, disgorging 140,000 gallons of crude from three of ExxonMobil's offshore platforms. The pipeline and platforms shut down, and Plains All American, responsible for 11 California oil spills over the previous decade, was convicted of a felony and multiple misdemeanors for its negligence.

Now comes the second act. Plains All American wants another shot, and Exxon wants to bring those rigs back online, a plan that just happens to fit like a glove with the Trump administration's plans for more offshore drilling.

This requires a two-pronged assault:

First, a fleet of up to 70 oil tankers per day would bring the oil from Exxon's Las Flores Canyon processing facility up to Santa Maria, carrying half a million gallons of crude oil along 124 miles of highway, past nature reserves, marine protected areas, and state parks. Those tankers will make a right turn onto Highway 166, transporting their contents along the banks of the Cuyama River all the way to Kern County. Then they'll head back to Las Flores Canyon and fill up again, turning around less than 250 feet from the Refugio State Beach Campground and the origin point of the 2015 spill that slimed the Central Coast, and 200 feet from the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner tracks serving 3 million passengers per year.

Second, a resurrected Plains All American pipeline would be built, transiting 73 miles of Santa Barbara County and 37 miles of San Luis Obispo County, crossing three rivers, punching through habitat for threatened and endangered species as it travels up the coast and east to a new pump station on the border of the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Remember the Phillips 66 "bomb trains" project that proposed to haul tar sands crude oil virtually the length of California to the company's Nipomo refinery? It would have sailed through if nobody had spoken up, including local governments and other districts that had no permit authority over the project. That project was defeated because pretty much the entire state rose up against it.

It is therefore noteworthy that the San Luis Obispo City Council unanimously approved a resolution at its Jan. 15 meeting opposing both projects for a number of good reasons, including the carbon pollution they would bring and the fact that California can't transition to a clean energy economy by increasing and prolonging its addiction to fossil fuels.

Some of the relevant text from that resolution:

"WHEREAS, both the trucking and pipeline routes would pass through critical habitat for several species protected as threatened or endangered under the federal ESA, including red-legged frogs, California tiger salamanders, and Southern California steelhead, which are highly susceptible to toxic crude oil; and

"WHEREAS, these proposals would ensure ongoing operations of aging offshore drilling platforms into the foreseeable future, which is fundamentally inconsistent with California's legislation and executive orders focused on deep decarbonization and carbon neutrality ...

"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the City of San Luis Obispo that ...

"The City of San Luis Obispo opposes any proposal to truck offshore oil along Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Kern county highways and opposes any proposal to build coastal oil pipelines that service the aging offshore drilling platforms."

Needless to say, every other city council on the Central Coast should weigh in with similar sentiments.

Needless to say, they won't unless their citizens prevail upon them to do so.

Fortunately, all city councils take public comment on items not on the agenda, usually right at the beginning of their often lengthy meetings. You and a few friends can drop by city hall, fill out speaker slips, sit through about 10 minutes of administrative housekeeping, step up to the podium, take three minutes or less to bring the problem and the requested action to the council's attention, and be on your way. (Resolution templates and fact sheets are available from sierraclub8@gmail.com.)

If no action is forthcoming, take along a few more friends to the next meeting.

Chevron et al spent $8 million to overcome massive early support for Measure G last November and won the day, shooting down that potential bar to their exotic oil extraction plans. But Phillips 66 lavished cash on the creation of "astroturf" support for its bomb trains and lost.

Moral: You can't win 'em all, but we better win as many as we can or we'll lose everything. The assault of Big Oil is relentless. More projects like these are heading our way. Big Oil's corporate indifference to the cooking of the planet also remains a constant, with its business plan as simple as it has always been: Pull every available drop of oil out of the ground and burn it.

They want to, but that doesn't mean they will. Here we stand, and here we must say #ExxonBeGone. Δ

Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through the editor atclanham@newtimesslo.com or get your thoughts published by emailing a letter to letters@newtimesslo.com.


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