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Exxon Subsidiary Ends Santa Barbara Oil Pipeline Replacement Project
The company cited federal environmental reviews and the “high degree of local permitting and business uncertainty” as factors in its decision.
Exxon’s subsidiary withdrew its application to build a new crude oil pipeline through Santa Barbara County to replace the pipeline that has been shut down since the Refugio Oil Spill in 2015. Pacific Pipeline Company will instead turn to restarting the pipelines from offshore platforms to out-of-county refineries that it purchased from Plains All American in October 2022. The oil pipeline is part of Exxon’s plan to restart offshore oil production in the region. The restart of the pipeline will likely face legal challenges.
The company’s withdrawal letter to the county states that it found “the potential environmental impacts associated with the major construction of a second pipeline unnecessary and avoidable.” It noted that federal environmental reviews “indicated that restart of the existing pipeline is likely the Least Environmentally Damaging Practical Alternative (LEDPA) under the Federal Clean Water Act.” The company also noted the “high degree of local permitting and business uncertainty created by recent actions that has impacted investment commitment as well as timing assurances to customers.”
Environmentalists aim to keep the offshore rigs shut down and cite both climate change and pipeline safety in opposition to either building a new pipeline or restarting the existing one. Maggie Hall, Deputy Chief Counsel at the Environmental Defense Center, which has been a party to legal challenges against Exxon’s activities in the region, said, at “this stage of the climate crisis, building new oil infrastructure is reckless, to say the least. However, restarting a corroded and compromised pipeline that already caused one massive oil spill is even worse. There is no way for the pipeline owners to credibly claim it will be safe. If this pipeline is allowed to restart, it’s not a question of if, but when it will be responsible for another catastrophe.”
The pipeline from offshore platforms to out-of-county refineries has been shut down since the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill. Plains All American filed the replacement pipeline application in 2017, and it has been under environmental review since then.
The lack of pipeline transportation for the oil has prevented Exxon from restarting offshore production, processing, and transportation in the company’s Santa Ynez Unit. Exxon has proposed to truck the oil out of the region, but the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors denied its request. In an initial legal victory for the County, in September, a U.S. judge denied ExxonMobil’s request for summary judgement to reverse the decision. (Exxon Denied Summary Judgement in Santa Barbara Trucking Permit Case.)
Replacement Project Details
The Line 901/903 Replacement Project would generally follow the existing route of Line 901 and Line 903 with a change around Buellton. The project would have replaced the existing 24-inch-diameter and 30-inch-diameter Lines 901 and 903 pipeline system with a 12-, 14- and 16-inch-diameter uninsulated steel pipeline. The first replacement pipeline would have included two sections: a 12-inch-diameter, approximately 10.6-mile-long pipeline extending from the Las Flores Canyon Pump Station to the Gaviota Pump Station; and a 16-inch-diameter, approximately 38.4-mile-long pipeline extending from the Gaviota Pump Station to the Sisquoc Pump Station in Santa Barbara County.
The second replacement pipeline would have included a 14-inch-diameter, approximately 74-mile-long pipeline extending from the Sisquoc Pump Station in Santa Barbara County to the Pentland Delivery Point in Kern County. The project would also have included construction and operation of a new 3.8-mile-long natural gas pipeline between an existing Southern California Gas Company pipeline near Garey and the Sisquoc Pump Station.