Santa Barbara, California— Santa Barbara County is legally required to reject Exxon’s dangerous new plan to use a massive fleet of oil trucks to transport a million gallons of crude a day though coastal communities, the Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch warned today.
In a letter to county officials, the groups explained they’ll likely take legal action if Exxon is allowed to use 192 oil truck trips a day to carry oil previously transported by the ruptured pipeline that caused the Santa Barbara oil spill. “These ultra-hazardous trucks do not belong in California’s coastal environment — they are inherently dangerous, and carry significant risk of accidents, fiery explosions, injuries, deaths and environmental destruction,” the letter states.
“Trucking a million gallons of crude oil a day down winding coastal highways is a recipe for another disaster,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney. “A ruptured pipeline just devastated Santa Barbara’s beautiful coast. An oil truck accident would add to this damage and could kill people. That’s why countyofficials have to reject this outrageously dangerous plan.”
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Exxon applied last week for an emergency permit to begin sending tanker trucks loaded with more than one million gallons of crude oil a day over a 71-mile route that includes portions of both Highway 1 and Highway 101. The proposed route goes through densely populated communities and some of the most beautiful coastal areas in the world.
“Rather than looking for increasingly unsafe ways to transport oil to protect industry profits, Santa Barbara County officials should be looking to moveSanta Barbara off oil to protect Santa Barbara residents from future disasters,” said Rebecca Claassen, Santa Barbara County organizer at Food & Water Watch. “By continuing to pump oil it has no way to transport, Exxon further endangers Santa Barbarans and our coastline. In addition to rejecting the truck permit, the county should pressure federal regulators to shut down all offshore rigs that feed into the Plains All American Pipeline.”
Today’s letter points out that Exxon’s application does not meet the legal test for emergency. “Exxon is not providing an essential public service and therefore does not qualify for an emergency permit,” the letter notes.
Tanker trucks spill hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil a year, according to a 2009 American Petroleum Institute report. These oil spills can cause fires and explosions. An Associated Press study of six states where truck traffic has increased because of increased oil and gas drilling found that fatalities in traffic accidents have more than quadrupled since 2004 in some counties.
California suffers hundreds of oil truck incidents a year, and many result in oil spills. One oil truck accident in 2000, for example, killed the driver and spilled nearly 7,000 gallons of oil, a substantial portion of which entered a river and spread to the ocean.
Oil spills near the Santa Barbara Channel threaten a wide range of federally protected endangered species, including blue whales, sea otters and leatherback sea turtles. Spilled oil persists in the environment for years and can continue harming wildlife long after cleanup teams have finished their work.
June 8, 2015
Dear Director Russell and Assistant Director Black:
On behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch, we hereby urge you to deny ExxonMobil’s Emergency Permit Application for Crude Oil Trucking (“Exxon Application”) submitted on June 4, 2015. Exxon’s proposal to put 192 tanker trucks carrying more than one million gallons of crude oil onto Santa Barbara roads every day is horrifically unsafe and absolutely outrageous. The extraordinarily high rate of accidents makes trucking the worst form of oil transport by nearly any measure. These accidents cause fires, explosions, injuries, deaths, and property destruction and spill thousands of gallons of crude oil onto roads, vegetation and into waterways. Just as trains carrying crude oil have been dubbed “bomb trains” due to the incessant string of fiery and explosive derailments, this proposal could lead to “bomb trucks” passing directly through communities and sensitive wildlife habitat.
The Plains All American Pipeline disaster dumped over 100,000 gallons into Santa Barbara County’s coastal environment, killed over 200 animals, and contaminated over 90 miles of shoreline. The environmental devastation and destruction from the spill will continue for many years to come. Exxon’s proposal would make a horrendous situation immeasurably worse by sending nearly 200 tanker trucks loaded with over one million gallons of crude oil each day over a 71-mile trucking route. This route includes portions of both Highway 1 and Highway 101 and passes through densely populated areas and some of the most beautiful coastal areas of the world.
It has been more than 25 years after Exxon’s Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, causing one of the most catastrophic and notorious oil spill disasters in history. For decades, Exxon vigorously resisted paying for the damage that it caused. If the County approves this permit application, Exxon’s tanker trucks may very well cause another such disaster in Santa Barbara County. Indeed, even Exxon’s own inadequate, outdated analysis of the risks of its oil-trucks proposal predicts that 1.5 accidents will occur in just six months. If and when another tragedy occurs, the County can expect that this company will once again do everything possible to avoid its responsibilities, leaving the people of Santa Barbara County to suffer the harm.
Exxon has applied to receive its permit for trucking on an emergency basis, asserting that if it cannot truck the oil, it will need to shut down offshoreoil and gas production and the reduction in gas production would result in loss or damage of an essential public service. This argument is absurd. Exxon is not providing an essential public service, but instead producing oil and gas for purely private profit. If Exxon delivers less gas than contemplated under its contract with SoCal Gas, the utility will simply purchase more gas from out of state sources, which currently constitute more than 90% of its supply.
For all these reasons, and as discussed further below, Santa Barbara County cannot lawfully grant the permit application. Exxon must shut down its affected offshore production since it cannot comply with the terms of its current Land Use Permit by transporting oil by pipeline. These bomb truckssimply do not belong in California’s coastal environment.
The County Must Deny The Application Because Exxon Does Not Qualify For An Emergency Permit
Santa Barbara County’s Land Use and Development Code sets forth procedures for the granting of emergency permits in order to “modify the customary procedures for permit processing and temporarily by-pass the permit requirements of [the] Development Code in the case of an emergency.”Santa Barbara Co. Development Code § 35.82.090(A). Upon receipt of the permit application, the Director of the Planning and Development Department must “verify the facts, including the existence and nature of the emergency” prior to granting the permit. Id. § 35.82.090(D).
An “emergency” is specifically defined as a “sudden unexpected occurrence demanding immediate action to prevent or mitigate loss or damage to life, health, property, or essential public services.” Id.§ 35.110.020(E). “The definition extends to efforts by a public agency or utility performing a public service to restore, repair or maintain public works, utilities or services which have been destroyed, damaged, or interrupted by natural disaster, serious accident, or in other cases of emergency.” Id.
In its application, Exxon asserts that trucking of crude oil is necessary because of the recent shut-down of the Plains All American Pipeline, which was the only permissible crude oil transportation method allowed by the SYU’s Land Use Permit from the County. Exxon Application at 1; Attachment A-4. Exxon claims the “situation constitutes an emergency because continued oil and gas production at the SYU facility is needed to maintain essential public services.”Id. The essential public service Exxon purports to be providing is the production of oil and gas at its SYU facility and subsequent delivery to the Southern California Gas Company (“So Cal Gas”) for distribution to the public. Id. However, Exxon is not providing an essential public service and therefore does not qualify for an emergency permit.
First, while the term “public service” is not defined, it is clear that Exxon is not providing a “public service” as contemplated by the Development Code. Other provisions of the Code list examples of public services as”fire protection, police protection, sewage disposal, and water supply,” id. § 35.82.060(E)(1)(d)—services that are traditionally provided by a government entity, not a private corporation. Moreover, the Code separately and repeatedly refers to “private services,” see e.g., Santa Barbara Co. Development Code, Table 2-9; Table 2-14; Table 2-15; § 35.26.020(D). This indicates that the two phrases are distinct and the emergency permit provisions intentionally omitted private services from the activities eligible for such a permit. In other words, the emergency permit provisions simply do not apply to activities conducted by private entities. And ExxonMobil does not become a public utility simply by providing one with some of its gas.
Second, even if Exxon’s activities could somehow be construed as part of a “public service” (which they cannot), Exxon still does not qualify for the emergency permit because denying the permit will not prevent So Cal Gas from continuing to deliver gas to its customers. Exxon claims that if it cannot transport crude oil by tanker truck, it will have to cease all oil and gas production activities at its SYU facility, thereby disrupting its delivery of gas to So Cal Gas—a public utility that provides gas throughout the Santa Barbara area. Exxon alleges that So Cal Gas has designed its regional supply chain of natural gas to always assume that the SYU facility contributes a minimum of 20 MMcf/day, and that the loss of this gas supply “would jeopardize So Cal Gas’ ability to successfully serve the population of the Central Coast.” Exxon Application, Attachment A-4. But Exxon offers no support for this bare conclusion, and it is belied by the reality of Santa Barbara’s energy supply.
According to the California Energy Commission’s Energy Almanac, California imports 90 percent of its natural gas supply. Of the 10 percent that is produced in California, only 1.2 percent is produced in Santa Barbara County. Consistent with this overall state trend, SoCal Gas imports the vast majority of its natural gas supply. In fact, in 2013 SoCal Gas used only 5.5 percent of gas from California sources; 94.5 percent of its gas came from out of state. These percentages fluctuate from year to year. For example, in 2010, SoCal Gas received nearly 8 percent of its gas from California sources, or 92 percent from out-of-state sources.
Nor does the MMcf/day remain constant. For example, in 2012, So Cal Gas received 148 MMcf/day from California sources; 822 MMcf/day from El Paso; and 680 MMcf/day from Transwestern. Then, in 2013, SoCal Gas received 153 MMcf/day from California sources; 1,003 MMcf/day from El Paso; and 737 MMcf/day from Transwestern. These data indicate that So Cal Gas could easily get 20 MMcf/day from other sources. And So Cal Gas is expanding its storage capacity at a facility in Goleta. These numbers reflect the reality that So Cal Gas, or any other utility, will simply buy more gas from another source to replace the gas previously provided by Exxon and if there is a need for it.
Apparently recognizing the vulnerability of its contention regarding the supply of gas, Exxon also claims an emergency exists because its property taxes could go down if it produces less oil and gas. Exxon Application, Attachment A-4. But the mere possibility that Exxon will pay less in taxes in the future does not create an emergency situation now. Indeed, under the plain terms of Santa Barbara County’s Development Code, an “emergency” only exists when “immediate action” is required “to prevent or mitigate loss,” Santa Barbara County Land Use Development Code § 35.110.020(E), and the permit application only applies to two possible scenarios—when an emergency has “occurred” or is “imminent.” Santa Barbara Emergency Permit Application at 4. Moreover, Exxon has no way of knowing how the current situation will affect the amount of property taxes it owes for 2015, or the total amount of taxes eventually collected by the County. As indicated in its application, Exxon’s property taxes are assessed on an annual basis based on several different factors; the production at the SYU is just one part of that equation. Exxon Application, Attachment A-4. And even if Exxon did wind up paying slightly less in taxes, the County could make up that lost revenue from other sources. In short, Exxon’s claim that an emergency exists because of potential lost tax revenue is nothing but speculation, and a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate the County into granting its application.
The County Must Deny The Permit Because Tanker Truck Transport Is Inherently Dangerous
The County must also deny the permit because transporting crude oil by truck is an unacceptable threat to public safety. The transport of crude oilby tanker truck is inherently dangerous, and poses a massive danger to people, wildlife and the environment because of the frequency of accidents. These accidents cause fires, explosions, injuries, deaths, and property destruction and spill thousands of gallons of crude oil onto roads, vegetation and into waterways. In fact, while tanker trucks only account for four percent of the total crude transport in the United States, the high incident and fatality rates compared with other modes of transport create a higher probability for a catastrophic event every time a tanker trunk is on the road.
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in the oil and gas industry. And because these accidents occur on highways and roads shared by the general public, they represent a significant threat to public safety. The fact that tanker trucks carry oil only exacerbates the severity of the threat. According to a 2009 report by American Petroleum Institute, tanker trucks spill an average of 9,200 barrels of oil – or 386,400 gallons –per year. These oil spills can cause fires and explosions, increasing the risk of injuries and fatalities.
A study by the Associated Press of six states where truck traffic has increased due to an increase in oil and gas drilling found that fatalities in traffic accidents have more than quadrupled since 2004 in some counties. The study found that from 2009-2013, traffic fatalities in West Virginia’s most heavily drilled counties rose 42 percent, while traffic deaths in the rest of the state declined 8 percent; in Pennsylvania, traffic fatalities in drilling counties rose by 4 percent, while they fell by 19 percent in the rest of the state; and in 21 Texas counties where drilling had recently expanded, deaths/100,000 people from traffic accidents rose an average of 18 percent, while they dropped by 20 percent for the rest of Texas.
In California alone, 1997 to 2004 there were 1,786 incidents involving oil-trucks—an average of 255 per year. These incidents included 159 overturned trucks, 132 of which involved oil spills. Some of these incidents were catastrophic. For example, in Santa Clara in 2000, a double tank oiltruck skidded across the road and into a ravine, killing the truck driver and spilling nearly 7,000 gallons into the environment. Despite clean-up efforts, a substantial portion of the heaviest concentration of oil escaped and entered the Santa Clara River and the Pacific Ocean. The spill covered over 20 miles, and caused extensive environmental damage, included destroyed vegetation and birds soaked in oil.
Exxon’s own analysis, which is based entirely on a study that is more than 20 years old and thus ignores new data (including the dramatic increase in oil-truck accidents and related spills over the last decade), reveals that an accident is inevitable. Specifically, Exxon’s risk analysis relies on a 1993 study that estimated the truck accident rate on rural freeways to be 0.55 accidents per million miles traveled. Exxon proposes to send eight trucks per hour, 24-hours a day seven-days a week for up to six months. These 192 trucks per day would travel from Exxon’s SYU facility to a refinery in Santa Maria—a distance of 71.7 miles. Exxon Application, Attachment C-2 at 2-1. In total, the trucks could log over 2,477,900 miles. Under Exxon’s analysis, this means that there will be approximately 1.5 accidents over the life of its permit.
Moreover, Exxon’s analysis severely understates the risk. For example, the analysis only used data from rural highways, and parts of Highway 101 are heavily trafficked, thereby increasing the risk of an accident. Moreover, the analysis is based on the possibility of accidents related to pool fires only, and thus ignores accidents from other sources, such as wetlines. Tanker trucks are typically loaded through bottom lines, which do not drain completely into the tank because they are at the lowest point on the container. The structurally fragile bottom lines can contain 30-50 gallons of the oil, referred to as wetlines, which can contribute to an event leading to fire and explosion. Indeed, as the federal government has found, a spill of 50 gallons can create a fire over an area of up to 5,000 square feet, and if not extinguished immediately, can result in significant loss of life, or damage to property or the environment. Even small spills can cause significant destruction—one spill from a wetline of just 13 gallons resulted in a fire that killed the driver of a passenger vehicle that had struck the wetline gear.
The substantial risks from transporting crude oil by truck will be exacerbated under Exxon’s proposal given the routes that Exxon is proposing thetrucks take. Highway 101 is extremely curvy and windy—it is dangerous under the best of conditions. Adding nearly 200 trucks carrying over a million gallons of crude oil into the mix is idea tragedy waiting to happen. Moreover, many of the trucks will travel through densely populated areas such as SantaMaria, increasing the risk of accidents, injury and property destruction in the event of a fiery spill. See Exxon Application, Attachment A-3, Table 1 (noting that the trucks would travel on Main Street in Santa Maria). The oil-trucks would also travel over county roads, the quality of which will degrade with hundreds of heavy tanker trucks traveling over it every day. This is a significant concern as many roads in Santa Barbara County are already in poor condition, increasing the risk of accidents.
Even Exxon’s inadequate, outdated analysis reveals that an accident is only a matter of time. Such accidents could result in significant death, injury, and environmental destruction. Granting the application would create unjustified and completely unacceptable risks.
The County Must Deny The Permit Because The Truck Route is Home to Numerous Species of Wildlife Threatened by Oil Spills
In addition to posing a serious threat to public safety, authorizing nearly 200 trucks to transport over a million gallons of crude oil through SantaBarbara per day would put a wide variety of wildlife at great risk. As we know all-too-well following the recent oil spill near Refugio State Beach and the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, all types of wildlife are susceptible to the deadly effects of spilled oil, including mammals, aquatic birds, fish, insects, microorganisms and vegetation. In addition, the effects of spilled oil on microorganisms, invertebrates and algae tend to move up the food chain and affect other species. Oil spilled into rivers often collects along the banks, where the oil clings to plants and grasses. The animals that ingest these contaminated plants may also be affected. Rocks found in and around flowing water serve as homes for mosses, which are an important basic element in a freshwater habitat’s food chain. Spilled oil can cover these rocks, killing the mosses and disrupting the local ecology.
The specific routes that Exxon wants its trucks to use also put several already-imperiled species at great risk from spills. The oil-truck routes pass through critical habitat for the threatened red-legged frog, endangered South-central California Coast steelhead and endangered California tiger salamander, as well as endangered plants, such as the La Graciosa thistle. These species are at high risk of contamination following an oil-truck spill. The routes pass over or near dozens of streams that are essential to the southern steelhead population, which is very susceptible to highly toxic crudeoil products. The trucks would also pass through one of the last remaining islands of critical habitat for the Santa Barbara distinct populations segment of the California tiger salamander. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 5-year review for this species specifically states that “sources of chemical pollution that may adversely affect Central California tiger salamanders include hydrocarbon and other contaminants from oil production …” and that spilled oil can “negatively affect the food chain, with effects to algae growth and less prey species available, resulting in smaller salamander larvae.” This species, and the habitat and food chain it depends on, could be decimated by an oil truck accident, which would be inevitable given the number of trucks Exxon wants to transport through the area.
And, given the proximity of Highway 101 to the Pacific Ocean in places, it is possible that an oil spill could reach the ocean yet again, further threatening sea birds, marine mammals and other marine life suffering the effects of the spill near Refugio State Beach. Whales and dolphins can be exposed to oil internally by inhaling volatile compounds at the surface, eating or swallowing oil, and consuming oil-contaminated prey, and externally by swimming in oil. The inhalation of toxic hydrocarbons can cause respiratory irritation, inflammation, emphysema, and pneumonia. If absorbed into the lungs and bloodstream, toxic hydrocarbons can accumulate in tissues like the brain and liver causing neurological disorders and organ damage, result in anemia and immune suppression, and lead to reproductive failure or death. In fact, the day after the spill in Santa Barbara, scientists released a study in which they determined that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused adrenal and lung lesions in bottlenose dolphins which led to their deaths. Oil spills also threaten sea otters—the fur of sea otters covered with thick oil negatively affect body insulation, promote hypothermia, and might ultimately cause death.
The County Should Deny The Permit Because It Will Emit Greenhouse Gases and Other Harmful Air Pollutants That Threaten The Climate And Public Health and Welfare
The County should also deny Exxon’s permit application because the project would cause an enormous volume of air pollution that makes people sick and fuels climate change.
The project threatens the health of Santa Barbara County residents living along the route to be used by these heavy-duty diesel trucks. The emissions from combusting this fuel include several noxious pollutants such as particulate matter (“PM”) and nitrous oxide, a precursor to PM. The effects associated with PM exposure are “premature mortality, increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits, and development of chronic respiratory disease.” California has identified diesel PM as a toxic air contaminant and has estimated that 70 percent of the cancer risk from the air Californians breathe is attributable to diesel PM; the Environmental Protection Agency says that diesel PM is “likely to be a carcinogen.” The increase in PM that would result from Exxon’s proposal is a significant concern as Santa Barbara County is already designated as non-attainment for state PM-10 standards.
The project will also further fuel climate change by producing a significant carbon footprint on top of the footprint of consumption of the transportedoil itself. Specifically, Exxon’s Application estimates that the operation of 192 trucks per day for up to six months would emit 7,199 metric tons of greenhouse gases, which exceeds the County’s greenhouse gas significance criteria. Exxon Application, Attachment C-2. In other words, Exxon’s proposal is inconsistent with plans, policies, and regulations related to greenhouse gas reductions and result in a significant climate change impact.
Exxon’s Application includes a few conditions it claims it will adopt to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the proposal, including reduced stationary equipment within the SYU and offshore facilities, and reduced vessel traffic between its onshore and offshore facilities. Exxon Application at Attachment C-2. However, Exxon has already reduced on-site processing and vessel traffic as the result of its reduction in production from 30,000 bbls per day to 10,000 bbls per day. Thus, these measures cannot be considered measures to mitigate the significant increase in pollution from nearly 200 heavy-duty trucks traveling through Santa Barbara County every day. The best way to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions and air quality impacts from Exxon’s proposal is to deny the application and prevent them from happening in the first place.
The County Cannot Grant the Permit Without Conducting Comprehensive Review Under The California Environmental Quality Act
Given the inevitable, yet irreversible and devastating consequences of transporting crude oil by truck, the County must deny Exxon’s Application. If, however, the County decides to move forward with approval, it must prepare a full Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), Public Resources Code § 21000, et. seq., and the CEQA Guidelines, title 14, California Code of Regulations, § 15000, et seq., prior to granting the application.
CEQA is a comprehensive statute designed to provide for the long-term protection of the environment. It seeks to accomplish this goal in two primary ways. First, CEQA is designed to inform decision-makers and the public about the potential significant environmental effects of a project. CEQA Guidelines, § 15002(a)(1). Such disclosure ensures that “long term protection of the environment . . . shall be the guiding criterion in public decisions.” Pub. Res. Code § 21001(d). Second, CEQA directs public agencies to avoid or reduce environmental damage whenever feasible by requiring changes in projects through the use of alternatives or mitigation measures. See CEQA Guidelines, § 15002(a)(2) and (3); see also Citizens of Goleta Valley v. Board of Supervisors, 52 Cal.3d 553, 564 (1990); Laurel Heights Improvement Ass’n v. Regents of the University of California, 47 Cal.3d 376, 400 (1988).
CEQA applies to all “discretionary projects proposed to be carried out or approved by public agencies.” Pub. Res. Code § 21080(a). Before taking any action, a public agency must conduct a “preliminary review” to determine whether the action is a “project” subject to CEQA. See Muzzy Ranch Co. v. Solano County Airport Land Use Comm’n, 41 Cal. 4th372, 380 (2007). A “project” is “the whole of an action” directly undertaken, supported or authorized by a public agency, “which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment.” Pub. Res. Code. §21065. “[T]he term ‘project’ refers to the underlying activity and not the government approval process.” California Unions for Reliable Energy v. Mojave Desert Air Quality Mgmt. Dist., 178 Cal. App. 4th 1225, 1241 (2009).
Where, as here, there is substantial evidence in the record to support a fair argument that the proposed project may have a significant effect on the environment, preparation of an EIR is required. Pub. Res. Code §§ 21100, 21151; CEQA Guidelines § 15064(a)(1), (f)(1); Communities for a Better Env’t v. South Coast Air Quality Mgmt. Dist., 48 Cal. 4th 310, 319 (2010). This “fair argument” test “establishes a low threshold for initial preparation of an EIR, which reflects a preference for resolving doubts in favor of environmental review.” Architectural Heritage Ass’n v. County of Monterey, 122 Cal. App. 4th 1095, 1110 (2004).
As described above, trucking over a million gallons of crude oil through Santa Barbara County every day on nearly 200 trucks would result in numerous significant environmental impacts. Accordingly, if Santa Barbara County moves forward with approving the application, it must conduct a comprehensive EIR, that discloses and analyzes those impacts, and identifies feasible mitigation measures and alternatives in order to substantially lessen or avoid these otherwise significant environmental effects. Pub. Res. Code §§ 21002, 21081(a); CEQA Guidelines, § 15126.4(a).
Exxon’s proposal to transport over one million gallons of crude oil on 192 trucks through Santa Barbara County every day must be rejected. These ultra-hazardous “bomb trucks” do not belong in California’s coastal environment—they are inherently dangerous, and carry significant risk of accidents, fiery explosions, injuries, deaths and environmental destruction. Even Exxon’s inadequate and outdated analysis of its proposal reveals that an accident is only a matter of time. The recent oil spill that dumped over 100,000 gallons of oil into California’s coastal environment and contaminated over 90 miles of shoreline has already killed over 200 animals, and the death toll keeps rising. Granting the permit would only mean further devastation and environmental destruction. Instead, Exxon must stop producing because it cannot comply with the terms of its current Land Use Permit. Approving the permit application would make a horrible situation even worse.
Should you grant the current permit application and allow the project to proceed, we will likely be forced to seek immediate judicial review and injunctive relief to protect the people and environment of Santa Barbara County. Thank you very much for your consideration of these comments.