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ExxonMobil temporarily halts oil production off Santa Barbara after oil spill

ExxonMobil has shut down oil production at its three platforms off the Santa Barbara County coast a month after a corroded pipeline owned by Texas company Plains All American Pipeline burst, effectively cutting off the flow of Exxon’s crude. 

The oil giant halted operations at the Heritage, Harmony and Hondo offshore platforms late last week after it exhausted storage space at an onshore facility near El Capitan State Beach, company spokesman Richard Keil said Tuesday. 

The company had hoped to avoid a shutdown by using a fleet of 6,720-gallon trucks to make as many as 192 daily trips on U.S. 101 to ship the oil to nearby refineries. 

A Santa Barbara County official rejected that "emergency" proposal for an expedited trucking permit this month. 

Prior to the shutdown, Exxon had slowed daily production by nearly two-thirds and began storing oil in large tanks after the May 19 rupture spilled up to 101,000 gallons of crude oil along the Gaviota coast.

"They are all filled up right now," said Kevin Drude, the head of the county's energy division.

The company is still considering its next steps during the temporary shutdown, Keil said.

Exxon could apply for a non-emergency trucking permit and go through a several-months-long environmental review, county officials said.   

The May 19 spill has forced the closure of four other offshore platforms. 

Venoco Inc.'s platform Holly near Goleta shut down just days after the  spill.

Three platforms owned by petroleum company Freeport-McMoRan near Point Conception have been shut down for weeks, Drude said.

Freeport-McMoRan's Platform Irene off Point Pedernales near Vandenberg Air Force Base uses a different pipeline and is still producing oil. 

Line 901, the ruptured section of pipe, transports oil from Las Flores to a pump station in Gaviota, where it meets Line 903. From there, the crude oil travels 128 miles to Kern County.

The lines' owner, Plains All American Pipeline, shut down both pipelines after the spill.

As much as 21,000 gallons of oil spilled into the ocean and state officials said Monday that tarballs from the spill had reached as far as Manhattan Beach. 

The broken pipeline was extensively corroded, according to federal regulators.

The section of pipe that broke had worn down to 1/16 of an inch, and investigators found a 6-inch crack along the bottom of the pipe, according to preliminary findings from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Since the spill, 103 dead mammals and 192 dead birds have been collected from the spill, according to response officials. 

Twitter: @jpanzar 

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