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Judge Won’t Block Oil Tanker Hearing

A federal judge on Wednesday refused to stop a public hearing on whether Exxon Corp. can transport locally produced oil via ocean-going tankers that pass by the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to reach refineries in Los Angeles.

Saying he did not want to disrupt the administrative process, U.S. District Judge J. Spencer Letts denied Exxon’s request for a temporary restraining order against Santa Barbara County, which is considering tighter restrictions.

The decision opens the way for the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to hold a public hearing this morning on a proposed new rule to clarify Exxon’s ability to use tankers for oil from the Santa Barbara Channel.

Exxon now pumps 100,000 barrels a day from three platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara. Honoring an agreement with local officials, the Houston-based company brings that oil onshore via pipelines to its processing facility near El Capitan State Park north of Goleta.

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The oil company also uses a network of pipelines to carry the oil to the San Francisco Bay Area refineries. But Exxon has shipped a portion of that oil back down the coast, using tankers that run from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Santa Barbara officials believe those tanker runs violate restrictions in Exxon’s local permit, which was designed to protect the local coastline from the risk of oil spills.

Exxon disputes that claim and so county planners have proposed a tighter rule on tankers.

Studies show that pipelines are environmentally much safer than ocean tankers. And, Santa Barbara officials want to avoid an environmental catastrophe such as the massive oil spill that sullied Santa Barbara and Ventura county beaches after the blowout of an offshore platform in 1969.

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The hearing is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. at 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara, said county planner Pamela Gross. “There is a lot of interest in this.”


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