The Board should reject Exxon’s appeal and deny the Valve Upgrade Project to safeguard the County’s environment and its residents from the devastating consequences of another oil spill.

Please send a brief email to the Board of Supervisors at

Background and Overview:

Plains Lines 901 and 903 extend along the Gaviota Coast from the Los Flores Pump Station (just east of Refugio State Beach) westward to the Gaviota Pump Station, through Gaviota State Park, and northeast to the Pentland Station in San Luis Obispo.  In 2015 Line 901 ruptured, spilling an estimated 451,500 gallons of heavy crude oil into the Pacific Ocean near Refugio State Beach.  The spill impacted thousands of acres of shoreline, subtidal, and fish habitat, killing and injuring marine plants and wildlife, and forcing the closure of beaches, campgrounds, and fisheries.

The Refugio Oil Spill resulted from progressive external corrosion of the pipeline.  Moisture infiltrated the pipeline’s coating and insulation system, and the pipeline’s cathodic protection system was not effective in preventing this corrosion.  Plains was found criminally liable for the oil spill because of the extensive corrosion and failed maintenance and must pay hundreds of millions in fines, penalties, and to settle civil lawsuits. 

Lines 901 and 903 were recently purchased by Exxon (who also owns the Santa Ynez Unit offshore platforms and related assets), with pending transfer to Sable Offshore Corp.  Instead of removing and/or replacing the 30+ year-old corroded pipeline, Exxon/Sable is now seeking the County’s approval for the Valve Upgrade Project in order to resume operations as soon as possible using the existing pipeline.  The Valve Upgrade Project is the one County discretionary approval required to enable the restart of offshore oil production and resumed transport of crude oil along the Gaviota Coast, and northward through the Los Padres National Forest and other sensitive environments. 

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy appealed the Santa Barbara Zoning Administrator’s approval of the Valve Upgrade Project to the Planning Commission, and Gaviota Coast landowners whose lands are directly affected by the Project also filed appeals.  After two public hearings, the Planning Commission voted to deny the Valve Upgrade Project.  The Commission’s Findings for Denial include that the Valve Upgrade Project would be detrimental to the health, safety, comfort, convenience, and general welfare of the neighborhood and environment.  Exxon has now appealed the Planning Commission’s denial to the County Board of Supervisors, who will consider the appeal at a public hearing in Santa Maria on Tuesday, August 22nd

We encourage people to oppose this risky and damaging project, either by attending the Board of Supervisors hearing at 9AM on Tuesday 8/22 at 511 East Lakeside Parkway, Santa Maria, CA 93455 or by Zoom, and/or by emailing comments to the Board at (note, emails longer than 1 page must be submitted by noon on Friday 8/18).  Your original thoughts and concerns about the Project have the most impact.  If you need them, however, here are some suggested talking points:

  • The Valve Upgrade Project would install valves on the existing compromised pipeline to enable its resumed use, risking another oil spill with potentially disastrous consequences to the Gaviota Coast’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems, cultural resources, public recreational areas, as well as to local businesses.
  • Exxon claims a vested right to restart the existing Lines 901 and 903 at any time without further County approval, and Sable has stated its intention to resume operations in 2024. The County has no assurance that the pipeline is safe to use, or that the County could evaluate its safety prior to restart.
  • The valves are not required by state law at this time. State law (AB 864) requires that coastal pipeline operators install safety features to reduce the volume of a potential spill to protect sensitive coastal resources. Because the pipeline is nonoperational, there is no risk of a spill.
  • Use of the existing compromised pipeline would pose a very real risk of future spills and damage to sensitive coastal resources,due to the massive corrosion and weakening of the pipeline walls. Installing valves will not prevent additional spills (valves do not remedy external corrosion or prevent additional ruptures from occurring).
  • Protecting the pipeline from corrosion is critical to avoiding future ruptures and protecting the environment from future spills. Because of Line 901-903’s compromised coating system, corrosion protection is ineffective and additional thinning of the pipeline wall is inevitable. 
  • The Valve Upgrade Project includes fenced utility areas and other above-ground infrastructure within nearfield views of Highway 101, a designated State Scenic Highway, and requires excavation and construction in a biologically and culturally sensitive area. If no oil ever flows through the existing pipeline, the Valve Upgrade Project would unnecessarily damage the Gaviota Coast viewshed and sensitive coastal resources. 

In Short:

  • The Planning Commission correctly found that approval of the Valve Upgrade Project is detrimental to the health, safety, and general welfare due to the elevated risk of an oil spill with resumed use of the existing line, and that above-ground infrastructure is incompatible with the rural Gaviota Coast landscape.
  • The Board should reject Exxon’s appeal and deny the Valve Upgrade Project to safeguard the County’s environment and its residents from the devastating consequences of another oil spill.

This item is #2 on the Departmental Agenda.  The Agenda and instructions for attending the meeting by zoom can be found here:

Agenda and Instructions for Attending by Zoom

All of the documents for this item can be found here:

All Files for this matter

Thank you for considering this important message.  We appreciate your support of GCC, your deep care for the Gaviota Coast, and your participation in seeking denial of Exxon’s project.

With best regards,

Doug Kern, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Executive Director

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