Interior faces lawsuit over Exxon’s California offshore leases

By Shelby Webb | 07/01/2024 06:43 AM EDT

Tribal and environmental groups say leases off the Santa Barbara coast increase the risk of another oil spill.

The red sign on a white background of an Exxon service station sign in Nashville, Tennessee.

An Exxon service station sign in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2017. Mark Humphrey/AP

Two nonprofits sued the Biden administration last week over its renewal of 16 leases off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, even though oil production in the area has been shut down since a 2015 oil spill.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation alleged the decision by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to renew the Exxon Mobil leases risk another oil spill and other environmental damage.

“The federal agencies tasked with safeguarding our public waters are required to look at risks and consider public health and the environment,” Kristen Monsell, oceans program litigation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But Interior hasn’t done that here, letting these rusty platforms and pipelines stay in the water year after year, upping the chance of another disaster. It’s time to end offshore drilling in California once and for all.”


The May 2015 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel led to the deaths of more than 260 animals, including at least 64 sea lions, 13 dolphins and at least 179 birds. About 105,000 barrels of crude were spilled due to a corroded on-land pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline that fed into Exxon infrastructure. About 21,000 gallons of that crude went into the Pacific Ocean, according to estimates at the time.