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Lawsuit Challenges Rubber-Stamped Extensions for California Offshore Oil Leases

by Center for Biological Diversity
Agencies Ignored Harms From Aging Infrastructure, Spill Risk
Agencies Ignored Harms From Aging Infrastructure, Spill Risk
LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity and Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation sued the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement today for unlawfully renewing several offshore oil and gas leases in the Santa Barbara Channel.

For more than nine years, the extended leases have allowed ExxonMobil to keep its 16 leases in the Santa Ynez Unit, despite shuttered production since a massive May 2015 oil spill. The spill was caused by a rupture in a corroded coastal pipeline that transported Exxon’s oil, releasing what is believed to be about 500,000 gallons of oil near Refugio State Beach. The oil killed hundreds of birds and marine mammals, including dolphins and sea lions.

“I can’t think of a single good reason to renew a lease for aging oil equipment that threatens our coasts, and federal officials sure haven’t given us one,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The federal agencies tasked with safeguarding our public waters are required to look at risks and consider public health and the environment. 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.”

Without these extensions, each of the leases would have expired and Exxon would have been required to stop its oil and gas operations, permanently plug its wells, and decommission its other infrastructure in the Santa Barbara Channel. Extending these leases prolongs drilling off California and allows aging oil and gas infrastructure to remain, increasing the risks of oil spills and other accidents.

“We need to see the end of fossil fuel extraction and development in the outer continental shelf,” stated Mati Waiya, executive director for the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “These practices continue to cause irreparable damage to marine ecosystems and fisheries essential to Chumash lifeways. Our villages and cultural sites are threatened by increasingly frequent environmental disasters, extreme weather events, and sea level rise. Too long have the Indigenous Peoples of California had their culture and lifeways threatened by the aggressively colonialist fossil fuels industry. It is long past time to abandon offshore oil extraction in California.”

Today’s lawsuit asserts that in extending the leases, Interior and BSEE failed to comply with the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. The agencies did not conduct a required environmental review, ignoring numerous harms from offshore oil and gas activity. They also failed to properly determine that the lease extensions are “in the National interest,” neglecting to address the climate crisis, public health and environmental justice issues, endangered species recovery, and other environmental protection concerns.

The suit asks the court to vacate the latest lease extensions for the Santa Ynez Unit and prohibit BSEE from issuing any future lease extensions for the infrastructure unless and until the agency complies with the law.

The Center and Wishtoyo filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California — Western Division.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Founded in 1997, the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit grassroots organization that enhances the well being of communities by preserving and protecting Chumash Native American culture, and the natural resources all people depend upon throughout California and the traditional Chumash range in Ventura, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. To learn more about Wishtoyo visit us at
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