Saturday, November 15, 2008
(Photo: Moro Cojo Slough, with the Moss Landing power plant towers in the distance, used with permission. Original source. © 2008 by Miles Daniels.)
The gentle Moro Cojo Slough in Moss Landing is owned by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation now, but four decades ago it was marked as the site of a giant oil refinery by Humble Oil Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil, ancestor of ExxonMobil. The company bought 455 acres of property at the slough in 1965 to build a $70 million refinery to process 50,000 gallons of crude oil a day. Another 5 acres of beach property was to be the terminus of a pipeline moving crude onshore from big tankers anchored in Monterey Bay. The plan outraged some Monterey Peninsula residents, who argued that oil spills and smog would destroy the bay, ruin the tourist industry, and bring an end to agriculture in the Salinas Valley. Humble countered that there would be "no significant air pollution," and that the industry would help the county tax base and help fund public schools. The opponents, in just six days, got 12,000 signatures asking the county to reject the refinery application.
A number of retired industrialists, conservationists, and politicians led the fight against Humble Oil Company's plan to build a refinery at Moss Landing. Carmel photographer Ansel Adams and even former Governor Goodwin Knight joined the fray, with Knight warning: "Humble Oil will kill you. Don't let them." A fourth of Monterey County residents signed petitions against it, the Salinas Valley agriculture community was split, and county planners opposed it. But the county's Board of Supervisors, after a 17-hour hearing in December 1965, voted 3-2 in favor of the refinery, deciding the county could regulate air pollution. Courts upheld the approval, but directors and shareholders of parent Standard Oil got an earful at the annual shareholders meeting. In August 1966, Humble dropped the plan and announced that instead it would build a larger refinery in a more welcoming Benicia. Humble said opposition on the Monterey Peninsula was a factor, but engineering and soil tests at Moss Landing were more decisive.