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Venoco Proposes Ditching Ellwood Barge for New Pipeline

Switch Poses Pros, Cons to Company, City of Goleta, Environment


Offshore barging operations at Ellwood Beach may soon cease, following a proposal Venoco Inc. made earlier this week for a new 8.5-mile subterranean oil transport pipeline.

Submitted to Santa Barbara County and Goleta City officials this past Wednesday, the tube would allow Ellwood Pipeline Inc. - a subsidiary of Venoco Inc. - to purge its offshore barging operation and onshore marine terminal at Ellwood by 2010, according to Venoco representatives. The new underground pipeline would connect to the existing Plains All-American Pipeline near Las Flores Canyon and would be equipped with advanced control valves and a leak detection system.

Venoco’s current Ellwood oil facility consists of an ocean platform, Platform Holly, which sends gas and oil to shore in a pipeline to the Ellwood Onshore Facility (EOF) between the Sandpiper Golf Course and Bacara Resort & Spa. After processing, the oil then travels via another pipeline along Hollister Avenue to Pacific Oaks Road on route to the Ellwood Marine Terminal, where two storage tanks are fixed on the UCSB mesa.

The proposed pipeline route - which begins at Platform Holly - would travel under Highway 101 and then west along the north side of the freeway. The planned route would put an end to the biweekly transportation of the oil by the single hulled barge, Jovalon, which loads some 65,000 barrels of oil from the Ellwood Marine terminal and hauls it off to either Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Goleta City councilmember Margaret Connell said the plan, though attractive in that it proposes removing all coastal oil operations from Goleta proper, is not without its flaws. “The good thing about it is that it means the Ellwood marine terminal on the [UCSB] mesa would go away sooner and the barging of oil would soon cease,” Connell said. “That would be excellent: We have a lot of complaints on the barging of oil. On the downside, this could very likely mean the Ellwood onshore facility could be there for a long, long time.”

In service since the late 1920s, the Ellwood Marine Terminal first transported oil from the Ellwood field from a number of piers along the coastline. According to Steve Greig, agent for the Ellwood Pipeline, the new system would allow for the removal of the marine terminal and barging operation, thus ending more than 80 years of operations adjacent to the Devereux Slough, the Coal Oil Point Reserve, and the Ellwood Mesa City Park. “We know the community is as anxious as we are to see this pipeline in place,” Greig said, in a prepared statement. “Transporting oil by pipeline is consistent with the city and county policies. UCSB will enjoy the new open space and visitors to the Ellwood Mesa won’t see the barge visiting every 11 days.”

Still hanging in the balance are Venoco’s plans to slant drill from Platform Holly into an oil field east of the current oil field. Connell said although the plans to end barging were once contingent upon the allotment of the new drilling expanse, Venoco Inc. announced that it will move forward to end barging before a decision is reached. “It’s an interesting thing, Venoco making this move,” Connell said. “Up into this point they’d say we’d make the pipeline if we get the slant drilling, so now they are going to do it without it.”

From the Goleta standpoint, Connell said that if Venoco is permitted to build its own pipeline, they could potentially have their own oil processing outfit outside of the Los Flores Canyon facilities. “Our goal as a city is to remove all industrial oil operations from our coastal areas,” Connell said. “There are a lot of issues about this extended field drilling. There is an environmental impact report on the slant drilling, which we don’t have it. The environmental preferred alternative is to have a pipeline go offshore and have the oil go there.”

Benjamin Gottlieb is an Independent intern.

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