Late last week, a sizable barge anchored itself about a half-mile east of Refugio State Beach, just a few hundred yards offshore. Speculation among Santa Barbara residents and Highway 101 commuters with a view of the ocean was that it had something to do with the cleanup of the May 19 oil spill up the coast. But officials with the oft-opaque Joint Information Center that manages all spill-related information said the boat wasn’t theirs. They couldn’t say who it belonged to or what it was doing.
It turns out, the 375-foot barge — the Cable Enterprise out of the United Kingdom — is actually replacing power cables that connect ExxonMobil’s three drilling platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel to the Las Flores Canyon Processing Facility on the coast. “The project is to ensure the continued reliability of the power supply to our facilities,” said Exxon spokesperson David Eglinton.
The new cables are being laid along the ocean floor within “existing corridors,” and new equipment is being installed on the platforms, as well. The work is expected to be completed by the end of September and had been scheduled for some time, Eglinton said. County records show a Coastal Development Permit for the work was approved in October 2014.
Exxon shut down oil production at platforms Hondo, Harmony, and Heritage after a corroded onshore pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline burst and effectively killed crude transportation along this stretch of the Santa Barbara coast. ExxonMobil is preparing their facilities for a long-term shutdown of six months or more, according to the county’s Planning and Development division website.