June 29, the siren at the Ellwood Beach Venoco crude oil processing plant will undergo annual testing by the County Office of Emergency Services (OES). The siren is omni-directional and blasts to the edges of the hazard footprint area — or mandatory coverage area which is marked by signs — for one minute to make sure that if there is an accident at the plant, people can be evacuated or find shelter until the hazard has dissipated.
The moratorium on new, offshore drilling does not affect old projects. The platforms off the Santa Barbara Coast are still active.
The Venoco siren has never been activated by a catastrophe, but Santa Barbara County is particularly rigorous in enforcing oversight of operator land use permit conditions. Unlike most counties, Santa Barbara County has a System Safety and Reliability Review Committee (SSRRC), which was appointed by the County Board of Supervisors. The Review Committee’s purpose is to identify and require correction of possible design and operational hazards prior to construction, startup, and modifications. The goal of the SSRRC review is to substantially reduce the risks of project-related hazards that may result in loss of life and/or injury and damage to property and/or the natural environment.
The emergency siren was issued approval for installation in 2001. Venoco tests the siren monthly, and the County Office of Emergency Services checks it once a year to make sure that the sound pervades the hazardous footprint, which is roughly 0.6 miles from the plant.
Fortunately, an accident has not yet occurred. Though the Venoco facility is not an oil refinery, the BP oil spill, and the spill from 40 years ago, attests to the devastation that can come from careless action, especially when such volatile substances are being handled. If there were an catastrophe at the plant, hydrogen sulfide would be emitted into the air. It is colorless, flammable, and extremely toxic.
The protocol one should follow is posted on the City of Goleta Web site, on the calendar of June in the upcoming events. If one is parked, one should not turn on the car ignition, but should turn on the radio and listen for further instructions and try to keep the outside air from getting in the vehicle by closing windows and shutting off air conditioning. If one is driving, one should drive out of the area at a safe speed. If one is in one’s home, one should stay there until the siren stops. Under no condition should an individual approach the area if the siren is blaring.