Venoco Inc.’s proposal to restart oil production off of the Ellwood coast near Sandpiper Golf Club returns for yet another review next Monday, when the State Lands Commission comes to Goleta City Hall to accept public comments on the updated environmental impact report.
The commission was set to vote in April on whether to allow the Carpinteria-based oil company to carry forth with the project, which may reduce potentially dangerous pressure some believe is building in the historic oil field, would not involve fracking, and would result in the removal of one of the two existing piers. But the commissioners heeded the concerns of the City of Goleta and a coalition of environmental groups, instead requesting that State Lands staff further study the issue of repressurization while also analyzing the alternative of processing the oil at a Las Flores Canyon facility up the coast rather than at the nearby Ellwood Onshore Facility (EOF). Venoco and State Lands both believe the company has a vested right to process the oil.
Though the repressurization remains a big unknown until the well is actually opened again, Goleta City Attorney Tim Giles is happier with the new EIR. “Our hope and our expectation, now that they have the alternative of processing at Las Flores Canyon, is that the commission will take a more serious look at that,” said Giles, explaining that the city’s desire is to one day shut down the EOF — which is zoned as a nonconforming use, destined for recreational purposes — and not increase the amount of oil being processed there. “Processing at Las Flores is more consistent and appropriate with our long-term vision.” In fact, back in the late 1990s, Santa Barbara County voters approved Las Flores as the only spot for future oil processing on the South Coast, though the Revised PRC 421 Recommissioning Project, as it’s known, is not expected to actually extend the life or exceed the allowed capacity of the EOF.
Since the piers and oil field are in state waters, the commission retains the final decision on whether to allow the project to proceed, but the City of Goleta and Coastal Commission do have some leverage on issuing pipeline permits and other minor matters. However, if State Lands approves and the city blocks a pipeline, Venoco would likely have the option of resuming oil production on the pier itself.