State Lands Approves Ellwood Oil Well

Vote Sets Stage for Battle — or Collaboration? — Between Venoco and City of Goleta

Venoco Oil Piers
Paul Wellman

Despite the City of Goleta’s move on Tuesday night toward a possible shut down of Venoco’s Ellwood Onshore Facility (EOF), the State Lands Commission on Wednesday essentially approved the reopening of an old well off Haskell’s Beach and directed the resulting oil be processed at the EOF. The well is accessed through one of the two piers that extend from the bluffs below Sandpiper Golf Club, and has not been operational since it was turned off due to a leak in 1994 when Mobil owned it.

The unanimous vote in favor of the associated environmental report, which comes nearly two years since the project was first proposed, came after a presentation explained that repressurization of the well was likely — and possibly dangerous, that moving the oil up the coast for processing at Las Flores Canyon would be more environmentally damaging, and that the additional oil would only amount to about 2 percent of what’s processed daily at the EOF, which mainly handles Platform Holly oil and gas. Additionally, the PRC 421 Recommissioning Project, as it’s known, would last for about 20 years while Venoco expects Platform Holly to pump for another 40-plus, so the new flow would not extend the life of the facility.

The City of Goleta and Santa Barbara environmentalists argued against many of those claims, and they pointed to a number of errors in the environmental report that State Lands staff prepared. Attorney Alison Krumbein of the Sohagi Law Group, which the city retained for this matter, referred to numerous points of “deferred analysis and deferred mitigation” that she said “permeates the project.” Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte said those “critical errors” — including as miscalculation of backup capacity — were a “cause to pause,” and she added that processing the oil at the EOF is a “step backwards. On Tuesday night, she and councilmembers Jim Farr and Michael Bennett voted instead to call a hearing in March 2015 to determine whether the EOF, which was deemed a nonconforming use in 1991, be shut down for good; councilmembers Roger Aceves and Tony Vallejo voted against that idea.

All that said, the vote by the State Lands Commission, which believes Venoco has a vested right to the oil field, was not unexpected. City Attorney Tim Giles was already weighing options Wednesday afternoon, explaining that the city could sue over the environmental report, or it could wait for Venoco to submit applications for the remaining permits needed from the city to move the project along. But a third option is most hopeful. “Last night Ian Livett said Venoco is willing to discuss a path forward that would lead to termination of the EOF,” said Giles. “If they are willing to engage the discussion … there’s productive dialogue to be had.”

After the vote on Wednesday, Livett, a vice president at Venoco, was thinking similarly. He said Venoco was “pleased” with the State Lands vote and “disappointed” with the city’s moves on Tuesday, but he said the company is still willing to try and work things out. “Venoco is open to discussions with the city to see if we could find some sort of way through this situation that would be of benefit to all parties,” said Livett. “We absolutely would like to sit down with the city.”


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