In January, the Trump administration unveiled a proposal designed to encourage offshore oil drilling around the country. In June, the California legislature in opposition approved measures prohibiting the State Lands Commission, which oversees offshore oil production for the state, from approving any new offshore platforms, piers, or drilling proposals.
The bill to shutdown new offshore oil production will be signed into law in August, officials agree, which will remove any lingering possibility that production might resume on Platform Holly, off the Santa Barbara Coast, or at Rincon Island, a two-acre artificial island standing off the Ventura County coast. Both installations have been shut down in recent years.
“It is of utmost importance that oil wells, gas wells, and oil production facilities that are no longer in use, be safely plugged and abandoned in order to protect the environment and communities around them from dangerous accidental releases,” said Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara). She and State Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson, also of Santa Barbara, both backed the $108.5 millon authorization to plug and officially abandon the oil wells.
Platform Holly shut down production after the massive Refugio Oil Spill put an estimated 140,000 barrels of oil into ocean near Santa Barbara beaches in April of 2015. The oil company that operated Holly, Venoco, was not responsible for the rupture of the pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline, but after losing its ability to transport oil from the dozens of wells on the platform to the land, was forced to declare bankruptcy two years later, in May 2017.
For Anne Wells, a planner for the City of Goleta — which oversees the company’s Ellwood Onshore Facility near Haskell Beach — the shutdown was due to business, not politics. “These aging facilities have outlived their profit-bearing life-cycle,” Wells said. She said the shutdown work will take place in two stages, the “plugging and abandonment” of the 30 oil wells on the platform, followed by the decommissioning of the platform itself.
Rincon Island, a two-acre artificial island near La Conchita, has been inactive since a storm damaged a pier to the island in 2007. State inspections since then have found frozen valves, a lack of gauges, rusted tanks and a build-up of pressure in two oil wells on the island.
“The situation “on the ground” at Rincon Island became sufficiently dire toward the end of 2015,” said Teresa Schilling, spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation. “As a result, formal enforcement and remedial actions by both the Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and State Lands [Commission] staff were taken in 2016.”
While crews bled the pressure off the two wells, the corporate owners Rincon Island Limited Partnership filed for bankruptcy and quitclaimed back to the state the oil production island, leaving California responsible for what Schilling described as a “very expensive and complex decommissioning process at taxpayer expense.”
The cost of plugging and abandoning the oil wells on Rincon Island is expected to be about $50 million, and the cost for Platform Holly is expected to be $58 million. Previous lease holders, including ARCO, are expected to pay the state a total of $17.65 million towards the plugging of the wells on Rincon Island and the removal of the causeway. For Platform Holly the state will recoup $22 million in total from past owners Venoco and ExxonMobil, according to attorney Linda Krop, who works for the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara.
“I think it’s great that the platform is being shut down, and I think it’s important the community remain involved in the decommissioning process,” Krop said. “Although I believe this is the first time the State Lands Commission has implemented one of these decommissioning projects, we have been impressed by the competence of the people they have hired and by their community outreach throughout this process.”