Goleta has long sought to rid itself of the oil facilities on its western border, and Venoco’s bankruptcy, said by many to be a byproduct of the Refugio Oil Spill, puts blue sky on the horizon. In addition to official acceptance of a plan to transfer responsibility for the Ellwood field to the State Lands Commission, the two best things about Tuesday’s hearing to decommission Platform Holly were the clear explanations by Goleta city planner Anne Wells and apt illustrations of the facilities involved.
Line 96 had carried the oil coming ashore from Platform Holly up the coast to Las Flores canyon, Wells outlined, and thence through Plains All American’s pipeline 901 — which split in May 2015 and caused 142,000 barrels of oil to spill into the Pacific — and then on to market. Post–oil spill, the platforms went idle as did the two wells at Pier 421 in the intertidal zone below Sandpiper golf course. Risks can balloon if idle oil facilities are not properly managed, Wells explained, and Venoco’s bankruptcy in April 2017 meant Platform Holly became the state’s responsibility, as did Pier 421, whose wells were described as “active but idle.”
ExxonMobil, from which Venoco bought the Ellwood oil field leases, is prepping the sites to plug the 32 wells and abandon the facilities. Without a working Plains pipeline, trucks must be used to move the produced oil and other debris from the facilities. Beacon West Energy Group is the contractor keeping the platform and the Ellwood Onshore Facility operational. It is doing the same for platforms Grace and Gail for Chevron, according to its website, and the onshore facility in Carpinteria, which are also being decommissioned.
All the prep work for Ellwood thus far has been done with the collaboration of city planning and State Lands. And though it sounds like the city is giving a lot away in handing over regulatory control of the EOF, “We’re getting a lot back,” said Wells. State Lands will be doing the work the city has been doing and assuming the liability. Wells said she’s been impressed with their openness in engaging with the public to the point of giving out their cell phone numbers.
Mayor Paula Perotte, saying she’d been trying to think of pros and cons for the transfer, asked City Attorney Michael Jenkins to weigh in. He answered that any concerns that the city was giving up some regulatory control was illusory. The state was not like a private company, and the city really had no power over the sovereign state. The trucking was the principal downside he saw, but again, there’s was no other option if the facilities were going to be decommissioned, he said. And either party could end the deal, he added, if things changed.
Jenkins said that Venoco’s bankruptcy estate was asking millions for the Ellwood Onshore Facility, but so far no buyer had stepped forward. The state was battling for ownership, he said. Wells thought it would be concluded over the next few weeks. After that, State Lands would return for another town hall meeting with city residents to discuss next steps. The area has been zoned recreational since 1991 when the county, before Goleta incorporated as a city, changed it from industrial, the city staff report states.
Since Venoco’s bankruptcy and abandonment of the Ellwood Onshore Facility, the city has spent staff time and $350,000 from its general fund on contractors and consultants to monitor, oversee, and conduct safety inspections at the EOF, according to the staff report. The Memorandum of Understanding with State Lands is expected to save the city about $150,000.
Plugging the Platform Holly wells is expected to begin around March 2019, the first of the facilities to go offline.