During work to plug the wells at Pier 421 at Haskell’s Beach on Tueesday afternoon, the oil crew noticed an estimated 80 to 125 gallons of crude oil in the water nearby, the Unified Command reported on Thursday. The wells at the pier are part of the decommissioning of the Venoco oil facilities that the State Lands Commission began after Venoco went bankrupt in 2017. The crew was with a third party contractor, Krummrich Engineering, that ExxonMobil had employed to plug the wells, State Lands spokesperson Sheri Pemberton stated.
Pemberton confirmed two to three barrels of oil leaked from “unexpected pressure encountered during the abandonment effort.” Pressure in the wells had been an issue Venoco raised when attempting to revive the wells in 2013 — what is called “Pier 421” is actually two wells at the tip of two piers off Sandpiper Golf Club. Pemberton said it appeared to be a onetime release and no further oil had appeared. The cause of the leak is still under investigation.
The oil was moving east, with cleanup ongoing by contractors. No sheen was reported on the waters that would indicate further spillage, whether from an active seep or the Pier 421 spill. To the east of the spill is the snowy plover nesting site near UCSB — a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act — though no impacts have been reported. The Oiled Wildlife Care Network was alerted and has found three birds so far in the area of Haskell’s Beach near the Bacara resort.
The Unified Command consists of U.S. Coast Guard, City of Goleta, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response, California State Lands Commission, and Santa Barbara County Fire.
Oiled birds can be reported to (877) 823-6926, but Unfied Command asked the public to refrain from rescuing the birds. The group’s press release also stated volunteers were not needed.
[UPDATE: May 31, 2019] Unified Command stated 10 oiled birds had been found as of 11 p.m. on May 30. Oily debris, kelp, and sand to the east of Pier 421 were being cleaned up by contractor crews. The Oiled Wildlife Care Network would work the shoreline for further damage to wildlife on Friday. The beach remains open.
This story was updated to correct the spill date from Wednesday to Tuesday, and to add information. Also, ExxonMobil has been hired by State Lands Commission to decommission Pier 421. Beacon West Energy Group is keeping the facilities functional until they are shut down.