A standing-room-only crowd came to hear the latest on the removal of Platform Holly’s oil wells in a Town Hall meeting by the State Lands Commission. About a hundred people attended the Thursday evening meeting, held at Goleta City Hall, with a couple dozen expressing support for the decommissioning and thanking State Lands for its updates, in particular after oil was spotted at Pier 421 in May.
Safety is a priority in the plugging and abandonment work, Goleta planner Anne Wells told the Independent after the meeting, and the caution paid off at the well at 421. “The lessons learned include go slow, take your time, take all safety precautions,” she said, because conditions have been constantly changing and sometimes unexpectedly.
In the case of the Pier 421 spill on May 28, State Lands staffers explained that the oil was old and was seen both inside and outside the well casing. Though the well itself goes more than 3,000 feet underground, the source of the oil is thought to be toward the surface. State Lands is taking the time to investigate where the spill occurred and how best to reach it and close it off before finishing the plugging of the well.
The participation of Chumash tribal members has been important in the process, Wells observed. They’ve been a continuous reminder of the long history at the site — parts of the Haskell’s Beach lands remain relatively untouched — as well as lending a hand during the cleanup of the roughly three barrels of oil that were spilled. A woman who identified herself as “Mia” at Thursday night’s meeting spoke of the evanescence of the native presence: “You can’t see the Indian nation’s footprints,” she said. But the tribe recognizes their past and their monuments, she said, which most Americans have forgotten or never knew.
Out at Platform Holly, the same methodical process is changing out equipment so that the 30 wells can be plugged. Work has been ongoing for about a year to remove and replace components, as the platform’s purpose has changed from oil drilling to plugging wells with concrete. Crews are also repairing the weatherized portions exposed and virtually unmaintained since the Refugio Oil Spill in 2015. That spill, caused by a crack in the sole pipeline moving offshore oil to a processing plant in Kern County, shut down all the oil wells that had used it, including Venoco’s. The Denver-based company blamed that pipeline failure for its bankruptcy, filed in April 2017, at which time Venoco quitclaimed Platform Holly and the two Pier 421 wells to the state.
The State Lands Commission finds itself necessarily using the Ellwood Onshore Facility to maintain the electrical and communication cables to the platform and piers, as well as to manage the natural gas and hydrogen sulfide, a potentially deadly gas, that develop. The EOF had not been quitclaimed to the state by Venoco, which is apparently seeking to sell the asset. During the presentation, the state staff reassured the crowd that the hydrogen sulfide sensors were up and running and that they continued to work with the county Air Pollution Control District on monitoring air quality.