The decommissioning of Platform Holly has stalled due to COVID-19, the California State Lands Commission announced at a meeting in Goleta on August 27, but at Piers 421, the well plugging has finished and deliberations on the facilities’ removal have begun. Both Holly and Piers 421 originally went idle in 2017, when oil and gas company Venoco declared bankruptcy and transferred their control to the state.
Jeff Planck, project lead for Platform Holly’s decommissioning, said 14 of the platform’s 30 wells had been plugged but that progress had halted in March following the COVID-19 outbreak. The decision to stop arose from the difficulty of maintaining social distancing between the 30 to 40 necessary workers, both on the platform and on crew boats.
Planck expressed hopes of resuming work by early January, but he stressed that progress would likely remain stalled at least until social distancing requirements relax or a therapeutic treatment or vaccine for the virus becomes available. The commission staff estimated that once work restarts, plugging will take another 12 to 18 months, after which discussions on the fate of the platform’s physical infrastructure could commence.
As a temporary measure, the platform has been “cold stacked” — workers have removed all moveable equipment and have either shrink-wrapped or applied a corrosion inhibitor to the rest to prevent degradation from the ocean environs. A reduced crew will staff and monitor the platform until work can resume.
As for Piers 421 near Haskell’s Beach, both wells have been plugged since fall of last year and State Lands, ExxonMobil, and InterAct contractors have begun planning for the removal of the infrastructure. Planck listed minimizing impact on Haskell’s Beach as a priority, saying most work would take place from the piers until their removal, rather than from the beach itself.
The commission staff expected planning and environmental review to take a year, pushing actual deconstruction to fall 2021 at earliest. In the meantime, testing of a method for removing soil from the facility’s caissons — a necessary step before their removal — will occur in September.
Kyle Richards, Goleta mayor pro tempore, said the town hall provided evidence of the city’s transition away from fossil fuels. “Indeed, old oil and gas platforms, piers, and wells are leaving our coastal waters for good,” Richards commented. “Our community and the environment are safer because of these decommissioning efforts, and for this we can be proud.”
A recording of the town hall can be found on the City of Goleta website: www.CityofGoleta.org/GoletaMeetings. More information can be found at the State Lands Commission website: https://www.slc.ca.gov/oil-and-gas/southellwood/.