Santa Barbara County successfully decommissions a Venoco oil pipeline

File photo courtesy of Doc Searls
DECOMMISSIONING EFFORTS: Santa Barbara County successfully decommissioned Venoco’s Line 96 pipeline, which transported oil from its former offshore platform Holly to its Ellwood onshore processing facility.

After receiving a $550,000 grant from the California Department of Toxic Substances and removing infrastructure on private properties, Santa Barbara County decommissioned Venoco’s Crude Oil Line 96. 

The 6-inch diameter pipeline was approximately 9 miles in length and extended from the Ellwood Onshore Facility near the Bacara hotel in Goleta to a tie-in point at the Plains All American Pipeline near Las Flores Canyon on the Gaviota Coast. 

“This project was reliant on the Plains pipeline. When the [2015] spill occurred and Plains shut down, they didn’t have another option to send the oil from Holly to market,” Planning and Development Deputy Director John Zorovich told the Sun

Venoco went bankrupt in 2017 and the oil company walked away from offshore Platform Holly, Ellwood Onshore Facility, and Line 96, he said. With the pipeline in Santa Barbara County jurisdiction, the Planning and Development Department oversaw its decommissioning after the California Office of the State Fire Marshal—the agency that regulates oil pipelines—sent a letter to the county in May 2021 to formally request the line’s abandonment, Zorovich said. 

“The pipeline was initially full of oil when the Plains spill happened. They stopped the pipeline and stopped production, but oil was still in the line,” he said. “Before they went bankrupt, the pipeline was drained and filled with water.” 

The line was still considered idle and contained approximately 1,685 barrels of water with “diluted corrosion inhibitor and biocide,” which was considered a safety hazard and posed a risk for the area, Zorovich said. 

“I don’t think a lot of people in the public were aware that it was there or posing a risk. I don’t think a lot of people knew that the county stepped up; it presented a minor hazard, we reduced the hazard,” he said. “With Platform Holly, it’s highly visible from Goleta, Ellwood, that entire area. Once it gets physically removed, I think it will be a huge benefit for the community because this was a previously producing platform.”

Platform Holly sits in the state’s jurisdiction, and the California State Lands Commission oversees the platform’s decommissioning, Zorovich said. According to the State Lands Commission website, the commission has plugged 30 wells and eliminated the hydrogen sulfide risk—a gas that is toxic to humans in high concentrations. 

Staff is now working on the environmental review process for Holly’s decommissioning and removal and is working with ExxonMobil to develop an engineering plan to help “inform analysis,” the website stated. 

“Over the last 100 years or so there’s been a lot of oil production in Santa Barbara County. Generally, what we are seeing is that winding down, not the development of assets but the removal of them,” Planning and Development Supervising Planner and Energy Specialist Errin Briggs told the Sun

Venoco’s pipeline and facility decommission follows the state’s efforts to plug and abandon wells in Cat Canyon and ExxonMobil’s efforts to continue producing oil. While it’s a relief to see the line decommissioned, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Ocean Programs Director Miyoko Sakashita told the Sun via email that it should be the oil companies on the hook to “clean up their messes,” not the county or the state. 

“The companies drilling for and profiting from oil, not the taxpayer, are supposed to pay to clean up their old pipelines and platforms. We’d like to see the federal, state, and local government hold oil companies accountable,” Sakashita said. 

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