The South Coast’s environmental community got an early Earth Day present this week.
An oil platform off the Santa Barbara County coastline which has been a controversial issue for decades is going to be removed. On top of that, it can’t legally be replaced, and the area will become part of a marine preserve.
Financially troubled Venoco has filed for bankruptcy, and will shut down, or sell all of its operations. It’s turning over its Platform Holly off of Goleta, as well as the Ellwood Oil Pier to the state, which will oversee their removal.
The State Lands Commission is the state agency will which will oversee removal of the half century old platform, and as well as the other facilities. Jennifer Lucchesi, the Executive Officer of the Commission, told KCLU News that Venoco told officials a few weeks ago that bankruptcy was a probability, leading to the company giving the Commission Monday documents quitclaiming the two facilities to the state.
The news has triggered celebration in the environmental community, especially among those who have fought oil development off the Central and South Coasts. Linda Krop is Chief Counsel for the Environmental Defense Center.
She says what’s really significant is that not only will the facilities be removed, but under state law, they can’t be replaced.
The platform and its 32 wells have been an environmental concern for decades. The big issue was the potential for a major oil spill, like the one which occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969. Despite those fears, there have been no major problems in recent years.
But, it was an oil spill which is helping to bring about the platform’s demise. Platform Holly has been idle for nearly two years, ever since a massive onshore pipeline rupture and oil spill at Refugio State Beach made it impossible to move oil from the platforms 32 wells.
That pipeline remains closed, and Venoco was unable to get approve for alternative means to move oil from Holly out of the region. The idle platform added to the already precarious financial position for the company. Venoco has a lawsuit pending against the pipeline operator, Plains All-American Pipeline.
Jennifer Lucchesi, the Executive Officer of the State Lands Commission, says removal of the facilities is a complex process, in even in a best case situation will take at least three years. They’ve worked out a deal with Venoco to keep some employees in place to maintain the facilities until the state hires contractors to develop a plan, and begin rempval work.
Venoco still has other facilities in the region, including two platforms in federal waters off the coast of Carpinteria, Gail and Grace, as well as an onshore facility in Carpinteria. The company is planning to sell those still active facilities as part of its liquidation.
While environmentalists are celebrating, it’s bad news for Venoco employees, who will lose their jobs. A spokesman for the company says as they wind down operations, they are hoping some of the employees will be hired along with assets as they are sold.