It was almost anti-climactic for an issue that has been brewing for nearly two decades. Nevertheless, it was an important decision for the City of Goleta, Venoco Inc. and local environmental groups when the Goleta Planning Commission voted Monday to approve the oil company’s Ellwood Line 96 modification project.
“This is a big day,” Venoco representative Steve Greig told the Goleta Planning Commission.
The panel’s approval of a roughly 9-mile, 6-inch pipe — 585 feet of which is in city jurisdiction — paves the way for the end of barge transportation of oil collected from the South Ellwood Oil Field, the only such operation of its kind on the West Coast.
While the City of Goleta is the responsible agency on this matter, it shares jurisdiction with Santa Barbara County, which approved the project earlier this month, and the State Lands Commission, which has yet to give its blessing to the project.
The Planning Commission’s actions on Monday included ratification of the project’s environmental documents, which project significant environmental impacts as the pipe is laid underground from the Ellwood Onshore Facility to Gaviota, where it ties in with the All-American pipeline that transports its flow to the Exxon Mobil facility in Las Flores Canyon.
Impacts, which are mostly related to the potential for an oil spill, include biological and hazardous material concerns, as well as worries over water resources. Of lesser concern are noise and transportation issues related to construction. According to the plan, Goleta will experience the noise of about three days of continuous drilling to make way for the pipe.
“Once you start drilling, you can’t stop,” city planner Laura Vlk said, adding that the drilling will be monitored.
However, in the face of the concerns over the outdated barge transportation, the projected environmental impacts were seen as acceptable by the city, as well as by the various local environmental groups that have been working to end barge transportation of oil. Currently, oil that is drilled from Platform Holly is piped to the Ellwood Onshore Facility, located near the Bacara Resort & Spa, and then the processed crude is piped again to the Ellwood Marine Terminal, which is on leased UCSB property. The barge then takes the product either north or south to refineries. The proposed plan takes the oil directly to the Exxon Mobil facility, bypassing both the EMT and eliminating the need for the barge.
The pipe has been somewhat of a point of contention between the oil company and the environmental groups, with Venoco asserting that the pipe would come as a result of approval of a proposal for 40 new wells from existing well slots on Platform Holly, and the environmental groups countering that the pipe was already a necessity, given the pending expiration of the oil company’s lease of the EMT. Venoco withdrew its application for the full field development last year. However, it maintains its application to recommission its Pier 421, two defunct wells in the Haskell’s Beach area.
Construction is expected to start near the beginning of October. Meanwhile, the abandonment and decommissioning of Line 96, the pipe that transports oil to the EMT, is expected to be tackled at a future date.