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Local News

Venoco Initiative Drive Gives a New Slant to Project Approvals

A strategic drilling proposal emphasizes the community revenue windfall. Will it work?

Venoco Inc.'s plans for an extended-reach operation into the Santa Barbara Channel include a lighthouse-style structure, like this photo illustration, to disguise its drilling equipment.
Venoco’s plans for an extended-reach operation into the Santa Barbara Channel include a lighthouse-style structure, like this photo illustration, to disguise its drilling equipment. (Venoco Inc. photo illustration)

Almost everywhere one looks these days, there seems to be a financial calamity, which includes cash-strapped California and local communities in similarly dire straits. Amid that climate, Carpinteria voters may get a chance this summer to put themselves in a position to collect a budgetary windfall. With a catch.

Venoco Inc. wants to install a 140-foot drilling rig at its Dump Road processing facility to enable extended-reach, or slant, drilling, which would allow access to oil and natural gas in the Santa Barbara Channel without using an offshore platform. If the venture proves successful, Venoco has promised to contribute $1 million a year for up to five years to the Carpinteria Education Foundation and would donate 22 acres of land on its 55-acre Dump Road parcel to be designated as open space. California’s largesse from the project is even more impressive and would return $200 million to Carpinteria as a percentage of the $1 billion the state would gain from the deal.

The project has been around nearly a decade, since Venoco purchased the operation from Chevron in 1999, and has made its way through the review process known as Project Paredon. After Venoco spent a year seeking community input on the project, many expressed interest in voting on Paredon, said Steve Greig, the company’s government relations director. Based on that feedback, Venoco beefed up Project Paredon to include contributions to Carpinteria schools and open space, and created the Carpinteria Community Initiative.

On Monday, Venoco filed a voter initiative at City Hall on behalf of its proposal. Local residents will begin collecting signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. To qualify, signatures must be collected from at least 15 percent of the city’s registered voters within 180 days.

Not everyone is a fan, however. Kira Redmond, executive director of Santa Barbara Channel Keeper, said she’s been following the project since it went before the Carpinteria Planning Commission last May, when observers expressed concern about the environmental impacts. She said she has yet to see a final environmental impact report circulated for Project Paredon and has concerns that a ballot initiative might replace legal procedure.

“If they’re trying to circumvent the policy process, then that’s not a good thing,” Redmond said.

Channel Keeper does not have a stance on the issue of slant drilling yet, she said, and the nonprofit organization works on a case-by-case basis.

“For the most part, the mitigations that were identified in the EIR that people had concerns about are mentioned in the initiative,” Greig said.

Slant-drilling technology has been around for decades, but advancements have been made in how far away offshore reserves can be accessed.

“The technology has allowed us to go much further away, which greatly minimizes the risk,” Grieg said.

The new rig would drill down nearly 1,000 feet below the ocean’s surface and out several miles. Grieg said Venoco would know the composition of the reserve before it begins drilling so there’s little danger it would run into hydrogen sulfide, or sour gas.

“It’s the same as the gas that you burn from your home,” Grieg said.

The rig would be housed in a facade similar to that of a lighthouse to curtail noise and disguise its use.

After the signatures on the initiative are verified, a special election will be scheduled, likely for this summer. City Councilwoman Kathleen Reddington said voters must weigh for themselves the merits of the proposal and any environmental trade-offs for the community.

“I trust that the voters of Carpinteria will scrutinize any ballot initiative that comes before them,” she said.

In addition to its Carpinteria project, Venoco has an oil and gas processing facility in western Goleta. Because the company leases that offshore land from UCSB and is subject to overlapping jurisdictions, a slant drilling operation there would be infeasible.

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» on 02.06.09 @ 08:48 AM

Venoco will garner a lot more profit than the measly $200 million Carpinteria will get.

The good people of Carpinteria should not be so gullible and naive.  Argue for a better offer.

Carpinteria is like the buxom blond(e) babe in the tight blue dress meeting her slacker, slovenly boyfriend who thinks a fancy steak dinner is a fried sandwich at Carls’ Jr. 

The Carpinteria babe can do a lot better for putting out as much as Venoco expects her to do.

» on 02.06.09 @ 09:24 AM

Oh, boy… Is this ballot box measure a way to get around an environmental impact report? I certainly hope that Carpinteria will vote with an environmental mentality a not with dollar signs in their eyes.

Me? I’d vote “no” unless environmental groups say this is a good thing…

» on 02.06.09 @ 10:50 AM

I miss Rob, wish him well would you.

» on 02.06.09 @ 11:31 AM

From what I understand this is a unique project, in that it will require that the State to give Carpinteria 20% of the revenues under special State legislation.  The $200 million is not a gift from Venoco but rather a requirement from the State that would, under normal circumstances, only have to give 2% to the County of Santa Barbara.

What Venoco proposes is in addition to that and looks very similar to the deal that EDC and others cut with PXP on their project.  I didn’t hear people complaining about that one.

I like what Kathleen Reddington said, “Carpinteria will scrutinize any ballot initiative that comes before them.”

She’s correct and I have a lot of faith that my neighbors will do just that.

The EIR is available for all to read at the City’s website and the proponents of the initiative have posted their entire document on their website

» on 02.06.09 @ 12:02 PM

If you have followed this deal since inception, it’s been a long road.  Venoco and the city have taken years to develop an EIR; all EIRs are developed by third party consultants that the city hires.  It is available for public review at any time.  I’m not going to trust my vote to an environmental group or anyone else.  I think Carpinterians owe it to themselves to read it, and to read the initiative to see if Venoco is living up to high environmental standards.  I found it on their website:…

» on 02.06.09 @ 12:31 PM

Venoco is perhaps a trailblazer.

I believe all oil and gas producers in the state should organize and place a statewide inititive on the 2010 ballot that would remove restrictions on offshore oil development.

Offshore oil and gas development is clean and safe. The Environmental Defense Center (EDC), Get Oil Out (GOO) and at least a dozen other “environmental” groups, including the Sierra Club, support offshore oil developments.

» on 02.06.09 @ 12:45 PM

“Me? I’d vote “no” unless environmental groups say this is a good thing… “

Yeah, because environmental groups always tell the truth and have no financial stake in an outcome. Dude, enviros are a big reason why we’re in such a sorry energy state, totally dependent on fossil fuel controlled by our enemies, why France uses nuclear energy and we don’t.

Classic example, Venoco’s Ellwood operation includes a provision for a 10-year project to use those near-shore piers. After 10 years, everything is dismantled. Under that scenario, those piers would have been coming out NEXT YEAR! Instead, the clock hasn’t even started.

» on 02.06.09 @ 10:51 PM

Will Venoco profit from this project?  Absolutely!  But so will our cities and County in the form of new jobs and spending, taxes and other financial returns.  We can’t be opposed to a drilling project simply because its a drilling project.  Things have changed since 1969, technology has been improved and Venoco has done their due diligence and kept the concerns of local residents in mind.  It’s a win/win for both us and Venoco and that’s not bad.  I support this project not because we’re desperate and in need of the extra money, I support it because it has been well thought out, has been adjusted based on local input and concerns and it mutually beneficial to both parties involved.  They’ve chosen to work with us rather than try to push or bully us around.  Kudos to Venoco for approaching this the right way.

» on 02.07.09 @ 09:15 AM

As long as no-one at Venoco makes more than a school teacher, and there is totally open accounting, so every penny not for a direct cost or a school teacher’s salary goes to Carp, I’d be in favor.

No more billion-dollar bonuses for those who rip off the public.  If Venoco won’t work for teacher’s salaries, from president on down, it is a ripoff.

» on 02.07.09 @ 04:19 PM

Do it right, who at Venoco has ripped off the public? Do you have any evidence?

Other people ripping us off, by your definition (people who make more than teachers):
University professors
Insurance agents
Computer programmers
Hotel Managers
Your boss
and the list goes on. I think you get the idea.

» on 02.07.09 @ 06:16 PM

Cheap date says: “Venoco will garner a lot more profit than the measly $200 million Carpinteria will get.”

In 2006, Venoco reported a $24 mm gain on $278 mm revenue (an 8.6% ROS).
In 2007, Venoco reported a $73 mm loss on $234 mm revenue.
I haven’t seen their 2008 numbers yet.

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