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Local News

Goleta Girds for Hearing on Venoco Operations

The State Lands Commission will take up the Draft Environmental Impact Report on increased oil and gas operations, with the city, the community and the company weighing in.

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The oil, gas and water extracted by the wells on Platform Holly are taken by pipe to the Ellwood Onshore Facility. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

As public hearings on the environmental documents for Venoco‘s newest project near, the oil company, local officials and residents are getting ready to tell the State Lands Commission what’s on their minds.

Venoco, which owns and operates several facilities in the Ellwood area, is planning to increase its oil and gas drilling and processing operations with 40 new wells from existing well slots that reach beyond its lease’s boundaries, and construct a $25 million pipeline that would do away with its need for the single-hulled transport barge, Jovalan.

Critics of the oil company have long opposed Venoco’s intentions to increase drilling capacity, doubtful that the nearly 40-year-old facilities could handle the increased production. There also are worries about its condition at its current capacity.

“The pipelines from Platform Holly to the Ellwood Onshore Facility currently do not have a leak detection system,” said Dr. Ingeborg Cox, quoting directly from the Hazard and Hazardous Materials section of the Draft Environmental Impact Report prepared for the project.

Cox, who once represented Goleta on the Air Pollution Control District, and her husband, Vic, live in western Goleta, near the Ellwood operations.

“If they don’t have a leak detection system, how do they know they are not having a leak, especially with the pipelines so corroded on top of it?” she asked.

The DEIR states that, in places, the pipes that take the oil, water and gas emulsion from the rig onshore are corroded 20 percent to 65 percent. At even low concentrations, Cox said, a hydrogen sulfide gas leak could be toxic to surrounding neighborhoods.

Furthermore, critics say, the pipeline that replaces the barge should have been installed a long time ago — a project that should not have to depend on the approval of 40 new wells.

Mike Edwards, Venoco’s vice president of investor relations, said potential corrosion is factored into the construction of the pipes, which are inspected every year.

“Each year, we submit the inspection results to the regulatory agencies (State Lands Commission and State Fire Marshall),” he said in an e-mail to Noozhawk. “The regulators look for adequate wall thickness (as opposed to wall loss) to determine that the pipeline is safely within the maximum operating pressure. If the regulators identify a defect that requires repair, we make the repair.”

As to the leak detection system, he said: “The new pipeline from our onshore facility to the All American Pipeline tie-in will be constructed to current standards, including any leak detection systems that are required. Leak detection on a pipeline carrying emulsion has not proven beneficial. If technology becomes available that works with emulsion, we will evaluate it with the regulators.”

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The mixture of oil, gas and water extracted by the wells on Platform Holly are taken to the Ellwood Onshore Facility, where the mixture is separated. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)
The oil, gas and water extracted by the wells on Platform Holly are taken by pipe to the Ellwood Onshore Facility, just east of Bacara Resort & Spa, where the mixture is separated.

The oil then runs an underground route via pipe (Line 96) through western Goleta to the Ellwood Marine Terminal, on property owned by UCSB in the Devereux area.

From that terminal, it is pumped out into Jovalan, which then takes it north as far as San Francisco Bay or south to Long Beach. The new pipeline would do away with the need for Line 96 and the terminal.

As for the State Lands Commission, the environmentally preferred alternative would do away with the onshore facility as well, by the construction of a pipe that runs from Platform Holly straight to the All-American pipeline that directs the oil to the ExxonMobil-owned Las Flores Canyon processing facility. It’s an alternative that local environmentalists support, but could have Venoco heading back to the drawing board.

“Exxon does not have capacity at its existing facility,” Edwards said. At the rate that Venoco wants to increase its production, it might have to construct a new facility to handle the larger volume. Venoco’s best choice, he said, would be to continue to use existing facilities.

Goleta officials also are doing their homework as they prepare to weigh in on potentially intensified oil and gas production. According to Venoco, while the state receives $40,000 to $50,000 a day in royalties from the oil company, and the county gets $8,000 to $10,000 of the state’s revenue, the city of Goleta doesn’t get any royalties from Venoco. During the course of the lease expansion, the state could get close to $800 million, with the county getting about $300 million.

Goleta officials will meet early this week to discuss their options with the Santa Barbara County Energy Division. Venoco’s project falls within the jurisdictions of Goleta, the county and the state of California.

At least one council member is ready to voice his preferences on Venoco’s plans.

“They need to pipe it, that’s the only alternative,” said Roger Aceves, who has been vocal about his concerns with the safety of oil and gas operations. Furthermore, the onshore facility, as well as the now derelict Pier 421 on the east side of Haskell’s Beach, “need to go away,” he said.

The hearings are scheduled for 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Holiday Inn, 5582 Calle Real.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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State Lands Commission graphic of the proposed pipeline route.

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