Friday, June 22 , 2018, 5:37 pm | Partly Cloudy 65º


Local News

County Officials Investigating Source of Hydrogen Sulfide Release, Foul Odors in Western Goleta

Likely sources are an agricultural water well in the Ellwood area or the Venoco Ellwood Onshore Facility; levels recorded Sunday high enough to cause temporary health effects

Santa Barbara County officials are still investigating the cause of a hydrogen sulfide release Sunday that caused western Goleta Valley residents to complain of strong gas odors and make multiple 9-1-1 calls about the issue. 

The Air Pollution Control DistrictOffice of Emergency Management, County Fire, and Public Health Department are investigating a release of hydrogen sulfide, which caused the sulfuric, rotten egg smell in the Ellwood area of Goleta on Sunday, county officials said in a statement Monday afternoon. 

The two potential sources are an agricultural water well and the Venoco Ellwood Onshore Facility, the former being more likely, officials said. 

The Public Health department ordered an immediate work stoppage at the well since it's a possible source of the odors, the county said Tuesday morning. 

APCD inspectors have used hand-held monitors near the drilling to determine the source of the odors and air quality monitoring data is available online here

Generally, if a well is causing odors, it is caused by hitting a pocket of hydrogen sulfide in the drilling process, APCD public information officer Lyz Hoffman said. Water wells are typically 500 feet deep and the one being investigated is about 3,000 feet deep, she added. 

“The agencies are collaborating to ensure that air quality conditions are monitored for the affected neighborhoods. As was the case yesterday and today, odors are stronger in the morning hours,” county officials said in a statement Monday.

Hydrogen sulfide gas, or H2S, produces the sulfurous odor at a low level and causes health effects at higher levels, officials said in the release. Levels were recorded by monitoring stations located at the EOF and on Sunday morning, the levels were found to be between 0.3 and 2.6 parts per million. 

“Those levels range from generating a noticeable odor to generating some temporary health effects — such as nausea, headaches, minor respiratory symptoms, and watery eyes — following extended exposure,” officials said. 

“If you or your family members are experiencing health effects from inhaling H2S, it is recommended that you seal up your house and remain inside as much as possible. If the odors continue to cause health effects, you should leave the area until conditions improve. Sensitive individuals with more serious or persistent health effects should seek medical attention," they said.

Air quality monitoring data from the Venoco Ellwood fence-line monitoring stations is available online here.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department crews responded to the Ellwood Canyon area four times on Sunday in response to calls about odors, described as a sulfuric smell, Capt. Dave Zaniboni told Noozhawk.

Fire personnel weren’t able to locate the source of the odor. They tested ambient air and “everything came back negative,” Zaniboni said.

There was no disclosed cause as of Monday afternoon, but Zaniboni said officials are looking into a water-drilling operation at an Ellwood Canyon home as a possible source.

Western Goleta Valley residents posted their concerns on social media, including the NextDoor groups for neighborhoods in the area. 

One resident called the lack of information about the odor's source “beyond upsetting,” and others worried the odor was an indication of harmful chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, which puts off a rotten-egg sulfuric smell. 

It turns out they were right — on Monday afternoon, county officials attributed the smell to a hydrogen sulfide release and said they were still working to find the source.  

Some people initially attributed the smell to Venoco’s Ellwood Onshore Facility, located at 7979 Hollister Ave. near the Bacara Resort & Spa. Officials said it is one of the potential sources being investigated. 

The facility processes oil and gas from the offshore Platform Holly, but the operation has been mostly shut down since shortly after the Refugio Oil Spill. The ruptured pipeline was the transportation pipeline for oil headed to refineries from the facility.

A Western Goleta resident wrote to Noozhawk Sunday and said he evacuated with his family and pets after waking up around 4 a.m. to a “very strong, caustic odor that we believe was caused by Venoco Ellwood Onshore Facility operators.”

He described the smell as a strong, processed-petroleum smell. 

Daily air quality monitoring results can be found on the Air Pollution Control District website here, and a complaint can be filed with the district by calling 805.961.8810.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >