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Goleta Calls for Venoco Barge Terminal’s Decommissioning

Citing spill risks, council asks state to end barge transport of crude oil from Ellwood facility.

A letter to the State Lands Commission  from the Goleta City Council might make it difficult for Venoco to renew its lease on facilities in the Ellwood area.

“The City Council of Goleta urges the state Lands Commission to bring about the decommissioning of the Ellwood Marine Terminal  now,” said the letter, which also urges the commission to set a firm date on its lease negotiations with the oil company.

The Ellwood terminal, located at the mouth of Devereux Slough, is part of the last remaining crude oil barge operation on the California coast, which requires that roughly 50,000 barrels of crude oil be towed to ports in Los Angeles or San Francisco from Ellwood every 10 to 14 days.

Recent events in the San Francisco Bay, involving the spill of 58,000 gallons of oil from the freighter Cosco Busan, prompted city officials to ask the state agency to decommission the Ellwood terminal, which would also end the use of the single-hulled barge Jovalon, according to the staff report. A spill from Jovalon, the city said, could equal half of the oil spilled from the 1969 Platform A blowout.

Venoco currently has a lease for the offshore portion of the terminal with the Lands Commission, an authorization that would maintain the barge transport operation until 2013. The barge operation, in conjunction with extended-reach drilling from Platform Holly, Venoco said, is part of a long-range plan that would eventually result in the state-required 10-mile pipeline from the oil rig directly to Las Flores Canyon’s processing facility, which the company plans to build after the lease runs out. The pipeline is estimated to cost at least $10 million. Revenue from the expanded drilling would go toward its construction.

"We’ve tried different approaches to design a project that works for everyone," Venoco spokesman Steve Greig said.

But detractors of the plan argued that six more years is too long to wait for a pipeline, given the age of the facilities and the environmental risk.

"The Ellwood Marine Terminal operation was built in the late 1920s, and it is the last remaining barge operation on the California coast," League of Women Voters representative Connie Hannah said at Monday night’s City Council meeting, where the matter of the letter was being considered. "It is definitely time to shut it down anad replace it with a pipeline."

Greig urged the council to continue working with the company on its projects.

“I may be being overly optimistic, but I believe we can have a win-win out there for the community, for the environment and for Venoco,” he said, questioning the fairness of the council’s action. Instead of pushing for the decommissioning of the teminal, Greig later told Noozhawk, the council should have pushed for the completion of the permitting process, which is still ongoing before the SLC.

Furthermore, he said, the project’s environmental impact report has already been examined by the public and is currently being reviewed by Lands Commission staff.

“Are you suggesting that (the California Environmental Quality Act) process not be followed?” he asked the council.
The council remained firm in its decision to send the letter, however.

Councilman Roger Aceves pointed out recent malfunctions and leaks in other Venoco facilities in the Ellwood area, and the delayed reporting of those incidents.

“There is no logic that could justify the continued operation of a single-hulled barge,” he said.


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