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Goleta Residents Hot Over Venoco’s Proposed Drilling Project

Oil company hosts two community meetings about its plans to drill six wells ahead of consideration by the State Lands Commission

Protesters gather outside the Goleta Valley Community Center on Wednesday to protest a proposed Venoco drilling project ahead of a public hearing on the matter.
Protesters gather outside the Goleta Valley Community Center on Wednesday to protest a proposed Venoco drilling project ahead of a public hearing on the matter. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

The recent oil spill off the Gaviota coast gave Goleta residents sufficient ammunition Wednesday to attack Venoco Inc.’s plans to drill six wells into a new area of the South Ellwood Oil Field.

Consensus at one public hearing was that Goleta residents who don't work for the oil company are tired of seeing oil development in their backyards.

The privately owned Santa Barbara County-based oil company presented its proposal during two community meetings — at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. — at the Goleta Valley Community Center, where the State Lands Commission gathered public input ahead of its meeting to rule on the project.

Locals peppered Venoco and state representatives with concerns that a new Ellwood oil operation could cause a large leak or spill — citing the May 19 oil spill near Refugio State Beach, prompted by a ruptured Plains All American Pipeline line transporting crude oil from Venoco and ExxonMobil offshore platforms.

That spill was the reason the State Lands Commission delayed an original public hearing on the South Ellwood Oil Field project, which had been set for late May.

The setback also pushed the deadline to submit comments on the scope of the Venoco environmental impact report documents to next Monday.

At the earlier meeting Wednesday, Venoco representatives confronted a somewhat hostile crowd, which scoffed at their guarantees of the project involving no hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, or any new wells penetrating the ocean floor.

“We are just as disappointed and upset (about the spill) as anyone else,” said Mike Wracher, Venoco’s vice president of new ventures and exploration. “We live in this community. We work in this community.”

Venoco wants to amend one of its state oil and gas leases to expand east and include 3,400 acres in exchange for turning over 3,800 acres in northern and southern portions of nearby leases to the California Coastal Sanctuary, according the company’s application.

Venoco has produced about 75 million barrels of oil from Platform Holly since 1969, and expects to get another 25 million barrels from existing wells. With lease extension, Venoco believes it could get another 60 million barrels through Platform Holly.

Six existing wells on Platform Holly would be redrilled to extend into this new area, and the company would use existing pipelines and processing facilities, including the Ellwood Onshore Facility in Goleta.

Wracher said the lease-line adjustment would benefit both the local economy and the environment, permitting the company to more quickly and efficiently remove remaining oil in the South Ellwood Field without having to extend the life of the wells.

Venoco has safely operated locally since 1992 as a recognized premier operator, he said., adding that the project would provide $1 billion in production royalties and tax revenue to state and local governments.

“This is a hearing on environmental — not economic — impacts,” someone shouted from the back of the stuffy room, to applause and cheers.

Most of the more than 30 public speakers commented on the poor timing of the request, so soon after a local spill.

“I believe it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ another spill will happen,” one resident said.

Research showing what went wrong with the Plains pipeline and subsequent response should be part of the EIR, according to representatives from local environmental groups such as the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Defense Center.

"Economic wealth has zero value when you ruin your home," said Friends of the Ellwood Coast President Christina Lang, who wants the EIR to also cite how the state would address its plan to achieve overarching renewable-energy goals. 

Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Ken Oplinger said his organization likes that the new proposal would quicken oil removal and help decrease pressure on the oil field to limit natural seeps — hoping that the EIR would confirm those facts.

The State Lands Commission has indicated that a draft EIR would be available later this summer or in early fall, when public outreach would continue, said Eric Gillies, assistant chief of the commission’s division of environmental planning and management.

A final EIR will be complete by winter, with the commission consideration in late winter or spring 2016, he said.

Those looking to comment on the scope of the EIR by Monday can send input to Gillies: California State Lands Commission, 1000 Howe Ave., Suite 100, South Sacramento, CA 95825 or email to [email protected].

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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.

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