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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 3:01 pm | A Few Clouds 63º


Supervisors Get Update on Oil Production in Santa Barbara County

The Board of Supervisors got an extensive update on oil production on Tuesday, a presentation that included the history of oil in Santa Barbara County all the way up to the present.

Supervisor Janet Wolf began the meeting by reminding the board and the public that she had asked for the presentation before the Plains All American oil spill occurred on May 19 at Refugio State Beach.

Energy Specialist Errin Briggs gave the presentation, starting with several historical photos of oil production on the county's coast.

Oil and gas exploration began in the county with the 1896 offshore field in Summerland; county staff said Santa Barbara's coastline was the home to the first offshore field in the nation.

A myriad of wells lined the coast in the black and white photos Briggs showed.

Platform Hazel was constructed in 1958 off Carpinteria, and offshore production peaked in 1964.

Today, there are eight offshore platforms, seven of which are located in federal waters, known as the Outer Continental Shelf, which are piped to the Freeport McMoRan facility or the Exxon Las Flores Plant.

The Venoco Ellwood Onshore facility, located in the city of Goleta, also processes oil from Platform Holly. 

Total daily production for all of those platforms ranges from 38,000 barrels per day to closer 50,000 barrels per day, Briggs said.

Some of the projects in the works are the recommissioning of Venoco's state lease PRC-421, operations of which ceased in 1994.

The recommissioning was approved by the State Lands Commission, but is currently on hold because of litigation from the city of Goleta. 

Many of the county's onshore fields were abandoned in the 1980s and 1990s when the price of crude oil dropped, but a resurgence of applications has popped up in recent years.

Somewhere between 1,200 to 1,300 onshore wells in the county are now active. About 10,000 barrels a day were produced last year, but this year is showing a decrease in that production, Briggs said.

In the works are 700 new production wells, most of which are slated to use the steam-injection process.

Staff also briefed the supervisors on how many violations oil operations recorded in recent years.

A total of 88 petroleum-related violations were seen in 2010, a record, and a low of 11 violations were seen last year. 

From 2010 to 2014, there were an average of 164 barrels of crude oil spilled each year in the county, and Briggs said that industry officials report the amount of the spill and county staff are also sent out to verify the amounts.

Questioning ensued about pipeline regulations in the county and who is responsible for inspections.

The Plains All-American Pipeline is unique in terms of regulation because it falls under federal oversight as a result of a lawsuit filed against the county by a previous owner.

Either the state fire marshal or the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is responsible for the rest of the pipelines, and the county has its own engineer who looks into the results, Black said.

"Frankly, I don't have a lot of confidence with PHMSA," Wolf said.

Black responded that the county staff is doing everything they can do under the law by cooperating with the federal and state agencies.

"We don't have regulatory authority over those pipelines," she said.

In 2011, a petroleum ordinance was changed in how the county defines high-risk operations that have a series of unauthorized spills.

Briggs referenced the seep cans at the Pacific Coast Energy Company facility that were reported to the supervisors earlier this month.

The supervisors were also briefed on the high-volume pipelines constructed to transport large amounts of oil from offshore platforms to refineries onshore.

Plains Pipelines 901 and 903, which are currently shut down, and Venoco's Line 96, as well as the Phillips 66's Line 300 system were mentioned in the briefing.

One oil industry rep who spoke during public comment stated that the oil produced in the county accounts for only 2 percent of the state's total production, but contributes $1.2 billion to the county's economy.

The Environmental Defense Center's Linda Krop said she felt the county's increase of inspections was directly related to a decrease in violations. and reminded the county that projects are still out there, such as Tranquillon Ridge, as well as slant drilling projects off the coast of Carpinteria, 

COLAB representative Andy Caldwell said he wanted to know how much the shutdown of Pipelines 901 and 903 is costing schools and the county.

Caldwell also said that looking at how much is produced compared to barrels spilled means producers have a "phenomenal safety record."

Supervisor Peter Adam said that he feels like the county's system of oversight is working. 

"You're never going to go without oil, not in our lifetimes," he said. "This whole report states that the system is working very well."

Wolf said that no matter what she feels about the oil industry, she was pleasantly surprised by the county's report.

"It is such an improvement over where we were five or six years ago," she said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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