The oil pipeline between the Ellwood Onshore Facility in western Goleta and Las Flores Canyon processing facility finished decommissioning in July. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)
The oil pipeline between the Ellwood Onshore Facility in western Goleta and Las Flores Canyon processing facility finished decommissioning in July. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

The crude oil pipeline between western Goleta and the Gaviota Coast formerly operated by Venoco Inc. has been decommissioned, and it is part of a larger effort to decommission offshore and onshore oil and gas production infrastructure in southern Santa Barbara County.

Decommissioning the 9-mile-long pipeline — which extended from the Ellwood Onshore Facility in western Goleta to the Plains All American Pipeline near Las Flores Canyon — was overseen by the county and funded by a $550,000 grant from the California Department of Toxic Substances.

Venoco declared bankruptcy in 2017, two years after the Plains All American transportation ruptured and caused the 2015 Refugio oil spill. Venoco and other companies used the pipeline to transport oil and gas from offshore platforms to refineries, and production stopped when the pipeline ruptured and was shut down.

The 9-mile Line 96 pipeline had been in idle status since September 2017 with the oil flushed out using water, according to county spokeswoman Kelsey Gerckens Buttitta.

The county voluntarily assumed responsibility to oversee decommissioning the pipeline, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal later asked the county to formally abandon the pipeline.

Gerckens Buttitta said that the decommissioning effort was completed in July with no incidents.

Removing Historic Oil Infrastructure

Meanwhile, the Curtin Maritime barge has been offshore Summerland’s Lookout Park for several weeks working on the “re-abandonment” process of capping historic oil wells in the area.

These are oil wells dating back to the late 1800s that were abandoned in the early 1900s “when oversight was nonexistent,” according to the State Lands Commission. The commission has said there are about 200 legacy oil and gas wells that could leak oil into the ocean, leading to the effort to cap them now.

At the same time as the capping process, Heal the Ocean contracted Bubbleology Research International to produce a geologic survey of the ocean floor offshore Summerland.

The City of Goleta and the California State Lands Commission finished removing two oil piers and caisson structures at Haskell’s Beach in February.

Other Decommissioning Progress

Other oil production infrastructure being decommissioned in the Santa Barbara Channel includes Platform Holly — located in state waters 2 miles from Goleta — and onshore processing facilities in Carpinteria, both owned by Venoco before its bankruptcy.

The state and its taxpayers are on the hook for decommissioning wells when no other financially responsible party can be found. Companies can be held responsible for previously owned assets, which is why ExxonMobil is paying to decommission Platform Holly and Chevron is paying to decommission Venoco’s Carpinteria-area infrastructure.

The State Lands Commission also said in June that it has plugged the 30 wells on Platform Holly and eliminated the hydrogen sulfide risk from those wells.

The commission also said that its staff has cleaned and eliminated residual hydrogen sulfide gas from the Ellwood Onshore Facility (which is near The Ritz-Carlton Bacara and Haskell’s Beach), and they are starting the environmental review process for decommissioning.

According to a June town hall meeting in Goleta, the EIR for Platform Holly should be finished in mid-2025.

The oil and gas processing facilities in Carpinteria will be decommissioned with oversight by Chevron U.S.A. Inc. Information on that project, including the project description and technical studies, is available here.

More information on the California State Lands Commission and its decommissioning projects can be found on the commission’s website.

ExxonMobil, FreePort-McMoRan and Venoco stopped production in offshore oil platforms after the 2015 Refugio oil spill.

ExxonMobil purchased the Plains transportation pipeline and plans to sell all of the Santa Ynez Unit infrastructure to Sable Offshore Corp. with hopes of restarting production.

The transportation pipeline has not been approved for a restart, which is a state decision, and the company’s application to build a replacement pipeline along the same route is pending environmental review.

County supervisors recently reviewed but took no action on an application to add safety valves to the pipeline.

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