Rincon Island

Photo of Rincon operations by CSLC staff, Sheri Pemberton


Until recently, there were three state oil and gas leases associated with Rincon Island, totaling 1,551 acres of tide and submerged lands in Ventura County (map). In 2014, staff identified regulatory violations that posed a significant risk to the marine environment from an uncontrolled release of oil. The Commission, in partnership with the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, have vigorously advocated for the state’s interests before and after the operator, Rincon Island Limited Partnership (RILP), filed for bankruptcy in August 2016. On November 29, 2017, the Commission adopted findings and authorized staff to either accept a voluntary relinquishment of RILP's rights in the lease (known as a quitclaim deed) or terminate the leases. On November 30, 2017, the Bankruptcy Court approved a joint motion by the Commission, the chapter 11 trustee, and UBS AG Bank (RILP's largest secured creditor) to grant the Commission a quitclaim over Rincon Island (Lease No. PRC 1466), which we received on December 6, 2017.

The relinquishment means the last operational offshore oil drilling and production facility in the Santa Barbara Channel is over, and RILP's interests will be added to California's Coastal Sanctuary. The Commission is now, as it has been, working to ensure public and environmental safety and to protect the state's public lands and resources. The Commission entered into an emergency contract to retain the services of DrilTek Inc., to maintain 24-hour monitoring and maintenance on Rincon Island. Next, the Commission will take steps to start the plug and abandonment work for the wells and to decommission the facilities. The ultimate disposition of the island and the connecting causeway will be determined after environmental analysis and public input.

Blow down operations

On December 21, 2017, the Commission began relieving pressure on three wells at Rincon Island, a significant development. For several years, regulators have been concerned that the wells, known as 8A and 50A, had reached levels that could be unsafe because of the deteriorated equipment. The Commission also identified high pressures on well 59 and have included that well in its pressure relief operations.

In August 2016, DOGGR issued an emergency order requiring the lessee in part, to relieve well pressure. While the lessee partially relieved pressure, the levels soon returned to the previous high levels. Now, the Commission's contractor, DrilTek, Inc., using rental equipment and experienced oil field personnel, is slowly and safely bleeding down the pressures on the wells. Natural gases will be burned or flared, and oil and fluids will be moved to tanks and eventually through a pipeline off the island. Past depressurization yielded between 2000-3000 barrels of oil and water during each occurrence. To comply with DOGGR's emergency order, the Commission will maintain depressurization equipment on the wells for 60 days and then reassess future needs about operational safety and plans to permanently plug and abandon wells as part of the decommissioning process.


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