Rincon Island

Decommissioning Phases
  • Phase 1 - Well Plug and Abandonment

    On July 1, 2018, the Commission started work to plug and abandon 50 wells on Rincon Island and 25 wells located onshore. The primary task will be undertaken by DrilTek, Inc., an oil and gas firm experienced in the plugging and abandonment of oil and gas wells and infrastructure. The process involves complex engineering and planning and can take multiple days for each well. Work on each well will commence after permits are issued by the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. We anticipate that the literal plug and abandonment will commence in the 3rd quarter of 2018 for onshore wells and in the 1st quarter of 2019 for the wells on Rincon Island. The work is anticipated to be complete by July 1, 2021.

  • Phase 2 - Disposition of Rincon Island and the Causeway

    Once phase 1 is complete, Phase 2 will start, which is the final disposition of Rincon Island, its attaching causeway, and the onshore facility. The Commission understands that the future of Rincon Island is of local and statewide interest. Any future use or infrastructure changes will be subject to a public and transparent review process. The Commission plans to organize a process to elicit ideas from the public and stakeholders on what the final disposition of the Island and other infrastructure will look like. Afterward, a project and numerous alternatives will be analyzed under the California Environmental Quality Act. Phase 2 will involve cooperation across all levels of government and the local community and permitting from numerous agencies. More information is expected in 2019.

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, vigorously advocated for the state's interests before and after Rincon Island Limited Partnership (RILP) filed for bankruptcy in August 2016. On November 29, 2017, the Commission adopted findings and authorized staff to 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 was 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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