South Ellwood Project

Photo credit: Commission staff

Platform Holly/Piers 421/Venoco Bankruptcy

Dec 7, 2023 | Oil and Gas

Current Status

The Commission recently completed the removal of two enormous piers and caissons at Haskell’s Beach in the City of Goleta. These piers, built in the late 1920s as part of the Ellwood Oil Field, were the last two piers and caissons on State Lease 421. Please enjoy this video of the decommissioning work that depicts the work from the beginning, all the way through to the final restoration of the coastline.

The Commission, along with our project partners, have plugged the 30 wells on Platform Holly and eliminated the hydrogen sulfide risk to the community and environment from those wells. Staff are working to inert the platform by cleaning the structure and equipment of residual hydrocarbons. In late September, the Commission reactivated the drilling rig to perform additional well abandonment work. Planning and permitting for that work is underway, and the Commission anticipates it will be completed in the first quarter of 2024. Once complete, the rig will move on to cutting and removing the well conductor pipes that link the platform’s wellheads to the seabed and will prepare the platform for a caretaker period whereby the platform can be safely destaffed while the platform awaits decommissioning. Staff anticipates issuing a Notice of Preparation for an Environmental Impact Report for the Platform Holly Decommissioning Project in the spring of 2024 and releasing a Draft Environmental Impact Report for public review in 2025. Pursuant to the Phase 2 agreement executed in October of this year, ExxonMobil will undertake decommissioning the platform, at its expense, after the Commission certifies the Environmental Impact Report.

Commission staff have cleaned and eliminated residual hydrogen sulfide gas from the Ellwood Onshore Facility. On May 31, 2023, control of the EOF reverted to the private owner. Staff is focusing on the start of the environmental review process to inform the platform Holly decommissioning and working with ExxonMobil to develop an engineering plan that will inform analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act. Staff expects to issue a Notice of Preparation for an Environmental Impact Report later this year.

The PRC 421-1 and 421-2 oil and gas decommissioning project is complete. This milestone project marks the end of oil production in the Ellwood Oil Field, production that started in the late 1920s and continued into the 1990s. At one time, the shoreline at Haskell’s Beach in the City of Goleta was marked by 13 piers and a welter of oil storage and processing facilities immediately onshore. Now the final two piers and caissons are gone, restoring full coastal access and eliminating public safety and environmental threats. The two structures, known as PRC 421-1 and 421-2, were installed in 1929 and 1930 for the purpose of oil and gas development of the Ellwood Oil Field. After Venoco filed for bankruptcy in 2017, the South Ellwood leases reverted to the State and the Commission embarked on the decommissioning project. The deteriorating piers and caissons represented a physical coastal obstruction, a potential public safety hazard, and a potential environmental hazard because of the presence of hydrocarbon-impacted soil and fill within the pier caissons.

Background

In April 2017, Venoco quitclaimed its interests in the South Ellwood Field leases, including Platform Holly and the Ellwood Beach pier leases near the City of Goleta. The quitclaims ended commercial oil and gas production in state waters in the Santa Barbara Channel and returned operational control of these assets to the Commission. California’s Coastal Sanctuary Act prohibits the Commission from issuing new offshore oil and gas leases.

The Commission selected Beacon West Energy Group, LLC as its contractor to operate and maintain Platform Holly and the Ellwood Onshore Facility. Beacon West, under the Commission’s oversight, began ensuring the security and safe daily operations and maintenance at Platform Holly and the Ellwood Onshore Facility in September 2017.

ExxonMobil, the successor in interest to the prior operator, Mobil Oil Corporation, and Venoco’s predecessor for these lease interests, agreed to fulfill its obligation to abandon the 30 wells on Platform Holly, seven of which were Venoco re-drilled wells and are state obligations, and the two near-shore wells on what was Oil & Gas Lease 421 in Goleta (Piers 421 wells).

The Piers 421 wells were successfully plugged and abandoned in 2019. Plug and abandonment work on Platform Holly began in October 2019, only to be halted in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and related physical distancing requirements. The Commission maintained 24-hour staffing at Platform Holly and the Ellwood Onshore Facility during the hiatus to ensure health and safety, given the dangerous amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas that is present in the wells until they are fully plugged and abandoned.

Public Meetings & Town Halls

Previous Staff Reports

  • 07/11/1997 (76) – Consider Approval of the Assignment of Undivided Interests in Oil and Gas Lease Nos. PRC 421.1, PRC 3120.1 and PRC 3242.1, and industrial leases PRC 3904.1 and PRC 5515.1, Santa Barbara County.
  • 02/27/2018 (92) – Consider delegating authority to the Executive Officer to enter into Agreements necessary for access and operations on former State Oil and Gas Lease Nos. PRC 1466.1, PRC 145.1, and PRC 410.1 related to Rincon Island; and provide an update on the status of Oil and Gas Decommissioning Projects undertaken by the Commission, including the Becker Well Abandonment and Remediation Project and the decommissioning of facilities on former leases encompassing Platform Holly and Rincon Island, off Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.
  • 10/19/2023 (63) – Consider authorization to execute the proposed Phase 2 Agreement by and between the California State Lands Commission and ExxonMobil Corporation in settlement of the responsibilities to undertake work on Platform Holly, offshore Goleta, Santa Barbara County, including platform hardening, caretaker inspections, and future decommissioning of Platform Holly.