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Town hall set to update community on efforts to remove abandoned oil facilities on South Coast

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Photo Courtesy Jaime Shaw/State Lands Commission
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The State Lands Commission is holding a Virtual Community Town Hall Wednesday night to update people on efforts to cap wells, and eventually remove Platform Holly, and some other oil facilities on the South Coast.

Efforts to plug oil wells on Platform Holly delayed more than a year by pandemic.

It’s one of the biggest aftereffects of a 2015 oil pipeline break on the Santa Barbara County coast. The rupture which caused a 140,000 gallon oil spill on the Gaviota Coast prompted one of the oil companies which relied on the pipeline to file for bankruptcy.

Now, the state is stuck with the task of plugging the wells on offshore oil platform Holly, as well as eventually removing it as well as an abandoned onshore oil facility.

"The reason the state ended up with Platform Holly is that Venoco, the former leasee, quit-claimed its leases," said Sherri Pemberton, with the State Lands Commission.

The Commission now has the task of dealing with the facilities.

The pandemic threw a curve into the well plugging, and decommissioning process. Because of COVID-19 safety requirements, work on plugging the wells was delayed more than 500 days. It finally resumed this October.

Pemberton notes some key environmental studies will happen after the wells are plugged, starting next year.

But, she says its still too early to say when the oil facilities will be completely gone, whether it's three or five years.

The State Lands Commission is hosting a virtual community town hall Wednesday night to update people on the project.

Platform Holly is just one of the offshore oil platforms impacted by the rupture of the Plains All-American Pipeline. There were a total of seven affected. Besides Holly, three other platforms are currently in permanent shutdown status.

But, Exxon Mobile wants to restart three platforms off the Santa Barbara County coastline currently idled because the pipeline rupture left them unable to move oil to processing facilities.

Linda Krop is Chief Counsel for the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, which has been battling oil development in the region for decades.

Plains has filed to rebuild the damaged pipeline, but Krop says the effort will get intensive review. She says it will be complicated for the company, especially with the pipeline crossing different jurisdictions, as well as different land ownership.

In the interim, as KCLU has been reporting, Exxon Mobil has been seeking permits to move oil by tanker truck from the coast to facilities in Santa Maria and Kern County. That would allow the company to get its three platforms back into action.

Environmental groups are fighting the effort, citing concerns about the danger of accidents, as well as pollution from the truck trips.

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is recommending rejection of the effort, but Santa Barbara County Supervisors will make the final decision next year.

If trucking oil is rejected, and if rebuilding the pipeline also ultimately fails, it could mean the three Exxon Mobile platforms may end up being shut down permanently.

Link to Platform Holly Virtual Town Hall at 6 p.m. Wednesday.