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Major step taken towards removal of abandoned oil piers on South Coast

Work could start this summer, and possibly even be completed by the end of the year to remove two old oil well piers in Goleta.

After State Lands Commission tours site, it approves Environmental Impact Report for removal of two old piers in Goleta.

We’re taking a field trip to a South Coast beach, a beach which includes an aging reminder of the region’s oil production history.

The City of Goleta’s Haskell’s Beach is home to a pair of abandoned piers. The State Lands Commission is conducting the field trip to the piers known as 421-1, and 421-2, as it prepared to consider an environmental impact report outlining plans for their removal.

The piers were among eight which popped up along the Goleta coastline starting in the 1920’s, to tap into the Ellwood Oil Field. Up until the 1950’s, wells on piers were used to reach offshore oil fields. After that, oil and gas platforms came into use. By the 1970’s, most of the other piers were gone, and there were just two of the wells still operating. There was one on each of the two piers. One was shut down in the 70’s, and the other in the 90’s.

In the late 90’s, Venoco leased the two piers, as well as offshore oil platform Holly from Exxon Mobile. Venoco operated Holly, but never reactivated their piers.

Then, in 2015, the Plains All-American Pipeline ruptured on the Gaviota coastline. The loss of the pipeline meant Venoco lost the ability to move oil from the platform. In 2017, the company declared bankruptcy, forcing the State Lands Commission to take over management of the facilities.

Joe Fabel is an attorney with the State Lands Commission. He says after a lot of studies, and planning, work could get underway to finally remove the two piers.

The pandemic has disrupted work on the other part of the problem. Because of social distancing concerns, crews basically lost much of the last two years in capping the 30 oil wells on Platform Holly. But, work is progressing now.

Some of the wells are venting dangerous gas. It’s being pumped to the Ellwood Onshore facility, near Haskell’s Beach, for safe disposal.

But, listen to this twist. Remember, Venoco filed for bankruptcy, in effect sticking the state with the piers and Platform Holly. But, the trustee trying to recover money for those hit by the bankruptcy is suing the state. The suit is trying for force the state to pay rent for using the Ellwood Oil Facility to get rid of the dangerous gas. It’s turned into a long, expensive court battle that the state could lose.

The removal of Platform Holly is another story. A plan has to be developed, with public review and an environmental report. Fabel says it could take three to seven years.

With a backlog of oil platforms slated for removal around the world, the limited amount of specialized equipment needed could further delay Holly’s removal. But, for those on the tour, like Don Nason of Goleta, plans to remove the two aging piers in the next few months is encouraging.

Community residents on a State Lands Commission tour of two old oil piers in Goleta planned for removal.

After the field trip, the State Lands Commission met in Goleta, where it approved the environmental impact report, which was a key go-ahead for the project to proceed.