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Nothing to see here! Community celebrates removal of 90+ year old oil piers on beach in Goleta

State and local leaders gather at Goleta's Haskell's Beach Monday to celebrate the removal of nearly century old oil piers.
State and local leaders gather at Goleta's Haskell's Beach Monday to celebrate the removal of nearly century old oil piers.

Next up is an even bigger project: The removal of Platform Holly from the Santa Barbara Channel

It’s a drizzly, chilly morning. But, that didn’t dampen the mood of about 100 people hiking to Goleta’s Haskell’s Beach.

As we arrive on the beach, the group looks to the southeast. There’s a fishman out in the surf, a couple walking a dog, and what looks like an otherwise pristine coastline. That’s the point of the visit.

Starting in the 1920’s, there were more than a dozen piers on the beach, which were built for coastal oil drilling. Most of them were removed over the decades. But earlier this year, a project to finally remove the final two oil piers was completed. People are here celebrating.

Former Democratic State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara spent most of her political career fighting for the shutdown, and removal of oil projects.

"It's certainly been long in coming, but the truth of the matter is when you have everybody sort of rowing together from the local community to the State Lands Commission, to our elected officials, David can slay Goliath," said Jackson.

There’s a lot of pieces to the story. A 2015 pipeline rupture on the Gaviota coastline took away the ability of the company which operated Platform Holly, off of Goleta, to get its oil to market. Venoco also had an onshore oil facility, and the two piers. It declared bankruptcy, and dumped the responsibility for the platform and the piers into the hands of the state.

The oil piers on Haskell's Beach in the spring of 2022, before their removal.
Lance Orozco
The oil piers on Haskell's Beach in the spring of 2022, before their removal.

Joe Fabel is an attorney for the State Lands Commission, which ended up with the responsibility for getting rid of the piers. "Those two piers...they had two oil wells on them," said Fabel. "They were under active leases. In 2017, the oil operator at the time, Venoco, declared bankruptcy, and quitclaimed those leases back to the state. They indicated they had no capacity to decommission those (piers)."

The piers known as PRC 421-1 and 421-2 were in terrible shape. They posed both a physical and environmental threat. The state commission took on the project, doing an environmental review, and developed a plan. Two wells were permanently capped. It took hundreds of truck trips to remove the debris from the piers as they were torn down. After five months of work, they were gone. Monday, people like Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte gathered on the beach to celebrate.

"It's taken years...years," said the Mayor. "So many people involved, and all the coordination."

Perotte said not only did the Commission do a good job of making the project happen, it did an incredible job of involving the community, and keeping people informed about the project.

The State Lands Commission even came, and held a special meeting on the beach to celebrate. California’s Lieutenant Governor, Eleni Kounalakis, is the commission’s chair.

"How many generations of families have come down to enjoy the beach, but have had these eyesores that were polluting, and smelled bad," said Kounalakis. "They're gone, and it is remarkable."

But, the story is far from over. Next up is a bigger project, the decommission of Platform Holly, off the coast of Goleta. Remember, thanks to Venoco’s bankruptcy, the state ended up dealing with it as well as the piers. It’s 30 wells have been safely capped. Work is underway to remove toxic materials from the platform, and to remove machinery.

Coastal Commission attorney Joe Fabel says after that, they have to do an environmental impact report, develop a removal plan, and then get specialized ships for the project.

"We are hoping to have an environmental impact report before the Commission by mid-2025," said Fabel.

There are other agencies which will have to approve permits for the work, but the goal is to maybe see the start of work by late 2025 or early 2026.

The Coastal Commission will hold a public meeting this week in Goleta to update the community on the Platform Holly removal project. It’s at 6 p.m. Wednesday (June 7), at Goleta City Hall.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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