Oil & Gas Update

The Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a clear demonstration of why offshore oil platforms need to be decommissioned as soon as possible.

Every day is another opportunity for a major platform blowout. Every day that these platforms sit in a metal-hungry, salt-bath environment, they are closer to a blowout and a major human and environmental disaster. Every day is a roll of the dice...in the hope that our oil addiction won’t trigger the “big one” off of our coast.


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Oil and Gas Update Overview

The following is a brief synopsis of the current existing or proposed oil and gas projects in Santa Barbara County, by geographic area.  Clicking on the highlighted project names will provide more detailed information on the projects themselves, as well as the current status of each proposal.

Carpinteria

There are currently two very important oil and gas projects being proposed in the Carpinteria area, as well as an abandonment project, as follows:

The Paredon Project is a proposal by Venoco to conduct directional (extended reach) drilling from an onshore operations site located at Venoco’s existing Carpinteria Oil and Gas Processing Facility (CPF), within the City of Carpinteria.

The Carone Petroleum Company proposes to develop State Oil and Gas Leases 4000, 7911 and 3133 from a federal platform, Platform Hogan, installed in 1967, and send the oil to the La Conchita onshore facility via offshore pipeline.

The abandonment project involves the Chevron Debris/Shell Mounds, left behind after the four “H” Platforms were removed from the Santa Barbara Channel in 1996.  Conditions on the State Lands and Coastal Commissions’ permits require that the area beneath the platforms be restored to a natural condition and be “trawlable”.  The debris mounds have prevented Chevron from meeting this requirement.

Goleta

There are currently three imminent projects in Goleta, clustered in the Ellwood area, all being proposed by Venoco, Inc.:

Venoco has applied to the State Lands Commission to extend the Ellwood Marine Terminal Lease until 2013.  The original lease was issued by the State Lands Commission in 1983, with the possibility of two 10 year extensions.  Since an application for an extension was not submitted in 1993, the lease has been operating on a month to month basis since that time.  Official renewal will provide the SLC with an opportunity to examine alternative modes of transportation, as well as up-to-date safety and environmental standards on this existing operation.

Venoco has applied to the State Lands Commission and the City of Goleta to recommence operations on Lease 421, originally leased in 1949.  Production from two wells on two small piers directly in the surf zone ceased in 1994, due to a break in the pipeline that took the oil directly to the Ellwood Marine Terminal.  In 2000, Well #1 developed a leak and emergency permits were issued to lay a 2” line from the well to the Ellwood Onshore Facility (EOF) to relieve pressure and stop the leak. Venoco is now proposing to recommission both wells and process the oil from the piers.

Venoco’s application for Ellwood Full Field Development, to the State Lands Commission, the County of Santa Barbara and the City of Goleta, involves a lease boundary extension into former State Leases 308 and 309, now part of the State Oil and Gas Sanctuary, processing at the Ellwood Onshore Facility, abandoning the Ellwood Marine Terminal and transporting all oil from Platform Holly by pipeline.  A multitude of issues are raised by this proposal, involving both the potential environmental impacts and legal requirements related to the 1991 agreement in which ARCO Oil and Gas gave up its rights to drill into this same area in exchange for additional drilling rights in Long Beach.

Lompoc

Plains Exploration and Development has submitted the Tranquillon Ridge II application to the State Lands Commission and the County of Santa Barbara to drill 22-30 new oil and gas wells from Platform Irene (in federal waters) into a new State tidelands oil and gas lease, using extended reach technology.  The oil would be sent to shore via pipeline and processed at the Torch Oil and Gas Facility.

Currently, one well (A-28) on Platform Irene has been drilled up to the state tidelands boundary.  In January of 2000, Nuevo Energy/Torch Operating Co. submitted essentially the same application for Tranquillon Ridge I.  In October of 2002, the County Board of Supervisors denied that project.  As a result, the request for a proposed new lease was never heard by the State Lands Commission.

Countywide

There are currently 37 existing federal leases (were 36) off the coast of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties which the Minerals Management Service (MMS) extended in 1999.  Due to the age of these leases, none of them were reviewed by the California Coastal Commission when they were leased or extended.

A series of lawsuits were brought challenging the failure of the MMS to conduct environmental review (and later inadequate environmental review) and failure to allow the State to review the leases.  In June, 2001, the federal district court directed the MMS to conduct environmental review and submit the lease extensions to the California Coastal Commission. And later ruled that that MMS could not grant the suspensions until the agency completed full environmental review, including review of future exploration and development activities. The federal government then filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

For a list explaining some commonly used oil and gas related acronyms and abbreviations, click here. (PDF)

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Paredon Project 

Project Description: Venoco proposes to conduct extended reach (directional) drilling from its existing onshore operations/oil and gas processing facility site (zoned CD-Coastal Dependent), located south of Highway 101, off of Dump Road in the City of Carpinteria.  The drilling site is adjacent to Carpinteria City Hall and within 1000 feet of 1000 people living in the Arbol Verde and Concha Loma Neighborhoods, as well as the San Roque and Granada Mobile Home Parks.  In addition, Carpinteria Middle School, with over 400 students, is less than one mile away.  The recently preserved Carpinteria Bluffs is just down coast and the seal haul out area is on the beach immediately below the drilling site, both environmentally sensitive. 

The project, which would augment the existing facilities by installing new facilities and modifying others, can be grouped into four distinct components:

  • Onshore drilling and production of onshore and offshore oil and gas resources (for approximately 4 years)
  • Onshore processing and distribution of oil
  • Onshore processing of produced water
  • Onshore processing and distribution of natural gas

The new proposed facilities would be integrated with existing onshore oil and gas processing, pipeline transportation and storage facilities. While the physical footprint of the existing facility would not increase, approval of a 175 foot tall electric drilling rig would significantly change the existing uses and appearance of the area, resulting in new and increased impacts to the local community and coastal visitors.

If the exploration well indicates that the development would be commercially viable, permanent drilling facilities would be installed and the necessary modifications to the existing facilities made. A number of electrical submersible pumps would also be installed (placed down a production well) to pump oil and gas to the surface.

Background: On January 23, 2002, and again on November 21, 2002, the State Lands Commission found Venoco’s application incomplete. In February, 2003, the City of Carpinteria notified the SLC that it will retain lead agency status under CEQA and signed a 5 year contract with the County, for Energy Division services on the project.  It appears that additions will need to be made to Carpinteria’s zoning ordinance relating to offshore oil since they do not currently exist.   On August 13 and 30, 2004, Venoco submitted applications to the SLC and the City of Carpinteria, respectively.  On September 10th and 30th SLC and the City, respectively, found the applications incomplete. SLC then received a revised application and found it complete on March 4th, 2005.  Carpinteria also received a revised application, but found it incomplete on March 2nd.   On October 12th, 2005 Carpinteria deemed Venoco’s resubmitted application complete and on March 27, City Council authorized Marine Research Specialists (MRS) as the EIR consultant for the project.  A public information workshop was held on April 18th and a scoping hearing on June 13th. 

Status:  The Draft EIR was released on June 11, 2007, a workshop held on June 26th, and a public comment hearing on July 30th with an August 9th deadline for written comments.  The FEIR was released on March 6th and a City Environmental Review Committee was held on May 19, 2008. The ERC directed staff and the EIR consultant to provide further information in response to public comment. A Planning Commission hearing has not yet been set, but is expected later this year.


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Carone Petroleum Company

Project Description:  Carone Petroleum Company proposes to develop State Oil and Gas Leases 4000, 7911 and 3133 within the Carpinteria Field.  Carone specifically proposes to to drill up to 25 new production or injection wells from Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Platform Hogan, constructed in 1967.  Oil and gas production from the State Leases would be commingled on Platform Hogan with existing production from the Federal lease and sent via existing pipelines to the La Conchita Facility.  After processing, gas and oil are sold to The Gas Company and other third parties at the La Conchita sales meters, and shipped via existing pipelines. 

Background: The Draft EIR is currently on hold. The API Level 3 structural survey of Platform Hogan was completed and, on October 24th, 2003, Carone requested a one year extension to complete the upgrades to Platform Hogan required by MMS. MRS, the consultant, submitted the Administrative DEIR on the proposed project to SLC staff in February, 2005.  Prior to publication of the public Draft, the MMS contacted both SLC staff and the applicant requesting that the document be issued as a joint NEPA/CEQA document. 

Status: SLC staff is working with MMS to revise the document to meet NEPA requirements.  SLC staff has also decided to include the information from the engineering report to determine any necessary modifications to accommodate the large electric rig to implement the proposed project.  Staff received and reviewed the engineering report, which it found to be incomplete.  Comments were submitted to Carone in late July and SLC received the revised report at the end of October.  SLC Staff has indicated to Carone that additional changes are still needed to the engineering report which will dictate what changes will need to be made to Platform Hogan.  There is no estimated date for the release of the Draft EIR.


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Chevron Debris/Shell Mounds

Project Description:  The four “H” Platforms were removed from the Santa Barbara Channel in 1996, leaving behind four debris mounds, each approximately 200+ feet long and 30 feet high. The SLC commissioned a study in 2001 that concluded that there were contaminants in the mounds and that a variety of methods were available to remove the mounds without the use of explosives.  In 2001, Chevron applied to the SLC for a project (to be determined) on the disposition of the mounds. 

The mounds are composed of 3 layers, the top layer made up of shell hash (mussel, clam and barnacle shells), the second layer of drill cuttings and the bottom layer of sea floor sediments (clay).  The middle layer was found to contain contaminants from the drill muds and cuttings which were dumped from the platforms.

Background:  Conditions on the State Lands and Coastal Commissions’permits required that the area beneath the platforms be restored to a natural condition and be “trawlable”.  Due to the size of the mounds, this requirement cannot currently be met. Shortly after the EIR preparation began, it was determined that a bioassay study should be done to determine whether or not contaminants were leaching into the water column.  On June 26th, the SLC held a Stakeholder Briefing on the results of the Bioassay Mussel Study. 

The Draft EIR was released on December 15th, with a 60-day review period.  Staff is in the process of responding to comments on the DEIR, including a Habitat Equivalency Analysis (HEA) submitted by Chevron.  These types of analyses are used, as part of a Natural Resource Damage Assessment, to determine the most environmentally beneficial course of action following an environmentally damaging event, such as an oil spill.  Chevron indicates that this analysis shows that creation of a reef and offsite mitigation at Carpinteria Marsh is the most environmentally beneficial alternative. SLC is reviewing, and deciding how to respond to Chevron’s submittal. The environmental groups and PCFFA continue to support removal of the mounds as the preferred long-term solution.

Status:  SLC has received an application, but the pilot project at Platform Heidi is listed as one of three alternatives, along with the reef and capping.  The “proposed” project is to leave the mounds in place and provide for mitigation at Carpinteria Marsh.  Chevron is using the HEA as justification for this project. The Draft EIR is being revised and it is expected that it will be released in 2008. 


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Ellwood Marine Terminal Lease Extension

Project Description:  Venoco has applied to the State Lands Commission for an extension to its marine terminal lease until 2013.  The marine terminal consists of

Background:  Venoco’s original lease for the Ellwood Marine Terminal was issued by the State Lands Commission in 1983, with the possibility of two 10 year extensions.  Since an application for an extension was not submitted in 1993, the lease has been operating on a month to month basis.  Official renewal is critical because it will allow the SLC to apply up-to-date safety and environmental standards.
Venoco’s application to the SLC for a 10-year lease extension to its Ellwood Marine Terminal was found complete on July 2, 2003. On August 19, 2003, the SLC authorized staff to negotiate a contract for CEQA review of the project.  Scoping hearings were held on August 3, 2004.  SLC staff received the Administrative DEIR from the consultant, Marine Research Specialists, in late August, 2005 and provided extensive comments on it.  The DEIR was issued in late July, 2006, and a public hearing was held on August 30th.

Status: The Final EIR was released in August and a State Lands Commission (SLC) public hearing was set for October 30th in San Diego. The item was withdrawn because the DEIR will need to be revised and recirculated based on the potential infeasibility of a mitigation requirement for a double-hulled barge. A revised DEIR is due to be released in the fall of 2008.


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State Lease 421 Recommissioning

Project Description:  Venoco has submitted an application to return State Lease PRC-421 to production.  The project includes the removal of old production equipment from oil piers 421-1 and 421-2 (which are California’s last remaining surfzone oil piers); repairs to the access road, rock rip-rap wall, and caisson at the end of pier 421-1; installation of a drilling rig and new oil separation and processing equipment on pier 421-2; and reactivation of the oil well on pier 421-2 with a capacity to produce up to 700 BPD (111 m3/d).  The oil would be pumped to Line 96 through an existing pipeline and then to the EMT. The existing pipeline between Line 96 and the 421-1 pier would be upgraded. 

Background: Originally leased in 1949, renewed in 1959, production from two wells from two small piers ceased in 1994, due to a break in the pipeline that took the oil directly to the marine terminal.  In 2000, Well #1 developed a leak and emergency permits were issued to lay a 2” line from the well to the Ellwood onshore facility (EOF) to relieve pressure and stop the leak.  Secondary emergency permits were issued in March of 2001 to complete the stabilization of both wells and to repair the access road and piers.  Regular permits were then issued for the emergency work in late 2001.

In May, 2003, Venoco sent a letter to the City of Goleta asserting its vested right to recommission the two wells, with the oil continuing to go directly to the marine terminal.  The letter then suggested that there might be a better way to process the oil (probably at the OEF).  Venoco has indicated that it does not believe a permit is needed from the SLC to recommission, however SLC staff says that an SLC permit IS required, pursuant to SLC Reg. #2137. On May 17, the City of Goleta sent a letter to the SLC
stating opposition to restoration of oil and gas activities on Lease 421On July 15th, SLC staff wrote to Venoco directing the company to repair the seawall protecting Caisson #1, but indicating that such an action would have no effect on any discretionary action on Venoco’s application to return Lease 421 to production.  Venoco submitted an application to the SLC on May 19, 2004 which was found incomplete on June 19, 2004.  On December 14, 2004, SLC received a response to its incomplete letter, but did not issue an incomplete letter before January 14th, thereby (defacto) allowing the application to become complete. In June, 2005, SLC selected a consultant for the EIR and a scoping hearing was held on June 23, 2005 in Goleta.

Status:  The DEIR was released in early September, 2007, and a workshop/public hearing held on October 16th in Goleta, with a deadline for written comments on November 16, 2007. It is expected that the FEIR will be released in fall/winter, 2008.


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Ellwood Full Field Development-Lease Boundary Adjustment

Project Description:  Venoco is proposing to fully develop the Ellwood Offshore field through the use of a lease boundary extension, processing the oil at the Ellwood Onshore Facility, abandoning the Ellwood Marine Terminal and transporting all oil from Platform Holly by pipeline.  The project would include: 

  • Construction of a new 10-inch (25-cm) diameter, 10-mile (16-km) onshore pipeline to transport

oil from the Ellwood Onshore Facility (EOF) to the Plains All American Pipeline system at Las Flores Canyon;

  • Decommissioning and abandonment of the EMT and Line 96.  Restoration of the EMT site and discontinuation of marine transportation via barge;
  • Adjustment of the existing PRC 3242.1 lease boundary to encompass the eastward section of the South Ellwood Field;
  • Drilling of up to 40 new wells on both the existing leases and the proposed project area;
  • Replacement of the existing crane on Platform Holly;
  • Replacement of the existing 2-inch (5-cm) utility pipeline and subsea power cable between the EOF and Platform Holly; and
  • Various improvements at the EOF, including a new power generation plant. 

Oil production is expected to peak at 12,600 BPD (2,003 m3/day) and gas production at 20 MMSCFD (566,337 m3/day) after five years. 

Background:  A number of projects have been proposed for the full development of the Ellwood Field, the most recent being the “Clearview” project which proposed the use of extended reach drilling from onshore to leases 308 and 309 which were quitclaimed to the State by ARCO in exchange for additional drilling rights in the Long Beach area.  Clearview was abandoned by Mobil when the UCSB Chancellor decided not to grant a lease to Mobil for the drill site.  Venoco has since explored a number of scenarios to develop the balance of the Ellwood Field from Platform Holly and has submitted a variety of applications, but none of them were found complete. On August 1, 2005, Venoco submitted applications to the State Lands Commission, the County of Santa Barbara and the City of Goleta (as required by AB 16, former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth’s pipeline bill).  All three entities found their respective applications incomplete on August 31st.  The resubmitted applications were found complete by all three entities on March 31, 2006.  SLC is lead agency, however, a City/County/SLC Joint Review Panel (JRP) was formed.  The Notice of Preparation was issued on June 28th and a scoping hearing held on July 24, 2006.  MRS has been selected as the consultant.

Status: The Draft EIR was released on June 24, 2008 and a public hearing was held on August 6th, with a comment deadline of August 25th. The DEIR was currently being revised for consistency with the Line 96 Pipeline Modification Project (see above) as well as including the feasibility of Venoco using the Las Flores Canyon processing facility, should the Full Field project be approved.  The Joint Review panel was set to review a revised Administrative Draft when, on November 9 and December 3, 2010, Venoco sent a letters to the State Lands Commission and the City of Goleta, respectively, withdrawing this project from consideration.


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Countywide

Project Description:  The Minerals Management extended 37 (was 36) existing federal leases off the coast of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties in 1999.  Due to the age of these leases, none of them were reviewed by the California Coastal Commission when they were leased.

Background: EDC represented eight environmental groups (Get Oil Out Sierra Club, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, The Otter Project, Surfrider Foundation and CPA) in litigation challenging the failure of the MMS to conduct environmental review and allow the State to review the leases. In June, 2001, the federal district court directed the MMS to conduct environmental review and submit the lease extensions to the California Coastal Commission. This decision was upheld by the court of appeals in December, 2002. On December 9, 2003, the US District Court directed the MMS to submit a schedule complying with the judgment requiring State review of these oil and gas leases. On February 26, 2004 the Court ordered MMS to submit a report by May 27 with a schedule for compliance with NEPA and the Coastal Zone Management Act. On April 20, 2004 the oil companies submitted their updated requests for suspensions to MMS.  The requests included schedules to commence exploratory and production drilling in the next 2-3 years. No activities are currently being proposed on 12 of the 37 leases, raising the possibility that these leases should be expired without compensation. The proposed schedule submitted by the MMS for NEPA compliance (environmental review) and CZMA compliance (federal consistency review) did not provide for environmental review of all potential activities on the leases.  On June 28, the court approved the NEPA/CZMA compliance schedule in spite of this inadequacy.

On November 17, 2004, MMS released the Draft Environmental Assessments (not Environmental Impact Statements) for the lease extensions with comments due on December 16.  Numerous groups commented, requesting environmental review of all impacts that could result from future exploration, development and production activities on the leases, as well as an evaluation of a full range of alternatives (inc. conservation, efficiency and clean renewable energy sources).  Nonetheless, on February 11, 2005, MMS released the final Environmental Assessments and Findings of No Significant Impact (FONSI). 

On March 8, 2005, EDC and NRDC, representing 10 environmental groups, filed a lawsuit challenging MMS’s determination that extending the (now 37) leases would not result in any negative environmental effects.  Pursuant to the 2002 court of appeals ruling, MMS submitted federal consistency determinations on the federal oil and gas lease suspensions to the Coastal Commission in April.  Environmental groups filed their opening brief on June 23.  On August 11th, the Coastal Commission objected to the federal consistency determinations on all of the leases.  MMS did not even send a representative to the hearing.  The next day, Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that that MMS could not grant the suspensions until the agency completed full environmental review, including review of future exploration and development activities. 

Status:  The federal government filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In the meantime, a federal court of claims ruled that the application of the Coastal Zone Management Act (as amended in 1990 to expand the right of coastal states to review federal activities) to these leases constituted a breach of contract and awarded restitution to the lessees in the amount of $1.1 billion.  If the government pays restitution, the leases will be extinguished.  We are waiting to see if the federal government will appeal this ruling.  Our case has been stayed pending resolution of the Amber Resources case

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Tranquillon Ridge II

Project Description:  In December, 2004, Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) submitted an application for the Tranquillon Ridge II project, requesting approval to drill 22-30 new oil and gas wells from Platform Irene (in federal waters) into a new State tidelands oil and gas lease, using extended reach technology.  Currently, one well (A-28) on Platform Irene has been drilled up to the state tidelands boundary.  The project would extend the life of the onshore Lompoc Oil and Gas processing facility by up to 30 years.  This project was essentially the same as the Tranquillon Ridge I project submitted by Nuevo Energy/Torch operating Co. in January of 2000. The Tranquillon Ridge I project, which GOO! strongly opposed, was denied by the Board of Supervisors on October 22, 2002.  As a result, the request for a new lease was never heard by the State Lands Commission, however SLC staff did determine that state oil deposits were being “drained” by means of producing wells upon adjacent federal lands, a necessary finding for any new oil and gas leases to be issued within the Calif. Coastal Sanctuary (PRC 6244).  Nuevo was then purchased by PXP. Sunset Exploration, with partners Exxon/Mobil, also proposed the Valhevala Project, an onshore alternative to drill and process the oil from Vandenberg AFB.  The County would be lead agency on both projects.  

Background:  PXP’s application to the County was found complete on March 10, 2005. On May 19th, the SLC also found the application complete.  A Joint Review Panel (SBC/SLC/CCC) was created and a consultant was hired.  The PXP project DEIR was released the first week in November.  Workshops/hearings were held November 15th and December 11th, and comments were due January 16, 2006.  In response to opposition from the environmental community (in particular, by GOO! and CPA, represented by EDC), PXP offered to meet with the community and revise its project to address our concerns that its proposal would extend the life of its existing facilities.  The Final EIR was released in early April, 2008. PXP and environmentalists announced a settlement agreement on April 10th delineating an end date of December, 2022 for the project, including the offshore production, hundreds of onshore wells, and onshore Lompoc Oil and Gas Plant, and requiring carbon neutrality.  The agreement also required PXP to shut down the three Pt. Arguello platforms and Gaviota onshore facility in 9 years, and convey 4,000 acres (including the onshore wells and facilities) to the public.  The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission approved the revised TR project on April 21, 2008.  On April 30, 2008, Exxon, Sunset and Vaquero appealed the PC decision to the BOS, however Exxon withdrew its appeal on August 12th.  On August 19th, the BOS heard the other appeals, but postponed action until October 7th.  Vaquero later withdrew its appeal.  

 

Status:  The BOS approved the project on October 7, 2008, however the State Lands Commission denied it on January 29, 2009.  Although legislative attempts were made to circumvent the SLC’s denial, the environmental parties and other entities opposed such attempts.  A new settlement agreement was announced in April, 2010 to clarify aspects of the agreement in response to questions raised by the SLC and the public and to ensure that the SLC retained permit authority.  Following the oil disaster in the Gulf, the Governor withdrew his support for the project. There is no current project application.

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