South Ellwood Project

Photo credit: Commission staff

Platform Holly/Piers 421/Venoco Bankruptcy

Feb 16, 2023 | Oil and Gas

Current Status

Staff continues to maintain and monitor Platform Holly and the onshore facilities to ensure public health and safety and to work on abandoning the 30 wells on the platform. Well work to seal off the producing intervals of the wells is now complete. We are entering a six-week monitoring period where the wells will be regularly checked to confirm seal pressure integrity. After the monitoring period, we will address any issues that were observed during the monitoring, install the remaining surface plugs, and start conductor casing removal, which will cut the connections between the platform and the seabed. Staff are developing plans to flush and inert Platform Holly and the Ellwood Onshore Facility at the end of the well abandonment work. This will enable the platform to be put into a caretaker status mode while ExxonMobil performs its platform removal engineering study and the environmental impact assessment is complete.

The PRC 421-1 and 421-2 oil and gas decommissioning project is complete. This milestone decommissioning 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.


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

  • 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.
  • 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