South Ellwood Project

Photo credit: Commission staff

Platform Holly/Piers 421/Venoco Bankruptcy

Nov 3, 2022 | Oil and Gas

Current Status

Plug and abandonment work on Platform Holly resumed in October 2021—528 days after the pandemic shut down this work. Since then, staff and ExxonMobil have permanently plugged and abandoned five of the 30 wells. Twenty-two of the remaining 25 wells are partly plugged, having had the lower oil-producing formations sealed off. Once the lower formations are sealed on the remaining three wells, work will start to seal all wells at the surface permanently. Staff anticipates that all 30 wells will be plugged and abandoned by the year’s end or early 2023. Staff also continues to maintain and monitor Platform Holly and the onshore facilities to ensure public health and safety. Plans are also under development to flush and inert Platform Holly and the Ellwood Onshore Facility when the well plug and abandonment work ends. This will enable the two facilities to be put into a safe caretaker status mode while a platform removal engineering study and CEQA work are completed.

The work to remove the pier and caisson structures, known as PRC 421-1 and 421-2, at Haskell’s Beach is going well and is scheduled to be completed by early next year. At the end of August, the State Lands Commission began the work, which will up to six months to complete. Sections of the beach may close temporarily to keep the public safe during the operations, but the beach will remain open otherwise. The Commission is dismantling the first Pier (421-1), and removal is expected in mid-November. Removal work on the second Pier (421-2), is expected to start in mid-December.

Background

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.

Efforts to resume plug and abandonment work on Platform Holly are underway and active well work is expected to resume on September 30, 2021. Plug and abandonment operations are anticipated to continue through completion in early 2023, assuming there are no additional unanticipated delays.

In June 2021, the Commission issued a Notice of Preparation to decommission the PRC 421 wells. The Commission held public scoping meetings later that month and is now preparing an Environmental Impact Report. Piers 421 decommissioning work is anticipated to begin in Spring/Summer of 2022.

Regarding Platform Holly decommissioning, the Commission plans to hire an environmental consultant in mid-2022 to conduct CEQA review. We anticipate that the CEQA process for Platform Holly decommissioning will start in late-2022 and involve robust public and stakeholder outreach. The CEQA process will inform the ultimate decommissioning plan for Platform Holly, which will require Commission review and approval at a public meeting.

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