Researchers Unsure How Exactly to Decommission Holly

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Platform Holly sits off the coast of Goleta. (Juan Gonzalez/The Bottom Line file photo)

Lauren Marnel Shores
Campus Beat Reporter

To Goleta residents and University of California, Santa Barbara students, Platform Holly, a charmingly named oil rig just off the coast of Ellwood Beach, has become a household name — though not in the best of ways.

After oil conglomerate Venoco announced the company’s decision to retire the rig in April, the decommission of Platform Holly — seven months later — is proving to be a logistical challenge, rife with financial and environmental barriers, and still in research stages.

Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, spoke of the research efforts into the immediate and long term impacts of Platform Holly’s long awaited decommission, emphasizing the importance of a measured and thorough approach.

“It’s important to look at this from a holistic level, not just opportunistically,” Krop told The Bottom Line. “We’re hoping with Platform Holly, that’s the way it’ll be looked at — that it won’t be looked at in isolation, but looked at in terms of the bigger picture and the impacts of potentially not removing this platform, and what the long term impacts might be.”

The potential dangers of Platform Holly’s decommission, and the need to retire the rig properly, are fresh on the minds of EDC and Venoco officials alike, as both groups, and Santa Barbara County coastal wildlife, continue to suffer the devastating impact of the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill.

Plains All American Pipeline, a Texas-based energy infrastructure and consulting company, was operating the pipeline connecting Platform Holly to the mainland when it leaked over 140,000 gallons of oil in 2015. The company faced cleanup costs of over $150 million in the two months following the spill.

In April, the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and released their decision to decommission Platform Holly as a result. According to the Santa Barbara Independent, Venoco has set aside a $22 million bond for this purpose. ExxonMobil, the predecessor lessee to Venoco, is expected to participate in “the plugging and abandonment” of the thirty wells on Platform Holly, and the two onshore wells at the Ellwood Beach Piers.

With push from environmentalists and local politicians to decommission the rig as soon as possible, the Environmental Defense Center is currently weighing the pros and cons of either a full or partial decommission. A partial decommission, as outlined by the California Marine Resources Legacy Act, would remove only the top portion of the oil platform from the water.

While opposition to full decommission believe that the underwater platform can be used as a marine habitat, a 2000 study led by scientists from the University of California found that “there is not any sound scientific evidence (that the Committee is aware of) to support the idea that platforms enhance (or reduce) regional stocks of marine species.”

Other states like Texas and Louisiana, which have undergone similar processes with oil rigs in the Gulf, have erred on the side of partial decommissioning — in order to use the remaining underwater structures as artificial reefs. But Goleta’s coastline, with its already natural rocky reef habitat, is capable of sustaining marine environments without the aid of underwater structures.

Just as they did in the aftermath of the 2015 oil spill, UCSB students are finding ways to aid the decommissioning process. The newest opportunity, made possible by a Coastal Fund Grant and further approval by the Associated Student Senate, is a hands-on internship position with the Environmental Defense Center. The UCSB student intern will help to create a report of the comparative costs and benefits between partial and full decommission options for Platform Holly.

“A lot of people are saying there’s going to be impacts from the noise, or the air emission,” Krop said. “We want to know what is the best technology out there that would have the least impact, so that we have a fair comparison. Right now, we feel that there is not enough information about that.”

Pending further approval, the EDC will begin its intern search in Winter Quarter and extends the opportunity to apply to all UCSB undergraduate, graduate, and Bren School students.

Until the EDC’s final decision, Platform Holly, now owned by the California State Lands Commission, will continue its silent watch over the Goleta coastline, awaiting word on how — and when — it will finally be laid to rest.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated the pipeline connected to Platform Holly that ruptured in 2015 was operated by Venoco. Plains All American Pipeline was operating the pipeline and managed the cleanup of the spill. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. The article incorrectly states “Venoco, a Colorado based oil production company that was operating the pipeline when it leaked over 140,000 gallons of oil in 2015, faced cleanup costs of over $150 million in two months following the spill.” The link in the article to a previous Bottom Line article points out the pipeline was operated by Plains All-American, not Venoco. Please correct.

  2. Venoco was not the operator of the pipeline that leaked. It was Plains All-American. Furthermore, Venoco was not a “conglomerate” but rather a standard, independent exploration and production oil company. Both are significant reporting errors in this article.

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