Goodbye oil processing carpinteria oil plant to be decommissioned news coastalview.com gas key staking tool

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The imposing sea-foam green oil tanks and serpentine pipelines near Casitas Pier in Carpinteria are set to be dismantled and removed from the coastline as part of the unloading of Venoco Inc.’s assets following its 2016 bankruptcy filing. Venoco had purchased the 55-acre property in Carpinteria from Chevron in 1999, and as part of court proceedings, Chevron will re-aquire the title and undertake for the multi-million-dollar task of decommissioning the Carpinteria Oil and Gas Processing Plant on Dump Road along with offshore oil platforms Grace and Gail, which pipe oil and gas to the Carpinteria plant.

Carpinteria’s long relationship with oil and gas development has been rocky at best, and news of the decommissioning marks a major victory for locals who have long decried an oil and gas operation—complete with its odors, aesthetic impacts and environmental risks—in their backyard. Venoco generously contributed to local schools and several nonprofits, but the community sent a strong message about its support of oil and gas drilling when 70 percent of local voters defeated a ballot measure in 2010 that would have allowed the company to slant drill from a 140-foot tall rig on the bluffs.

Since announcing its bankruptcy, Venoco has attempted to find a buyer for the offshore leases and the local processing plant. Chevron’s decommissioning indicates that no buyers could be found for a property that is now more of a liability than an asset. Significant time and several million dollars will be required to properly decommission operations.

The changing of hands at the property coincides with the City of Carpinteria’s ongoing update to its General Plan, the document designating land-uses and guiding city planning into the future. Already under consideration is a possible re-designation of the 55-acre Dump Road property’s current zoning as coastal dependent industry, under which oil and gas development and its related activities fall.

Mayor Fred Shaw, who would prefer that the bluff-top land overlooking the harbor seal rookery be set aside for recreational use, said that any changes to zoning would require approval by the California Coastal Commission, which prioritizes coastal dependent industry and visitor services along the coastline.

Chevron’s decommissioning will only eliminate part of the oil industry activity at the property. Numerous other companies rely on Casitas Pier to run boats to and from oil platforms in Santa Barbara Channel. Additionally, the natural gas metering and odorizing facility located near the southwest corner of the property is still operated by DCOR, and plans for decommissioning that facility are not part of Chevron’s immediate plans for the property.

If the Coastal Commission approves any re-zoning as part of the city’s General Plan update in 2020, it would not force oil and gas operations to cease but would change the oil industry use to legal nonconforming. Any new owners or activities would have to comply to the new designation.

Also operating from the property is an oil spill response agency known as Marine Spill Response Corporation, which legally must be funded by oil operators. Clean Seas was formerly the agency in charge of oil spill response but MSRC, a national organization, took over in July.

Mayor Shaw said it’s too early to tell what zoning updates will make it into the General Plan or what the longterm future holds for the property. “Pier use could be allowed to continue, or all of the grounds could be remediated in order to sell to a developer,” he said.

The property has seen four rounds of remediation already over the past 20 years, according to City Manager Dave Durflinger. Formerly, the property was home to a gasoline terminal at which tanker ships would pipe-in gasoline for semi trucks to load and distribute to gas stations in the region. After decommissioning that activity, the soil was remediated. Also, the area abutting Carpinteria Avenue had historically been used for agriculture during the era when DDT was still used and had to be remediated. Additionally, there was soil remediation where there had been an electrical transformer explosion, as well as in an area that had been used to sandblast and paint industrial equipment.

In its announcement, Chevron indicated that full decommissioning of onshore and offshore facilities will take several years. It’s clear that development and processing of oil and gas from the property will not continue. “Chevron does not intend to produce oil from the platforms or operate the oil and gas plant for oil production. Our intent is to begin plugging the wells and decommissioning the platforms and related facilities consistent with applicable permits and regulations,” the company stated in its release.