Platform Holly is where all oil drilling into the South Ellwood field occurs 

Platform Holly is an offshore platform that extracts and produces oil and gas in the Santa Barbara Channel. The Platform stands 211 feet tall and uses a series of drills to remove oil from naturally occurring seeps in the ocean floor. Holly takes oil from 32 different wells. The platform sits two miles from Coal Oil Point, making it easy to see from Goleta, CA. ARCO built Platform Holly in 1966 to take their share of the Southern Ellwood Oil Field, which was estimated by The Us Department of Energy to hold one billion barrels of oil. However, Venoco Inc., its most recent operator, estimated this number to be around two billion. Venoco bought Platform Holly from Mobil in 1997, who had taken over the platform from ARCO in 1993. Venoco has held ownership of the platform from that point on. However, Platform Holly has recently been inactive. In May 2015, The Refugio Oil Spill ruptured the pipeline it relies on to transport oil. Two years later, between April and May of 2017, Venoco filed for bankruptcy and decommissioned the platform. The state now owns the structure and is responsible for its removal. Information from Noozhawk and SB Independent.

Platform Holly's Closure

Photo by The Mercury NewsOn April 17, 2017, Venoco, Inc., an oil company based in Colorado and originating in Carpinteria, issued a press release declaring bankruptcy and releasing their claim to the Ellwood Oil lease in which Venoco proposed to expand drilling off of Platform Holly. Shortly after filing for bankruptcy, Venoco sued Plains All American Pipeline, the company responsible for the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill. Venoco uses Plains All American Pipeline to transport oil and gas to refineries and according to the company, the shutdown of the pipeline halted 50% of their production. Venoco, Inc. claims that when Plains All American Pipeline shut-down the pipeline that was responsible for the 2015 Refugio Oil spill, they lost excess of $20 million. Attorney Steven Tekosky filed a lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court asking Plains to pay Venoco $12.4 million to cover profit losses from the pipeline shut-down and an additional $108,900 to cover costs for accounting and financial experts. According to Venoco, Platform Holly provided half of the company’s production before the spill. Since Venoco’s bankruptcy, the state of California is now responsible for the decommission of Platform Holly. The process will take approximately three years, depending on funding and the environmental review process. Since Platform Holly is located in a state marine sanctuary, state officials must consider environmentally friendly ways to dismantle the platform. UCSB research biologist Milton Love told Noozhawk that completely removing the platform would disrupt the ecosystem that has developed around the submerged infrastructure. Linda Krop of the Environmental Defense Center is a proponent of the complete removal of the infrastructure for safety of near-shore users and to secure any potential toxic waste leaks.

Current Local Perspectives on Platform Holly's Closure

For the closure

On May 10, 2017, Quincy Lee published an article on Platform Holly in The Bottom Line, the UCSB newspaper. Lee discusses aspects of the Platform, including its history and public reactions to its closure. He writes, “Platform Holly’s decommission also coincides with Jackson’s bill, SB 188, that she pushed to discourage new oil development in state waters.” Lee claims that the Platform’s closure is representative of Senator Jackson’s agenda to prevent new oil projects in the Santa Barbara area. With this claim, Lee suggests that a significant portion of the Santa Barbara area’s population is against further oil development in the Channel. He supports his notion saying, “But after nearly half a century of drilling, oil seeps decreased and the rig is no longer profitable for Venoco to continue its operations… ‘This is significant,’ said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara. ‘It will eliminate the risk of oil spills in this very sensitive area and on popular public beaches.” Lee says oil seep frequency decreased recently, making the platform unsustainable economically. He quotes Krop, who says this closure will have a positive impact on local environments. He uses an interview with Senator Jackson to elaborate on this point, writing, “I will be closely following the decommissioning process as it moves forward,' said Jackson, 'because this helps us move closer to a future that is cleaner, greener and less dependent on fossil fuels.’ Despite the executive order issued by the Trump Administration, Senator Jackson is attempting to move California away from the long history of oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel. Platform Holly’s decommission is an example of this progress, but the oil industry’s history here is dug deeper than the 32 oil wells.” Jackson says that she will be active in the decommissioning process to ensure a cleaner future for the local environment. Lee suggests that Jackson is breaking from a history of oil extraction off the Santa Barbara coast. He continues to discuss why he believes this change is positive. Lee writes, “Oil spills have been the largest deterrent from the continued use of oil platforms. Increased observations of the side effects of offshore oil extraction have decreased the community’s approval of the rigs. In regards to the removal of Platform Holly and the continued reduction of oil extraction in state waters, the LA Times wrote, ‘As President Trump voices his determination to expand oil drilling and 20th century energy policies, California is pioneering the sustainable alternative that protects our coastlines and environment while gaining a strong foothold in the future energy and global economy.” Lee claims that the negative side-effects of oil spills have turned the public’s support away from oil platforms. Citing the LA times, he implies that California is implementing policies which encourage a reliance on other, more environmentally friendly, forms of energy. Lee’s article sheds light on the mindset of those in favor of decommissioning Platform Holly in Santa Barbara in 2017.

Against the Closure

Some people have expressed concern over the decommissioning of Platform Holly and Venoco’s bankruptcy as they provided Santa Barbara revenue via property taxes and involved themselves with various philanthropic endeavors. According to the Santa Barbara County Treasurer and Tax Collector’s office, since 2010, Venoco has paid more than $20 million in property taxes. Venoco’s community partnership manager, Marybeth Carty, told Noozhawk that over 20 years, Venoco has donated $12 million and had reached over 200 organizations. Lost revenue after the Plains all American Pipeline spill has hindered the company’s philanthropic reach. Chelsea Duffy, the Executive Director of Partner’s in Education, told Noozhawk that “Venoco has consistently stepped up to the plate for education, giving half a million dollars to our organization since 2001.” The State’s Land Commission said that Venoco generated about $160 million in state revenue from royalties and rent without any significant spills on state property during the last 20 years.

Local Perspectives From the Past

(Source: historic editions of the Santa Barbara News Press stored in the Special Collections section of the UCSB library)

Oil Platforms, including Holly, in the Santa Barbara Channel have sparked debate among locals since the first platforms were constructed in the 1960’s. Headlines and articles from past editions of the Santa Barbara News Press illustrate past perspectives and ideas about these Platforms in this area. One article, from the year 1970 , titled “Oil Production in California Dips,” says, “the wells in the state waters of the Santa Barbara Channel… are being depleted and yielding less each year… About 95 percent of California’s energy needs are now provided by oil and gas… If oil and gas are to supply this percentage of future energy needs, new oil reserves in California will have to be found. If they aren’t increased imports will be necessary. This means… a continuing loss of jobs for Californians.” The author says oil wells in the channel are drying out, and suggests that someone look for new oil reserves in California so the state can fulfill its energy needs. “Offshore Oil: Year of Frustration,” another article from the the Santa Barbara News Press but published in the January 1st, 1969 edition, says, “The year 1968 was one of frustration and disappointment for the oil industry probing the Ventura basin for lucrative offshore deposits… Far from discouraged, oil companies, fully aware of high financial risks involved, continue to plug away… The ultimate merits and financial gains are being debated as hard labor is backed by hard cash. Operators all realize their gamble has no money-back guarantee.” This article claims that in 1968, oil was hard to find in the Ventura Basin and that oil companies were taking huge financial risks to look for it. “Slick Near Platform Holly has Disappeared” published in the Santa Barbara News Press on March 16th, 1970, says, “Sen. Alan Cranston expressed doubt publicly Saturday morning that the oil on the water in the area of the Atlantic-Richfield offshore tract was from natural seeps. He said… that he strongly suspected that at least some of the oil was the result of a man-caused leak on or near the platform… The area was viewed from the air by Mrs. Lois Sidenberg, president of Get Oil Out, and she said that there was no oil around the platform. She noted oil from the natural seepage area.” This article suggests that there has been controversy surrounding the nature and existence of oil spills. Robert Sollen published an article, “Hearings Scheduled On Oil Platforms” on December 31st, 1970 in the Santa Barbara News Press. He says, “Public hearings on setting up two more oil platforms off Santa Barbara’s shores will be conducted… in Santa Barbara Jan. 13-14… Platform Hillhouse… went in place 13 months ago despite a protest fish-in… William T. Pecora, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said… the two platforms are likely to be emplaced during 1971… it was almost inevitable that the platforms would be approved regardless of what information might be developed at the hearings… The two additional platforms applied for would bring the total to seven on federal leases… and would complete the program development of oil and gas reservoirs of the Rincon structural trend… Santa Barbarans have long protested oil development in the channel… We believe it would be helpful to obtain the views of the public before evaluating the plans of the companies for installation of these platforms.” Sollen’s article shows that there was tension between the people of Santa Barbara and oil companies over building more oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel.  “Federal Oil Tract Production,” another article written by Robert Sollen, published on February 6th, 1984 in the Santa Barbara News Press, says, “Arco has disclosed plans for two more platforms in the Coal Oil Point area… Arco has discovered a rich extension of its Ellwood South Field… The biggest producer, Atlantic Richfield’s Platform Holly off Coal Oil Point, turned out about 3.15 million barrels last year.” Sollen says that ARCO found extensions of the Ellwood South Field and planned to build two more platforms. He then gives Platform Holly’s production numbers, claiming that this platform is a major producer of oil. These articles demonstrate how local media outlets talked about oil platforms and how people perceived them at specific times in the past.

An Interview with Linda Krop: Chief Counsel of the Santa Barbara Environmental Defense Center

June 5, 2017

Q: What will the process of decommissioning Platform Holly look like?

A: The first step is that the State Lands Commission, which is now responsible for Platform Holly and the piers, has to immediately plug the wells. Venoco has walked away and so it's important the the wells be properly abandoned and plugged so we don't have any leaks like we have had from other old abandoned wells in our area. This will take 18-24 months and it should start within the next couple of months. During this period, the state will come up with a decommissioning plan for the platform and the piers and that plan will be available for the public to review and comment on. There will be an environmental impact report that will look at different alternatives for how to handle the decommissioning. My (Linda Krop’s) understanding is the proposal from the state will be to fully remove the platform and the piers which is what we (The Environmental Defense Center) support because when those facilities were installed 50 years ago, the oil companies promised to take out their structures when they finished their oil production and restore the marine environment to a natural condition. There’s a lot of toxic debris that has been discharged from the facilities over the years. We want everything cleaned up. If these facilities were on shore and an oil company wanted to just walk away and leave their remains, people would go ballistic and not allow something like that. Just because these happen to be underwater shouldn't be any different. Then there are the safety considerations. Although some people do support the idea of leaving parts of platform in the ocean, that should not be done in near-shore areas where you have a lot of users. My understanding from talking to the State Lands Commission is that they do propose to completely remove Platform Holly and the piers.

There is going to be a town hall meeting on June 15th, 2017 from 6-9PM at the Goleta City Hall Council Chambers to talk about the decommissioning process and answer any questions from the public.


Photo from the Patagonia website According to an article published by Santa Barbara Independent, on August 22nd, 2015 members from Patagonia, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and the Surfrider Foundation collaborated to protest oil drilling and unfold a #crudeawakening banner. Their aim was to bring awareness to senate bills that require that all intrastate oil pipelines receive yearly examinations and that oil companies use only the finest technology to protect their pipelines against spills. Additionally, these bills prohibit the use of dispersants in post-spill cleanups in order to end slant drilling from federal waters into state waters. This protest was fueled by the oil pipeline rupture that occurred on May 19, 2015 in Santa Barbara that caused 140,000 gallons of oil to kill marine life and tarnish protected areas.

Oil Production Chart

Photo from the County of Santa Barbara Planning and Development website 

As stated by the County of Santa Barbara Planning and Developmen, Platform Holly's most productive year was 1984.