California Records Reveal Hundreds of Offshore Violations

file photo: oil spill on Santa Barbara beach
file photo: oil spill on Santa Barbara beach

By The Maritime Executive 04-11-2018 06:59:58

Companies drilling for oil and gas off the southern coast of California have violated state regulations at least 381 times since 2015, according to state records obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Most of California’s offshore drilling infrastructure was built in the 1960s and has already passed its originally intended life span, says the Center. The documented violations range from corrosion on offshore drilling platforms to a pattern of missing and failed well-integrity tests on four offshore drilling islands owned by the city of Long Beach.

“These violations show a disturbing pattern of neglect at offshore oil platforms near Southern California’s biggest cities and most famous beaches,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney. 

The state’s biggest oil and gas producer, California Resources Corporation (CRC), operates Long Beach’s coastal drilling operations through its subsidiaries Tidelands and THUMS Long Beach Company. The three related entities have been served with 293 notices of violation since February 2015, both in Long Beach and the nearby Huntington Beach Oil Field.

Two offshore drilling platforms operated by DCOR were found to be poorly maintained during state inspections in March 2015. Regulators found that all 42 wellheads on Platform Eva off Huntington Beach “have moderate to significant corrosion,” in violation of state law. On Platform Esther off Seal Beach, most of the 30 wellheads were found corroded, as were the valves and flanges, to the point where it could impair operation of the equipment, the report said.

The records, obtained by the Center through a public records request, also detail public safety threats from offshore platforms that were neglected by two companies as they filed for bankruptcy protection.

Rincon Island’s platform off Ventura County was found to be in a “severe state of disrepair” in April 2016 as the state ordered corrective actions “to prevent damage to life, health, property, natural resources.”

Regulators inspecting Platform Holly near Santa Barbara last year found evidence that Venoco had abandoned wells that needed to be plugged and remediated. The California Legislature is considering allocating more than $100 million in state funds this year to secure the Venoco and Rincon Island wells.

Venoco filed for bankruptcy in 2016 following the 2015 Refugio oil spill that blackened Santa Barbara area beaches and killed hundreds of seabirds and marine mammals. That spill was caused by the rupture of a severely corroded onshore pipeline carrying oil from offshore platforms.

THUMS had 103 violations for missing well integrity tests and 47 failed tests, and Tidelands had 68 missing tests and 10 wells that failed the tests over the past three years. CRC had 40 violations for failing to perform required well integrity tests in the Huntington Beach Oil Field in 2017 alone.

“THUMS and Tidelands and their affiliates operate thousands of wells and work proactively with stakeholders to ensure safe and environmentally responsible operations,” said spokeswoman Margita Thompson.