Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Goleta urges state to end oil barging off coast


If there was any confusion about how the Goleta City Council feels about 50,000 gallons of crude oil being pumped into a barge at the Ellwood Marine Terminal and towed up and down the coast, it was cleared up during Monday’s council meeting.
“The City Council of Goleta urges the State Lands Commission to bring about the decommissioning of the Ellwood Marine Terminal now…” a letter sent by the council to the State Lands Commission says. “This is a case where public policy objectives and practical sense say ‘no more – its time has come.’”

The council voted unanimously to send the letter to the commission and asked staff to draft the letter shortly after the marine freighter, Cosco Busan, collided with the San Francisco Bay Bridge on Nov. 7 and spewed 58,000 gallons of fuel into the bay.
“It gives pause to consideration of another fragile operation that takes place in the near-shore waters of the State Tidelands, the Ellwood Marine Terminal,” the letter says.
Nearly 10 public speakers addressed the council during public comment, all of who praised the letter’s content except Steve Craig, manager of government relations for Venoco Inc., which has held a lease since 1983 to use the Ellwood Terminal.
Craig urged the council to not send the letter and noted that the council already sent a similar letter to the commission on Sept. 17, which was met to correspond with a commission meeting that was ultimately rescheduled for early 2008.
“It’s still our desire to work with the council,” Craig said. “If you do anything, direct staff to continue working with Venoco on these things.”
The one thing all parties involved seemed to agree on was that the long-term solution for the transport of oil generated by the Venoco owned platform Holly, is to build a pipeline.
But when and how that happens is up in the air and in the meantime, the council doesn’t want the single hulled Barge Jovalan, which is used to transport the crude oil, to spring a leak.
“There is no logic that would justify the operation of a single hulled ship in our channel,” said Councilman Roger Aceves. “This letter needs to be sent, we need an end point and we need the help of the State Lands Commission to make that happen.”
The city seems to fear that Venoco could be granted permission to continue barge operations at the Ellwood Terminal after its 2013 lease agreement expires and construction of a pipeline would therefore be delayed.
But Craig said if all goes well, the permitting process for a pipeline could be completed sometime in 2008 and construction would begin in early 2009. He said the pipeline would transport the oil 12 miles north from the Ellwood Terminal to a facility in Flores Canyon.
If this timeline is realized, Craig said it wouldn’t make any sense to spend tens of millions of dollars to purchase a new, double hulled barge, which could reduce the likelihood of an oil spill in the event of a collision.
He also said even if Venoco did purchase a new barge to operate between now and when a pipeline is constructed, it would be difficult to outfit it with a vapor recovery system that is approved by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District.
Craig said the vapor recovery system on the Barge Jovalan is a registered trademark of the owner of the vessel and is the only of its kind approved by the district.
The council’s letter was sent to the commission because the state not only owns the Marine Terminal, but also owns a percentage of the oil.
Craig said as much as one-sixth of the oil transported in the barge on a yearly basis is handed over to the state.
The letter itself addresses the precarious situation the state is in by saying, “Yes, it is the State’s oil and you, the Commission, are the central most controlling factor in this play. Your actions and omissions regarding the leases, the vendor and the day-to-day operations can only go so far. Human error and mechanical failure regularly occur in industrial operations and, sadly, the consequences of such are catastrophic in the marine environment.”
Steve Chase, the city’s planning and environmental services director, summed up the general feeling of the meeting.
“At the end of the day…” he said. “It really is a time to say no mas, no more, the time has come.”
Ed Easton, a resident who addressed the council during public comment, and said he’s watched the barge come and go over the years, fears the prospects of 50,000 barrels of oil spilling into the channel. To put it into perspective, the amount of oil barged every 10 to 14 days out of the Ellwood Terminal is roughly two million gallons more than spilled into the San Francisco Bay in November.
“That piece of steel is all here is between success and failure,” Easton said. “And failure is a beach.”

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