At least seep gases in the Barbara Channel are.
Well, you can tell by now that this is one of our SOS California “Isn’t the English language fun?” blogs. But stay with us – you’re about to learn something very interesting about how the offshore oil and gas industry has reduced pollution in Santa Barbara County.
Why Do We Need to Clean Up Oil Seeps?
Was that their intent? Perhaps not. But all companies involved in industrial processes make an effort to provide a service while minimally impacting the environment. They are also legally bound to do so. But, with our unusual petroleum geology in the Santa Barbara Channel, offshore oil producers are reducing pollution by providing an affordable resource – by reducing the natural seeps.
The influx of gases to the atmosphere from natural oil and gas seeps can impact air pollutant levels. A 2015 study by Peltonen and Boles showed that 3 to 7 million cubic feet of gases are released each day from the ocean’s surface in the Santa Barbara Channel offshore from Coal Oil Point. This represents the single largest source of air pollution in Santa Barbara County, greater than that of all vehicle traffic combined. These gases, when exposed to sunlight, form the air pollutants that can negatively affect our health. Of particular concern is ozone, which can damage our lungs.
So it stands to reason that reducing the amount of gas emitted from natural seeps would decrease the amount of ozone flowing into our lungs. Studies have shown that oil and gas production reduces seepage. The most distinct evidence comes from the history of the seep tents.
Not those kind of tents! Let us explain….
How Oil Seep Tents Help Reduce Pollution
The Seep Containment Project was developed in 1982 by ARCO and several other partners to capture the large concentrations of naturally seeping gas. The photo shows one of the tents. Two of these 50-foot high steel pyramids (which weigh 900,000 pounds each and measure 100 feet by 100 feet) were positioned on the ocean floor over the strongest seep within the company’s lease. They were originally placed to collect gas as a mitigation for emissions. However, they have provided an incredible opportunity to monitor the effects of oil production on the quantity of natural gas being released by the seeps.
NoozHawk published an article recently, in response to a reader question. According to their interview with UCSB researchers, “Captured gas is sent ashore through a sea floor pipeline for commercial sale, and oil is periodically removed at the tents.”
Oil Seep Tents in Santa Barbara Need Repairs to Keep Helping
NoozHawk also spoke with California state government experts. According to California State Lands Commission spokeswoman Sheri Pemberton, the two seep tents have not been in service in recent years because of reduced seep activity and some degradation.
The existing leases, properties, and associated facilities for the oil and gas operations offshore from Goleta that include Platform Holly and the seep tents are owned and operated by Venoco, Inc. (Venoco). Venoco has declared bankruptcy, stopped operations at Platform Holly, and quitclaimed its South Ellwood Field leases back to the state. Ms. Pemberton said that the seep tents will be addressed as part of the decommissioning plan and environmental impact report.
These structures have been sitting on the ocean floor for 35 years. Anyone who has seen a photo of a shipwreck can imagine that there has been some breakdown of materials and, even with maintenance, coverage by organisms. The challenges of dealing with degraded materials could certainly add to the cost of decommissioning. There has been some discussion about allowing the tents to remain in place – whether that becomes a viable alternative remains to be seen.
It is important to note that, in the NoozHawk interview, Ms. Pemberton stated the following: “Empiric evidence suggests that seep activity will continue to increase in the immediate area because production ceased.” Have to put that one in bold.
According to Poltonen and Boles, and the studies they reviewed, decades of production led to significant reduction in reservoir pressure ultimately resulting in the cessation of seep activity measured within the tents in late 2013. Now here’s the real breath of fresh air. The study showed that Platform Holly had resulted in significant improvement to local air quality. At peak, the tents captured over 150 million cubic feet of seeping gas per day. This is equal to the amount of air pollution associated with tens of thousands of automobiles. To date the seep tents have captured 6 billion cubic feet of gas.
Talk about intense!