Oil Rigs Rack Up Violations in California, Study Shows

(CN) – Oil companies operating in coastal waters off California have violated environmental regulations hundreds of times in just the last three years, according to an analysis released by the Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday.

Following a records request with the California state agency in charge of regulating oil and gas companies, the center found 381 violations since 2015.

“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, an attorney with the center.

The analysis of records provided by the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, comes in the wake of U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s announcement of plants to explore energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Zinke recently conceded the public’s interest in the plan is weak and the opposition from several affected states including California is strident.

“If you don’t have the infrastructure, it’s more expensive,” Zinke said recently at an offshore wind conference in New Jersey.

But the center said addressing the legion of decaying offshore drilling platforms is just as important as preventing new ones from going in.

“If this disrepair causes a well failure or an oil spill, marine life and coastal communities will pay a terrible price,” Monsell said. “It’s time to get this decaying infrastructure and the oil drilling that comes with it out of our ocean for good.”

While some of the violations detailed in the report are relatively minor, the center did uncover incidents of major corrosion and other safety threats.

Corroded pipeline caused the Refugio Oil Spill, which dumped about 140,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean in 2015. The spill, which despoiled miles of coastline near Santa Barbara, cost about $100 million to clean up and costs of claims and settlements are expected to reach about $250 million.

According to the center’s analysis, the port of Long Beach could be next.

California Resources Corporation, comprised of various subsidiaries, racked up 293 of the 381 violations in rigs located in the Long Beach oilfield and nearby Huntington Beach.

The center further pointed to recent reports that California taxpayers may have to foot considerable bills to help shutter two major rigs falling into disrepair in coastal waters.

“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,’” the center said.

Inspections of Platform Holly, owned by Venoco, found the rig was equally unmaintained and found evidence of abandoned wells in need of remediation.

Venoco owns the pipeline that ruptured in the Refugio spill. It declared bankruptcy in 2016.

The California Legislature has discussed allocating $100 million to remediate the derelict rigs.

“Just because they decided to walk away doesn’t mean that we can walk away,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, in January. “So right now the state is holding the bag.”

The Southern California coastline has about 31 offshore rigs, many dating back to the 1950s.

Finally, the center found several violations relating to California Resources Corporation’s underground injection wells. Seeking to stimulate oil and gas development, the company injects a cocktail of hazardous chemicals into the continental shelf below the water.

The wells are required to be closed to prevent contamination, but the center’s analysis found nearly 200 violations connected to failed or missing well integrity tests.

CRC had 40 violations for failing to perform required well integrity tests in the Huntington Beach Oil Field in 2017 alone, according to the center.

“Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous work,” Monsell said. “It’s even more dangerous when toxic chemicals are being injected into wells that fail or lack safety tests and could contaminate our marine environment.”

For many environmentalists, oil and gas production has had its day in California. A coalition sent California Gov. Jerry Brown a letter Wednesday asking him to restrict new oil and gas permits while phasing out existing production in the Golden State.

“We, the undersigned environmental, health, justice, faith, labor, community and consumer organizations from California and around the world, strongly urge you to champion a vision for California that looks beyond the oil and gas industry to a future that is safe and healthy for everyone,” the group, comprised of more than 750 environmental, labor, health and social justice groups, wrote.

The letter puts pressure on the governor ahead of a major climate summit he is scheduled to host in September.

Also Wednesday, state regulators slapped a former Rincon subsidiary, Greka Oil & Gas, with a $12.5 million fine for nearly 1,500 violations at an oilfield in Orange County in the last year alone.

The same state agency that gave the Center for Biological Diversity its information said Greka falsified reports, failed to conduct pressure testing and didn’t maintain pressure gauges.

Greka has been ordered to stop work in the oilfield near Anaheim until it complies with state orders and also ponies up a $39 million bond to be used for cleanup should it go bankrupt as Rincon Island has.

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