BOEM to identify California offshore platform decommissioning issues

Corrections were made to this story June 23.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is trying to help identify issues that could arise as 27 offshore oil and gas platforms off southern California—all but three of which are in federal waters—are decommissioned, officials from the agency’s Pacific Region told members of BOEM’s Committee on Offshore Science and Assessment.

“We’re trying to manage a shift of our region from a frontier oil and gas area to one that is mature and declining,” Jeremy Potter, the region’s environmental chief, said on June 22 soon after the committee’s annual meeting began at the National Academy of Sciences. The Gulf Coast’s extensive platform decommissioning experience could be useful, he said.

The fixed platforms off the West Coast, however, could present unusual problems because they are attached to the ocean floor in considerably deeper water and have attracted different fish and mammals that will need to be dealt with, other BOEM Pacific Region specialists told OGJ during a break in the proceedings.

“Some of the world’s deepest attached platforms are off the West Coast. None have been removed,” said Donna Schroeder, who works for BOEM in the region as a marine ecologist and fisheries scientist. The agency is part of an intergovernmental platform decommissioning taskforce that includes the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which has the primary responsibility for offshore platform decommissioning, and other federal entities and California state and local agencies, she noted.

BOEM’s primary focus is on environmental impacts, but its studies have identified other potential issues. “Getting marine vessels into the area to do the actual decommissioning could be costly,” said Schroeder. “It takes years of planning. We won’t know what will be involved until operators begin to submit plans.”

Possible opportunities

“It could create partnering and resource sharing opportunities,” suggested Greg Sanders, a marine biologist in BOEM’s Pacific Region. “We’ve already seen that happen in pipeline replacements when one company proposes a replacement and others decide to do the same because a vessel will be in the vicinity.”

Platform decommissioning off California could become a more immediate issue. Denver-based Venoco LLC declared bankruptcy in April and quit-claimed two state leases off Santa Barbara where its Holly platform was shut down when an onshore pipeline serving it and several other platforms went out of service after rupturing and leaking 500 bbl of crude into a coastal state park. The California State Lands Commission said in April that it will begin plugging and abandoning the Holly platform’s associated wells and decommissioning the platform as soon as possible.

“Fortunately, West Coast decommissioning studies began years ago,” Potter said. “That’s making a big difference now that the Veneco decommissioning is required.” The studies have been going on for more than 10 years and include possible adoption of a “rigs-to-reef” program similar to the Gulf Coast’s as an alternative to full removal since state lawmakers passed a bill in 2010 authorizing this, Schroeder said.

She said some stakeholders brought up the rigs-to-reef concept at a recent public meeting where the CSLC was studying safety, environmental, and more immediate platform decommissioning concerns. “The stakeholders were well acquainted with studies BOEM and its predecessor, the US Minerals Management Service, conducted. They want to see scientific studies used to inform the process,” Schroeder said.

Others opposed the approach, saying the platforms should be removed completely, she said. “It was a lively discussion,” Schroeder said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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