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Solving Venoco 'burps' may take time


The stink of "sour" natural gas from Platform Holly could continue to waft ashore across western Goleta until measures are completed to permanently stop the problem, according to a report the Board of Supervisors received Tuesday on the controversial oil operation.

While county and state permits are being processed to allow any escaping hydrogen sulfide gas to be burned, brief ventings that are not considered health threats might "occasionally" taint the air, said Dianne Meester, County Energy Division chief.

She described possible ventings as "nuisance" events. Under newly imposed county rules, releases that last more than a minute would trigger a platform shutdown.

Venoco, the owner of the platform two miles off Ellwood, is in trouble with the county and the public because of several gas leaks within the past year. The company is seeking permits to temporarily send escaping gas via pipeline to its onshore processing plant for burning until it can install a flare on the platform as a permanent fix. But even the interim pipeline solution will need Planning Commission consideration and could take weeks.

Environmental protection advocates and some Ellwood residents implored the supervisors to shut down the Venoco operations until the flare is ready to operate. Supervisor Gail Marshall, whose district includes the Venoco holdings, agreed.

But the board on Tuesday voted only to accept Meester's report on a slew of newly required safety improvements now under way, and to review Venoco's progress on June 1. The continued attention sends a political signal that the supervisors intend to follow through on the gas venting problems that have been wrinkling noses in Goleta for many years.

Under the requirements being imposed by numerous local agencies, Venoco must upgrade its safety equipment, training, procedures and public notice programs to modern standards that apply to other South Coast oil operations.

The Venoco platform, which has operated since the late 1960s, is the only platform in the Santa Barbara channel without a gas flare to eliminate "burps" of potentially deadly hydrogen sulfide from escaping and possibly harming humans.

There have been six leaks at the platform and one at the processing plant in the last nine months. Venoco faces misdemeanor charges because it failed to report three of the leaks to fire officials. Associated Press News Wire