November 24, 2023
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Lands Commission hears Venoco’s plan for Ellwood facility


Elijah Brumback

Elijah Brumback

Denver-based oil and gas producer Venoco, which has significant operations on the South Coast, is pushing to have its revised environmental impact report approved for the recommissioning of an old well at Haskell’s Beach.

However, a legal battle is brewing as questions about the report remain unanswered and project opponents band together. Public concern for the environmental impact to the coastline, a zoning issue and deliberation over California Environmental Quality Act guidelines are the makings of a not uncommon  fracas — forgive the pun — between oil and the public interests.

The California State Lands Commission is slated to deliberate on the Venoco 421 recommissioning project on Dec. 17 at Newport Beach’s City Council Chambers.

The project, located on the outskirts of Goleta, proposes to recommission an old shoreline well at the end of a pier that has been shut due to a leak since 1994. These surfzone piers and wells are the last surviving active facilities on the Ellwood Mesa. They were originally constructed in the 1920s.

The well and state lease 421 oil are located below the mean high tide line beyond the city’s jurisdiction in state waters. The landward portion of the piers and site access are within the city’s jurisdictional limits.

Venoco proposes to process the 421 oil and gas product at the Ellwood Onshore Oil and Gas Processing Facility, located in the city. Processing the product at the Ellwood facility would necessitate a number of improvements there, at the piers, along the access road, and pipelines and cables to connect the well to the facility.

The city has opposed this project since it was originally proposed in 2002 for a variety of reasons, the most significant being the incompatibility between the project and the surrounding sensitive, intertidal habitat.

Additionally, the Ellwood facility is and has been zoned for recreational use for nearly 25 years. Oil and gas processing is intended to occur at the consolidated facility at Las Flores Canyon north of the city. The Ellwood facility is the last of the South Coast oil facilities to relocate under the county-adopted policies.

Rather than seeing a fixed end to the 25-year non-conforming use at the Ellwood facility, the state’s upcoming decision could force the city to consider possible expansion and extension of the life of the facility.

The Santa Barbara Environmental Defense Center, the Get Oil Out organization, the Sierra Club, the Citizens Planning Association and Citizens for Goleta Valley all strongly oppose the project and are hoping the Lands Commission suggests to not allow the project.

New additions
• Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck recently added Elisabeth Esposito to the firm as an associate in the Santa Barbara office. She is a member of the Natural Resources Department and performs legal research and drafts briefs on issues relating to National Environmental Policy Act compliance and water law in California and Nevada.

Prior to joining Brownstein, Esposito served as a legal intern for the U.S. Department of Justice in the Environment and Natural Resources Division and as a NEPA planner for the U.S. Forest Service.

During law school, she competed in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition and the Halloum Negotiation Competition and served as co-leader for the Environmental Conservation Outreach Student-Initiated Legal Service Project.
Esposito earned her law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law and her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley.

• Schneiders & Associates, LLP has added Michael Shevlin, a registered patent law attorney, to the firm as of counsel. Shevlin’s practice focuses on intellectual property matters for corporate clients and startup companies, including preparation and prosecution of foreign and domestic patent and trademark applications, specializing in mechanical and medical devices and the electrical and chemical arts.

Shevlin provides counseling and opinion work including invalidity, non-infringement, and patents to Scheinders’ clients. He has more than 20 years of intellectual property experience and extensive strategic global patent prosecution and portfolio management expertise, including management of young and mature portfolios and management of intellectual property related to core business technologies and major revenue-generating products. In addition, Shevlin has experience negotiating, drafting, reviewing, implementing and managing agreements related to collaborations, licenses and mergers.

Before entering law, Shevlin spent more than 13 years as an engineer, working on research, development and design activities in a variety of disciplines for the creation of new products from prototype to production.