SANTA BARBARA, Calif. May 6, 2019 — Federal records show ExxonMobil’s offshore drilling platforms on the California coast had widespread corrosion and gas leaks requiring emergency responses before they were shut down by the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill.
Those problems, revealed in inspection records and incident reports obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, raise questions about the condition of the trio of decades-old drilling platforms that ExxonMobil now seeks to restart. The company wants to transport their oil by tanker trucks along California highways, a project that’s the subject of a public hearing today in Santa Barbara.
“ExxonMobil’s decrepit drilling platforms need to be decommissioned, not brought back to life like Frankenstein’s monster,” said Kristen Monsell, the Center’s ocean legal director. “It’s disturbing to read reports of corroded platforms and flammable gas leaks before they were shut down by a massive coastal oil spill. Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous, and it needs to be ended, not extended.”
ExxonMobil’s three offshore drilling platforms and four other platforms were all idled by the May 19, 2015 failure of Plains Pipeline’s severely corroded Line 901, which caused a coastal oil spill that coated Santa Barbara area beaches and killed hundreds of birds and marine mammals. The other platforms are now being decommissioned.
Federal officials who inspected Platform Hondo on May 1, 2015 found “numerous corrosion issues” and components out of compliance. Just three weeks before that, they also found corrosion, five failed gas detectors, and “leakage rates higher than the maximum allowable” on that platform’s Well H-12U.
All three of ExxonMobil’s Pacific platforms had early-2015 gas leaks that required their crews to gather for safety reasons, including an incident on Platform Heritage at 10:29 a.m. on May 19. While ExxonMobil’s crew gathered in the platform’s recreation room, Plains’ broken pipeline was spewing more than 120,000 gallons of oil into the coastal environment near Refugio State Beach.
Platform Hondo also had a gas leak on April 27, 2015, and Platform Harmony had one on March 29 of that year. A federal inspection of Harmony on Aug. 27, 2015 found “corrosion issues throughout the platform” and “electrical issues throughout the platform.”
The Center obtained the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s 2015-2018 regulatory reports through a Freedom of Information Act request. Those showed frequent injuries of workers on the platforms; at least two workers sustained back injuries slipping on hydraulic fluid on the deck.
“Offshore drilling is a dangerous industry, and the condition of these aging platforms is poor. They risk spilling oil, releasing flammable greenhouse gases and hurting workers,” Monsell said. “At a moment when we should be weening ourselves from fossil fuels, these offshore drilling platforms should be among the first to go.”
Records: Review the federal records obtained by the Center.
ExxonMobil Platform details:
Hondo – Installed in 1976, 28 well slots, water depth 842 feet, 5.1 miles offshore
Harmony – Installed in 1989, 60 well slots, water depth 1200 feet, 6.4 miles offshore
Heritage – Installed in 1989, 60 well slots, water depth 1075 feet, 8.2 miles offshore