Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis Statement on California State Lands Commission’s Legal Victory Against a Former Oil and Gas Operator

For Immediate Release
Thursday, December 14, 2023
Contact:, (916) 445-8994

Sacramento  – In a significant legal victory, a federal district court in Delaware issued a decision affirming a prior bankruptcy court ruling that found the California State Lands Commission acted lawfully in its efforts to safeguard both the public and the environment through its operation of the Ellwood Onshore Facility in Santa Barbara County. Lieutenant Governor and State Lands Commission Chair Eleni Kounalakis issued the following statement regarding the announcement:  

“From day one, our priority has been to protect the health and safety of the public and our environment. We have never wavered from that. I am gratified to see the court once again affirm and validate the Commission’s actions to protect the people of California during an emergency created by the reckless actions of the former oil and gas operator.”

The case stems from actions taken by Venoco, a former state oil and gas operator that managed the South Ellwood Field, including Platform Holly and the Ellwood Onshore Facility in Santa Barbara County. Venoco relinquished its leases to the state in 2017 and declared bankruptcy in Delaware, leaving the California State Lands Commission, acting on behalf of the state, with no choice but to assume control over the facilities to protect the public and the environment from serious risks. The California State Lands Commission’s decisive action to operate the Ellwood Onshore Facility prevented the release of potentially lethal concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas and mitigated the risks posed to the environment by the deserted oil platform. Additionally, by walking away from the facilities, Venoco failed to fulfill its legal obligation to plug 32 wells across the leases or decommission Platform Holly and its associated facilities.  

The California State Lands Commission has been instrumental in mitigating the environmental impacts of big oil in the state, holding oil companies accountable for their actions, and facilitating the transition to clean energy. Earlier this year, Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis visited California’s central coast to highlight actions taken by the Commission since Venoco filed for bankruptcy. In June, the Lieutenant Governor and the Commission celebrated the removal of Piers 421, California’s last shorezone oil production piers, which were owned by Venoco prior to bankruptcy. At one point, the shoreline near the City of Goleta was marked by 13 oil producing piers. Now, the final two piers and caissons are gone, restoring coastal access, and eliminating public safety and environmental threats. 

 During her visit to Goleta, Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis also toured Platform Holly to check on the decommissioning status. To date, all 30 of Platform Holly’s underground oil and gas wells have been plugged and there is no longer a risk that hazardous hydrogen sulfide gas could be released.  

Link for more information about the announcement.  

About the Commission: The Commission, comprised of the Lieutenant Governor, State Controller, and Governor’s Director of Finance, manages over 4 million acres of tide and submerged lands and the beds of navigable waterways. The Commission administers the state’s coastal hazard and legacy well removal and remediation program. The Commission is a leader in the fight against climate change and transitioning away from fossil fuel to clean energy, managing a portfolio of renewable energy leases and working to bring offshore wind energy to California.