California’s offshore oil heyday is over. Why do the platforms remain?

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This map shows the 27 oil platforms off California’s coast. Many of them no longer produce oil, says Sean Anderson, a professor at CSU Channel Islands. Photo courtesy of Sean Anderson.

On clear days, you can see oil platforms while driving Highway 101 in Santa Barbara and Ventura, or walking the beaches near San Pedro or Long Beach.

There are 27 oil platforms off the coast of California — 23 in federal waters and four in state waters. And the spill in Huntington Beach is reawakening a call from environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers for those platforms to get permanently shut down.

It turns out that a lot of them are already shut down, according to Sean Anderson, a professor at CSU Channel Islands’ Department of Environmental Science and Resource Management.

“An array of these are in the process of turning off, what we term decommissioning,” he says.

The last platform to get installed was in 1989, he explains, noting they’re only designed for a lifespan of 30 or 40 years. “So many of these platforms that went in in the 60s are getting older, older, older,” he says.

There’s one big wrinkle to decommissioning them, however. When companies like Exxon and Chevron installed these structures, there was an agreement with the state and federal government that they’d remove them at the end of their lifespan. But most of the platforms have been sold, often several times, to smaller companies who don’t have the same deep pockets.

“Now we have them in the hands of people who are frequently going bankrupt, and are much closer to the bone financially than back in the day when these things were put in,” he says.

Oil spills, causing economic and environmental disasters, create pressure to end offshore oil extraction and decommission the aging infrastructure, but Anderson doesn’t think this latest spill was big enough to move the needle much.

Credits

Guest:

  • Sean Anderson - Professor, CSU Channel Islands’ Department of Environmental Science and Resource Management.