Local oil company Venoco, Inc. recently proposed the construction of an eight-mile underground pipeline, potentially eliminating the use of barges for oil transportation.

The independent energy company – which owns three platforms off California’s coast, including Platform Holly just off Isla Vista’s shore – submitted the proposal to both Santa Barbara County and the City of Goleta last week. The pipeline, which has long been sought by local environmental groups, would eliminate Venoco’s use of oil barges and is widely considered the safer option for transporting oil.

The proposed pipeline would be approximately eight and a half miles long and travel from the processing facility in western Goleta, beneath Highway 101 and eventually connect to the All-American Pipeline. The oil would then be transported to a refinery in Kern County.

According to Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center and lecturer with the Environmental Studies program at UCSB, pipelines are a much safer and environmentally friendly transportation method than barges.

“When you have a barge, you risk losing your whole load,” Krop said. “With the pipelines, they have different sections that have valves that can be shut off. If there’s a leak, detection censors will pick up on that. No oil will be going down from where the leak is. … You have the ability to actually stop a leak and you have a much smaller quantity [of leaked oil].”

The environmental community has long frowned on the use of barges, which not only carry a higher of risk of spilling, Krop said, but are also a source of air pollution and unpleasant odors. The EDC has been pushing for the pipeline for years, Krop said.

It is unlikely that the decision to seek a pipeline was a result of any environmental consciousness, however. The State Lands Commission, which oversees oil production and land use in California, recently informed Venoco that it would require the company to replace their single-hulled barge with the double-hulled variety or else lose their barging lease, which is up for discussion on June 1. According to those involved, the SLC strongly recommended switching to a pipeline.

Furthermore, Venoco’s contract with their barge company comes up for renewal in a year, sparking concern about the need for a switch to pipelines, Steve Greig, government relations and regulatory manager of Venoco, said.

With these facts in mind, Krop said she is skeptical about Venoco’s true motives.

“This is 12 years late,” she said. “And I think it’s important to note that they’re not doing this out of the goodness of their heart. Their barge lease expires in one year… That’s why this is happening, because their lease is expiring and they have a hearing before the State Lands Commission.”

However, Greig contends that the community’s call for a pipeline was a main driving force in their decision.

“It really is what the community has been asking for [for] a long time,” Greig said. “It’s consistent with city and county policies. If you look at potential impacts, accidents with the barge … are seriously more significant than with a pipeline.”

According to Krop, Venoco attempted to leverage their potential switch to a pipeline for state approval on additional offshore drilling. And while some in the community worry that this deal will lead to increased oil production, Krop said that the decision to switch to a pipeline will not result in an expansion of offshore oil.

“This is a totally separate issue,” she said. “We said, ‘No, you just need to build a pipeline.’ They realized that this is a separate issue and it’s not associated with any new drilling,”

Doug Anthony, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department’s Energy Division, said that an environmental impact report, which is required by state law, is due to be written, and will largely determine the status of Venoco’s application.

“Once the application is complete, we’ll be looking at alternatives and [issues concerning] biology, cultural resources and geology,” Anthony said. “We’ve done pipeline projects in the past.”

According to Anthony, much of the environmental impact report has already been written. Until the report is fully composed, however, the Planning and Development Department will not “jump to conclusions about anything” regarding environmental impacts or potential concerns about the project.

Greig said he is optimistic about the review process and hopes to see the pipeline approved by the end of this year.

“The community’s wanted this for years and Venoco is willing to do it,” Greig said. “I’m optimistic construction would occur by the next part of next year and that by June there would be no need for a barge.”