Sloane Viola: Building a Career Arc

Author: Sloane Viola
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2017
Host Agency: Office of Lieutenant Governor Newsom

Finding a Path

When I started my California Sea Grant State fellowship, I was unsure of how my scientific background would be useful in this policy environment. The nexus of science and policy wasn’t entirely foreign to me—my thesis work quantified non-native species establishment on offshore oil and gas platforms, which has implications for decision-making regarding their retirement fate.

I hoped to use this fellowship as an opportunity to build on my experience by learning more about the policy considerations related to platform decommissioning. However, this is a complex issue in California, and I struggled to craft a project that would be feasible in the short timeframe of the fellowship year.

Seizing Opportunity

As I was mulling this problem, a highly unusual series of events led to the quitclaim of the Platform Holly oil and gas leases in Santa Barbara. The platform’s operator couldn’t sell oil extracted by the wells at this platform due to a pipeline shutdown related to the 2015 Refugio oil spill, and the missed economic opportunity led to the company’s bankruptcy. Oil companies are required to finance and undertake platform decommissioning projects, but what happens if the company has gone bankrupt and will cease to exist?

Because the State Lands Commission leases tide and submerged lands in state waters, including leases for offshore oil and gas operations, it assumed responsibility for the platform’s decommissioning. As a fellow hosted by the Lieutenant Governor, a member of the State Lands Commission, this put me in the right place at the right time to get an inside look at the policy side of platform decommissioning.

Over the past few months, I have gained a deep understanding of these regulatory and policy considerations from working with the State Lands Commission and attending interagency meetings of local, state, and federal agencies. These teams have a remarkable abundance of technical and policy expertise, and are working diligently to ensure that the platform is safely decommissioned despite challenges and uncertainties arising from the unusual circumstances. These experts are also using this as an opportunity to improve policies and management decisions by applying lessons learned from this experience.

Full Circle

During my years as an undergraduate and graduate student at UCSB, Platform Holly was a constant presence on the horizon, and I even got to explore its underwater portions while SCUBA diving. Thanks to this fellowship experience, I now have a deeper appreciation for the complex factors that inform a platform’s management and decommissioning. Linking my science background to policy experience has helped me build a comprehensive understanding of marine resource issues—invaluable preparation for a career in ocean policy!

Written by Sloane Viola