Platform Holly

Platform Holly is located off the coast of Goleta, California, an area called, “Coal Oil Point.” Holly is the last of the offshore oil platforms located in California State waters. It is only marginally operational and up for decommissioning.

Under the direction of June Siva, Ph.D., Bill Ridpath and Mr. Chamberland of Atlantic Richfield Corporation, which owned and operated Platform Holly in the 1970’s, I was hired to document a study in the feasibility of sea farming beneath the platform. The project was undertaken by ARCO and California Sea Farms. My part earned me a 2-page pull out in National Geographic — every photographer’s medal of honor. Their 1976 expose on potential for the Continental Shelf. Growing up watching “The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau” gave us dreams of underwater exploration. Offshore oil and gas development gave us location and technology, a means to realize those dreams.

There is a reason they call the area off which Platform Holly sits, “Coal Oil Point.” Chumash collected asphaltum to seal their boats. The natural seeps exude oil that glosses the surface, leaves a film on the boat hull, and the smell of sulpher gas makes you queasy. We designed a special camera and buoyancy control system to videotape these bubbling oceanographic burps.

The current is strong and the water is cold. Plankton is dense, which affects visibility and limits photographic opportunity.

Andy and I made our deepest dive. 210′ to the seafloor on air. Our bottom time was less than one minute. I was able to take two pictures before our dive plan required us to start our decompression ascent.

Bob Evans on cross-member of Platform Hilda, 40′, Photo by Andy McMullen