What Happened to the Gas Flame on Highway 101?

On the way home from a concert in Ventura, I realized that I have a “burning question.” (No pun intended.) What happened to the flame that used to be on the side of the freeway? —J.

You might think that a flame burning 24/7 by the side of a busy freeway would attract plenty of attention online, but no. A brief Los Angeles magazine Q&A from 2013 explained that “the flame at the tip of the smokestack, or ‘flare-off’ in oil biz parlance, is natural gas waste matter that’s being burned off,” part of the process of oil being extracted from the Rincon Oil Field. And in 2019, Conejo Valley Guide posted video of the flame on YouTube (that’s a screenshot above), noting that it’s north of La Conchita—which I found helpful, because I’m not sure I could’ve told you exactly where the flame was. Using a cover of the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” as a soundtrack, however, proved ill-advised: the flame was soon gone, as noted by a commenter.

I barked up several trees to no effect. A nice person at the Ventura County Executive Office suggested that I call the gas company, which is always fun. Instead I drove to La Conchita to take a look. I was confident that the flame was at the facility near the top of the photo below, but I wanted to make sure before bugging more county officials.

I confirmed that you can’t reach it from La Conchita, but I always like an excuse to drive around the town (if that’s the right word for it). I walked under the freeway to the bike path on the beach side of the 101, and trekked a half mile or so north. Lo and behold, I found what had to be the pipe, known as a gas flare or flare stack. It’s dead center in the photo below.

I had noticed on the map that there’s an unlabeled freeway off-ramp just above La Conchita. It’s solely for the property in question, with barely enough room to turn around. The gate has a bunch of warning signs, but nothing about the owner or operator. The on-ramp to re-enter the freeway is the shortest I’ve ever seen.

Back home, I Googled the address, 7459 W. Pacific Coast Highway. Among other stuff, including a harrowing account of a staffer getting second- and third-degree burns in an accident in 2014, I came across a 2002 report from the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District about “facilities that may have routine and predictable emissions of toxic air pollutants”; it included the La Conchita Oil & Gas Plant at 7459 W. Pacific Coast Highway. And that—a regulator who keeps an eye on places like this—was the break I was hoping for.

Even better, the VCAPCD responded to my email. Neil Hammel, supervising air quality specialist of the compliance division, helpfully explained the situation:

This is a very brief overview of what happened. Platforms Hogan and Houchin (in Santa Barbara County) sent its oil and associated products to the La Conchita onshore facility for initial processing before selling the natural gas to SoCal Gas and sending the oil to refineries down south via pipeline. In 2019, the operator of the platforms lost a lease in State-owned water that its pipeline from the platforms ran through. [The company was four years behind on rent. —Ed.] Since the platform operators could no longer use the pipeline, they stopped pumping oil as they had no cost-effective way to get it off the platform. And since the La Conchita onshore facility was no longer receiving material from the platforms, there was nothing to process or flare off.

So is it reasonable to assume that the onshore plant will likely remain dormant for the foreseeable future? “Yes,” he replied. “The property owner is actually looking into tearing down the onshore facility, although nothing is set in stone at the moment.”

Got a question you’d like investigated? Email [email protected] or text 917-209-6473.


Previous Burning Questions:
••• What do we know about the proposed apartment complex at 1 Hot Springs Road?
••• What’s the history of this tower on Ortega Ridge?
••• What’s up with these sculptures on a hillside in Summerland?
••• Is there a master plan for the new walking paths in Montecito?
••• Why are the Thousand Steps still wet?
••• What’s happening with Sola Street?
••• Why are trees being cut down above the San Ysidro Ranch?
••• Why is this lot on Milpas Street still vacant?
••• Where else do cruise ships that visit here go?
••• What’s happening with the Pepper Tree Inn?
••• What is this large memorial in Ennisbrook?
••• What’s the large building under construction next to Highway 101?
••• Who bought the former St. Mary’s seminary—and why?
••• What will happen to the SBPD building when the new building is completed?
••• How does the city decide to mark bike lanes?
••• What’s the story with this house on W. Cota Street?
••• What are those little houses on Santa Barbara Street?
••• Which Highway 101 exits are getting renamed?
••• Is the Music Academy of the West adding pedestrian gates?
••• Why does the Coast Village Road median look so bad?
••• What’s the point of this light pole near the freeway?
••• Why are the city’s parking lots scanning license plates?
••• What’s inside Paseo Nuevo’s State Street tower?
••• What’s the point of these markings on Laguna Street?
↓↓↓ Why is there a giant red shoe off Highway 101?
••• Are we no longer allowed on the SBHS baseball field?
••• What does “SBTP” on this post mean?
••• What’s up with the “no e-bike” signs on local trails?
••• Why is Franceschi House in a holding pattern?
••• Why is there a train station inside this State Street storefront?
••• What’s happening with this derelict house in Summerland?
••• Why is there wood on some power lines?
••• Can you explain how sundowner winds work?
••• Why is there a pressure cooker attached to this utility pole?
••• What’s this concrete ramp thing on East Beach?
••• Why does “USA” get written on the street?
••• What are those poles in the ocean near the Ritz-Carlton Bacara?
••• Are people really allowed to set fires in the middle of Montecito?
••• What’s the story with the half-finished lot next to the Montecito Country Mart?


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Thanks so much for going to the trouble. I noticed when the flame stopped burning years ago and went down the same rabbit hole trying to get info. Job well done!


What I saw recently looked to be a controlled burn in the same area as the flame, but it was confusing because it was in the general area you’d expect to see the gas flame.

John jorgensen

The ending of oil transport to the mainland from the platforms brings to mind the possibility of future oil leaks from the wells. As I recall a building up of pressure underground has ended up with crude oil escaping anyway elsewhere.