The Central Coast of California was home to one of the largest oil booms in our nation’s history beginning in the late 1800s. Back then, once oil wells had reached their useful life, they were often abandoned with slapdash techniques. While natural seeps are present in the Santa Barbara Channel, several of these poorly-abandoned “legacy wells” leak significant volumes of oil, particularly in the Summerland area. The Becker Well, located in the surf zone on Summerland Beach, is the worst offender, often causing noxious odors, sheen on the water, and oil on the beach. In August 2015, conditions had deteriorated so significantly that the beach was closed for four days in order to protect public health.
Fortunately, thanks to advocacy by Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, other environmental groups, concerned citizens, and elected officials, the California State Lands Commission (SLC) is now investigating the Becker Well and designing a plan to properly re-cap it. Although funds for the environmental review were allocated in the State budget last year, an additional $700,000 is required to properly abandon the well. Additionally, while work on the Becker Well appears to be on track pending this funding, over 200 other legacy wells remain off the California coast. Previous legislation (Senate Bill 900) authored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson to monitor and properly cap these remaining wells was passed by the California Legislature but was surprisingly vetoed by the Governor, who cited budget concerns and the desire for the SLC and other agencies to collaborate on the issue. Senator Jackson reintroduced the bill in December 2016 (now SB 44), but it will need significant public support to again pass the Legislature and be signed by the Governor.
3 Ways to Take Action!
1) Review and Comment on the Becker Well EIR
The State Lands Commission recently released the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Becker Well Abandonment Project. There will be a public meeting on June 7th at 2pm at Carpinteria City Hall which will feature a presentation about the project and public comment period. All comments must be received by July 5th at 5pm. Click on the links below to access the relevant documents.
2) Support Funding to Cap the Becker Well on Summerland Beach
The Becker Well, located in the surf zone on Summerland Beach, is one of the most significant sources of oiling from legacy wells in California. In 2015 the California State Lands Commission (SLC) unanimously agreed to take action to cap the Becker Well. An initial investigation was conducted in October 2015 and an Environmental Impact Report is currently being prepared. However, an additional $700,000 is needed to adequately cap the well. Governor Brown’s proposed budget for next year currently includes funding for this remediation. It is critical that we demonstrate support for this project and ensure that the funding remains in the final budget.
Visit the Governor’s contact website, fill out your information, and choose the subject ” Budget Proposal 2017-18.” On the next page select the “pro” button and copy the text below into the available space.
Dear Governor Brown:
I am writing in support of funding to complete the proper abandonment of the Becker Well on Summerland Beach in Santa Barbara County. This is a project under the Mineral Resources Management Program of the State Lands Commission, and would complete a process already underway by the Commission.
Summerland Beach has a long history of oil pollution resulting from improperly abandoned wells, having been the first location of offshore oil drilling in the world. Some of those wells have been properly re-abandoned over the years, enabling both area residents and thousands of visitors to enjoy safe swimming and a clean coastline at a beach that is highly accessible due to its proximity to the freeway and free parking.
Over the past five years, one improperly abandoned well (Becker) has been sighted leaking, and conditions have steadily deteriorated – reaching a point where many traditional, committed users have themselves abandoned the beach because of what they describe as ‘filthy’ water and ‘nauseating’ fumes. Without better guidelines about safe swimming and air quality, less informed beach users do continue to swim and stay on the beach, exposing themselves to potentially unsafe petrochemicals.
We are allowing a beautiful stretch of ocean and coastline to be fouled by the result of human action taken over a century ago. We urge you to support funding for the State Lands Commission to complete the re-abandonment of the Becker Onshore Well to protect the people, businesses, and wildlife that depend on healthy coastal resources.
3) Support SB 44
State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) has championed legislation to help monitor and properly cap the 200+ legacy wells along the California coast. Senate Bill 44, the Coastal Oil Well Cleanup and Remediation Act, would require the State Lands Commission and Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to plug old oil wells that have been abandoned by companies that go out of business and cease to be held responsible. It would also require an in-depth study of oil seepage in coastal waters to determine points of origin, seepage rates, and environmental impacts. For more information read the Fact Sheet.
SB 44 needs your support! Channelkeeper is collecting support letters to send to state Senators, Assembly members, and Governor Brown. Copy the text below into an e-mail or send your own support letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Organizations can also download a template to copy onto letterhead.
Honorable California Legislators:
I am writing in support of Senate Bill 44 (SB 44), which will address remediation of legacy oil wells off the coast of California.
In 2016, the California State Lands Commission identified 198 abandoned oil wells located off the Santa Barbara coast. Many of the abandoned wells may be leaking oil that pollutes our beautiful beaches, threatens public health, jeopardizes wildlife health and habitats, and negatively impacts our beach-based economy. Most of these legacy wells are located along Summerland and Ellwood beaches in Santa Barbara County, which are heavily used and enjoyed by the public.
SB 44, the Coastal Oil Well Cleanup and Remediation Act, would require the California State Lands Commission and the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources to develop a program that prioritize legacy well remediation efforts and would use current standards to plug old oil wells that were abandoned in the 1940s by companies that had gone out of business and now cease to exist. The program would conduct a full in-depth study of oil seepage in coastal waters to determine natural versus anthropogenic seepage, seepage rates, and develop a priority list for remediating the legacy oil wells.
The history of legacy oil wells is entrenched into the Santa Barbara community and with proper regulatory management and support from the California Governor and Legislators, we will be able to minimize public health impacts. I urge you to support SB 44 to protect California’s ocean heritage including the beaches and the people, businesses and wildlife that depend on healthy coastal habitat.
CITY, STATE, ZIP CODE
It is important to document that legacy wells continue to impact our coastline. Use Channelkeeper’s Community Tar Ball Report Form to document oiling of our local beaches. Information will be summarized monthly and sent to the State Lands Commission, Department of Public Health, and other oil spill response agencies as appropriate.