Summerland Oil – Legacy Wells

Update as of March, 2018:
1) Work on the Becker Well is complete!!
2) SB 44 has passed! The State Lands Commission will catalog, investigate, and cap leaking legacy wells throughout our entire coast.

BeckerWell2The 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. While work on the Becker Well appears to be on track (the SLC is scheduled to finalize the EIR on August 17th, with work to begin in November), 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!

Photo courtesy of Eric Gillies, State Lands Commission

1) Review and Comment on the Becker Well EIR

Update: The SLC approved the project on August 17th. Work began on February 26th, 2018 and was completed in early 2018. The State Lands Commission will begin work to identify and cap other legacy wells in Summerland over the next few years. Thank you for your support.

The State Lands Commission (SLC) recently released the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Becker Well Abandonment Project. There will be a public meeting on August 17th in San Diego where the SLC will decide whether to certify the EIR and approve the project. Channelkeeper urges you to send a letter to the SLC voicing your support for the project in order to bring an end to the noxious odors and significant oiling that has tarnished Summerland Beach. If the SLC approves the project, work to cap the Becker Well is expected to be completed in November. Letters of support can be sent with the subject: “Becker and Legacy Wells FEIR” to Click on the links below to access the relevant documents.

Final EIR

2)  Support Funding to Cap the Becker Well on Summerland Beach

Oiling from the Becker Well

Update: The remaining funding necessary to cap the Becker Well was included in the final budget! Thank you for your support.

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.

3) Support SB 44

Update: SB 44 passes! Governor Brown signed the bill on October 10, 2017. Thank you for taking action and sending letters of support!

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 has passed the California Senate and Assembly and now sits on the Governor’s desk! Channelkeeper urges you to send a letter of support to ensure Governor Brown signs the bill. Copy the text below into an e-mail to the Governor (scroll down to SB00044 for the subject drop-down menu). 

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 our government 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.






4) Report tarballs/oil

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.