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Friday, November 16 , 2018, 11:41 pm | Fair 50º


Jackson Bill Strives To Cap Abandoned Oil Wells

A few weeks after erosion exposed eight abandoned oil wells along Summerland Beach, two visibly leaking oil, a bill by State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-19th Dist.) to monitor and cap old, abandoned wells has passed the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. The vote was 8-0.

Senate Bill 44, the Coastal Oil Well Clean Up and Remediation Act, would require the State Lands Commission to plug very old "orphaned" oil wells in California waters when the original oil company that operated the well is out of business and can't be held responsible.

Recent survey work by the Lands Commission identified some 200 of these so-called “legacy” oil wells off the Santa Barbara coast, more than previously thought.

Summerland Beach has about 192 of these wells; the other eight are in the Ellwood and Rincon fields off the coast.

“Recent storms have underscored just how important it is that we locate and cap these wells once and for all, to preserve our economy, our beaches and our public health,” Jackson said.

“Often, it is the terrible smell of the oil that hits you first and most powerfully, before you see the oil in the water and on the sand. Oil is toxic, it is a carcinogen, it leads to poor air quality, and it is unsafe for wildlife," she said.

"We don’t want it on our beaches, nor do we want it near our children, our out-of-town visitors, or our fish, birds and marine life,” she said.

The original impetus for Jackson’s bill was an influx of oil onto Summerland Beach, south of Santa Barbara, which prompted health warnings and beach closures in 2015.

The oil is thought to be coming from the Becker Onshore Well and other similar wells dating back to the 1890s, long before the creation of regulatory agencies and requirements about how to properly cap unused wells, and is believed to have been leaking oil for decades.

The company that operated that well is now out of business.

SB 44 is the reintroduction of a bill Jackson carried in 2016 that was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

During the 2016 legislative session, Brown approved another $700,000 in funding in the state budget to remediate the Becker Onshore Well, for a total of $1.4 million. It's estimated the Lands Commission will be able to start remediation of the Becker Well by 2018.

SB 44 redirects up to $2 million annually, derived from state mineral leases, to a fund set aside for the remediation of additional improperly abandoned legacy wells.

With this fund, the commission can begin identifying which old wells are leaking and prioritize addressing the highest risk wells first.

The bill now heads to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

Jackson's 19th Senate District includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.

— Lisa Gardiner for State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.


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