Senator Jackson's Bill to Clean up Beaches by Plugging Old, Leaking Oil Wells Passed Out of Committee

March 15, 2017

SACRAMENTO – Just a few weeks after erosion exposed eight abandoned oil wells along Summerland Beach in Santa Barbara County, two of them visibly leaking oil, a bill by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to monitor and cap California’s old, abandoned wells has passed out of 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 that the California State Lands Commission plug very old "orphaned" oil wells in California waters when the original oil company that operated the well is out of business and cannot be held responsible. Recent survey work by the California State Lands Commission has identified approximately 200 of these so-called “legacy” oil wells off the coast of Santa Barbara, more than previously thought. Summerland Beach has approximately 192 of these wells, and the other eight are located 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,” said Jackson. “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. 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.”

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 believed 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 Governor Brown.

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

SB 44 redirects up to $2 million dollars 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 oil and prioritize addressing the highest risk wells first.

The bill now heads to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.

 

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