Jackson Bill To Clean Up Beaches By Plugging Old, Leaking Oil Wells Heads to the Governor

August 26, 2016

SACRAMENTO – A bill by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to monitor and cap California’s old, abandoned and leaking oil wells passed off the Senate floor today on a bipartisan, 31-5 vote. The bill now heads to the Governor.

Senate Bill 900, the Coast Oil Well Cleanup 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. It will also require an in-depth study of similarly abandoned and unused oil wells along the California coast. It is estimated that there are more than 200 of these so-called ‘legacy’ wells in California, the majority located along the Summerland and Ellwood beaches in Santa Barbara County and along the Central Coast.

Jackson’s bill was inspired by a recurring influx of oil onto Summerland Beach, just south of Santa Barbara, which has prompted health warnings and beach closures over the past year. The oil is believed to be coming from the Becker Onshore Well. This well dates 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.

“These old wells, often called ‘legacy’ wells, represent a legacy we’d frankly rather not have,” said Jackson. “Oil is toxic, it is a carcinogen, and it is unsafe for wildlife. We don’t want it on our beaches, soiling a place of beauty and economic vitality.  To the extent we can prevent having our beaches soiled by it, we should. This bill will allow us to get a better understanding of our state’s old oil wells, and ensure that we have a plan in place to cap them."

In addition, the bill would require the removal of coastal hazards such as wood and steel pilings, railroad irons, pipelines, wooden beams and other hazards. It would also require the monitoring and studying of the phenomenon known as natural seepage.

“The Summerland Beach situation reminds us of how little information we have about natural seepage, “ said Jackson. “When seepage is caused by human error or neglect, we clearly need to do something about it. But even when it is not, we need a better grasp of what we can do to prevent and respond to this naturally occurring phenomenon.”

Although the State Lands Commission is in the process of inspecting and assessing the Becker well, it is still working to secure funding to cap it. SB 900 will ensure that the funding for this well capping and others is in place.

SB 900 is sponsored by State Controller Betty Yee, a commissioner on the State Lands Commission.