Senate Bill 44 – the Coastal Oil Well Clean Up and Remediation Act – has passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and is now up for consideration by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s Watershed and Marine Program Associate, Jenna Driscoll, was at the State Capitol in Sacramento to be an expert witness in support of the Bill, which would cap leaking oil wells along the California coast.
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 in 2016, 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.