Coastal Hazards and Legacy Wells

Legacy Wells
Photo of Summerland Beach in 2009

In the late 1800s, the area offshore of Summerland Beach contained hundreds of oil wells and related drilling infrastructure. Today, the coastline area retains the vestiges of that extensive offshore oil production. These are the unfortunate legacy of the rapid and intensive offshore oil development along the coastline that began just before the turn of the twentieth century, primarily at Summerland Beach in Santa Barbara County.

Most legacy oil and gas wells were abandoned in the early 1900s when oversight was nonexistent. Virtually no records exist regarding the drilling and abandonment of these wells. Removal, if any, varied from well to well and involved rudimentary procedures that fell well short of current health, safety, and environmental protection requirements. Based on the Commission's research, there are 200 high priority legacy oil and gas wells (identified as Category 1 wells), that could, depending on their condition, leak oil into the marine environment, negatively impacting swimmers, surfers, recreational users, and marine and coastal wildlife and fish, as well as causing environmental degradation and public health and safety hazards. Many other wells are categorized as medium (Category 2) to low (Category 3) priority wells because more information is available about the integrity and abandonment of these wells or because a responsible party is or may be available to address any leak that may occur.

Becker well

The Becker onshore well at Summerland beach is a leaking legacy well that was drilled in the late 1800s, predating the Commission, regulatory agencies, and well record keeping. The well was not abandoned properly and has a history of leaking oil onto the beach and in the ocean off Summerland Beach.   

In August 2017, the Commission certified an Environmental Impact Report that will allow the Commission to properly abandon and remediate the Becker well and other leaking wells off the Santa Barbara and Ventura coastline. In November 2017, staff issued a contract to InterAct to abandon the Becker well. Staff is working with InterAct to begin the surveys necessary to finalize the approach to abandoning the well.

The Becker well work is slated to occur later this year or early next year, depending on weather and tide conditions. The work, anticipated to take three weeks, involves delivering and removing a cofferdam and other equipment and using a barge that will move to and from the Port of Long Beach. The Commission, as lead agency, is responsible for implementing the requisite mitigation measures to protect the environment and for ensuring that the well plug and abandonment work is consistent with the Commission's and the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources' regulations.

Coastal Hazards
Photo of Summerland Oil Field circa 1915

The Commission, when funding is available, removes coastal hazards along the California coast. Coastal hazards include wood or steel piles or piling, sheet metal pilings, H piles and H beams, well casings, well caissons, railroad irons, cables, angle bars, pipes, pipelines, rip rap, and wood beams and structures. In the mid-1980s, the Commission inventoried coastal hazards and identified over 400 hazards on lands within its jurisdiction, many of which are on state and local beaches and in coastal areas that the public uses. Their presence is inherently at odds with safe beach access for recreation, fishing, surfing, swimming, kite boarding, and other popular public activities. Removing coastal hazards is essential to safe public access.

Latest News on Becker well

Staff scheduled a bathymetric survey for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2017, and scheduled the core hole drill for the first week in December. The core hole will be drilled to verify the depth of the base rock. The barge company is working on an engineering study to determine the barge configuration. The study will take four to five weeks to complete.

Summerland Seep Report Form

Please use this form to report oil seeps or sheens at Summerland Beach in Santa Barbara County.

Email the form to Gabriel.Chapa@slc.ca.gov or contact the Santa Barbara field office at (805) 685-8502 for information about submitting the form or reporting oil seeps or sheens.

SB 44 (Jackson)

On October 10, 2017, the Governor signed SB 44 (Jackson) into law. This law, which takes effect on January 1, 2018, allows the Commission, upon appropriation in the Budget Act, to transfer $2 million from tideland oil and gas revenues to the Land Bank Fund to implement its coastal hazard and legacy oil and gas well removal and remediation program. This new law also allows the Commission, upon appropriation in the Budget Act, to transfer an amount sufficient to bring the unencumbered balance of the Land Bank Fund to $2 million for each fiscal year from the 2019-20 fiscal year to the 2027-28 fiscal year to implement this program.

The purpose of SB 44 was to secure stable funding and enable the Commission to implement a coastal hazard removal and legacy oil and gas well removal and remediation program to protect coastal resources, maximize public access to the beach and coastline, and reduce the presence of oil at Summerland Beach and other similarly situated locations.

Contacts

Petroleum Drilling Engineer
Steve Curran (562) 590-5201

Media Inquiries or SB 44 questions
Sheri Pemberton (916) 574-1800

EIR and Mitigation Monitoring Program questions
Eric Gillies (916) 574-1897