SUMMERLAND, Calif. - A recent NewsChannel 3 story about an exposed and leaking oil wellhead at Summerland Beach prompted the California State Lands Commission to investigate.
The commission sent a team to the beach on Feb. 27, just days after the story aired. Video showed a rarely seen casing sticking out of the water with an oil sheen around it. Summerland resident Chris Goldblatt made the discovery and alerted our newsroom.
The oil wellhead was spotted during low tide following significant sand erosion from recent rains.
Sheri Pemberton, Chief of External Affairs and Legislative Liaison for the commission said, "It was important for our staff to go and evaluate once we heard about the report and we realized their may be hazards out in the water or along the coastline and because this is part of the work we do on a day-to-day basis to assure the beach is accessible and open."
Commission staff was joined by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management, Interact Engineering and the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Department.
The survey team found two previously unidentified wells in the Duncan Wharf area. The wells were not leaking and will be added to the commission's inventory map.
All exposed wells are called Legacy Wells, which fall under the State's jurisdiction because they are considered "abandoned." Summerland has a rich oil history. The world's first offshore oil was developed there in the 1890s. The last wells ceased production in 1939.
The discovery of those two wells brings the total from 190 to 192 Legacy Wells at the beach.
The exposed well in the initial news story is identified as the Duquesne Wharf Well 910, near Loon Point. The commission said this well has a concrete cap and was leaking oil through the side of the casing.
The Commission is now tracking three known wellheads leaking oil--the Duquesne Wharf Well 910, the Becker Well and the C.H. Olsson 805 well, which has no concrete cap and is leaking from inside the casing.
"We have the initial numbers. But, to assess the source of oil and whether they are leaking, we need to do more surveys and dives to get our eyes on the wells," Pemberton said.
Pemberton said funding is needed.
"We are actively working on ways to address these problems and we have really committed staff and to the extent we have resources, we are trying to figure out ways to address these old wells and infrastructure," said Pemberton.
State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who represents the 19th district which incorporates Santa Barbara County and a portion of Ventura County has introduced Senate Bill 44. The bill targets legacy oil and gas well removal and remediation. The bill will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on March 14.