Work to clean up leaking oil off Summerland starts Monday

Aging well head has been polluting for years

The leaking oil from the Becker well in Summerland waters will finally be capped and sealed off starting Monday. (photo: Heal the Ocean)

SUMMERLAND, Calif. - After years of community pressure, one of the big polluting wells off the Summerland coast will be capped in a project that starts next week.

The Becker Well dates back decades.  That's when offshore oil was beginning off the California coast and Summerland was a key area for the extraction.

Old photos from the area show wells in the coastal waters and on shore in the form of wooden derricks.

After the industry pulled out, the well heads began leaking in many areas.

For years there have been community complaints, pictures, public comments to county supervisors and very little action to address the on going oil coming to the surface, especially at low tide.

The watchdog group Heal the Ocean stepped into the debate a couple of years ago. "We saw this thing going around and around and we said, let's do something about it," said Director Hillary Hauser.  She is known for tenaciously taking on issues until there is a solution, no matter what level of government she has to deal with.

There were town hall meetings, outspoken residents, and a variety of options that all took time and money that often looked good at first, but were hard to calculate on a calendar of completion.

Fed up, Hauser and a group of residents showed up at a State Lands Commission to find out what it would take.  One person even held up a jar of Summerland ocean water with oil in it and showed it to the panel as an example of what the public was swimming in.

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, a State Lands Commissioner got an earful when he heard the group say, " we are going to get the money we are going to apply for a grant and get the money to cap this well," said Hauser.

That started happening with applications for funds that could be used for this type of work.  The goal was $1.5 million.  Some state funds also came through. 

There was also a unique message send with a pile of different post cards to Sacramento leaders.

"What we put on our email letter that went out, send us your message and we will create the post card and mail it," said Hauser. "So all of the messages are different and we wrote them and created post cards. That is why they are so colorful beause we were here painting and stamping."

The California budget now has $2-million dollars a year for oil well clean up projects after the legislature backed a bill by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) 19th District.  There are at least four other wells in the near shore waters that need similar attention.  Overall she believes 200 wells off the California coast have been leaking and need repairs to the well heads.

Efforts to find those wells were funded privately and a surveillance plane with special cameras went over head to document the areas where the oil was leaking and spreading out.

The Becker project begins Monday morning.  It will take about four days.  A crane will not be on the beach, instead it will be on a floating barge.

"We are all going to be on the cliffs with champagne," said Hauser.

For more information go to:

Heal the Ocean

State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson

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