Residents from Summerland are requesting that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors take actions to prevent decommissioned oil rigs from releasing oil seepage along their coastline.Summerland residents complained to the Board of Supervisors about increasing oil seepage during last week’s meeting, claiming that wells shut down over a century ago were improperly capped and the materials used to seal them are now decaying. The Board is now waiting for the State Lands Commission to evaluate the sites in question to identify a solution to the seepage, as well as a legally responsible culprit — despite residential complaints, environmental activists’ information concerning the original operators has yet to be found.
According to Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, previous operators did not follow proper closing procedures to seal the antiquated rigs.
“Over the years, these oil wells were capped for one reason or another, using anything that was found,” Carbajal said. “Some used old logs and mattresses which has somewhat worked so far, but the increase in complaints tells us they might be failing.”
Carbajal said seepage has significantly worsened over the past few years.
“This is causing severe odor issues, significant amounts of oil on the beach, concerns to the ecosystem and, most of all, people are simply not enjoying their time on the beach anymore,” Carbajal said.
Carbajal said a major concern in repairing the caps is the lack of clarification over accountability.
“The issue is that there is quite an overlap of responsibility, and any of these entities could be responsible,” Carbajal said. “This just leads to everybody looking at each other, pointing fingers and saying ‘that’s not my job.’”
According to Elsa Arndt, emergency manager for Santa Barbara County Emergency Operations, state organizations were financially liable for repairing corroding wells in the past.
“Some studies concluded that wells had to be recapped by modern standards, and the responsibility was split unequally between the California State Lands Commission and the California Coast Guard, which has funds set aside,” Arndt said. “What we are trying to determine today is who needs to contribute financially in the recapping of these failing wells.”
Arndt said the commission will use the report to decide on the most effective course of action.
“The County is scheduled to have the California State Lands Commission conduct a site visit, and from there we will assess our options and move forward, hopefully as quickly as possible,” Arndt said.
Carbajal said he is positive the organization will work with the county to find a solution.
“I am optimistic and hopeful that they will come by and give us all the information that we need in order to best solve this issue and help the residents of Summerland,” Carbajal said.