Carp Bluff Oil Well Cleanup

ConocoPhillips Working to Seal Up 1929 Well

For years, people who frequent the Carpinteria Bluffs have been wondering what the bubbling oily patch in the grass was near the train tracks along the path toward the seal rookery overlook. So in September 2011, the City of Carpinteria’s parks director, Matt Roberts, contacted the state Department of Conservation, which investigated the site and, according to the department’s Donald Drysdale, “made the determination that the oil seepage was likely from a well.”

That well, it turns out, was named after Catherine “Kittie” Bailard, who was born into one of the city’s pioneering families in 1893 but never saw her namesake well give way to any gusher. Drilled by Continental Oil in 1929, the Kittie Bailard Well was shut down that same year, with no black gold in sight. But back then, shutting down a well was sometimes as primitive as jamming wooden electric poles down the hole, explained Drysdale, so it’s no big mystery as to why Kittie’s oil eventually started bubbling up.

By the time the seepage showed up, though, Continental was no longer. Once part of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, it was split off as part of an antitrust ruling and later was swallowed up — along with the Kittie Bailard Well, among thousands of other old sites — by ConocoPhillips. After determining ownership, Drysdale contacted the Houston-based corporation about the seepage, and the company then made the necessary cleanup arrangements with the city, including getting archaeological clearance due to the well-known Chumash history of the area.

Today, there is fencing around the area, and a sealing-up project is underway, with crews from ATC Associates and MMI Service on-site last week and the state’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources overseeing the project to seal off the well. Drysdale estimated that the work is costing ConocoPhillips about a million dollars but that most abatement projects of this type usually cost “several hundred thousand.”

Workers will be at the site between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. ConocoPhillips is planning to use air-monitoring devices, but as an apparent precaution, MMI Services has also closed off the immediate area and put up signs warning potential trespassers that, if they go into the space, they risk hydrogen sulfide gas exposure.

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