Keith Hamm

Storms Expose Old, Leaky Oil Wellheads

State Engineers Crafting Plan to Plug Summerland’s Becker Well

Heavy storms in February stripped several feet of sand from Summerland Beach, exposing seven long-abandoned oil wellheads, two of them visibly leaking thick crude during an inspection earlier this week. Monday afternoon’s low tide brought Steve Curran, an engineer with the State Lands Commission, and a team of surveyors to Summerland to pinpoint the exposed wellheads as part of ongoing efforts to properly cap the so-called legacy wells.

About 100 years ago, Summerland was home to an estimated 190 nearshore oil wells, accessible from a series of piers jutting from the coast between Ortega Hill and Loon Point. The state has also identified five legacy wells off Ellwood, and three at Rincon. Curran said the newly discovered leaky wellheads will be prioritized for capping as project planning and future funding develops.

A survey team led by the State Lands Commission inspects Summerland Beach, where recent storms have uncovered historic oil wellheads.
Click to enlarge photo

Keith Hamm

A survey team led by the State Lands Commission inspects Summerland Beach, where recent storms have uncovered historic oil wellheads.

For the past few years, Curran and the State Lands Commission has focused specifically on the Becker Well, whose stinky, sticky seeps have been regularly fouling Summerland Beach, at times prompting Santa Barbara County health officials to shut down access from popular Lookout Park. Currently underway, the environmental impact report for the Becker capping project may be completed by late spring, Curran said, with a public-comment period to follow, allowing the commission to start work before the end of the year.

Curran explained that one option would be to approach Becker from offshore during high tide, transporting crew and equipment on a barge. After setting up a temporary platform called a jack-up rig, crews would install a barrier around the Becker wellhead and clear the work area of water and sand. With the casing exposed and dry, an extension would be attached to the pipe to facilitate purging the well and filling it with concrete. Michelle Pasini, president of InterAct, the Ventura-based engineering firm tasked with producing the capping plan for Becker, said her company will also submit a bid to perform the work. “We want to mobilize when we get a weather window, hopefully late this fall or early winter, ” Curran said. The total price to cap Becker is $1.4 million.

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