Sleuthing the Summerland Seeps

State and Federal Officials Join County Supervisors to Identify and Solve the Problem

<strong>OLD WELLS, NEW PROBLEMS: </strong> Once upon a time, Summerland was the offshore oil drilling capital of the county (as evidenced in the above photo). And while the wells were abandoned nearly a century ago, many Summerland residents feel that the unprecedented amounts of oil washing up on their beaches in recent months may be the result of these old petroleum-harvesting spots.

With officials from both the California State Lands Commission and the state’s Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) on hand to answer questions, the Santa Barbara County supervisors dove into the murky waters of the Summerland oil seeps mystery this week for the second time in recent months. The former home to what many consider to be the first off-shore oil drilling operations the world ever knew, Summerland, though free of the primitive pier-based petroleum extractions since the early part of the 20th century, is still very much plagued by what many area residents consider to be a hangover from those heady days: oil-dappled beaches, noxious fumes, and tell-tale offshore sheens. Responding to this, the supes sent a letter to the State Lands Commission and DOGGR back in April, essentially demanding an explanation.

For their part, State Lands Commission staffer Steve Curran—explaining that his agency is well aware of the Summerland situation, monitors it weekly, and has twice sent out additional investigation parties since reviving the county’s letter—gave the supes a rather detailed rundown on the history of remediation efforts. Admitting that a cleanup effort in 1990 that capped three particularly offensive wells was perhaps not as thorough as it should have been, Curran explained that the area at the west end of Lookout Park, known as the Becker inshore well, has since been identified as being extra troublesome and that his agency is actively and “aggressively” seeking the funding necessary to fix it. That being said however, Curran’s colleague from the commission, Gregg Scott, warned the supes that, at least in their opinion, the majority of the oil seepage was due to natural causes rather than being side effects of leaky old wells.

In the end, the supes voted unanimously to work with the state to find the funding necessary to fix the Becker situation (which has an estimated cost of $700,000) and to help develop some sort of overarching and multi-jurisdictional plan to solve the Summerland seep mystery once and for all.


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