One day before Santa Barbara County health officials temporarily closed Summerland Beach because of intense petrochemical vapors and thick brown oil slicks on the water and beach, Summerland resident Lee Heller was hoisting a jar of oily brown Summerland water while testifying before the California State Lands Commission in Newport Beach.
This week, the State Lands Commission will be meeting in Santa Barbara to discuss cleanup proposals for scores of onshore and offshore oil wells improperly abandoned and capped more than 100 years ago. While health officials have not tied last week’s scare to any of these abandoned wells, Summerland’s oily beaches have long been the stuff of local lore. “No one swims offshore by Lookout Park. The oil will melt your bathing suit off,” declared Hillary Hauser of Heal the Ocean.
Hauser is now leading an effort to secure state grants to cover the multi-million dollar cost of capping the old wells properly. Most of the oil operators who created Summerland’s oil pollution problems went out of business a century ago, and can’t be tagged for the cleanup costs.