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Jackson Reintroduces Bill To Clean Up Beaches By Plugging Old, Leaking Oil Wells

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson

SACRAMENTO – State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) is continuing her efforts to protect California beaches by reintroducing a bill to monitor and cap California’s old, abandoned and leaking oil wells.
Senate Bill 44, the Coastal Oil Well Clean Up and Remediation Act, would require that the California State Lands Commission plug very old “orphaned” oil wells in California waters when the original oil company that operated the well is out of business and cannot be held responsible.

SB 44 is the reintroduction of a bill Jackson carried in 2016 that was vetoed by Governor Brown. Research completed by the State Lands Commission in 2016 identified approximately 200 improperly capped “orphan” oil wells that risk contaminating our coastal waters through the continual seepage of oil. The vast majority of these so-called ‘legacy’ wells in California are located along the Summerland and Ellwood beaches in Santa Barbara County and along the Central Coast.

“No one hoping to take a peaceful walk along the beach wants to find themselves or their family members stepping into black, toxic gunk instead, “ said Jackson. “Oil is toxic, it is a carcinogen, it leads to poor air quality, and it is unsafe for wildlife. We don’t want it on our beaches, soiling a place of beauty and economic vitality, nor do we want it near our children, our out-of-town visitors, or our fish, birds and marine life. To the extent we can prevent having our beaches soiled by it, we should. I look forward to working with the Governor this year to get this bill passed.”

Jackson’s bill was originally inspired by the influx of oil onto Summerland Beach, south of Santa Barbara, which continues to prompt health warnings and beach closures. The oil is believed to be coming from the Becker Onshore Well and other similar wells dating back to the 1890s, long before the creation of regulatory agencies and requirements about how to properly cap unused wells, and is believed to have been leaking oil for decades. The company that operated that well is now out of business.

During the 2016 legislative session, Governor Brown approved $700,000 in funding in the state budget to remediate the Becker Onshore Well. It is estimated that the State Lands Commission will be able to start remediation of the Becker well by 2018.

SB 44 redirects up to $2 million dollars annually to a fund set aside for the remediation of additional improperly abandoned legacy wells. With this fund, the Commission can begin identifying which old wells are leaking oil and prioritize addressing the highest risk wells first.

The first hearing for the bill has not yet been set.

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