Governor Signs Jackson Bill to Clean Up Beaches, Plug Old, Leaking Oil Wells

October 10, 2017
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SACRAMENTO — Governor Brown has just signed a bill authored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)  to monitor and cap California’s old, abandoned and leaking oil wells.

Senate Bill 44, the Coastal Oil Well Clean Up and Remediation Act, will require the California State Lands Commission to monitor and plug old “orphaned” oil wells in California waters when the original oil company that operated the well no longer exists and cannot be held responsible. It also directs up to $2 million dollars annually, derived from state mineral leases, to a fund set aside for the remediation of improperly abandoned legacy wells. With this fund, the Commission will begin to identify leaking, abandoned wells and prioritize capping the highest risk wells first.

“I am pleased Governor Brown signed this bill into law. It will protect our beaches, public health and our coastal economy,” said Jackson. “There are far too many abandoned oil wells that must be capped to prevent leaks and fumes that pollute our beaches and ocean waters and affect our children, visitors, birds, fish, and other marine life.”

Earlier this year, the California State Lands Commission identified approximately 200 of these so-called “legacy” oil wells off the coast of Santa Barbara County. Summerland Beach alone has approximately 192 of these uncapped wells, and another eight were recently exposed near the Ellwood and Rincon fields off the Santa Barbara coast, with two of those oil wells visibly leaking oil.

The bill had bipartisan support throughout the legislative process. Jackson introduced the bill after a significant release of oil onto Summerland Beach, south of Santa Barbara, prompted health warnings and beach closures in 2015. The oil was believed to be coming from the Becker Onshore Well and other similar wells dating back to the late 1890s, long before the creation of any regulatory agencies or requirements about how to properly cap abandoned wells were put in place. The wells are believed to have been leaking oil for decades, long after the operating company ceased to exist.

Jackson had introduced a similar bill to SB 44 last year but it was vetoed by Governor Brown. Since then, survey work by the California State Lands Commission and Heal the Ocean exposed the severity and extent of the problem of uncapped wells.

In addition to this legislation, Jackson also fought to secure state funding to cap the Becker Well, the most known and hazardous well. During the 2016 legislative session, Governor Brown approved an additional $700,000 in funding in the state budget to remediate the Becker Onshore Well, for a total of $1.4 million. It is estimated that the State Lands Commission will be able to start remediation of the Becker Well by 2018. An additional $700,000 was secured in this year’s budget as well.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.

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