The State Lands Commission capped a leaky 100-year-old oil well called “Olsson 805” on the west end of Summerland Beach last week.
The well is one of hundreds of “legacy wells” on Santa Barbara County’s coast that were drilled in the late 1800s and abandoned in the early 1900s.
There was almost no governmental oversight of these wells, and workers sealed the pipes with rocks and rags in the 1930s.
The State Lands Commission is granted $2 million per year to identify leaking legacy wells and properly cap them.
When oil leaks, swimmers, surfers and other beachgoers are impacted as well as coastal wildlife and fish. It could also cause environmental degradation and be a hazard to public health.
Extreme high tide or storms caused some of Olsson 805’s oil to rise above the surface of the sand, and State Lands Commission Petroleum Engineer Steve Curran documented the well as a high priority.
The capping began Wednesday, as the SLC hauled equipment to Lookout Park. They waited for the lowest tide, around midnight, to target the well.
Contractors drilled into a layer of blue clay the first night. The clay acts as a barrier between the hydrocarbons and the sand.
The team drove a pipe pile over the well and encapsulated it with an impermeable cap rock, encircled the well with concrete and welded a steel plate atop the pipe pile.
During the construction, excavators unearthed a layer of standing oil which spilled out onto the beach the next day.
Oil will not be surfacing again if the capping proves successful.