Heal the Ocean Forms Team to Tackle Summerland Oil Mess

During a three-hour meeting at Heal the Ocean’s (HTO) office in Santa Barbara on Thursday morning, August 27, 2015, HTO led a discussion between officials from the State Lands Commission (SLC), the County, New Orleans-based offshore diving contractor Aqueos, and Dudek environmental consulting to establish a collaborative approach to address historic oil contamination at Summerland beach. The developing framework, which comes only days after significant oil contamination closed Summerland beach, will pave the way for a deliberate and accelerated solution to leaking Summerland oil wells.

The group agreed that the first priority of cleanup is capping the Becker Inshore oil well, one of the biggest offending polluters of Summerland Beach. State Lands Senior Drilling Engineer Steve Curran and SLC Staff Attorney Set Blackmon agreed to cooperate in an accelerated program to work with Aqueos, which has extensive experience in oil infrastructure, including being part of the emergency response to the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, to formulate a plan to cap the Becker well in time for a grant submission deadline of November 30, 2015. The group agreed that the County of Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management is the obvious project lead, while Heal the Ocean utilizes its own funds to hire Jane Gray of Dudek to identify and procure Proposition 1 grant funding to pay for the work.

In an interview with Santa Barbara News Press for Thursday’s front page story on the Summerland oil mess, HTO Executive Director Hillary Hauser said that “Summerland Beach is the most polluted beach in Santa Barbara County…this is not a natural seep…these are wells that were not properly abandoned and capped. They’re an old ongoing hazardous problem that has never been dealt with.”

In the early 20th Century, Summerland was the site of an extensive oil industry footprint, with oil wells lining the waterfront and cliffs of the now quiet beachside community. Improper abandonment procedures and nonexistent regulations at that time have left a legacy of oil contamination at the beach, which has defied repeated efforts to find a comprehensive solution.

After the meeting, Dan Holmes, Aqueos West Coast Business Manager, “This is great – it’s just a start for us to get out there and see what’s really going on. There are a lot of assumptions, but no one has really taken a look, and with this project we’ll be able to get going. One thing is certain: no one can claim this is natural seepage anymore.”

Heal the Ocean has had considerable success in putting wastewater treatment plant managers with consultants who are most familiar with significant grant funding sources. And to lead the way, sometimes HTO pays for the consultants ourselves, in order to quickly and most effectively leverage public funding. ”We so appreciate our donors who recognize that a relatively small fee to get, at the end, millions of dollars for a wastewater treatment plant upgrade is a good return on their money,” Hillary says. For the Summerland project, Heal the Ocean is intending to raise $46,000 to secure as much as $1.5-$2 million in grant funds.

We thank all those who attended the meeting to come up with a practical solution to this historic problem, including: Dan Holmes of the Aqueos Ventura office and Aqueos CEO Ted Roche by phone from Louisiana; Steve Simpson, owner of Marine Project Management, Inc.; UCSB’s Ira Leifer, who has for years worked on SLC projects; Jeremy Tittle, from the office of 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal; Hillary Blackerby, from the office of Assemblyman Das Williams; James Joyce from the office of State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson; and Elsa Arndt, from Santa Barbara County office of Emergency Management. And thanks to Valerie Estvan from Aqueos, who took minutes of the meeting!