Oil on Summerland Beaches

By Joanne A Calitri   |   August 22, 2023
Meeting regarding Summerland beach oil well capping and the new geological mapping project are Hillary Hauser, Harry Rabin, and Ira Leifer (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

The continued efforts to contain the abandoned oil wells in the Pacific Ocean offshore to Summerland Beach took a new stride on Monday, August 14, at 10 am with the arrival of new capping methodology and the start of a 3D geological study titled, “Summerland Oil Mitigation Study” (SOMS), to fully map the oil reservoirs, rivers, and wells in the Summerland ocean floor area through to the shoreline.

In a low-profile press meeting at Summerland Beach on Monday, I met with the project leads for the remedial work: Harry Rabin, Executive Director of Heal the Ocean (HTO) Hillary Hauser, and Ira Leifer, who createdthe updated mapping. He has a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences and is the Principal of Bubbleology Research International, Goleta. 

Leifer explained: “The Summerland area has hundreds and hundreds of oil wells, most abandoned improperly, some leak, many are connected, some abandoned multiple times, and the leakage continues which is not surprising. The goal is to understand the geology and work with it, not against it. You can’t fight geology; you always lose. So not to just re-abandon wells in alpha-numerological order, but in a way that reduces the oil to the environment sooner. We are trying to avoid the “whack-a-mole” approach: seal one well and another well opens up natural seepage. There is a connection between the geology on shore under the Summerland community and offshore. 

“As we know, before Summerland was built up, kids would dig holes in the ground and light up the natural gas to play soccer at night. It is certainly possible that some homes are on natural seepage areas that can pose health hazards. There is a single reservoir connecting pathways underground, so blocking one pathway activates other pathways. There is also a storm effect that wipes out built-up tar on the shore and oil seeps up; and any charge of aquafers on shore affect offshore. There are faults and fractures that affect the seepage as well. Ultimately, we will lose, and geology will win. There is a major fault up Ortega Hill and if the earth moves, you can’t seal it. There are areas where oil and gas are coming up probably not connected to the main fault lines and can be permanently sealed off. My guess is, it is gallons per week leaking but it spreads across the ocean with volatile toxins. The only long-term answer is a ‘capture and collect’ small bird island that gets off-loaded periodically. The oil leakage will continue six to eight thousand years.”

View of the barge and equipment capping Treadwell 1 & 5 at Summerland Beach (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

Rabin added, “The new capping technology puts a giant cofferdam (an enclosure built within a body of water to allow the enclosed area to be pumped out or drained) over each well-head to keep the oil from escaping into the ocean while we are working. The geological study will show us if we are on the right approach of capping the wells one at a time. We know we can do a better job, get multiple well heads in a shorter period of time, and make better use of state funds. HTO monitors the success of capping.”

Leifer and Rabin will use and add to the United States Geological Service (USGS) data and maps of Summerland’s oil titled, “Geology and Oil Resources of the Summerland District” [1907, ref: https://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/0321/report.pdf]

Their field work will take 90 days and be done over the next six months. They will create a real-time interactive geo-map to precisely disclose well locations, reservoirs, faults, et al. 

Capping oil wells Treadwell 1 & 5 is being done by 2H Offshore and assisted by Beacon-West Energy Group off-shore on the Curtin Maritime, Corp. barge out of Long Beach. It will take approximately 10 days. Funding for oil well capping comes from SB44 Legacy Well Re-Abandonment at two million dollars per year ending 2027. HTO is funding SOMS. 

411: www.healtheocean.org


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