Zoom with HTO & Expert Panelists on Thursday, June 17 @ 7PM to Hear How the Summerland Oil Wells are Being Capped & Learn What’s Next on the List!
Many HTO fans know about our organization’s work capping the leaking oil wells of Summerland. For decades, oil has been leaking from the wellheads of some of the first offshore oil rigs in the world, over 400 of them right here in Santa Barbara County. The beaches in Summerland were a major source of oil pollution, which, spread as far southeast as Carpinteria and northwest along the coast to Miramar, Hammonds, and East Beach.
Finding the exact locations of these leaks and making the determination that they were indeed old wellheads vs. natural seeps took years of research both above and below the ocean. Good observations, sophisticated technology – from drones and ROV’s to multibeam sonar – and determination, all would need to be deployed to solve the mystery of where the oil plumes were coming from, to arrive at a viable solution to stop the flow of oil into the ocean.
After years of collaboration, Heal the Ocean, former California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, UCSB, InterAct, the California State Lands Commission, and our own Advisory Board Member Harry Rabin (who is greatly responsible for keeping the project on course), have successfully worked together to cap the leaking oil wells off Summerland Beach.
Join us tonight, Thursday, June 17, 2021, at 7 pm as we come together to tell the story of this victory for the environment at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum’s Zoom event: Detecting and Capping Leaking Oil Wells in Summerland. This Zoom presentation will be led by producer, director, and documentary filmmaker Harry Rabin, the CEO, and founder of On the Wave Productions who worked alongside engineers and divers in the Summerland oil well field. The event will feature panelists who were involved in this environmental success, including:
• Mike Giuliani – Head engineer at InterAct – the contractors working under the California State Lands Commission (SLC);
• Joe Fabel – an attorney for the SLC;
• Hillary Hauser – Executive Director of Heal the Ocean;
• David Valentine, Ph.D. – Founding Director of the Marine Science program in the College of Creative Studies at UCSB & current Professor of Geochemistry and Microbiology at UCSB;
• Hannah-Beth Jackson – Former CA State Senator who authored SB 44 the Coastal Hazards & Legacy Oil & Gas Wells Removal & Remediation Program, which has secured $2 million per year in funding for the Summerland work.
The event is free for all, but registration is required. To register for the Zoom event, please click here. We hope to “see” you all on Thursday, June 17, at 7 p.m. for this interesting discussion.
NOTE: The next well, Ohlsson 805, is scheduled to be capped next month, in July 2021; and Duquesne, a beach well, is scheduled to be capped at the end of the 2021 year, in December – to end the year with a Christmas present for everyone!
Thank you to the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum and the event sponsor Marie L. Morrisroe!
Heal The Ocean Tackles That Boat on the Beach: A Great Collaboration on an Environmental Disaster
A trawler that had been anchored off the Santa Barbara shoreline at Montecito, cut loose during the high winds of the week of May 17, 2021, and began drifting down the coast toward Carpinteria. People called and could get no one to help. Technically, there is a jurisdictional line in the ocean between City and County at the end of East Beach, and this wreckage cut loose on the County side, so no harbor patrol boat could go out after it as it drifted.
The boat hit the beach at Sandyland/Padaro on Friday, May 21, 2021. Boat wreckages on County beaches are handled by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, which has no boats but has the strings to State grant funding to clean up such mishaps. It involves days of paperwork and bureaucratic gotta-dos, that takes so long the ocean eats up the boat in the meantime, spreading toxic materials, gasoline, batteries, pieces of boat, and metal far and wide.
The boat pictures here, all by Harry Rabin, show how fast the sea will eat up a vessel if it’s not removed FAST. The sequence shows what one day in the ocean will do to a beached boat. When Harry arrived at the Sandyland/Carpinteria beach at 5 a.m. Friday morning, he was shocked by what he saw. During the night the ocean had slaughtered the boat, eaten it up, spreading oil, batteries, Styrofoam insulation, and other toxic materials, together with gas tanks, engine parts, and wooden pieces of the boat up and down the coast for 4 miles.
HTO Field Advisor Harry Rabin had already been at work the moment the boat hit the beach. Working with beachfront homeowners to gain access, Harry had led MarBorg workers through private front yards to grab by hand what could be walked through private property. Heal the Ocean, meanwhile, has always had an excellent relationship with Union Pacific Railroad, and when Executive Director Hillary Hauser called our contact at the railroad, the phone was answered almost immediately. We asked for permission for MarBorg to cross the tracks with heavy equipment during low tide, which fell on Friday, May 28, at 5 a.m. MarBorg needed at least three hours to get down to the sand and pick up the mess – which meant the train schedule had to be delayed or slowed down while the operation got in and out. We got an immediate YES from Union Pacific.
Despite the difficulties, the cleanup was done by 4 p.m. that day. By the time MarBorg replaced everything and cleaned up the area, you would not have known anything had gone on there. The tracks were checked by a Union Pacific RR work car, which found the area spotless.
The Hero of this episode is Brian Borgatello, who came up with solutions right and left, including the problem of the extremely heavy trucks getting stuck in the sand as they headed back over the RR tracks. And praises also be to Harry Rabin, who was on-site for six days in a row, morning to night, including working alongside Brian Borgatello and his workers on the big day of the boat removal, coordinating with Union Pacific. Heal the Ocean also thanks Lupe Valdez of Union Pacific, and Javier Sanchez, manager of track maintenance. We thank the Sandyland homeowners, who gave us permission to go through their front yards to the beach.
MarBorg Industries is a miracle operation at times like this. Brian Borgatello, president of MarBorg, gathers his heavy equipment, trucks, forklifts, and other gear – plus a fabulous crew of workers. The general operation involves crunching the boat up into pieces, loading up big trucks with it, and hauling it off. The trouble with this particular wreck was that it was on the beach on the other side of the Union Pacific RR tracks. To get all this heavy equipment over the tracks was the vital key to getting at the wreckage.
Heal the Ocean is already at work about the problem of this jurisdictional ocean stuff. We are working on getting a designated vessel, or the City harbor crew to help at such moments – to spring into action the moment a boat cuts loose. We also feel that derelict boats should be removed from the ocean if they’re not moored on a proper City anchor, especially if they are non-operable and/or unattended.
Heal the Ocean (HTO) has enjoyed a remarkable record of success, particularly for how the nonprofit that was founded barely more than 20 years ago to address contamination of the waters off Summerland from coastal septic system runoff has turned comparatively smaller donations into big projects. HTO smartly and enviably has leveraged modest sums to fund research, gather data, and then reach influential people and governmental agencies to effect massive accomplishments, often through legislative efforts.
That was how HTO turned a $10,000 investment into a $2 million per year project to cap old oil wells and remove other major environmental hazards along the Central Coast and elsewhere along the state’s shoreline. Just last fall, the HTO-inspired partnership with the State Lands Commission led to the plugging of two more leaking oil wells, Treadwell and NorthStar, with two more such projects planned for the remainder of 2021.
“Treadwell was a real stinker and NorthStar was another bad one coming up on the beach,” said Hillary Hauser, HTO’s founder and executive director who spearheaded the septic system-into-sewers project after finding out that surfers at Rincon were getting sick at strange rates. “We’re still monitoring that area with a drone, but I’m glad I can go down there often now, because I used to live in Summerland and the smell was so awful I never went to that beach.”
After capping “the big one,” Hauser and Heal the Ocean aren’t letting down their guard, as some of the oil well’s tentacles are still “misbehaving,” she said. “We may be able to move fast and get the one that’s causing some issues, get the plan designed and up and running before the fiscal year ends in June. We want to get as much of that (state) money as we can into Summerland.”
Springing into Action
But all that was documented in the Montecito Journal’s initial Giving List book that came out in November, shortly after Treadwell was topped off. But HTO is not too proud to take on much smaller issues, such as its Doggy Bag Program, which began in 2010 when the organization learned that bag dispensers for people to pick up their pooches’ poop would no longer be stocked by Santa Barbara County due to a sweeping budget cut. Heal the Ocean established a partnership with the County agreeing to help raise funds to restock the dispensers with compostable dog bags at beaches and parks from Rincon to Goleta, smartly augmenting the budget by offering advertising sponsorships.
Springing into immediate action to protect local waters from what might appear to be minor nuisances is still one of HTO’s priorities, as the organization maintains the flexibility and nimbleness to neutralize threats as they arise whether or not they require legislation or leveraging local leaders.
Recently, that meant managing the removal of detritus from a medium-sized boat that had crashed into the shoreline below the Santa Barbara Cemetery. Reports from residents of tabletops, wood pieces, cushions, and other items from the vessel were threatening the surf line and potentially polluting the waters as well as creating a safety hazard onshore.
Heal the Ocean funded the cleanup by Marborg Industries.
“We started making a call to the County and Public Works asking what they were going to do about it. How do we get this cleaned up?” Hauser recalled. “Then I just said, ‘You know what? I haven’t got time for this.’ I just decided to call Marborg and see if I could pay them $5,000 to take care of it. It was very fast, but we wouldn’t be able to do that without having the financial support that we do.”
Just this past January, Heal the Ocean advisory board member Harry Rabin learned of an abandoned homeless encampment near Montecito’s Butterfly Beach and alerted Hauser that unusually high tides due in a few days might sweep all the abandoned items into the sea. Even though it was a Saturday, the pair pounced on the situation, with Rabin contacting County officials to certify the camp was officially abandoned in order to gain approval to clear the site, while Hauser worked on finding a cleaning crew or hauler that could cart away the items before the King Tide hit two days later.
“We couldn’t get Borgatello on such short notice because half his crews were quarantining from being exposed to COVID,” Hauser explained. “So we got a crew from BigGreen Cleaning Co. to show up at five o’clock at night, 10 workers with bags and trucks, to get the stuff out of there before sundown. That was $3,000, but I was able to just right then pay for cleanup and get it done rather than going around in circles and kicking and moaning about it.”
Responding creatively to emergency projects to keep detritus out of the ocean takes a very different point of view, and a hands-on attitude. But that’s something Hauser harbors close to her heart.
Such was the case with finding an alternative for the families of convicts housed at the State Prison in Lompoc who wanted to show the inmates that people on the outside are aware of the dire situation inside the walls, where the close confines had resulted in massive outbreaks of COVID infection. When HTO heard that a group of wives were going to top off their demonstration outside the prison by releasing a number of helium-filled balloons, Hauser imagined all those deflated pieces of rubber, latex, and strings drifting out over the ocean and affecting the wildlife there and on land, and hopped into action once again.
“We called up the organizers to talk about how to fix the problem while still letting the family members meet their mission,” she said. “Because our M.O. is, if you want to change something, come up with a solution. Don’t just go in there and say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ What we came up with was hiring a skywriter to go up in an airplane with a banner saying, ‘We love you guys, we’re here for you.’ That cost about $3,000, which again is only possible because of donations. But we needed fast action to keep balloons out of the ocean.”
Hauser wouldn’t mind if such quick action weren’t always necessary. Once the pandemic passes, she said, she’s hoping that local people and those around the world will have appreciated how things have slowed down and the recent changes to the environment as a result.
“I just hope that when we start that up again, that we can go slowly. Like with a recipe where you add one thing at a time and not just throw all the cars back out on the freeway and all the airplanes into the sky. And don’t even get me started on the cruise ships.”
But she knows that HTO won’t be able to rest on its laurels anytime soon.
“When it comes to the area of the ocean or the environment, there will never be a time when you don’t have anything to do. It just accelerates. It comes at you all the time. Our job is to always be vigilant, and when you see something, when it comes to your doorstep, to figure out how you’re going to come up with a solution. There really is no other choice.”