Tag Archives: oil well capping

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

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. 

A heat map shows oil sheen detection in the ocean off the coast of Summerland

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.”

Pragmatic Environmentalism

In 2011,long before Covid-19 forever changed how we think of nonprofit fundraising events, Santa Barbara-based Heal the Ocean held an “imaginary gala” with “invisible” seats at “dream” tables. On the invitation, super booster Julia Louis-Dreyfus crowed that the event would be “the most unreal party” the organization ever had.

Not only did Heal the Ocean save money on producing the event, but also exceeded its fundraising goal. This no frills, practical approach is the environmental advocacy group’s calling card. 

“We are not complainers,” says Executive Director Hillary Hauser. “We focus on infrastructure, pipes, waste disposal, and sometimes it strikes us funny to realize we are very often just basic plumbers.”

Maybe so, but plumbers with an incredible track record of pragmatic change, using small charitable donations to win significant sums of public dollars to, well, heal the ocean. 

Hillary Hauser and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The organization was launched in 1998, when Hauser caught wind of something rotten in the waters off surf-famous Rincon Point. The clutch of homes there all relied on septic systems. As tidewater rose and fell the systems steadily leached effluent into the waters – causing surfers to get sick. An early environmental DNA study, the first of its kind and funded by Heal the Ocean, found that 20% of the bacterial pollution in the lagoon there was “human/fecal.” By 2013, after an epic saga of bureaucratic red tape and setbacks, Heal the Ocean had not only secured sewer systems for Rincon, but 130 homes seven miles up and down the coast as well, radically improving ocean water quality, which has made surfing safer – and more fun.

More recently, Hauser and company translated a $10,000 investment in a knowledgeable consultant that helped to sweep into law a 2017 bill authored by HTO ally State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson that allocates $2 million per year to cap old oil wells and other hazards along California’s coastline for a total of $14 million. Serving as cheerleaders to the State Lands Commission, Heal the Ocean led the charge in 2018 for the plugging of the notorious, leaking Becker Well on Summerland Beach, and for 2020, they’re inspiring the plugging of two more leaking wells: Treadwell and NorthStar – scheduled for October 2020.

For Hauser and her team it has never been about lawsuits or quick fixes. It’s about finding solid strategies to heal this neck of California’s coastline. 

“It’s really about practical solutions,” Hauser says. “We always say that to get something fixed, you have to figure out how much it costs, then how to pay for it, then go get the money and just do it. I think that’s why people like us.”