Oil

Lab Results Point to Natural Seeps as Source of Oil Sheen Off Summerland Beach | Local News

Lab tests have identified natural seeps as the likely source of the recent Summerland oil sheens.

Multiple agencies united to investigate and monitor the petroleum sheens seen off Summerland Beach starting on Jan. 6, collecting samples to determine the source.

“Lab results from multiple locations onshore and offshore of Summerland indicate the product is consistent with local natural seep oil,” according to a Unified Command statement on Saturday.

“The Pacific Ocean offshore Summerland Beach is an area with very active natural seeps. There are also an estimated 200 legacy wells near the beach, and while lab results indicate that the product is consistent with seep activity, it’s possible that one or more of those wells could also be a factor.”

The wells were drilled in the late 1800s and early 1900s but never properly abandoned, officials said.

They also are believed to be relatively shallow compared to modern wells, making it nearly impossible to distinguish the oil from natural seepage in the area, officials said.

The State Lands Commission, through its Coastal Hazard and Legacy Well Remediation Program, is investigating whether one of the legacy wells is discharging petroleum. 

Crews and divers will survey the area and continue work on legacy wells that require remediation as funding allows. 

In recent years, the State Lands Commission has abandoned four legacy wells with state funding from Senate Bill 44, which was authored in 2017 by now-retired Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

Stormy weather that brought an unprecedented high storm surge in recent weeks has eroded large amounts of sand at Summerland Beach. 

“The extreme weather and tidal activity may have been a factor in this incident,” the statement said. 

With confirmed lab results of natural seep oil and the State Lands Commission continuing its investigation of a potential legacy well discharge, the Unified Command will demobilize and return to normal agency operations, officials said Saturday.

Through its legacy well program, the State Lands Commission will be the lead agency for ongoing monitoring and investigation at Summerland Beach. 

Crews will continue to monitor the beaches for environmental and wildlife impacts. So far, one oiled bird has been recovered by wildlife reconnaissance crews.

The oil cannot be recovered, according to the Unified Command statement.

Monitoring by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District also determined that levels did not pose a risk to the public.

As a precaution, air monitoring efforts will continue into next week.

The Unified Command consists of the U.S. Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

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