With a deadline looming to send a response to the presiding Superior Court judge, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors strongly disagreed with all four findings of a grand jury report on unused oil wells, but agreed. decided to analyze the four recommendations that accompany them rather than reject them. downright.
But the decision was not unanimous, with 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson dissenting in the 3-2 decision on the point that was part of the administrative agenda but was removed. for discussion by Nelson and a member of the public. .
In its report, the grand jury concluded that the health and environmental risks of inactive wells are not sufficiently considered; the county is too understaffed to adequately monitor unused wells; code provisions requiring the removal of drilling equipment and derricks are not fully enforced; and the county may face financial liabilities due to inadequate oversight.
The proposed response crafted by county staff rejected those findings, and the majority of council ultimately accepted that recommendation.
The grand jury then recommended that supervisors direct the Department of Planning and Development to identify health and environmental risks and determine actual and potential tax liabilities from unused wells in annual reports to council.
He also recommended that supervisors instruct Planning and Development to maintain enough qualified staff to staff the petroleum unit of its energy, minerals and compliance division and enforce county code requirements to remove unused well equipment and derricks.
The proposed response prepared by staff indicated that none of the recommendations would be implemented.
First District Supervisor Das Williams, who as a member of the state assembly wrote AB 2729, which updates regulations regarding idle and abandoned oil wells, said he was in a difficult position.
“I don’t necessarily, with any certainty, disagree with the staff position,” Williams said. “The county is not the primary regulator. We’re not even the secondary regulator. We are the tertiary regulator.
“I’m still left with the overriding question: Isn’t there something more we can do?”
But 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino stressed that, as Williams said, regulating old oil wells is not the county’s job.
“I don’t want to be in a position that is someone else’s responsibility,” Lavagnino said, noting that taking on other duties comes with additional costs and responsibilities.
Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson pointed out that some of the wells were over 100 years old and that there was a process in place and a fund to deal with orphaned and unused wells.
Hart agreed with Williams, however.
“That answer is not adequate, in my mind,” Hart said. “That doesn’t answer the questions that remain in my mind.”
Given that March 21 is the deadline to respond to the grand jury report, the board ultimately decided to say the recommendations required further analysis, which the county will need to accomplish in about three months to comply with the grand jury’s demands. jury.