PICTURED: Park service officials say old oil well poses a safety risk to visitors. Photo by Alex Wilson
by Alex Wilson
An unusual bit of history on Santa Cruz Island will soon fade farther into memory. A rusty and dilapidated oil well from the island’s ranching days will be removed by the National Park Service (NPS).
Hikers on the trail leading from Scorpion Ranch towards Montañon Ridge pass by the partly collapsed oil well and often wonder about its history. Funding is now in place to remove the debris and restore the site to prevent harm to people, wildlife and natural resources.
The $1.43 million project is part of nearly $10 million set aside to reclaim abandoned oil and gas wells at seven national parks nationwide, according to a park service news release.
“Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enables us to tackle legacy pollution issues caused by past extraction activities in national parks,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams. “Closing and reclaiming abandoned oil and gas wells will alleviate these environmental hazards that jeopardize health and safety by contaminating groundwater, emitting noxious gasses and littering the landscape.”
Channel Islands National Park Chief of Interpretation and Education/Public Information Officer Jasmine Reinhardt told the Ventura County Reporter that the old well is being removed primarily because of the danger it poses.
“Much of the original drilling equipment is still onsite and very deteriorated, creating visitor safety concerns,” she said.
While the visible parts of the well will be completely removed, the underground portions will remain in place after work has been done to fix any environmental damage and cap the well.
Reinhardt said the ranching family that owned Santa Cruz Island prior to it becoming a national park looked for oil, but the investment did not pan out.
“The Gherini well was exploratory in nature. It was drilled in the mid 1960s. Oil was never discovered,” she said.
Other historic commercial uses for Santa Cruz Island prior to the NPS era included sheep ranching, growing wine grapes and a seaside resort at Pelican Bay catering to celebrities, according to historians.
Park service officials said the oil well that will be removed was the only one drilled on Santa Cruz Island of which they are aware. But Reinhardt said they are investigating if there are other wells in the park.
“Records indicate that there may be additional orphaned or abandoned wells on Santa Rosa Island. A site visit is tentatively scheduled for July to attempt to locate and identify any potential concerns,” she said.
As of right now, there are no plans to build a plaque at the site or other ways to commemorate the brief history of oil drilling on the island. A park service app does include information on the historic well.
“Although the Gherinis would enter into a lease with Union Oil, the devastating Union Oil spill in January of 1969 off the coast of Santa Barbara mobilized the environmental movement against further oil exploration on the island,” according to the NPS app.
Reinhardt said the park service is sensitive to preserving history as well as protecting the natural environment, and they know some people might miss seeing the historic oil well.
“Many visitors are going to appreciate having some restoration of the island in a pristine way and I am sure that there are also people out there who are very fond of history and grew up with that, who might remember it and miss it. But we hope that people understand the safety concerns,” she said.
Planning for the project is underway and the removal work should start next year, officials said.