Work set to begin on Huasna Valley oil wells

Workers on Monday are scheduled to begin plugging six abandoned oil wells on a Huasna Valley property earmarked for a new oil exploration project.

The work is expected to take about two weeks to complete. The deserted wells are on the Mankins Ranch, 12 miles east of Arroyo Grande. They are from an oil exploration project conducted about 25 years ago.

The oil company Excelaron is seeking county approval for a fresh exploration of the Mankins property. If approved, as many as 12 new wells could be drilled on the site.

The defunct wells are considered a pollution and public safety hazard because they can leak oil. The work is being paid for by a fund maintained by the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources for such projects.

State officials had hoped to begin the work last Monday, but recent rains made roads into the site unsafe for heavy equipment, said Pat Abel with the division’s Santa Maria office.

The work consists of filling the wells with cement and welding a cap onto the top to seal it. Once the work is done, remnants of the well should not be visible from the surface. An abandoned conductor pipe will also be removed.

Plugging a well typically costs $16,500. The state maintains a $2 million annual budget for such work that is funded by fees paid by the petroleum industry.

Residents of the Huasna Valley requested that the wells be plugged before permits are issued to Excelaron to drill new wells. Residents have formed a watchdog group called the Huasna Valley Association in response to the Excelaron application.

“The Huasna Valley residents are glad to see action finally taken to clean up this old polluted site,” said Ron Skinner, association spokesman.

“However, capping and abandoning the old well holes is just the first step.”

An oil seep and derelict equipment also need to be removed, he said. Excelaron has promised to complete surface cleanup once the county permits are in hand, said Alison MacLeod, company spokeswoman.