The capping of the oil wells located on the Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) campus is on track for completion this fall, according to Director of Public Works, Shana Epstein. Epstein made the statement at the April 21 City Council Study Session. The completion of the project will mean that the reign of the 150-feet-tall oil rig decorated by students with painted flowers, is nearing an end.
The City and the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) have worked in tandem on the oil-capping project. In February of 2018, the two contracted with ARB, Inc., an energy infrastructure company based in California, to provide well monitoring and abandonment services. Since the project began in May of 2018, 17 of the 19 district-owned wells have been plugged, with the 18th nearing completion. During a regular BHUSD Board of Education virtual meeting on April 14, members voted 5-0 to continue with the well abatement construction, deeming it an “essential service.” On April 21, the City Council moved forward on the project without competitive bidding.
The project’s objectives are to secure the long-term well-being and safety of the BHHS campus and surrounding areas while capping all the oil wells on site, removing underground tubing, pump rods, pumps, removing the derrick and filling the 8,000 ft.- deep wells. In compliance with the Public Contract Code Section 22050, the project has remained a standing item on each City Council meeting agenda, which has determined by four-fifths vote the need to continue with it until completion.
In a resolution adopted and approved on April 14, the BHUSD released a statement in regards to the Beverly Hills High School oil well abatement stating, “The Board of Education has reviewed the facts and circumstances involving each of the District’s construction projects and determined that each of the projects is an ‘Essential Service’ to support the District’s critical Education Facilities infrastructure and that discontinuing construction activity would pose major health and safety risks for the Education Facilities Subsector, such as open incomplete buildings, unsafe areas, attractive nuisances, the deterioration of constructed areas, or destruction of structures.”
The oil wells located in the southwest corner of the BHHS campus have been there for decades, preceding the school’s construction in 1927. In the 1950’s the School District leased the site to Venoco, an oil and gas exploration and production company. The lease expired on December 31, 2016. Since then, the City and the BHUSD have been responsible for monitoring the site and plugging the wells, retaining WZI, Inc, an environmental consulting agency specializing in petroleum engineering, to provide technical assistance and oversight of the well plugging process. WZI and ARB helped identify and mitigate potentially harmful gas leaks, monitoring their pressure, to ensure that no harm would come to the community.
Initially, the BHHS oil well remediation project was estimated to span between nine and 12 months, at a cost of $8 million dollars. However, the price has nearly tripled since the construction began two years ago. The BHHS campus itself has not been impacted during the construction, other than the closure of the girls’ softball field. Safety measures taken include eight feet of screened construction fence and a 180-ft. setback barrier.
The well plugging has been done in accordance with American Petroleum Institute standards and monitored by the State of California’s Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. The estimated completion date for capping the 18th well is May 15, 2020.