Just in time for Thanksgiving, the city of Beverly Hills will finally complete its project management responsibilities to monitor and plug oil wells on the Beverly Hills High School campus. The final oil well of 19 total on Beverly Hills Unified School District property was secured and capped last month as part of a $40 million project.
“We’ve done all the major plugging and now we’re just doing quality control touch-ups,” said Shana Epstein, director of public works for the city of Beverly Hills.
Epstein said she anticipated that the project would be complete by Nov. 24, with just a few “punch list” items outstanding.
The school district was left in the position of having to clean up decades of oil extraction after energy company Venoco Inc., which siphoned its last barrel of oil from BHUSD land on Dec. 31, 2016, filed for bankruptcy in April 2017. As part of Venoco’s $1.1 million annual lease with the city and BHUSD, through which it extracted roughly 300 barrels of crude oil a day, the energy company was obliged to have the site cleaned up by Mar. 31, 2017. However, a bankruptcy judge ruled that Venoco had no further responsibility to monitor the site, making it the responsibility of the school district to monitor and plug the wells.
In 2018, the city took control of the plugging operation after the school district acknowledged it lacked the funding. Epstein said that the city has continued to invoice the school district for all money in excess of the $11 million the City Council agreed to pay toward the process. The city had originally agreed to advance up to $8 million in costs for site monitoring and plugging, but increased the amount as the extent of the financial need became clearer.
“They’ve been timely as we’ve been invoicing them,” Epstein said. “The city took the lead because of the immediacy it needed at the time.”
Board of Education President Isabel Hacker confirmed that outside of some funds given by Venoco and the money given by the city, the school district is paying for the project using money from Measure BH, the $385 million construction bond Beverly Hills voters passed in 2018.
“I’m very pleased with the progress. It was an important piece of work that needed to be done. It was proposed to us that it would be a two-year project, and it looks like we’re going to be on schedule,” she said. “With the oversight provided by CALGEM (California Geologic Energy Management Division) over the district’s approved plans to address both the Venoco wells and the [abandoned] wells, BHUSD has made significant progress and is on its way towards finalizing these important projects.”
BHUSD Superintendent Michael Bregy likewise said he was “pleased” to be in the final phase.
Hacker said that in addition to the Venoco wells, two older oil wells had been discovered and plugged on the BHHS campus – Rodeo 107 and Wolfkill 23, with the process paid for by Metro. To date, she said that no additional abandoned oil wells had been identified on BHUSD property. A portion of Metro’s planned Purple Line extension will run directly below BHHS.
Now that its partnership with the city to plug 19 oil wells is scheduled to end, the school district will pay for all additional remediation costs using Measure BH funds as it moves forward on its ongoing construction plans to renovate the high school.
“Remediation is currently underway, but due to the nature and age of these wells, and given their physical interface with the current MTA project, projecting total costs and timelines are challenging at this time,” BHUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Wade Roach said.