Black Gold in California: The Story of the California Petroleum Industry

An illustrated history of California's oil and gas industry paired with the histories of companies that have helped shape the industry.

An illustrated history of California's oil and gas industry paired with the histories of companies that have helped shape the industry.


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<strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />

by Robert D. Francis, Ph.D.<br />

A publication <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> Independent<br />

<strong>Petroleum</strong> Association

Thank you for your <strong>in</strong>terest <strong>in</strong> this HPNbooks publication. For more <strong>in</strong>formation about o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

HPNbooks publications, or <strong>in</strong>formation about produc<strong>in</strong>g your own book with us, please visit www.hpnbooks.com.


<strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />

by Robert D. Francis, Ph.D.<br />

A publication <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> Independent <strong>Petroleum</strong> Association<br />

HPNbooks<br />

A division <strong>of</strong> Lammert Incorporated<br />

San Antonio, Texas


CIPA would like to dedicate this book to Phil Ryall,<br />

retired petroleum geologist and historian, who<br />

helped <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> research <strong>of</strong> this project.<br />

Phil Ryall with Daphne Fletcher at <strong>the</strong> CIPA Golf Out<strong>in</strong>g held at <strong>the</strong> Bakersfield Country Club <strong>in</strong><br />

November 2014. Mr. Ryall had many good friends <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong>dustry!<br />

First Edition<br />

Copyright © 2016 HPNbooks<br />

All rights reserved. No part <strong>of</strong> this book may be reproduced <strong>in</strong> any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g photocopy<strong>in</strong>g, without permission <strong>in</strong> writ<strong>in</strong>g<br />

from <strong>the</strong> publisher. All <strong>in</strong>quiries should be addressed to HPNbooks, 11535 Galm Road, Suite 101, San Antonio, Texas, 78254. Phone (800) 749-9790, www.hpnbooks.com.<br />

ISBN: 978-1-944891-13-8<br />

Library <strong>of</strong> Congress Card Catalog Number: 2016943636<br />

<strong>Black</strong> <strong>Gold</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />

author: Robert D. Francis, Ph.D.<br />

cover photographer: Greg Iger<br />

contribut<strong>in</strong>g writer for “Shar<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> Heritage”: Joe Goodpasture<br />

HPNbooks<br />

president: Ron Lammert<br />

project manager: Daphne Fletcher<br />

assistant project manager: Anita Andersen<br />

adm<strong>in</strong>istration: Donna M. Mata, Melissa G. Qu<strong>in</strong>n<br />

book sales: Dee Steidle<br />

production: Col<strong>in</strong> Hart, Evelyn Hart, Glenda Tarazon Krouse<br />

Tim Lippard, Christopher D. Sturdevant<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>California</strong> Independent <strong>Petroleum</strong> Association would like to thank <strong>the</strong> Chevron Corporation for donat<strong>in</strong>g pictures used <strong>in</strong> this publication.<br />


BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />



5 PROLOGUE<br />

6 CHAPTER ONE Dawn: 1850 to 1900<br />

30 CHAPTER TWO A New Era Beg<strong>in</strong>s: 1900 to 1920<br />

62 CHAPTER THREE Between <strong>the</strong> Wars<br />

82 CHAPTER FOUR Peace, Prosperity and Change<br />

98 CHAPTER FIVE <strong>The</strong> Path to <strong>the</strong> Future: 1980 to Present<br />




274 SPONSORS<br />



Union Oil Company <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>, unknown date.<br />




Howard Supply Company<br />

3824 Buck Owens Boulevard<br />

Bakersfield, <strong>California</strong> 93308<br />

661-324-9721<br />

www.howard-supply.com<br />

<strong>California</strong> Resources Corporation<br />

9200 Oakdale Avenue<br />

Los Angeles, <strong>California</strong> 91311<br />

818-661-6000<br />

www.crc.com<br />


Through <strong>the</strong>ir generous support,<br />

<strong>the</strong>se companies helped to make<br />

this project possible.<br />

Cav<strong>in</strong>s Oil Well Tools<br />

2598 East 28th Street<br />

Signal Hill, <strong>California</strong> 90755<br />

562-424-8564<br />

www.cav<strong>in</strong>s.com<br />

JD Rush Company<br />

5900 East Lerdo Highway<br />

Shafter, <strong>California</strong> 93263<br />

661-392-1900<br />

www.jdrush.com<br />

Petrol Transport, Inc.<br />

5502 South Granite Road<br />

Bakersfield, <strong>California</strong> 93308<br />

661-393-6514<br />

www.petroltransport<strong>in</strong>c.com<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />



<strong>The</strong> history <strong>of</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> beg<strong>in</strong>s 10 to 18 million years ago, dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> Miocene<br />

Epoch, <strong>in</strong> a land lost <strong>in</strong> time. Volcanoes, long s<strong>in</strong>ce vanished, laid down ash deposits a mile thick.<br />

Our deserts were <strong>the</strong>n grassland and forest. Camels, rh<strong>in</strong>os, flam<strong>in</strong>goes, and little Merychippus,<br />

<strong>the</strong> three-foot-tall ancestor <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> modern horse, roamed <strong>the</strong> land. <strong>The</strong> volcanoes flanked great<br />

ocean bas<strong>in</strong>s that deepened and acted as storehouses for <strong>the</strong> Monterey Formation (Shale), source<br />

<strong>of</strong> nearly all <strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. Eventually <strong>the</strong>se bas<strong>in</strong>s filled up with sediments; some<br />

became land <strong>in</strong> places that were later given names like San Joaqu<strong>in</strong>, Ventura, Santa Maria, and<br />

Los Angeles. Slowly, organic matter <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Monterey Formation was released to form oil.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se bas<strong>in</strong>s may be small geographically, and o<strong>the</strong>r places on earth may have yielded more<br />

petroleum, but <strong>California</strong> knows no equal when it comes to concentrated richness <strong>of</strong> deposits close<br />

to <strong>the</strong> surface. What is <strong>the</strong> most prolific prov<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>in</strong> terms <strong>of</strong> barrels <strong>of</strong> oil produced per cubic mile<br />

<strong>of</strong> oil-bear<strong>in</strong>g strata? Saudi Arabia? <strong>The</strong> North Sea? <strong>The</strong> Gulf <strong>of</strong> Mexico? No; it is Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong>.<br />

Humans arrived <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, first Indians and <strong>the</strong>n Europeans. <strong>The</strong>y farmed <strong>the</strong> rich land,<br />

built towns and made lives for <strong>the</strong>mselves. At first <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>calculable treasure beneath <strong>the</strong>ir feet was<br />

unknown to <strong>the</strong>m, although it manifested itself at <strong>the</strong> surface <strong>in</strong> various places as tar seeps or even<br />

rivers <strong>of</strong> asphalt. By 1903 <strong>California</strong> became <strong>the</strong> largest produc<strong>in</strong>g state <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> United States,<br />

peak<strong>in</strong>g at over 1 million barrels a day <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1970s. It is still produc<strong>in</strong>g over half a million a day,<br />

mak<strong>in</strong>g it <strong>the</strong> number three state. This great resource would never have been utilized for <strong>the</strong><br />

benefit <strong>of</strong> mank<strong>in</strong>d had it not been for <strong>the</strong> pioneers <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> early petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry. <strong>The</strong> risktak<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

hard work, and <strong>in</strong>novat<strong>in</strong>g spirit <strong>of</strong> those entrepreneurs are still alive today <strong>in</strong> companies<br />

great and small, which even now are f<strong>in</strong>d<strong>in</strong>g new ways to unlock America’s hidden bounty. This is<br />

a story about people—past and present—who made <strong>the</strong> mighty energy <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>of</strong> today possible.<br />

Carbonaceous marl unit <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Monterey<br />

Formation (or Shale), Gaviota Beach,<br />

<strong>California</strong>. This rock can conta<strong>in</strong> as much<br />

as twenty-three percent organic carbon,<br />

which is <strong>the</strong> source <strong>of</strong> crude oil. <strong>The</strong> layers<br />

dip steeply to <strong>the</strong> left <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> picture, and are<br />

seen both <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> cliff face, and on <strong>the</strong> beach<br />

where <strong>the</strong>y have been eroded by <strong>the</strong> waves.<br />

<strong>The</strong> formation cont<strong>in</strong>ues <strong>of</strong>fshore, where<br />

it dips to great depths under <strong>the</strong> ocean.<br />

<strong>The</strong> ocean <strong>in</strong> this picture (left background)<br />

is at low tide. Pressure and heat at great<br />

depth turned <strong>the</strong> organic matter <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong><br />

crude oil found <strong>in</strong> many oil fields <strong>in</strong> coastal<br />

and <strong>of</strong>fshore Santa Barbara County.<br />






ONE<br />

DAWN: 1850-1900<br />


A time <strong>of</strong> transition. Maricopa (San Joaqu<strong>in</strong><br />

Valley) rail sid<strong>in</strong>g with tank cars and oil<br />

derricks <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> background. Mule-drawn<br />

freight wagons are be<strong>in</strong>g used to carry pipe<br />

to where it is needed.<br />



In <strong>the</strong> 1850s <strong>the</strong> gold rush was already wan<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>fant State <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>, although<br />

immigrants cont<strong>in</strong>ued to flow <strong>in</strong> for decades, attracted by <strong>the</strong> fertile land and mild climate.<br />

A major problem <strong>in</strong> those early years <strong>of</strong> statehood was isolation from <strong>the</strong> rest <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Union, even<br />

after <strong>the</strong> open<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> transcont<strong>in</strong>ental railroad <strong>in</strong> 1869. Coal was America’s ma<strong>in</strong> energy<br />

source for factories and transportation. <strong>California</strong> had to import its coal from <strong>the</strong> East, and high<br />

cost <strong>in</strong>hibited <strong>the</strong> development <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> state. <strong>The</strong> discovery <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s own oil<br />

changed all that. Before <strong>the</strong> century was out, <strong>the</strong> state’s railroads were us<strong>in</strong>g petroleum <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

locomotives, factories were us<strong>in</strong>g it <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir furnaces and stationary eng<strong>in</strong>es, and m<strong>in</strong>es <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

motive equipment. <strong>The</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustrial revolution <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> was on. By 1900 everyth<strong>in</strong>g was<br />

new. <strong>California</strong> stood on <strong>the</strong> threshold <strong>of</strong> a dynamic twentieth century <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry, fueled<br />

by petroleum. This chapter is <strong>the</strong> story <strong>of</strong> this remarkable transformation, and <strong>the</strong> n<strong>in</strong>eteenth<br />

century people who made it happen.<br />

For uncounted centuries native people harvested “asphaltum” from seeps and tar pits. <strong>The</strong>y<br />

used it to seal baskets, attach arrowheads to <strong>the</strong>ir shafts, and as glue to make brushes to help<br />

gr<strong>in</strong>d acorn meal. <strong>The</strong> Tongva people, who <strong>in</strong>habited Santa Catal<strong>in</strong>a Island for up to 7,000 years,<br />

probably used bitumen to caulk canoes <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong>y made <strong>the</strong> twenty-five-mile journey to <strong>the</strong><br />

ma<strong>in</strong>land to trade with o<strong>the</strong>r tribes. Spaniards used <strong>the</strong> tar as ro<strong>of</strong><strong>in</strong>g material <strong>in</strong> missions and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r build<strong>in</strong>gs. “Brea,” or tar, is used today <strong>in</strong> place names all over <strong>the</strong> state, perhaps most famously<br />

at <strong>the</strong> La Brea Tar pits, a natural oil seep <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong> that is still active today. For <strong>the</strong><br />

immense Spanish-grant rancheros, ma<strong>in</strong>stays <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> early <strong>California</strong> beef economy, <strong>the</strong> tar seeps<br />

and pits were a nuisance, as <strong>the</strong>y trapped and killed numerous cattle. Navigators <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early 1800s<br />

were well aware <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> iridescent slicks from seafloor seeps <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> Santa Barbara Coast.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> early production <strong>of</strong> oil was<br />

from surface seeps or by m<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g ra<strong>the</strong>r than<br />

from drill<strong>in</strong>g wells. Apparently <strong>in</strong> 1855 or 1856,<br />

Andres Pico <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> San Fernando Mission tried<br />

to ref<strong>in</strong>e some heavy seep oil from Pico Canyon<br />

near Newhall. Similar attempts were made<br />

at about <strong>the</strong> same time at Rancho La Brea,<br />

just west <strong>of</strong> a little town called Los Angeles.<br />

A fur<strong>the</strong>r attempt was made at Carp<strong>in</strong>teria,<br />

near Santa Barbara, <strong>in</strong> 1857. Although not<br />

commercially successful, <strong>the</strong>se early <strong>in</strong>stances<br />

presaged <strong>the</strong> later development <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s<br />

important oil-produc<strong>in</strong>g districts.<br />

M<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g became <strong>the</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> method <strong>of</strong> extraction<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1860s. At Asphalto <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong><br />

Valley, near what would later be <strong>the</strong> town<br />

<strong>of</strong> McKittrick, shafts and tunnels up to 300<br />

feet deep were sunk <strong>in</strong>to ledges, yield<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

tarry oil. This <strong>the</strong>y could ref<strong>in</strong>e to produce a<br />

bitumen much purer than that from <strong>the</strong><br />

Caribbean island <strong>of</strong> Tr<strong>in</strong>idad, <strong>the</strong>n <strong>the</strong> major<br />

producer <strong>of</strong> asphalt. This material was used<br />

for roads and sidewalks <strong>in</strong> San Francisco, and<br />

as grease to skid logs <strong>in</strong> timber<strong>in</strong>g operations.<br />

One shaft yielded a column <strong>of</strong> solid tar ten<br />

feet high and six feet wide, which was<br />

shipped <strong>in</strong>tact for display <strong>in</strong> San Francisco.<br />

Start<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> 1861 at Sulphur Mounta<strong>in</strong> near<br />

Ventura, tunnels were drilled at a slightly<br />

uphill angle. <strong>The</strong> m<strong>in</strong>ers made a trough <strong>in</strong> a<br />

tunnel floor with wooden planks, allow<strong>in</strong>g<br />

water and oil to flow out. Tongue-and-groove<br />

redwood boards were used as sid<strong>in</strong>g to seal<br />

<strong>of</strong>f water zones. Tunnel<strong>in</strong>g cont<strong>in</strong>ued for<br />

decades, even after conventional drill<strong>in</strong>g took<br />

over. One tunnel, dug by Union Oil <strong>in</strong> 1890,<br />

was 1,940 feet long. In at least one case,<br />

a mirror was set up to reflect sunlight <strong>in</strong>to<br />

<strong>the</strong> tunnel for alignment purposes. Up to<br />

fifty-four <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se tunnels were eventually<br />

dug, and some were still produc<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to<br />

<strong>the</strong> twenty-first century. In fact, some tunnels<br />

experienced a significant <strong>in</strong>crease <strong>in</strong> production<br />

as a result <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1994 Northridge earthquake,<br />

which may have opened up fractures<br />

previously sealed by asphalt.<br />

Above: Entrance to salt marsh tunnel.<br />



Below: Tunnel at Sulphur Mounta<strong>in</strong> with a<br />

mirror at <strong>the</strong> entrance to reflect sunlight <strong>in</strong>.<br />




THE<br />

ARE<br />



Above: Oil seepage on road cut near<br />

Santa Paula. <strong>The</strong> oil is very viscous and<br />

slow flow<strong>in</strong>g because <strong>the</strong> lighter components<br />

have been lost through evaporation.<br />


Below: Portion <strong>of</strong> Ventura County show<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Spanish grant ranchos <strong>in</strong>vestigated by<br />

Pr<strong>of</strong>essor Silliman, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Rancho Ojai.<br />

Sulphur Mounta<strong>in</strong>, where tunnels were dug<br />

for oil, is located <strong>in</strong> Rancho Ojai.<br />


Right after <strong>the</strong> Drake Well was drilled<br />

<strong>in</strong> Titusville, Pennsylvania, <strong>in</strong> 1859, <strong>the</strong> first<br />

attempts were made to produce oil commercially<br />

by drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. <strong>The</strong> first<br />

well, drilled <strong>in</strong> Humboldt County <strong>in</strong> 1861,<br />

was dry. <strong>The</strong> first produc<strong>in</strong>g well was drilled<br />

near <strong>the</strong> town <strong>of</strong> Petrolia <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> same county<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1865. <strong>The</strong> <strong>in</strong>itial shipment <strong>of</strong> about 100<br />

gallons <strong>of</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ed, light oil is said to have<br />

sold <strong>in</strong> San Francisco for $1.40 a gallon.<br />

Small amounts <strong>of</strong> up to fifteen barrels<br />

were shipped <strong>in</strong>termittently for <strong>the</strong> next<br />

two years.<br />

Such was <strong>the</strong> state <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> when, <strong>in</strong> April 1864, a<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>essor <strong>of</strong> chemistry and geology from<br />

Yale named Benjam<strong>in</strong> Silliman, Jr., arrived<br />

from <strong>the</strong> East. He came at <strong>the</strong> behest <strong>of</strong> ano<strong>the</strong>r<br />

easterner, f<strong>in</strong>ancier Thomas A. Scott, to <strong>in</strong>vestigate<br />

oil possibilities <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, Nevada,<br />

and Arizona. Hav<strong>in</strong>g written a report that<br />

had encouraged <strong>in</strong>vestors <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Drake Well<br />

<strong>in</strong> Pennsylvania, Pr<strong>of</strong>essor Silliman was highly<br />

reputed as a consultant to <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong>dustry.<br />

Silliman wrote reports on several Spanish<br />

grant estates, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> 18,000 acre<br />

Rancho Ojai near Ventura. He spoke glow<strong>in</strong>gly<br />

and with some hyperbole about seeps, call<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong>m “natural wells” and “rivers <strong>of</strong> oil.” Large<br />

pools <strong>of</strong> underground oil had been found<br />

by drill<strong>in</strong>g near seeps <strong>in</strong> Pennsylvania,<br />

and Silliman thought <strong>the</strong> same would be<br />

true <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. <strong>The</strong> Ojai report formed<br />

part <strong>of</strong> a prospectus for Scott’s <strong>California</strong><br />

<strong>Petroleum</strong> Company.<br />

Scott’s prospectus was prescient <strong>in</strong> that it<br />

claimed, <strong>in</strong> 1864, that oil would replace coal<br />

as <strong>the</strong> source <strong>of</strong> illum<strong>in</strong>ant. It also correctly<br />

predicted that <strong>the</strong> market for <strong>California</strong> oil<br />

would <strong>in</strong>clude <strong>the</strong> whole Pacific region as<br />

far as Australia. Silliman recognized, although<br />

he did not name, <strong>the</strong> Monterey Formation as<br />

<strong>the</strong> source rock, an important step <strong>in</strong> understand<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> geological habitat <strong>of</strong> oil <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>. He said that <strong>the</strong> prospects for Ojai<br />

were better than those for Titusville before<br />

<strong>the</strong> Drake Well was drilled. Unfortunately,<br />

this highly optimistic prediction was based<br />

on ra<strong>the</strong>r cursory observations <strong>of</strong> seeps and<br />

surface geology, sometimes made from a<br />

buggy or <strong>the</strong> saddle <strong>of</strong> a horse.<br />

A small boom, with several companies<br />

be<strong>in</strong>g created and shallow wells be<strong>in</strong>g drilled,<br />

occurred largely on <strong>the</strong> strength <strong>of</strong> Silliman’s<br />

rosy projections. However, none <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wells<br />

produced commercially. <strong>The</strong> end <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Civil<br />

War <strong>in</strong> 1865 and <strong>in</strong>creased production <strong>in</strong><br />

Pennsylvania that drove prices down soon<br />

arrested <strong>the</strong> little boom. Silliman was accused<br />

<strong>of</strong> mislead<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>vestors with an overoptimistic<br />

report. <strong>The</strong>re were even charges that he<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


falsified chemical analyses <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil to make<br />

it appear more valuable. Silliman was forced<br />

to resign his chemistry pr<strong>of</strong>essorship at Yale.<br />

Eventually all <strong>of</strong> his predictions would be<br />

more than v<strong>in</strong>dicated, but that would be<br />

decades <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> future.<br />

<strong>California</strong>’s complex geology and <strong>the</strong><br />

nature <strong>of</strong> its oil presented problems that<br />

Silliman and <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r easterners could not<br />

have anticipated. Unlike <strong>the</strong> more or less<br />

“layer cake” geology <strong>of</strong> Pennsylvania, oilproduc<strong>in</strong>g<br />

beds <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> are folded and<br />

faulted <strong>in</strong>to contorted shapes. Oil might<br />

travel up a dipp<strong>in</strong>g bed or fault to a seep.<br />

A well drilled next to such a seep would<br />

miss <strong>the</strong> deep pool by a wide marg<strong>in</strong>. Even<br />

if <strong>the</strong>y did f<strong>in</strong>d oil, <strong>the</strong> early explorers<br />

were <strong>of</strong>ten defeated by <strong>the</strong> chemistry <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> crude, which made it almost<br />

impossible to ref<strong>in</strong>e by <strong>the</strong> methods <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

day. <strong>The</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> product <strong>of</strong> ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> those<br />

days was kerosene, which was used for<br />

illum<strong>in</strong>ation. <strong>The</strong> heavy oil yielded a much<br />

lower percentage <strong>of</strong> kerosene than <strong>the</strong> light<br />

Pennsylvania oil, and <strong>the</strong> kerosene it did<br />

produce was <strong>of</strong> low quality for illum<strong>in</strong>ation<br />

purposes. <strong>The</strong> smelly, smoke-produc<strong>in</strong>g stuff<br />

ignited at an unsafe low temperature. It would<br />

sell only when <strong>the</strong> pure, eastern variety was<br />

<strong>in</strong> short supply and expensive.<br />



In 1842, a certa<strong>in</strong> Francisco Lopez was<br />

supposedly napp<strong>in</strong>g under an oak tree <strong>in</strong><br />

Placerita Canyon, near what would become<br />

Newhall <strong>in</strong> nor<strong>the</strong>rn Los Angeles County.<br />

He dreamt that he was float<strong>in</strong>g on a pool <strong>of</strong><br />

gold, <strong>the</strong>n woke up and proceeded to unearth<br />

some wild onions on whose roots he found<br />

little flakes <strong>of</strong> gold. This aptly named canyon<br />

thus became <strong>the</strong> scene <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s first<br />

“gold rush,” six years before <strong>the</strong> big strike<br />

at Sutter’s Mill. This little rush was soon<br />

forgotten, and Placerita Canyon went on to<br />

become a scene <strong>of</strong> Hollywood westerns. But<br />

<strong>the</strong>re was someth<strong>in</strong>g else <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> ground, still<br />

unknown and untapped, far more fabulous<br />

than gold or movies. Lopez is said to have<br />

played a role <strong>in</strong> that discovery too.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Newhall area with its many canyons<br />

was at <strong>the</strong> eastern edge <strong>of</strong> what was to become<br />

a swath <strong>of</strong> oil country stretch<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong> rich<br />

Ventura fields on <strong>the</strong> coast. Although part<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> region orig<strong>in</strong>ally touted by Pr<strong>of</strong>essor<br />

Silliman <strong>in</strong> 1864, Newhall was not targeted<br />

by Scott because it was public land and<br />

could not be purchased like <strong>the</strong> ranchos to<br />

<strong>the</strong> west. This left Andres Pico and o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

locals, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Lopez, to pursue <strong>the</strong> seeps<br />

Oil produc<strong>in</strong>g region stretch<strong>in</strong>g from<br />

Newhall to Ventura and beyond. Present<br />

day oil fields (green) and gas fields (red)<br />

are shown. Pico Canyon was discovered <strong>in</strong><br />

1876, Adams Canyon <strong>in</strong> 1888. <strong>The</strong> first<br />

<strong>of</strong>fshore well <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> U.S. was drilled at<br />

Summerland <strong>in</strong> 1897. Grey l<strong>in</strong>es are <strong>the</strong><br />

present system <strong>of</strong> highways and freeways.<br />



Top and <strong>in</strong>set: CSO Hill, named after<br />

<strong>California</strong> Star Oil Works Co., as it<br />

appears today (top), and <strong>in</strong> 1893 (<strong>in</strong>set).<br />

<strong>The</strong> Pico No. 4 discovery well is located<br />

<strong>of</strong>f-frame, about 500 feet to <strong>the</strong> left <strong>of</strong> where<br />

this picture was taken. Virtually noth<strong>in</strong>g<br />

rema<strong>in</strong>s <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> derricks, bridge, shacks and<br />

shop build<strong>in</strong>gs. <strong>The</strong> almost vertically<br />

dipp<strong>in</strong>g beds <strong>of</strong> sandstone, and <strong>the</strong><br />

ruggedness <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> terra<strong>in</strong>, were big<br />

problems for <strong>the</strong>se early, <strong>in</strong>trepid drillers.<br />



<strong>the</strong>y knew about <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> canyons. Pico, <strong>the</strong><br />

son <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> last Mexican<br />

governor <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>,<br />

Pio Pico, teamed up<br />

with Edward F. Beale.<br />

Pico had been leader<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Mexican army<br />

at <strong>the</strong> Battle <strong>of</strong> San<br />

Pasqual, and Beale was <strong>the</strong> leader <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Americans. After Mexico lost <strong>the</strong> war Pico<br />

decided to stay on <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, and <strong>the</strong> two<br />

old soldiers became friends. <strong>The</strong>y and several<br />

o<strong>the</strong>rs <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Colonel R. F. Baker harvested<br />

oil from pits and shallow hand-dug wells.<br />

Soon, more explorers arrived with <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

primitive drill<strong>in</strong>g rigs. In 1868 Francisco<br />

Lopez apparently showed H. C. Wiley,<br />

Sanford Lyon, and W. W. Jenk<strong>in</strong>s a seep <strong>in</strong><br />

Pico Canyon. This group drilled a well us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

a “spr<strong>in</strong>g pole” rig, which consisted <strong>of</strong> a<br />

fulcrum hold<strong>in</strong>g a flexible tree trunk with<br />

stirrups at one end <strong>in</strong> which men placed <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

feet to push <strong>the</strong> bit up and down. An emerald<br />

green oil was found. A few o<strong>the</strong>r wells<br />

were drilled, but at this time most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

production was still from pits and surface<br />

seepages. Canyon Country today is littered<br />

with place names from <strong>the</strong>se early oil pioneers:<br />

Wiley Canyon, Lyon’s Station, and o<strong>the</strong>rs.<br />

Dr. V<strong>in</strong>cent Gelcich, <strong>the</strong> coroner <strong>in</strong> Los<br />

Angeles and an <strong>in</strong>-law <strong>of</strong> Pico, was part owner<br />

<strong>of</strong> a m<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g claim <strong>in</strong> one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> canyons and<br />

wanted to build a ref<strong>in</strong>ery for <strong>the</strong> Newhall oil.<br />

In 1872 he went to San Francisco to promote<br />

oil over coal as a source for illum<strong>in</strong>at<strong>in</strong>g gas.<br />

A company called Metropolitan Gas works<br />

was dedicated to this idea and had built a<br />

ref<strong>in</strong>ery on Channel Street. Unfortunately,<br />

Metropolitan had two larger competitors that<br />

used coal, and price cutt<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> 1873 doomed<br />

<strong>the</strong> lightly capitalized company.<br />

Gelcich saw greener pastures back <strong>in</strong> his<br />

home town, Los Angeles, where he touted<br />

<strong>the</strong> idea <strong>of</strong> a ref<strong>in</strong>ery. He got <strong>the</strong> editor <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Los Angeles Star to publish a telegram<br />

about a new oil strike at Newhall, alleg<strong>in</strong>g<br />

that a ref<strong>in</strong>ery venture could realize a pr<strong>of</strong>it <strong>of</strong><br />

70 percent. Soon, <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles <strong>Petroleum</strong><br />

Ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g Company was set up with local<br />

banker F. P. F. Temple as president, and<br />

Gelcich, Beale, Baker, and Pio Pico as major<br />

stockholders. By <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> 1873, construction<br />

<strong>of</strong> a ref<strong>in</strong>ery was underway at Lyon’s<br />

station (or Petroliopolis), near Newhall.<br />

In April 1874, <strong>the</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ery had been built<br />

and was process<strong>in</strong>g oil hauled <strong>in</strong> on wagons<br />

from Pico Canyon, eight miles away. Initial<br />

newspaper reports optimistically said that<br />

<strong>the</strong> kerosene was purer than that from<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Above: Shop build<strong>in</strong>gs, sheds, and shacks<br />

that <strong>the</strong> workers lived <strong>in</strong> were crowded <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> narrow Pico Canyon with derricks<br />

and pumps.<br />


Left: Inside <strong>the</strong> blacksmith shop at<br />

Pico Canyon. Damaged or worn drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

tools had to be repaired on site. Bits<br />

and o<strong>the</strong>r tools were <strong>of</strong>ten improvised or<br />

<strong>in</strong>vented from scratch to meet <strong>the</strong> peculiar<br />

needs <strong>of</strong> a well.<br />




Above: Demetrius G. Sc<strong>of</strong>ield, schoolmate<br />

<strong>of</strong> Mentry <strong>in</strong> Pennsylvania, was one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

founders <strong>of</strong> CSOW, and later was chairman<br />

<strong>of</strong> Standard Oil <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />


Pennsylvania. Soon, however, <strong>the</strong>se pronouncements<br />

were replaced with silence. As<br />

<strong>in</strong> previous attempts, <strong>the</strong> kerosene was <strong>of</strong><br />

poor quality, and <strong>the</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ery shut down less<br />

than a year later. Several more attempts were<br />

made, some employ<strong>in</strong>g dubious “black box”<br />

methods. Companies came and went. F<strong>in</strong>ally,<br />

a ref<strong>in</strong>er from Pennsylvania named Joseph A.<br />

Scott arrived <strong>in</strong> January 1876 with his<br />

own secret process. His trip was paid for by<br />

Reuben Denton, who became <strong>the</strong> first San<br />

Franciscan to make a substantial <strong>in</strong>vestment<br />

<strong>in</strong> Newhall oil. Scott managed to produce<br />

kerosene that was better than any produced<br />

previously <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. Even though it still<br />

was not <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> quality <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Pennsylvania<br />

product, its cheap price made it marketable.<br />

<strong>The</strong> arrival <strong>of</strong> Denton and eventually o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

large <strong>in</strong>vestors on <strong>the</strong> scene changed everyth<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Previously, it was hard to get <strong>in</strong>vestors<br />

<strong>in</strong>terested. Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>vestors before 1876<br />

were from Los Angeles, a little town <strong>of</strong> 8,000<br />

people, and <strong>the</strong>re was not enough money to<br />

really make a go <strong>of</strong> it. Not only was <strong>the</strong> crude<br />

difficult to ref<strong>in</strong>e, <strong>the</strong> area was quite remote.<br />

<strong>The</strong>re was no railroad, and <strong>the</strong> only way to<br />

get a vehicle to Los Angeles was through<br />

Beale’s narrow, one-way toll road with 29<br />

percent grades cut n<strong>in</strong>ety feet <strong>in</strong>to a mounta<strong>in</strong><br />

pass. More <strong>in</strong>vestment was needed. <strong>The</strong> obvious<br />

source was San Francisco (population<br />

200,000), <strong>the</strong> prime market for illum<strong>in</strong>ants.<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally, Denton and Pennsylvania oil man<br />

Demetrius G. Sc<strong>of</strong>ield got San Francisco<br />

<strong>in</strong>vestors toge<strong>the</strong>r to form <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong><br />

Star Oil Works company (CSOW). Charles<br />

Mentry, a driller from Pennsylvania who was<br />

already active <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> area, was hired by<br />

Sc<strong>of</strong>ield. Hav<strong>in</strong>g drilled three wells with a<br />

spr<strong>in</strong>g pole that found small amounts <strong>of</strong> oil,<br />

Mentry now brought <strong>in</strong> a steam eng<strong>in</strong>e to<br />

power his rig. That made all <strong>the</strong> difference.<br />

On September 26, 1876, Mentry’s famous<br />

Pico No. 4 hit pay dirt at 370 feet, produc<strong>in</strong>g<br />

25 barrels a day. This was <strong>the</strong> first commercial<br />

well <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. Amaz<strong>in</strong>gly, it was also <strong>the</strong><br />

longest cont<strong>in</strong>ually produc<strong>in</strong>g commercial<br />

well <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> world <strong>in</strong> 1989 when it was shut <strong>in</strong><br />

after 113 years <strong>of</strong> production. It opened up<br />

<strong>the</strong> Newhall area, which was <strong>the</strong>n <strong>the</strong> state’s<br />

most prolific producer. And it spawned a<br />

little community, now a well-preserved ghost<br />

town, Mentryville, named after <strong>the</strong> resourceful<br />

and determ<strong>in</strong>ed driller.<br />

Right: <strong>The</strong> Newhall ref<strong>in</strong>ery as it appeared<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1880, a few years after it was moved<br />

to a new site next to <strong>the</strong> Sou<strong>the</strong>rn Pacific<br />

Railroad. <strong>The</strong> year 1880 was also <strong>the</strong> year<br />

a new ref<strong>in</strong>ery was built on San Francisco<br />

Bay, so this picture shows <strong>the</strong> Newhall<br />

facility at <strong>the</strong> height <strong>of</strong> its operation.<br />


BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Slowly, problems were overcome<br />

one by one. <strong>The</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al<br />

ref<strong>in</strong>ery was enlarged and moved<br />

a few miles to be next to <strong>the</strong><br />

Sou<strong>the</strong>rn Pacific Railroad, whose<br />

newly completed Bakersfield-Los<br />

Angeles route passed nearby <strong>in</strong><br />

1876. <strong>The</strong> kerosene was still <strong>of</strong><br />

ra<strong>the</strong>r low quality, and <strong>in</strong> 1878<br />

J. A. Scott was let go. A vex<strong>in</strong>g<br />

problem that still rema<strong>in</strong>ed was controversy<br />

over <strong>the</strong> titles to <strong>the</strong> land <strong>in</strong> Pico Canyon. This<br />

was caused largely by <strong>the</strong> use <strong>of</strong> m<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g laws<br />

to file claims, which did not work well for<br />

oil properties. From 1878 on <strong>the</strong> future <strong>of</strong><br />

CSOW was clouded by a series <strong>of</strong> lawsuits<br />

between it and <strong>the</strong> duo <strong>of</strong> Beale and Baker.<br />

Until <strong>the</strong> dispute was settled <strong>the</strong> value <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

company was <strong>in</strong> doubt, and its ability to<br />

attract <strong>in</strong>vestors and ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong> its activities<br />

was <strong>in</strong>hibited. <strong>The</strong> stalemate cont<strong>in</strong>ued until<br />

much bigger money appeared on <strong>the</strong> scene,<br />

represented by Charles N. Felton.<br />

Arriv<strong>in</strong>g from New York <strong>in</strong> 1849 at <strong>the</strong> age<br />

<strong>of</strong> 17, Felton would <strong>in</strong> time become one <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> outstand<strong>in</strong>g f<strong>in</strong>ancial and political leaders<br />

<strong>of</strong> n<strong>in</strong>eteenth century <strong>California</strong>. Attracted to<br />

<strong>the</strong> goldfields like so many o<strong>the</strong>rs he made<br />

his fortune not by m<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g but by be<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

merchant and banker <strong>in</strong> gold country towns<br />

like Marysville and Nevada City. He also<br />

served as an undersheriff and tax collector <strong>in</strong><br />

Yuba County, and was later elected to <strong>the</strong> State<br />

Assembly. Mov<strong>in</strong>g to San Francisco <strong>in</strong> 1863,<br />

Felton soon jo<strong>in</strong>ed <strong>the</strong> circle <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>fluential<br />

f<strong>in</strong>anciers <strong>of</strong> Nob Hill. By 1868 he was<br />

<strong>the</strong> Treasurer <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> San Francisco M<strong>in</strong>t. Later<br />

<strong>in</strong> life he would become a Congressman<br />

and <strong>the</strong>n a U.S. Senator. It seems that Felton<br />

became <strong>in</strong>terested <strong>in</strong> oil around 1877 by<br />

events at Moody Gulch near San Jose. In a<br />

few years his attention was directed south to<br />

<strong>the</strong> Newhall area.<br />

Felton represented f<strong>in</strong>ancial <strong>in</strong>terests far<br />

more weighty than those <strong>of</strong> Denton, Sc<strong>of</strong>ield<br />

and <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>rs. In 1879 he founded Pacific<br />

Coast Oil Company (PCO), probably for <strong>the</strong><br />

express <strong>in</strong>tention <strong>of</strong> tak<strong>in</strong>g over CSOW. <strong>The</strong><br />

presence <strong>of</strong> this large moneyed <strong>in</strong>terest may<br />

have prompted Beale and Baker to make a<br />

deal. PCO quickly took over CSOW and<br />

made it a subsidiary. This comb<strong>in</strong>ation would<br />

Above and <strong>in</strong>set: Newhall ref<strong>in</strong>ery as it<br />

appears today. Two <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al stills<br />

rema<strong>in</strong>. <strong>The</strong> plaque (<strong>in</strong>set) on one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

stills says that <strong>the</strong> site was restored by<br />

Standard <strong>in</strong> 1930.<br />


Below: Charles Felton, <strong>the</strong> f<strong>in</strong>ancier who<br />

founded Pacific Coast Oil Company (PCO).<br />





Driv<strong>in</strong>g west just a few miles on Lyons Avenue from <strong>the</strong> <strong>Gold</strong>en State Freeway is<br />

a trip from <strong>the</strong> modern bedroom community <strong>of</strong> Santa Clarita to a nearly forgotten<br />

past. This was a past when steam was <strong>the</strong> motive power, travel was slow and<br />

difficult, and one had to f<strong>in</strong>d or make <strong>the</strong> necessities <strong>of</strong> life very close at hand. In <strong>the</strong><br />

1870s <strong>the</strong> oil field workers lived <strong>in</strong> cab<strong>in</strong>s or even tents among <strong>the</strong> derricks. Pico<br />

Canyon was narrow, and <strong>in</strong> addition to <strong>the</strong> wells was crowded with <strong>the</strong> field <strong>of</strong>fice,<br />

a mach<strong>in</strong>e shop, storage sheds, and <strong>the</strong> workers’ shacks. <strong>The</strong> nearest “big city,”<br />

Newhall (population about 50), was seven miles away, which would have been quite<br />

a hike to get to work every day. Eventually <strong>the</strong> build<strong>in</strong>gs got <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> way <strong>of</strong> oil field<br />

operations, and a little company town was set up about a mile and a half down<br />

<strong>the</strong> canyon. <strong>The</strong> town was orig<strong>in</strong>ally called “Pico,” but soon acquired <strong>the</strong> name<br />

Mentryville. <strong>The</strong>re was a board<strong>in</strong>g house for <strong>the</strong> s<strong>in</strong>gle men, and little redwood<br />

cab<strong>in</strong>s scattered about for men who had families. <strong>The</strong>re was a bakery, and a stage<br />

came twice a day. <strong>The</strong> stage owner was probably happy about <strong>the</strong> town rule aga<strong>in</strong>st<br />

liquor as it undoubtedly gave him a lot <strong>of</strong> passengers want<strong>in</strong>g to go to <strong>the</strong> “Derrick”<br />

saloon <strong>in</strong> Newhall. Recreation <strong>in</strong> Mentryville consisted <strong>of</strong> dances, picnics, tennis,<br />

and box-lunch socials.<br />

Alex Mentry built a f<strong>in</strong>e Pennsylvania-style mansion, with thirteen rooms, gas<br />

chandeliers, gas fireplaces, pull-cha<strong>in</strong> toilets, alabaster wash bas<strong>in</strong>s, and no electricity<br />

until 1948. This house was occupied by Mentry and his successors <strong>of</strong>f and on until<br />

1994. With wives came children, and that meant a school had to be built. <strong>The</strong> school<br />

and <strong>the</strong> mansion, along with barns and a few o<strong>the</strong>r build<strong>in</strong>gs, still stand.<br />

After <strong>the</strong> oil field was abandoned <strong>in</strong> 1989 PCO’s successor Chevron donated<br />

<strong>the</strong> town and surround<strong>in</strong>g land to <strong>the</strong> Santa Monica Mounta<strong>in</strong>s Conservancy. Now<br />

a well-preserved ghost town, Mentryville is used for movies, wedd<strong>in</strong>gs and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r events. Up <strong>the</strong> canyon is a replica <strong>of</strong> an old wooden derrick, some discarded<br />

equipment, and a monument at <strong>the</strong> location <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> famous Pico No. 4 well, which<br />

is on <strong>the</strong> National Historic Register. Mentryville <strong>in</strong> a sense lives on, serv<strong>in</strong>g as a<br />

rem<strong>in</strong>der <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pioneer days <strong>of</strong> petroleum.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Opposite: Mentry’s mansion.<br />


Above: Mentryville from <strong>the</strong> air. A good<br />

portion <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> population seems to be pos<strong>in</strong>g<br />

for <strong>the</strong> picture.<br />


Left: Mentryville today.<br />




Right: N<strong>in</strong>eteenth and twentieth century<br />

oil fields: <strong>The</strong> many, shallow (mostly less<br />

than 1,600 feet) wells are closely spaced<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> narrow, rugged Pico Canyon.<br />

By comparison, <strong>the</strong> Newhall-Potrero Field<br />

just to <strong>the</strong> north, discovered <strong>in</strong> 1937, has<br />

much deeper produc<strong>in</strong>g zones (6,400 to<br />

14,500 feet) and more widely spaced wells.<br />



Below: <strong>The</strong> first field discovered <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong> was at Puente Hills <strong>in</strong><br />

1880. It was later comb<strong>in</strong>ed with o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

discoveries as one field, Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da.<br />

<strong>The</strong> next two fields discovered <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Los<br />

Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong> were Los Angeles City (1892)<br />

and Whittier (1896). This was only <strong>the</strong><br />

beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g. Gray l<strong>in</strong>es on this and<br />

subsequent maps represent <strong>the</strong> present-day<br />

freeway system for geographic reference.<br />

later form an <strong>in</strong>tegral part <strong>of</strong> what would<br />

eventually be called Chevron. <strong>The</strong> first<br />

pipel<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> was completed <strong>in</strong> 1879,<br />

a 7 mile, 2 <strong>in</strong>ch affair to carry oil to <strong>the</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ery.<br />

By <strong>the</strong> 1880s Newhall production was up to<br />

100,000 barrels a year.<br />

In 1880 a new ref<strong>in</strong>ery was opened by<br />

PCO at Alameda on San Francisco Bay to handle<br />

oil from newly completed wells at Moody<br />

Gulch. Much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Newhall oil also went to<br />

Alameda. In 1890 <strong>the</strong> Newhall ref<strong>in</strong>ery was<br />

closed. By 1900, when Charles Mentry<br />

died, 70 wells had been drilled. Ano<strong>the</strong>r 28<br />

wells were drilled after 1900, <strong>the</strong> last one <strong>in</strong><br />

1969. Production cont<strong>in</strong>ued <strong>in</strong> several o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

canyons, among <strong>the</strong>m De Witt, Townsley,<br />

Wiley, and Rice. Production cont<strong>in</strong>ues today<br />

<strong>in</strong> Potrero Canyon, just two miles from <strong>the</strong><br />

orig<strong>in</strong>al Pico Canyon Field, as well as at<br />

<strong>the</strong> site <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al gold rush, Placerita<br />

Canyon. Pico Canyon produced about 3<br />

million barrels <strong>in</strong> its lifetime, and as <strong>of</strong> 2009<br />

all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> canyons around Newhall had<br />

produced over 150 million.<br />


<strong>The</strong> 1876 discovery at Newhall led to <strong>the</strong><br />

first real <strong>California</strong> oil boom about four years<br />

later. Annual production <strong>of</strong> 12,000 to 15,000<br />

barrels <strong>in</strong> 1876-1878 rose to almost 100,000<br />

by 1881. Until about 1885 most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil came<br />

from Newhall. <strong>The</strong> 1880s saw discoveries <strong>in</strong><br />

rapid succession: Puente Hills sou<strong>the</strong>ast <strong>of</strong><br />

Los Angeles, Summerland <strong>in</strong> Santa Barbara<br />

County, and Adams Canyon near Santa Paula.<br />

<strong>The</strong>n <strong>the</strong>re were <strong>the</strong> first glimmers <strong>of</strong> what<br />

was to come <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley. Production<br />

soared to nearly 700,000 barrels <strong>in</strong> 1888.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Oil was discovered <strong>in</strong> 1880 <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Puente<br />

Hills by drill<strong>in</strong>g 100 foot wells near seeps<br />

along <strong>the</strong> crest <strong>of</strong> a tightly folded anticl<strong>in</strong>e,<br />

much like that <strong>of</strong> Pico Canyon. This was <strong>the</strong><br />

next oil field discovered <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles<br />

County after Newhall. <strong>The</strong>se early shallow<br />

wells yielded heavy crude and production was<br />

small. In a few years deeper wells were be<strong>in</strong>g<br />

drilled. Very light oil (API gravity 30 to 35)<br />

was produced, show<strong>in</strong>g that light oil could be<br />

found <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> by drill<strong>in</strong>g deep. By 1900<br />

about 60 wells had been drilled to an average<br />

depth <strong>of</strong> about 1,200 feet. Until 1894 most <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> oil was shipped to Los Angeles. After that<br />

it was shipped to Ch<strong>in</strong>o to be ref<strong>in</strong>ed, <strong>the</strong><br />

residuum be<strong>in</strong>g supplied as a fuel to a nearby<br />

sugar beet factory. This is an example <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> supplant<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> coal by oil as a fuel for<br />

steam eng<strong>in</strong>es. O<strong>the</strong>r discoveries were made<br />

at Ol<strong>in</strong>da <strong>in</strong> 1897 and Brea <strong>in</strong> 1899.<br />

Ultimately <strong>the</strong>se and o<strong>the</strong>r fields merged <strong>in</strong>to<br />

<strong>the</strong> Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da Field as all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>terven<strong>in</strong>g<br />

areas were proven productive.<br />

Oil seeps along <strong>the</strong> coast sou<strong>the</strong>ast <strong>of</strong> Santa<br />

Barbara had been long known by <strong>the</strong><br />

Chumash people. Prospectors dug for oil,<br />

f<strong>in</strong>d<strong>in</strong>g a heavy (API gravity 7) oil that had<br />

little commercial value. <strong>The</strong> first well, drilled<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1886, found sub-commercial amounts <strong>of</strong><br />

lighter oil. A small strike was made near <strong>the</strong><br />

little coastal town <strong>of</strong> Summerland, and by<br />

1894 derricks dotted <strong>the</strong> beaches and bluffs<br />

nearby. Correctly surmis<strong>in</strong>g that <strong>the</strong> field<br />

extended <strong>of</strong>fshore, drillers began build<strong>in</strong>g<br />

piers for <strong>the</strong>ir derricks <strong>in</strong> 1897; <strong>the</strong>se were<br />

<strong>the</strong> first <strong>of</strong>fshore oil wells <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> United States.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Sou<strong>the</strong>rn Pacific rail l<strong>in</strong>e from Los Angeles<br />

to Santa Barbara ran right through <strong>the</strong><br />

Summerland Oil Field. <strong>The</strong> railroad decided<br />

to fuel <strong>the</strong>ir locomotives with <strong>the</strong> field’s heavy<br />

oil ra<strong>the</strong>r than with coal. One pier was built<br />

1,230 feet <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> ocean with 19 wells along<br />

it to produce oil for <strong>the</strong> tra<strong>in</strong>s.<br />

<strong>The</strong> first real oil wells <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong><br />

Valley were drilled <strong>in</strong> 1878 and 1879 near<br />

<strong>the</strong> future town <strong>of</strong> McKittrick, where asphalt<br />

had been m<strong>in</strong>ed for more than ten years.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se early wells were not very successful.<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally <strong>in</strong> 1887 <strong>the</strong> Wild Goose well came<br />

<strong>in</strong> at 10 barrels a day and <strong>the</strong> oil field town<br />

<strong>of</strong> “Oil City” existed for a few years. <strong>The</strong>n<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1889 <strong>the</strong> discovery well was drilled <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Sunset Field. Rail l<strong>in</strong>es were extended<br />

to McKittrick. All <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se developments foretold<br />

a bright future for oil <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong><br />

Valley, but by 1889 and 1890 <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong>dustry<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> was depressed. <strong>The</strong> real breakthroughs<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley came later when <strong>the</strong><br />

next boom was already go<strong>in</strong>g strong:<br />

<strong>the</strong> Shamrock Gusher at McKittrick (1896),<br />

<strong>the</strong> Blue Goose Gusher at Coal<strong>in</strong>ga (1898),<br />

and <strong>the</strong> Kern River discovery (1899).<br />

Perhaps <strong>the</strong> most important strike <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

1880s was near Santa Paula <strong>in</strong> Ventura County.<br />

This discovery led to <strong>the</strong> found<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> one <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>’s greatest oil companies, Union Oil,<br />

produced <strong>the</strong> first gusher <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, and<br />

f<strong>in</strong>ally gave truth to Silliman’s twenty-year-old<br />

vision <strong>of</strong> “rivers <strong>of</strong> oil.” It is also a story <strong>of</strong> one<br />

man, Lyman Stewart, who risked everyth<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

made and lost many fortunes, overcame sickness<br />

and defeated determ<strong>in</strong>ed opposition.<br />

Stewart was <strong>the</strong> one whose dogged persistence<br />

carried <strong>the</strong> day for Union Oil. Stewart<br />

also had <strong>the</strong> vision to help prod <strong>California</strong>’s<br />

<strong>in</strong>dustries to convert from coal to oil, and he<br />

Top, left: Central Oil Company had 2,700<br />

acres <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Puente Hills near Whittier, and<br />

by 1900 had 800 wells. It was one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

more prom<strong>in</strong>ent companies <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> field.<br />

This photograph was taken <strong>in</strong> 1895.<br />


Top, right: Wooden derricks on piers,<br />

Summerland. This is where <strong>the</strong> first <strong>of</strong>fshore<br />

well was drilled <strong>in</strong> 1897. By <strong>the</strong> time this<br />

photo was taken many piers had been built,<br />

with multiple derricks on each pier. By 1939<br />

all <strong>of</strong> this had been washed away by storms.<br />



Below: Lyman Stewart.<br />





Above: Oil field <strong>in</strong> a canyon near<br />

Santa Paula, look<strong>in</strong>g down a steep tramway<br />

that was used to br<strong>in</strong>g workers <strong>in</strong> and out<br />

each day. This illustrates <strong>the</strong> rugged<br />

topography that <strong>the</strong> early oil developers<br />

had to negotiate.<br />



Opposite, top: Oil wells on small ledges<br />

atop cliffs.<br />



Opposite, bottom: Santa Paula <strong>in</strong> 1889.<br />

This is right after <strong>the</strong> Adams No. 16 gusher<br />

<strong>of</strong> 1888 and before <strong>the</strong> found<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong><br />

Union Oil <strong>in</strong> 1890.<br />



formed a company that <strong>in</strong>novated oil field<br />

tools and mach<strong>in</strong>ery for decades.<br />

Lyman Stewart, a man <strong>of</strong> contradictions,<br />

was born <strong>in</strong> 1840 <strong>of</strong> a deeply religious,<br />

Scottish family that was not wealthy, yet<br />

highly respected. Lyman’s fa<strong>the</strong>r was one <strong>of</strong><br />

two tanners <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> rural area <strong>of</strong> western<br />

Pennsylvania that was to become <strong>the</strong> scene<br />

<strong>of</strong> a fantastic oil strike some 19 years later.<br />

Follow<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> custom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> times, Lyman<br />

was apprenticed at age 12 to follow <strong>in</strong> his<br />

fa<strong>the</strong>r’s footsteps as a tanner. By 1859,<br />

when <strong>the</strong> famous Drake well was drilled <strong>in</strong><br />

nearby Titusville, 19-year-old Lyman Stewart<br />

was establish<strong>in</strong>g himself as a full-fledged tanner,<br />

but he loa<strong>the</strong>d <strong>the</strong> job. He hated <strong>the</strong> idea <strong>of</strong><br />

spend<strong>in</strong>g his life as a tanner, and wanted to<br />

come up with money to allow him to do<br />

what he really wanted: become a missionary.<br />

Oil seemed <strong>the</strong> answer. He had $125, a<br />

substantial sum for a 19-year-old at that time,<br />

and with partners <strong>in</strong>vested all <strong>of</strong> it <strong>in</strong> an oil<br />

lease. <strong>The</strong> trouble was that <strong>the</strong> partners did<br />

not keep back any money to drill a well, and<br />

<strong>the</strong>y ended up los<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> lease. Two years later<br />

he had saved enough to <strong>in</strong>vest <strong>in</strong> ano<strong>the</strong>r<br />

lease and actually drilled a well. This time <strong>the</strong><br />

price <strong>of</strong> oil nosedived, and Stewart aga<strong>in</strong> lost<br />

his <strong>in</strong>vestment.<br />

Stewart <strong>the</strong>n spent <strong>the</strong> Civil War <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Pennsylvania Cavalry. In 1865 he came back<br />

to f<strong>in</strong>d his hometown turned <strong>in</strong>to an oil<br />

boom madhouse. He took a bus<strong>in</strong>ess course<br />

and opened up an oil leas<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong>fice. Of great<br />

advantage was his <strong>in</strong>timate knowledge <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> local terra<strong>in</strong> and farmers’ properties. This<br />

priceless asset he had ga<strong>in</strong>ed from his days<br />

as a tanner rid<strong>in</strong>g all over <strong>the</strong> county on<br />

horseback to pick up hides and deliver<br />

lea<strong>the</strong>r. He learned to buy small 1/64 <strong>in</strong>terests<br />

<strong>in</strong> oil leases so that he could spread his capital<br />

and m<strong>in</strong>imize risk. By 1872 Stewart and<br />

his bro<strong>the</strong>r Milton had amassed a fortune <strong>of</strong><br />

$300,000, a pr<strong>in</strong>cely sum <strong>in</strong> those days.<br />

Unfortunately Stewart got <strong>in</strong>volved <strong>in</strong> a<br />

scheme to sell farm implements, and he lost<br />

every penny as well as his house. He was<br />

forced to take a low-pay<strong>in</strong>g job just to support<br />

his family. This might have been <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> story as far as <strong>the</strong> history books are concerned,<br />

but Lyman Stewart was not a quitter.<br />

It seemed as though providential events<br />

occurred <strong>in</strong> Stewart’s life when least expected,<br />

and when <strong>the</strong>y were most needed. Dur<strong>in</strong>g one<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />




<strong>of</strong> his plush periods he had befriended two<br />

young bro<strong>the</strong>rs from Ma<strong>in</strong>e, James and<br />

Harvey Hardison, who were oil field laborers<br />

good at fish<strong>in</strong>g for lost drill<strong>in</strong>g tools. Stewart<br />

helped <strong>the</strong>m start a bus<strong>in</strong>ess, and although<br />

he did not pr<strong>of</strong>it monetarily from this, he<br />

made a connection that changed his life. Just<br />

when th<strong>in</strong>gs seemed darkest, a third Hardison<br />

bro<strong>the</strong>r showed up <strong>in</strong> Pennsylvania. Wallace<br />

Hardison, who had made a fortune <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

West from railroad ties, came to meet Stewart<br />

based on k<strong>in</strong>d words about him from his<br />

two bro<strong>the</strong>rs. Wallace proposed a partnership<br />

with Stewart: Stewart knew about <strong>the</strong> oil bus<strong>in</strong>ess,<br />

said Hardison, and he (Hardison) had<br />

<strong>the</strong> money. Stewart’s confidence was restored,<br />

and <strong>the</strong> partners went on to make yet ano<strong>the</strong>r<br />

fortune from oil.<br />

One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Hardison-Stewart partnership’s<br />

projects was part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> new field <strong>in</strong> Bradford,<br />

Pennsylvania, which eventually produced<br />

100,000 barrels a day from 7,000 wells. This<br />

k<strong>in</strong>d <strong>of</strong> production, 80 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> U.S.<br />

total <strong>in</strong> 1881, caused <strong>the</strong> price <strong>of</strong> oil to plummet.<br />

Big buyers like John D. Rockefeller’s<br />

Standard Oil monopolized pipel<strong>in</strong>es, railroads,<br />

and o<strong>the</strong>r distribution facilities. <strong>The</strong><br />

wellhead oil price was forced down to a<br />

ru<strong>in</strong>ous 8 cents a barrel. In 1882 Stewart was<br />

approached by I. E. Blake, an acqua<strong>in</strong>tance<br />

who had gone to <strong>California</strong> and gotten<br />

<strong>in</strong>volved <strong>in</strong> Pico Canyon. Blake suggested that<br />

Stewart and Hardison pull up stakes and look<br />

for oil out west. Stewart sold out most <strong>of</strong> his<br />

Pennsylvania <strong>in</strong>terests, netted $70,000, and<br />

made <strong>the</strong> trip <strong>in</strong> 1883. Although Hardison<br />

<strong>in</strong>itially decided to go to Kansas and try his<br />

hand at farm<strong>in</strong>g, he was later persuaded to<br />

rejo<strong>in</strong> Stewart <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

Why would Stewart, at age 43, make such<br />

a decision when <strong>the</strong> total production <strong>of</strong> all<br />

<strong>California</strong> fields s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry started was<br />

about equal to what <strong>the</strong> Bradford Field put<br />

out <strong>in</strong> five days? Why would a conservative,<br />

cautious bus<strong>in</strong>essman abandon a sure source<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>come for a risky adventure <strong>in</strong> an<br />

unknown place? Probably Blake did not tell<br />

him about <strong>the</strong> complex <strong>California</strong> geology,<br />

or <strong>the</strong> difficulty <strong>in</strong> ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> crude. Stewart<br />

was to f<strong>in</strong>d out <strong>the</strong>se th<strong>in</strong>gs, and more,<br />

for himself. Stewart’s move was probably<br />

<strong>in</strong>fluenced by <strong>the</strong> monopolistic tactics <strong>of</strong><br />

Rockefeller and o<strong>the</strong>rs <strong>in</strong> Pennsylvania. It was<br />

a bold decision, regardless <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> motivation.<br />

It is ano<strong>the</strong>r example <strong>of</strong> Stewart’s risk tak<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

and it caused heartache and seem<strong>in</strong>gly<br />

endless struggles. But it paid <strong>of</strong>f spectacularly.<br />

In <strong>California</strong>, Blake showed Stewart <strong>the</strong><br />

Pico Canyon Field. Stewart saw <strong>the</strong> success <strong>of</strong><br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


some <strong>of</strong> his fellow Pennsylvanians, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Mentry, Joseph Scott, and former schoolmate<br />

Demetrius Sc<strong>of</strong>ield. Blake proposed that<br />

Stewart and Hardison sublease unproven land<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Pacific Coast Oil Company and drill<br />

<strong>the</strong>re. Stewart and Hardison ended up drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

six dry holes <strong>in</strong> Pico Canyon and two o<strong>the</strong>rs<br />

near Santa Paula. Desperately low on funds,<br />

Stewart asked Blake if <strong>the</strong>y could drill on<br />

proven land owned by PCO. Back <strong>in</strong> Pico<br />

Canyon, <strong>the</strong>y spent <strong>the</strong> last <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir money to<br />

f<strong>in</strong>ally br<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> a producer, Star No. 1, at 75<br />

barrels a day. Hav<strong>in</strong>g no money left to develop<br />

<strong>the</strong> field, <strong>the</strong>y had no choice o<strong>the</strong>r than<br />

to take a cash <strong>of</strong>fer from Blake for <strong>the</strong> well.<br />

This taught <strong>the</strong>m ano<strong>the</strong>r lesson: drill your<br />

own leases so that you can make your own<br />

decisions. Stewart and Hardison decided to<br />

use <strong>the</strong> money to make down payments on<br />

m<strong>in</strong>eral leases near Santa Paula, and <strong>the</strong>n<br />

used <strong>the</strong> leases as collateral to borrow money<br />

to drill wells.<br />

In those years oil was be<strong>in</strong>g produced<br />

around Santa Paula mostly from tunnels. <strong>The</strong><br />

first successful well, Old Adams <strong>in</strong> Adams<br />

Canyon, had been drilled <strong>in</strong> 1875 with a<br />

small production <strong>of</strong> 2 or 3 barrels a day. In<br />

1884 Stewart and Hardison drilled several<br />

wells and got a small amount <strong>of</strong> production.<br />

Unfortunately <strong>the</strong>ir first two wells were be<strong>in</strong>g<br />

dra<strong>in</strong>ed by later ones. <strong>The</strong> oil was very<br />

viscous and was useful only for asphalt. <strong>The</strong>n,<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1884, <strong>the</strong>y heard about <strong>the</strong> light oil from<br />

deep drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Puente Field. Ano<strong>the</strong>r<br />

Pennsylvania associate, W. E. Youle, had<br />

drilled a 1,600 foot well <strong>the</strong>re and was visited<br />

by Stewart and Hardison, who wondered<br />

how this oil could be so much lighter than<br />

that from nearby shallow wells. <strong>The</strong>y lacked<br />

modern geological knowledge, yet <strong>the</strong>y could<br />

still test <strong>the</strong> idea <strong>of</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g deep <strong>in</strong> Adams<br />

Canyon. Return<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>re <strong>the</strong>y drilled several<br />

more wells with partial success.<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally, <strong>in</strong> 1888, <strong>the</strong> first gusher <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>, Adams No. 16, came <strong>in</strong> at 500<br />

barrels a day with oil spout<strong>in</strong>g over <strong>the</strong> top<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> derrick. Four years later this modest<br />

gusher was topped by <strong>the</strong> Adams No. 28 at<br />

1,500 barrels a day. This one took <strong>the</strong> drillers<br />

by surprise, and <strong>the</strong>y were unable to conta<strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> oil. <strong>The</strong> result<strong>in</strong>g river flowed all <strong>the</strong> way<br />

to <strong>the</strong> ocean, <strong>in</strong> a sense validat<strong>in</strong>g Silliman’s<br />

ra<strong>the</strong>r colorful statements <strong>of</strong> twenty-four<br />

years before. This success helped establish <strong>the</strong><br />

Stewart and Hardison partnership as a force <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> state’s petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry, and put Santa<br />

Paula on <strong>the</strong> map as an important oil town.<br />

As important as <strong>the</strong> discoveries at Puente,<br />

Summerland, Adams Canyon, and <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

places were for <strong>the</strong> future, <strong>the</strong> boom was<br />

short-lived, production dropp<strong>in</strong>g more than<br />

50 percent <strong>in</strong> 1889. None<strong>the</strong>less <strong>California</strong><br />

had gotten its first real taste <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil bug.<br />

<strong>California</strong> petroleum was becom<strong>in</strong>g more<br />

valuable as its ma<strong>in</strong> use shifted from illum<strong>in</strong>ation<br />

to fuel. New technologies were be<strong>in</strong>g<br />

developed, such as better ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g methods,<br />

nozzles to allow oil to efficiently burn <strong>in</strong><br />

boilers, pipel<strong>in</strong>es to move heavy oil, and<br />

tanker-ships. Oil trade with Pacific nations<br />

such as Mexico and <strong>the</strong> K<strong>in</strong>gdom <strong>of</strong> Hawaii<br />

was open<strong>in</strong>g up. <strong>The</strong> debacles <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1860s<br />

were becom<strong>in</strong>g dim memories. <strong>The</strong> stage was<br />

set for <strong>the</strong> next boom, ushered <strong>in</strong> by a remarkable<br />

discovery <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> city <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles,<br />

which would dwarf everyth<strong>in</strong>g that had<br />

come before. It would beg<strong>in</strong> a long-term<br />

upward trend <strong>of</strong> production <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong><br />

(with short-term fluctuations) that would last<br />

from 1892 until about 1982, when it topped<br />

out at over 420,000,000 barrels a year.<br />

Opposite page: Union Oil ref<strong>in</strong>ery <strong>in</strong><br />

Santa Paula. This ref<strong>in</strong>ery began operations<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1887 under one <strong>of</strong> Union’s predecessor<br />

companies. It rema<strong>in</strong>ed Union’s only<br />

ref<strong>in</strong>ery until <strong>the</strong> more advanced one at<br />

Oleum (San Francisco Bay) was opened<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1896. <strong>The</strong> Santa Paula ref<strong>in</strong>ery was<br />

destroyed by fire just four months later.<br />



Below: Annual oil production <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>,<br />

1875-1900. Dates <strong>of</strong> major discoveries are<br />

shown along <strong>the</strong> bottom. <strong>The</strong> second boom<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1880s and beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> third<br />

boom <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1890s are shown.<br />

DATA FROM REDPATH, 1900.<br />






Right: Edward L. Doheny. After drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

discovery well <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City Field<br />

with Charles A. Canfield, Doheny went on<br />

to develop o<strong>the</strong>r oil fields <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>,<br />

became a prom<strong>in</strong>ent citizen <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles,<br />

and was <strong>in</strong>volved <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Teapot<br />

Dome scandal.<br />


Below: Street map <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles (1906)<br />

show<strong>in</strong>g narrow distribution <strong>of</strong> wells<br />

(black and open circles). Vermont Avenue is<br />

on <strong>the</strong> west, Los Angeles River on <strong>the</strong> east,<br />

and Sunset Boulevard on <strong>the</strong> north.<br />


In 1857 a small hand-dug well at Third<br />

and Coronado Streets on <strong>the</strong> west side <strong>of</strong><br />

Los Angeles began provid<strong>in</strong>g heavy oil and<br />

asphaltum to oil <strong>the</strong> streets <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> town. Little<br />

or no o<strong>the</strong>r successful drill<strong>in</strong>g is recorded<br />

until 1890, when prospectors Maltman and<br />

Ruhland achieved production <strong>of</strong> a few barrels<br />

a day. <strong>The</strong>n, <strong>in</strong> 1892, <strong>the</strong> same year as <strong>the</strong><br />

Adams No. 28 gusher, a down-on-his-luck<br />

Colorado prospector named Edward L. Doheny<br />

and his partner Charles A. Canfield began<br />

digg<strong>in</strong>g a shaft on a lot at <strong>the</strong> corner <strong>of</strong> Patton<br />

and Colton Streets. No trace rema<strong>in</strong>s to <strong>in</strong>dicate<br />

<strong>the</strong> spot, now somewhere <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> park<strong>in</strong>g lot<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> municipal Echo Park Swimm<strong>in</strong>g Pool.<br />

This four by six foot shaft was dug with picks<br />

and shovels. <strong>The</strong>y encountered oil seeps as<br />

<strong>the</strong>y dug, but when <strong>the</strong>y reached 155 feet<br />

<strong>the</strong>y had to stop because <strong>of</strong> toxic gas <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

hole. <strong>The</strong>n Doheny used a eucalyptus trunk<br />

with a sharpened end as a percussion drill<br />

to deepen <strong>the</strong> well ano<strong>the</strong>r 70 feet. <strong>The</strong>y hit<br />

<strong>the</strong> oil reservoir, and began produc<strong>in</strong>g seven<br />

barrels a day. Thus began <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles<br />

City Field, which caused <strong>California</strong> production<br />

to skyrocket from under 400,000 barrels<br />

annually <strong>in</strong> 1893 to almost 2 million by 1897.<br />

A real estate promotion had occurred here<br />

a few years before, and <strong>the</strong> whole area had<br />

been subdivided <strong>in</strong>to small lots, some <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong>m only 50 by 150 feet. Anyone who<br />

owned a lot and $1,500 could drill a well.<br />

Even without <strong>the</strong> money it could be done<br />

by attract<strong>in</strong>g any <strong>of</strong> a hoard <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>vestors. Of<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


course one would have to drill before <strong>the</strong><br />

neighbors dra<strong>in</strong>ed <strong>the</strong> reservoir. If a neighbor<br />

drilled two wells, a person would drill two,<br />

or even more, on a t<strong>in</strong>y lot, just to keep up.<br />

In three years about 300 wells were sunk,<br />

mostly on a trend to <strong>the</strong> nor<strong>the</strong>ast. When<br />

<strong>the</strong>y reached Victor Street, it appeared as if<br />

a fault term<strong>in</strong>ated <strong>the</strong> productive reservoir,<br />

so <strong>the</strong> prospectors went back to <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al<br />

discovery site and began mov<strong>in</strong>g west. In<br />

1896 ano<strong>the</strong>r discovery was made east <strong>of</strong><br />

Victor Street, near Sisters’ Hospital (near<br />

what is now Elysian Park).<br />

At its peak <strong>the</strong> field was about three miles<br />

long east to west, stretch<strong>in</strong>g from Elysian<br />

Park on <strong>the</strong> east, pass<strong>in</strong>g north <strong>of</strong> Downtown<br />

and south <strong>of</strong> what is now Dodger Stadium,<br />

extend<strong>in</strong>g to about Vermont Avenue on <strong>the</strong><br />

west. <strong>The</strong> field was only about 1,000 feet<br />

wide. Peak production <strong>of</strong> 1.8 million barrels<br />

from about 1,150 wells occurred <strong>in</strong> 1901.<br />

After that production decl<strong>in</strong>ed rapidly.<br />

Only two new wells were drilled after 1915.<br />

By 1961, 93 produc<strong>in</strong>g wells rema<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

and by 2015 only a few stripper wells<br />

were left.<br />

Left: Pumpjack used <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles<br />

City Field. This pumpjack belonged to <strong>the</strong><br />

four-generation Manley Oil Company,<br />

whose Los Angeles City Field operations<br />

were run out <strong>of</strong> a small house built <strong>in</strong> 1887.<br />

This family bus<strong>in</strong>ess lasted 100 years.<br />

<strong>The</strong> pumpjack was used until 1985, when it<br />

had to be removed because authorities said<br />

it was a fire hazard. It was counterbalanced<br />

with an orange crate filled with rocks.<br />

An electric motor supplied power by means<br />

<strong>of</strong> a belt to <strong>the</strong> large wheel <strong>in</strong> front.<br />



Below and <strong>in</strong>set: Los Angeles City Field,<br />

1900 and 2015. Deadend <strong>of</strong> Edgeware<br />

Street at Court Street. <strong>The</strong> old house at<br />

<strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> Edgeware (bottom) has lasted<br />

through an eventful century, while <strong>the</strong><br />

derricks (<strong>in</strong>set) gave way to skyscrapers.<br />





Bim<strong>in</strong>i Baths. <strong>The</strong> street along <strong>the</strong> left side<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> spa is now called Bim<strong>in</strong>i Place. <strong>The</strong><br />

trolley tracks <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> background may still be<br />

seen imbedded <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> street’s pavement and<br />

<strong>in</strong> a private driveway. Rayfield Apartments<br />

on <strong>the</strong> corner still exists.<br />


In <strong>the</strong> first few years what had been a<br />

residential area became a forest <strong>of</strong> derricks.<br />

In some places one could walk from one<br />

derrick floor to ano<strong>the</strong>r. <strong>The</strong>re were no regulations<br />

at that time about well spac<strong>in</strong>g or<br />

subsurface rights. At one po<strong>in</strong>t <strong>the</strong> city<br />

council restricted <strong>the</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> oil wells <strong>in</strong><br />

some areas. Suddenly people began drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

“water wells.” Mishaps unavoidably occurred.<br />

In 1907 an oil tank made <strong>of</strong> redwood burst.<br />

Oil flowed down <strong>the</strong> street <strong>in</strong>to Echo Lake,<br />

where it caught fire and burned for several<br />

days. Crim<strong>in</strong>al behavior, such as steal<strong>in</strong>g<br />

tools, or oil out <strong>of</strong> tanks, was common and<br />

difficult to prevent. Competition was <strong>in</strong>tense<br />

among <strong>the</strong> many operators and sabotage was<br />

not unknown.<br />

One well near Vermont Street never found<br />

oil. Instead, at 1,750 feet, seem<strong>in</strong>gly <strong>in</strong>exhaustible<br />

amounts <strong>of</strong> hot water with dissolved<br />

sodium bicarbonate, prized for m<strong>in</strong>eral<br />

bath<strong>in</strong>g, began flow<strong>in</strong>g. Thus was born<br />

<strong>the</strong> Bim<strong>in</strong>i Bathhouse, which lasted from<br />

1903 until <strong>the</strong> 1950s. Founded by dentist<br />

David W. Edwards, <strong>the</strong> spa was named<br />

after <strong>the</strong> tropical island that was supposed<br />

to have had <strong>the</strong> founta<strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong> youth. Located<br />

on Bim<strong>in</strong>i Place near Second Street, <strong>the</strong><br />

enormous build<strong>in</strong>g had concrete tanks that<br />

could hold half a million gallons, and large<br />

gates that allowed water to quickly re-fill <strong>the</strong><br />

pools every day. <strong>The</strong>re were over 500 dress<strong>in</strong>g<br />

rooms, separate floors for men and women,<br />

three large pools for athletic swimm<strong>in</strong>g and<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


div<strong>in</strong>g, over 50 private baths, a café, and o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

amenities. Patrons could get Turkish baths,<br />

steam baths, and all sorts <strong>of</strong> “hydropathic”<br />

treatments. Dr. Edwards built a hotel across<br />

<strong>the</strong> street, and supplied it with <strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong>eral<br />

water. O<strong>the</strong>r establishments later sprang up<br />

around <strong>the</strong> spa, most notably <strong>the</strong> Palomar<br />

Ballroom, where <strong>the</strong> likes <strong>of</strong> Benny Goodman,<br />

Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller enterta<strong>in</strong>ed.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y had marathon dances <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> street <strong>in</strong><br />

front <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> spa. Bim<strong>in</strong>i was quite a social<br />

spot and all you needed to go <strong>the</strong>re was<br />

trolley fare and <strong>the</strong> $0.25 price <strong>of</strong> admission.<br />

Today <strong>the</strong> old hotel build<strong>in</strong>g soldiers on as<br />

a treatment center for alcoholics. <strong>The</strong> spa is<br />

long gone. <strong>The</strong> only memories are a street<br />

name and old trolley rails imbedded <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

street’s pavement.<br />

<strong>The</strong> boom spawned hundreds <strong>of</strong> oil<br />

companies. <strong>The</strong> Los Angeles Oil Exchange<br />

was founded <strong>in</strong> 1899 to provide a place for<br />

stocks to be bought and sold. Dozens <strong>of</strong><br />

advertisements could be found <strong>in</strong> newspapers<br />

and magaz<strong>in</strong>es. At first only stocks <strong>of</strong><br />

companies with produc<strong>in</strong>g wells were<br />

allowed to be traded. However, <strong>the</strong> public’s<br />

demand for oil stocks, any oil stocks, was<br />

<strong>in</strong>satiable. <strong>The</strong> <strong>California</strong> Oil and Stock<br />

Exchange, founded <strong>in</strong> 1900, decided to<br />

<strong>in</strong>clude non-produc<strong>in</strong>g companies; later <strong>the</strong><br />

Los Angeles Oil Exchange followed suit. <strong>The</strong><br />

Los Angeles Oil Exchange merged with <strong>the</strong><br />

San Francisco Stock and Bond Exchange <strong>in</strong><br />

1957 to form <strong>the</strong> Pacific Stock Exchange,<br />

which ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong>ed trad<strong>in</strong>g floors <strong>in</strong> both cities<br />

until 2001.<br />

Among <strong>the</strong> countless companies was <strong>the</strong><br />

Women’s Pacific Coast Oil Company, which<br />

was run exclusively by women except for<br />

a consult<strong>in</strong>g eng<strong>in</strong>eer named H. Hawgood,<br />

who supervised drill<strong>in</strong>g operations. While<br />

men could <strong>in</strong>vest <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> company <strong>the</strong>y were<br />

not allowed any role <strong>in</strong> management. Like<br />

companies today, <strong>the</strong> Women’s Pacific Coast<br />

Oil Company had operations <strong>in</strong> many oil<br />

fields, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City Field,<br />

Placerita Canyon <strong>in</strong> Newhall, Summerland <strong>in</strong><br />

Santa Barbara, Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da, and <strong>the</strong> new and<br />

promis<strong>in</strong>g Kern River District. This comprises<br />

nearly all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> major oil-produc<strong>in</strong>g areas<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> at <strong>the</strong> time.<br />

By 1900, new ways <strong>of</strong> explor<strong>in</strong>g for petroleum<br />

were beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g to displace <strong>the</strong> early<br />

method <strong>of</strong> simply look<strong>in</strong>g for seeps, which<br />

<strong>in</strong> large part was <strong>the</strong> underly<strong>in</strong>g method<br />

used by Silliman <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1860s. Fields such as<br />

Los Angeles City and Pico Canyon showed<br />

<strong>the</strong> importance <strong>of</strong> anticl<strong>in</strong>es and, especially<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, faults. <strong>The</strong> new ideas can be<br />

found <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> follow<strong>in</strong>g comment by Pr<strong>of</strong>essor<br />

W. L. Watts <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> State M<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g<br />

Bureau, published <strong>in</strong> 1900:<br />

…<strong>in</strong> a general way, it may be said that <strong>the</strong><br />

oil l<strong>in</strong>es, or l<strong>in</strong>es along which remunerative<br />

wells may be found, follow <strong>the</strong> strike <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

axes <strong>of</strong> folds <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> rocks, or <strong>the</strong> course <strong>of</strong><br />

faults which have isolated blocks <strong>of</strong> strata<br />

<strong>in</strong>clos<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> oil-yield<strong>in</strong>g rocks…<strong>the</strong> trac<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>of</strong> oil l<strong>in</strong>es <strong>in</strong> this state and <strong>the</strong> development<br />

<strong>of</strong> oil fields, necessitates a competent knowledge<br />

<strong>of</strong> structural geology, without which <strong>the</strong><br />

risks <strong>of</strong> oil m<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g would be greatly <strong>in</strong>creased.<br />

However, old ways die hard. It would take<br />

more than twenty years for this new approach<br />

to take hold. Eventually this use <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> scientific<br />

method, as applied to geology, would<br />

lead to discoveries <strong>of</strong> oil fields with no surface<br />

expression, <strong>in</strong> places totally unexpected. As<br />

we shall see, <strong>the</strong> result<strong>in</strong>g yield exceeds by<br />

orders <strong>of</strong> magnitude that previously found by<br />

look<strong>in</strong>g for surface seeps.<br />

Production from <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City Field<br />

topped 1,000,000 barrels <strong>in</strong> 1895 and follow<strong>in</strong>g<br />

years, fuel<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> third <strong>California</strong> boom<br />

and far surpass<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> previous boom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

early 1880s. In <strong>the</strong> late ’90s production from<br />

<strong>the</strong> gushers at McKittrick and Coal<strong>in</strong>ga drove<br />

<strong>the</strong> boom still higher. <strong>The</strong>n, <strong>in</strong> 1899, <strong>the</strong> Kern<br />

River Field was discovered, sett<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> stage<br />

for even greater glory <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> twentieth century.<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r factor was just on <strong>the</strong> horizon: <strong>the</strong><br />

rise <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> automobile and <strong>the</strong> airplane,<br />

which would <strong>in</strong>crease demand for petroleum<br />

exponentially, and shift <strong>the</strong> major usage from<br />

light<strong>in</strong>g and manufactur<strong>in</strong>g to transportation.<br />

At <strong>the</strong> same time <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City Field<br />

and Kern River Field would demonstrate <strong>the</strong><br />

need for better control <strong>of</strong> oil field practices to<br />

maximize production and field life, <strong>in</strong> order<br />

to meet future demand.<br />

Below: Advertisements for oil stocks, about<br />

1910. Such advertisements were common <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> publications <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> time.<br />


Bottom: Stock advertisement for <strong>the</strong><br />

Women’s Pacific Coast Oil Company.<br />






Banker’s daughter Emma McCutchen wanted to make music<br />

her life, hav<strong>in</strong>g graduated from <strong>the</strong> New England Conservatory<br />

<strong>of</strong> Music. She married carpenter Alpha Summers, and <strong>the</strong>y<br />

moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles, where Mrs. Summers<br />

<strong>in</strong>tended to give piano lessons. However, a completely different<br />

l<strong>in</strong>e <strong>of</strong> work was dest<strong>in</strong>ed to make her famous, not to mention<br />

very rich. <strong>The</strong> new Summers home was just a few blocks from<br />

where Doheny and Canfield would later drill <strong>the</strong>ir discovery<br />

well. When <strong>the</strong> oil field came <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil bug bit Emma Summers,<br />

and it bit hard. In 1893 Summers paid $700 for a half <strong>in</strong>terest<br />

<strong>in</strong> a nearby well. Unfortunately <strong>the</strong> well had cas<strong>in</strong>g problems<br />

and lost tools, and she had to borrow ano<strong>the</strong>r $1,800 to save<br />

<strong>the</strong> well. “Night after night, by <strong>the</strong> light <strong>of</strong> a flar<strong>in</strong>g torch, she<br />

hovered over it, as if it were a sick babe’s cradle.” F<strong>in</strong>ally <strong>the</strong> babe<br />

recovered and became a producer.<br />

<strong>The</strong> bug bit harder. Summers <strong>in</strong>vested <strong>in</strong> ano<strong>the</strong>r well, <strong>the</strong>n<br />

ano<strong>the</strong>r. When she was $10,000 <strong>in</strong> debt (easily four or five years’<br />

wages <strong>in</strong> 1900), she thought that if she could get her money back<br />

and that much more, she would quit. She made <strong>the</strong> $20,000, yet<br />

she didn’t quit. She used boilers to remove sediment from <strong>the</strong><br />

viscous oil; such tasks were more efficiently carried out by an<br />

operator who could comb<strong>in</strong>e <strong>the</strong> production <strong>of</strong> several wells.<br />

Above: Emma A. Summers, <strong>the</strong> Oil Queen <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

Right: Los Angeles City Field, show<strong>in</strong>g derricks with legs almost <strong>in</strong>terlac<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> some cases,<br />

and tanks belong<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>in</strong>dividual owners. Entrepreneurs such as Emma Summers bought<br />

out <strong>the</strong>se small operators and consolidated <strong>the</strong>m <strong>in</strong>to larger, more efficient units.<br />


So, she learned how to consolidate <strong>the</strong> operations <strong>of</strong> smaller,<br />

less efficient operators. By 1901 she had 14 wells altoge<strong>the</strong>r<br />

produc<strong>in</strong>g 50,000 barrels a month, about 2.5 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> state’s<br />

total production. She achieved this by personally manag<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

bus<strong>in</strong>ess and look<strong>in</strong>g to every detail <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g purchase <strong>of</strong> pipe<br />

and hir<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> workers. After a day’s work she would do <strong>the</strong><br />

bookkeep<strong>in</strong>g and give piano lessons to earn money to <strong>in</strong>vest <strong>in</strong><br />

more wells. At first she sold her oil through brokers. Later she<br />

took over that part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> bus<strong>in</strong>ess too, sell<strong>in</strong>g directly to hotels,<br />

factories, <strong>the</strong> local light company, and commuter railroads.<br />

Summers had 40 horses, 10 wagons, and a blacksmith.<br />

Emma Summers was highly <strong>in</strong>telligent and organized. She<br />

used <strong>the</strong> laws <strong>of</strong> supply and demand to dom<strong>in</strong>ate <strong>the</strong> market <strong>in</strong><br />

a volatile environment <strong>in</strong> which prices varied between $1.80<br />

and ten cents a barrel. In <strong>the</strong> process she bought out o<strong>the</strong>r, failed<br />

operators for barga<strong>in</strong> prices. She did all <strong>of</strong> this without tak<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong><br />

any o<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong>vestors. It was with good reason that Sunset magaz<strong>in</strong>e<br />

said <strong>in</strong> 1911, “<strong>The</strong>re are men <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles who do not like<br />

Emma A. Summers.” Yet she was fair to her customers and<br />

employees, and became known as <strong>the</strong> “Oil Queen <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>.”<br />

Eventually <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City Field faded, so Summers<br />

diversified. She got <strong>in</strong>to real estate, buy<strong>in</strong>g ranches <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> San<br />

Fernando Valley, apartment houses, and a mansion on Wilshire<br />

Boulevard where Bullock’s Wilshire now stands. She converted<br />

one build<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to a hotel and named it <strong>the</strong> Queen. <strong>The</strong>n she<br />

purchased several <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> new-fangled movie houses.<br />

Later <strong>in</strong> life Emma Summers lived <strong>in</strong> nice style at <strong>the</strong> Biltmore<br />

Hotel and <strong>the</strong> Alexandria Hotel. She f<strong>in</strong>ally passed away <strong>in</strong><br />

Glendale <strong>in</strong> 1941 at <strong>the</strong> age <strong>of</strong> 83. Not much is known <strong>of</strong> her<br />

husband, who died <strong>in</strong> 1939, and less is known <strong>of</strong> any children.<br />

Los Angeles had become a great city by 1941, and Emma<br />

Summers had someth<strong>in</strong>g to do with it. She has been gone for<br />

three quarters <strong>of</strong> a century now. Few <strong>of</strong> today’s citizens <strong>of</strong><br />

Los Angeles know anyth<strong>in</strong>g about her, but for anyone who cares<br />

to know her life’s story, she is a true representative <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

American Dream, a person who started a bus<strong>in</strong>ess and thrived<br />

through her own resourcefulness and hard work.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />




Two large oil companies, qu<strong>in</strong>tessentially<br />

<strong>California</strong>n, have had an enormous impact on<br />

<strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry world-wide, not just<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. As we have seen, both Chevron<br />

(Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>) and Unocal (Union)<br />

had <strong>the</strong>ir orig<strong>in</strong>s <strong>in</strong> t<strong>in</strong>y, shaky companies <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> 1870s and 1880s. One company, Chevron,<br />

is a “major” that was orig<strong>in</strong>ally part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> great<br />

Standard Oil trust, while <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r, Unocal,<br />

was always known as an <strong>in</strong>dependent, albeit<br />

a very large one. Both companies grew <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> twentieth century <strong>in</strong> part by absorb<strong>in</strong>g<br />

o<strong>the</strong>rs, Standard tak<strong>in</strong>g Gulf and Texaco, and<br />

Union merg<strong>in</strong>g with Pure Oil, so that <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

operations expanded far beyond <strong>California</strong>.<br />

In 1885, <strong>the</strong> Stewart-Hardison partnership<br />

that was to become Union was drill<strong>in</strong>g deep<br />

wells (up to 3,000 feet) based on what <strong>the</strong>y<br />

learned from <strong>the</strong> Puente Field. However <strong>the</strong>y<br />

produced only 4,806 barrels that year. Costs<br />

<strong>of</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g and operat<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> fields exceeded<br />

revenue, forc<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>m to borrow to stay afloat.<br />

To reduce costs, Stewart decided to use oil<br />

that <strong>the</strong>y produced to run <strong>the</strong>ir boilers, ra<strong>the</strong>r<br />

than coal. Through trial and error his crews<br />

developed a nozzle that made this practical.<br />

This was <strong>the</strong> beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> revolution <strong>in</strong><br />

which oil replaced coal as an <strong>in</strong>dustrial fuel<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. To reduce cost <strong>of</strong> shipp<strong>in</strong>g oil to<br />

San Francisco, <strong>the</strong>y built a four-<strong>in</strong>ch pipel<strong>in</strong>e<br />

to <strong>the</strong> Pacific Ocean, <strong>the</strong> first <strong>of</strong> its k<strong>in</strong>d <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>. Production <strong>in</strong>creased to over 35,000<br />

barrels <strong>in</strong> 1886, about 10 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> state’s<br />

total. Even so, <strong>the</strong> partnership teetered on <strong>the</strong><br />

edge <strong>of</strong> collapse: <strong>the</strong>y needed more money.<br />

This is where Thomas R. Bard came <strong>in</strong>.<br />

Bard had drilled wells <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> unsuccessful<br />

Rancho Ojai venture <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1860s, and later<br />

made a fortune develop<strong>in</strong>g and sell<strong>in</strong>g real<br />

estate. Bard came <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> partnership as<br />

an “angel.” A group <strong>of</strong> four companies was<br />

formed with Hardison and Stewart hav<strong>in</strong>g<br />

majority <strong>in</strong>terest, and Bard more or less <strong>in</strong><br />

operational control. <strong>The</strong> four companies were<br />

merged <strong>in</strong> 1890 to form Union Oil Company.<br />

<strong>The</strong> stage was set for an immense struggle<br />

between <strong>the</strong> cautious Bard and <strong>the</strong> aggressive<br />

Stewart, who wanted to get as many leases as<br />

possible. <strong>The</strong>y were still <strong>in</strong> debt, and several<br />

near disasters were barely averted even after<br />

<strong>the</strong> gushers at Adams Canyon. Production<br />

<strong>in</strong>creased to 121,000 barrels <strong>in</strong> 1887 and over<br />

236,000 <strong>in</strong> 1888. Bard wanted to simply<br />

produce and sell crude oil and let o<strong>the</strong>rs do<br />

<strong>the</strong> ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g, distribution and market<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Stewart had much grander plans.<br />

Stewart advocated tirelessly for conversion<br />

to oil as fuel for <strong>in</strong>dustries <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. He<br />

met fierce opposition from steamboat <strong>in</strong>spectors,<br />

railroads, and from his partner Thomas<br />

Bard. <strong>The</strong>re were many setbacks, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

steamboat explosions supposedly caused by<br />

fuel oil and railroad locomotives that could<br />

not develop enough power on oil. Gradually<br />

<strong>the</strong> technological problems were overcome,<br />

and <strong>the</strong> use <strong>of</strong> oil <strong>in</strong> eng<strong>in</strong>es surpassed its<br />

use as an illum<strong>in</strong>ant. Stewart also formed a<br />

company to supply drill<strong>in</strong>g tools to <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry, a move vehemently opposed by<br />

Bard. This and many o<strong>the</strong>r disagreements<br />

fed a steadily <strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>g acrimony. F<strong>in</strong>ally,<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1898-1899, matters came to a head. Bard<br />

precipitated a fierce stockholder fight for<br />

control. <strong>The</strong> Stewart <strong>in</strong>terests, when all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

shares were counted, held 50.6 percent. At<br />

last Lyman Stewart was <strong>in</strong> undisputed control,<br />

and from that time was free to put his<br />

plans <strong>in</strong>to motion to create one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> greatest<br />

<strong>in</strong>dependent petroleum empires <strong>of</strong> all<br />

time. Although Stewart did not become a<br />

missionary, he founded <strong>the</strong> well-known Bible<br />

Institute <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles (Biola University).<br />

Above: Thomas Bard.<br />



Below: Union Oil Headquarters <strong>in</strong><br />

Santa Paula, <strong>California</strong>. <strong>The</strong> hardware<br />

store on <strong>the</strong> ground floor was owned by<br />

<strong>the</strong> company. Kerosene lamps that burned<br />

Union’s products are prom<strong>in</strong>ently displayed<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> w<strong>in</strong>dow. <strong>The</strong> horseless carriage, which<br />

would become <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry’s ma<strong>in</strong>stay,<br />

was still <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> future.<br />





Pacific Coast Oil Company built this<br />

ref<strong>in</strong>ery at Alameda Island <strong>in</strong> 1880.<br />

It would be expanded many times by<br />

Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />


<strong>The</strong> Pacific Coast Oil Company (PCO),<br />

nucleus <strong>of</strong> what would become Chevron, pursued<br />

a different course than <strong>the</strong> brash Lyman<br />

Stewart’s Union Oil. Where Union acquired as<br />

many leases as possible, precipitat<strong>in</strong>g numerous<br />

f<strong>in</strong>ancial crises, PCO relied on its wells<br />

<strong>in</strong> Pico Canyon Field and nearby. Although<br />

Union’s market was ma<strong>in</strong>ly <strong>in</strong> Sou<strong>the</strong>rn<br />

<strong>California</strong>, <strong>the</strong>y would sell wherever <strong>the</strong>y<br />

could. PCO sold <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> San Francisco area,<br />

us<strong>in</strong>g product from <strong>the</strong>ir Alameda ref<strong>in</strong>ery.<br />

Although this ref<strong>in</strong>ery had been built largely<br />

to process <strong>the</strong> Moody Gulch oil, it fortunately<br />

was located near <strong>the</strong> Sou<strong>the</strong>rn Pacific Railroad<br />

ra<strong>the</strong>r than at <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> a small narrow<br />

gauge railroad near <strong>the</strong> Moody wells. When<br />

<strong>the</strong> th<strong>in</strong> Moody sands played out <strong>the</strong>y were<br />

still able to ship <strong>the</strong>ir Pico oil north to<br />

Alameda. As a result <strong>the</strong> smaller ref<strong>in</strong>ery <strong>in</strong><br />

Newhall was eventually phased out <strong>of</strong> service.<br />

Pico production was not enough to satisfy<br />

<strong>the</strong> San Francisco market, so prices rema<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

high. PCO’s ma<strong>in</strong> competition was higher<br />

quality eastern oils, marketed primarily by<br />

Rockefeller’s Standard Oil <strong>of</strong> Iowa, which<br />

was on its way to becom<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> dom<strong>in</strong>ant<br />

marketer on <strong>the</strong> west coast <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1880s.<br />

On <strong>the</strong> production side, PCO concentrated<br />

ma<strong>in</strong>ly on <strong>in</strong>-field drill<strong>in</strong>g and new technology<br />

to improve success. For example, <strong>the</strong> first<br />

time <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> that a diamond bit rotary<br />

rig was used for oil drill<strong>in</strong>g was <strong>in</strong> Pico<br />

Canyon <strong>in</strong> 1889. <strong>The</strong> bit, a hollow cyl<strong>in</strong>der<br />

edged with diamonds, cut a straight hole.<br />

However progress was much slower than<br />

with cable tools, and <strong>the</strong> bit had trouble<br />

with cobbles, which were ever-present <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Pico formations. A side benefit <strong>of</strong> this<br />

bit, which was similar to those used <strong>in</strong><br />

hard rock m<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g operations, was <strong>the</strong> ability<br />

to take a core, mak<strong>in</strong>g it possible to log<br />

<strong>in</strong> detail <strong>the</strong> characteristics <strong>of</strong> strata<br />

encountered by <strong>the</strong> well. This gave Edward<br />

North, PCO’s manager <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field, an idea.<br />

He told Mentry to make such logs for all<br />

future wells, and reconstruct <strong>the</strong>m as best as<br />

possible from memory for old wells. This<br />

enabled <strong>the</strong>m to construct geologic cross<br />

sections that could be used to predict<br />

depths <strong>of</strong> oil-bear<strong>in</strong>g sands and give <strong>the</strong> best<br />

locations for new wells.<br />

Until 1894 <strong>the</strong> comb<strong>in</strong>ed production <strong>of</strong><br />

PCO and its rival Union accounted for up to<br />

75 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s total. At this po<strong>in</strong>t<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


<strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City Field exceeded <strong>the</strong><br />

totals <strong>of</strong> both companies and caused serious<br />

oversupply problems, especially for Union’s<br />

sou<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong> market. <strong>The</strong> heavy<br />

Los Angeles oil, unfit for ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to<br />

kerosene, was used as fuel oil <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> local<br />

market. Union first tried to make a deal<br />

<strong>in</strong> which it would market and distribute<br />

<strong>the</strong> oil <strong>of</strong> many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hundreds <strong>of</strong> small<br />

producers. <strong>The</strong> locals refused, caus<strong>in</strong>g Union<br />

to look for markets o<strong>the</strong>r than Los Angeles<br />

for its products. PCO <strong>in</strong> turn realized that<br />

its San Francisco market could be jeopardized<br />

as well if Union tried to shift its sales<br />

<strong>the</strong>re. <strong>The</strong>re was also a brief threat <strong>of</strong><br />

substantial imports <strong>of</strong> newly-discovered oil<br />

from Peru.<br />

To solve this market<strong>in</strong>g problem PCO<br />

approached Union with <strong>the</strong> idea <strong>of</strong> build<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

tanker ship to carry oil from both companies<br />

to San Francisco. PCO’s reason<strong>in</strong>g was that<br />

s<strong>in</strong>ce it could not supply all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> needs <strong>of</strong><br />

San Francisco with its Pico oil, allow<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Union to supply <strong>the</strong> rest would discourage<br />

competitors like Standard <strong>of</strong> Iowa. It would<br />

also give PCO <strong>the</strong> benefit <strong>of</strong> economy <strong>of</strong><br />

scale. Union accepted <strong>the</strong> barga<strong>in</strong>, and <strong>in</strong><br />

1895 PCO built <strong>the</strong> George Loomis, <strong>the</strong> first<br />

ship <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> hull itself was <strong>the</strong> tank,<br />

divided <strong>in</strong>to six sections by partitions, that<br />

carried <strong>the</strong> oil. Earlier tankers had tanks<br />

fitted <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong>ir holds, wast<strong>in</strong>g space and<br />

add<strong>in</strong>g weight. Thus PCO began a beneficial,<br />

although ra<strong>the</strong>r testy relationship with <strong>the</strong><br />

rival it had helped to create a dozen years<br />

before. This lasted until <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

century, when <strong>the</strong> existence <strong>of</strong> PCO as an<br />

<strong>in</strong>dependent company came to an end.<br />

Standard Oil Company <strong>of</strong> New Jersey<br />

and <strong>the</strong> Rockefeller trust absorbed PCO <strong>in</strong><br />

1900-1901. PCO and Standard <strong>of</strong> Iowa, <strong>the</strong><br />

Trust’s market<strong>in</strong>g arm <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> West, were<br />

merged to form Standard Oil Company <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> <strong>in</strong> 1906. <strong>The</strong> head <strong>of</strong>fice <strong>in</strong> New<br />

York was firmly <strong>in</strong> control, and all significant<br />

decisions had to be approved by it. Standard<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> became <strong>in</strong>dependent when<br />

<strong>the</strong> Standard trust was broken up by <strong>the</strong><br />

U. S. Supreme Court <strong>in</strong> 1911. <strong>The</strong> merger<br />

with Standard <strong>of</strong> Iowa had provided <strong>the</strong><br />

company with new assets and a strong<br />

market<strong>in</strong>g capability. Standard was free <strong>in</strong><br />

1911 to move forward <strong>in</strong> its own right as<br />

a major player <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s oil <strong>in</strong>dustry.<br />

<strong>The</strong> George Loomis (on <strong>the</strong> left), was built<br />

by Pacific Coast Oil Company <strong>in</strong> 1895.<br />





TWO<br />


1900 TO 1920<br />


Production graph show<strong>in</strong>g a steady,<br />

long-term <strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>g trend (dashed l<strong>in</strong>e)<br />

that began around 1900 and cont<strong>in</strong>ued until<br />

1982. Short-term ups and downs resulted<br />

from economic booms, world wars,<br />

<strong>the</strong> depression, and o<strong>the</strong>r events.<br />



As <strong>the</strong> new century dawned <strong>California</strong>’s petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry was poised for new heights as part<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ensu<strong>in</strong>g golden age <strong>of</strong> transportation and technology. Annual production <strong>of</strong> about 2 million<br />

barrels at <strong>the</strong> turn <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> century would steadily rise to 100 million by 1920. This flood <strong>of</strong> oil<br />

would help supply <strong>the</strong> allied effort <strong>in</strong> World War I and usher <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> age <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> automobile. <strong>The</strong>se<br />

two decades would see <strong>the</strong> proliferation <strong>of</strong> factories build<strong>in</strong>g cars, and on every street corner<br />

gas stations, repair shops, and parts stores. <strong>The</strong> fabric <strong>of</strong> American life was changed forever.<br />

<strong>The</strong> oil <strong>in</strong>dustry itself was transformed by <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>troduction <strong>of</strong> rational, scientific methods for <strong>the</strong><br />

exploration and production <strong>of</strong> oil.<br />

One scene <strong>of</strong> this new day was San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley, which previously had seen impressive new<br />

f<strong>in</strong>ds at McKittrick and Coal<strong>in</strong>ga <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> late 1890s. However, real growth <strong>of</strong> this new oil region<br />

would beg<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Kern River Field <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> first few years after 1900. This fabled field started<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1899, not with a gusher but with a well that produced only 15 barrels a day at <strong>the</strong> pump.<br />

Four years after this <strong>in</strong>auspicious start Kern River was produc<strong>in</strong>g 17 million barrels annually,<br />

nearly as much as <strong>the</strong> entire state <strong>of</strong> Texas. It accounted for 70 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s 24 million<br />

barrels, first place among <strong>the</strong> states that year. Ohio was a distant second at about 20 million.<br />

That first well was drilled by <strong>the</strong> fa<strong>the</strong>r-and-son team <strong>of</strong> Jonathon and James Elwood along<br />

<strong>the</strong> north bank <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Kern River seven miles nor<strong>the</strong>ast <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> town <strong>of</strong> Bakersfield. <strong>The</strong> Elwoods<br />

were attracted by stories <strong>of</strong> oil seeps, slicks on <strong>the</strong> Kern River, and a spr<strong>in</strong>g bubbl<strong>in</strong>g with gas,<br />

which a nearby rancher captured us<strong>in</strong>g a bell-shaped trap. <strong>The</strong> Elwoods first sank a shaft with a<br />

hand auger, f<strong>in</strong>d<strong>in</strong>g an oil sand at 43 feet. <strong>The</strong>y used timber to shore up <strong>the</strong> s<strong>of</strong>t sand <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> shaft,<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


ut when <strong>the</strong>y got to 75 feet fumes stopped<br />

<strong>the</strong>m. Us<strong>in</strong>g a cable tool rig and oil from<br />

<strong>the</strong> shaft as fuel, <strong>the</strong>y drilled a new hole,<br />

complet<strong>in</strong>g it at a depth <strong>of</strong> 260 feet. News <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> discovery spread and almost overnight<br />

about 200 small oil companies with names<br />

like Prosperity, <strong>the</strong> Sovereign and <strong>the</strong><br />

Peerless, Apollo and Aladd<strong>in</strong>, and American<br />

Eagle, were vy<strong>in</strong>g for claims. In an area<br />

twelve miles square, thousands <strong>of</strong> wells<br />

were drilled on small plots <strong>of</strong> land. <strong>The</strong> field<br />

had many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> problems that went with<br />

wells too close toge<strong>the</strong>r and lack <strong>of</strong> plann<strong>in</strong>g<br />

to maximize long-term production <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

whole field.<br />

Before 1909 <strong>the</strong> many small companies<br />

needed an efficient way to transport <strong>the</strong>ir oil<br />

to market. This was supplied by Standard <strong>of</strong><br />

Iowa (soon to be merged <strong>in</strong>to Pacific Coast<br />

Oil to form <strong>the</strong> new Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>),<br />

which built an 8-<strong>in</strong>ch pipel<strong>in</strong>e from <strong>the</strong> oil<br />

field to its new ref<strong>in</strong>ery at Richmond on<br />

San Francisco Bay. This was <strong>the</strong> first major<br />

pipel<strong>in</strong>e west <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Mississippi, and was <strong>of</strong><br />

a new type that could transport <strong>the</strong> heavy<br />

Kern River oil. Heat<strong>in</strong>g and pump<strong>in</strong>g stations<br />

were built close toge<strong>the</strong>r and l<strong>in</strong>ked with<br />

telegraph l<strong>in</strong>es to regulate <strong>the</strong> flow <strong>of</strong> oil.<br />

By this time <strong>the</strong> problems associated with<br />

us<strong>in</strong>g oil <strong>in</strong> steam eng<strong>in</strong>e boilers had mostly<br />

been solved. Much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> low-gravity crude<br />

was used as fuel for steam locomotives. For<br />

$10.60, a hefty sum <strong>in</strong> those days, tourists<br />

and presumably <strong>in</strong>vestors could ride <strong>the</strong><br />

Sou<strong>the</strong>rn Pacific south from San Francisco to<br />

see <strong>the</strong> oil field, with its forest <strong>of</strong> wooden derricks<br />

and cacophony <strong>of</strong> sounds and smells.<br />

Such were <strong>the</strong> enterta<strong>in</strong>ments <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> day for<br />

<strong>the</strong> well-healed residents <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> big city.<br />

As spectacular as Kern River was <strong>in</strong>itially,<br />

a possible game-killer soon reared its head:<br />

saltwater. This problem was particularly<br />

serious <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. Oil sands <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> eastern<br />

U. S. were generally deeper than water sands,<br />

and were separated from <strong>the</strong>m by an impermeable<br />

cap rock. Drillers would set cas<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> cap rock, effectively seal<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> water<br />

sands. Drill<strong>in</strong>g ahead with a<br />

smaller diameter bit, <strong>the</strong>y<br />

would complete <strong>the</strong> well <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> oil sand. Unfortunately<br />

<strong>the</strong> oil sands at Kern River<br />

and elsewhere <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong><br />

are <strong>of</strong>ten lens-like and are<br />

<strong>in</strong>terbedded with water sands,<br />

without an <strong>in</strong>terven<strong>in</strong>g cap<br />

rock. Some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sands are<br />

s<strong>of</strong>t and unconsolidated. If<br />

water got <strong>in</strong>to an oil sand <strong>the</strong><br />

well would quickly “water out”<br />

and become non-commercial.<br />

Top: Standard Oil Company’s ref<strong>in</strong>ery at<br />

Richmond, on San Francisco Bay, 1913.<br />

This is different from <strong>the</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ery built by<br />

PCO at Alameda Po<strong>in</strong>t.<br />


Above: A part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Kern River Field,<br />

1910 operated by American Crude Oil<br />

Company. Many companies had hold<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>of</strong><br />

different sizes <strong>in</strong> this field, and practices<br />

varied widely.<br />


Left: Early days <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley.<br />

<strong>The</strong> first well drilled <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> McKittrick Field<br />

was <strong>in</strong> 1896, but tar pits had been m<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

for decades previously.<br />





Wooden pumpjack near Taft, photographed<br />

<strong>in</strong> about 1977. A relic out <strong>of</strong> its time, <strong>the</strong><br />

pumpjack is shown still rigged up to a well.<br />


In <strong>the</strong> early days <strong>of</strong> wide-open wildcatt<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

poor-to-nonexistent record keep<strong>in</strong>g, and<br />

many small operators, wells were <strong>of</strong>ten completed<br />

haphazardly. One operator could easily<br />

ru<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> adjacent wells <strong>of</strong> ano<strong>the</strong>r. To make<br />

matters worse, abandoned wells were <strong>of</strong>ten<br />

not properly plugged, so that any sands <strong>the</strong>y<br />

penetrated could potentially be flooded with<br />

water. In 1904 production decl<strong>in</strong>ed from<br />

<strong>the</strong> previous high <strong>of</strong> 17 million barrels to<br />

14 million barrels, and many wells along<br />

<strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>rn edge <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field had to be<br />

abandoned. In 1905, Colonel John Carter,<br />

mak<strong>in</strong>g a reconnaissance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field for<br />

Standard Oil, said:<br />

No matter what <strong>the</strong> production…was or<br />

what <strong>the</strong> hopes <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> producer are, death<br />

and destruction surround that field, and it<br />

will only be a year or two at most, when it<br />

will be numbered with last year’s snows and<br />

be forgotten.<br />

Carter conveyed a similar pessimistic<br />

appraisal <strong>of</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r fields <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

What could <strong>the</strong>y do? Various attempts<br />

were made to seal <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> space between <strong>the</strong><br />

cas<strong>in</strong>g shoe and <strong>the</strong> wall <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hole us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

chopped rope, clay, brick chips, and cement.<br />

However, no matter what an operator did,<br />

he was <strong>of</strong>ten at <strong>the</strong> mercy <strong>of</strong> what his neighbor<br />

did. Disputes led to lawsuits and perhaps<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r less “civilized” actions. Gradually operators<br />

came to <strong>the</strong> realization that someth<strong>in</strong>g<br />

general had to be done or most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> petroleum<br />

resources <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> would be forever<br />

lost. <strong>The</strong> first attempt at legislation <strong>in</strong> 1903<br />

failed because it provided no mechanism<br />

by which <strong>the</strong> law could be enforced.<br />

Additional laws passed <strong>in</strong> 1909 and 1911 had<br />

<strong>the</strong> same problem.<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally some operators <strong>the</strong>mselves got<br />

toge<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong> 1912 and formed <strong>the</strong> Kern County<br />

Oil Protective Association for <strong>the</strong> Midway-<br />

Sunset Field. It was largely a repository to<br />

which operators were supposed to furnish<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g records. However, some operators,<br />

<strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Standard Oil, did not jo<strong>in</strong> this<br />

organization. In 1914 <strong>the</strong> Coal<strong>in</strong>ga Water<br />

Arbitration Association was formed with a<br />

certa<strong>in</strong> amount <strong>of</strong> enforcement power over<br />

its members. <strong>The</strong>se two organizations were<br />

<strong>of</strong> course voluntary and local. <strong>The</strong>re was<br />

still no consistent way <strong>of</strong> attack<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> water<br />

<strong>in</strong>filtration problem for all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> many oil<br />

fields <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


<strong>The</strong> State M<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g Bureau, formed <strong>in</strong> 1880,<br />

was ma<strong>in</strong>ly a clear<strong>in</strong>g house for <strong>in</strong>formation<br />

about m<strong>in</strong>eral resources <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> state. In 1914<br />

<strong>the</strong> State M<strong>in</strong>eralogist, Fletcher Hamilton,<br />

decided to make a survey <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> petroleum<br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry. For this job he appo<strong>in</strong>ted Roy<br />

McLaughl<strong>in</strong>, an eng<strong>in</strong>eer who had worked at<br />

<strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g camps <strong>of</strong> Bodie, <strong>California</strong>, and<br />

Manhattan, Nevada, and had been a geologist<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Taft oil region. McLaughl<strong>in</strong>’s survey<br />

found that water <strong>in</strong>filtration had damaged<br />

many oil fields <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

As a result <strong>of</strong> this survey Hamilton proposed<br />

a new statewide agency to ensure<br />

that all operators did everyth<strong>in</strong>g possible to<br />

prevent water <strong>in</strong>filtration. He got <strong>the</strong> support<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> two Associations <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong>,<br />

<strong>the</strong> Independent Oil Producers Agency<br />

(represent<strong>in</strong>g producers at Kern River and<br />

Coal<strong>in</strong>ga), and Fred Hillman, one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

men who spearheaded <strong>the</strong> development <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> newly <strong>in</strong>dependent Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

It appeared that a critical mass <strong>of</strong> medium<br />

and large sized operators had come to <strong>the</strong><br />

op<strong>in</strong>ion that state regulation was needed to<br />

control <strong>the</strong> many operators, some fly-by-night,<br />

who took shortcuts such as not seal<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong>f<br />

abandoned wells.<br />

In early 1915 a bill was passed to “protect<br />

oil sands menaced by water.” This set up<br />

<strong>the</strong> Department <strong>of</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> and Gas with<strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> State M<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g Bureau, <strong>the</strong> forerunner <strong>of</strong><br />

today’s Division <strong>of</strong> Oil, Gas, and Geo<strong>the</strong>rmal<br />

Resources (DOGGR). Hamilton appo<strong>in</strong>ted<br />

McLaughl<strong>in</strong> as <strong>the</strong> first state oil and gas<br />

supervisor. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> first th<strong>in</strong>gs done was<br />

to require operators to keep records <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g operations. <strong>The</strong> Kern County and<br />

Coal<strong>in</strong>ga Associations donated <strong>the</strong>ir records<br />

to start <strong>the</strong> collection. Companies that<br />

planned to drill a well had to file a “Notice<br />

<strong>of</strong> Intent to Drill,” which had <strong>the</strong> well<br />

location, estimated depth <strong>of</strong> water shut-<strong>of</strong>f,<br />

depth <strong>of</strong> oil or gas sands, and o<strong>the</strong>r data.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y also had to keep log books detail<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

work done by each twelve-hour tour <strong>of</strong> a<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g crew, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g depth <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> well,<br />

what formations had been encountered,<br />

whe<strong>the</strong>r oil or gas was present <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> well,<br />

how much cas<strong>in</strong>g was put <strong>in</strong> or taken out,<br />

and more.<br />

All <strong>of</strong> this record-keep<strong>in</strong>g was meant to<br />

provide a “complete record or log <strong>of</strong> each<br />

well, giv<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> detail each and every step<br />

taken <strong>in</strong> its construction and repair, as well<br />

as <strong>the</strong> location and thickness <strong>of</strong> all strata<br />

penetrated so far as can be determ<strong>in</strong>ed.”<br />

Records were also kept <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> production<br />

history <strong>of</strong> oil and water <strong>of</strong> each well and each<br />

field. All <strong>of</strong> this <strong>in</strong>formation is available today<br />

to <strong>the</strong> general public, and is <strong>in</strong>valuable for<br />

eng<strong>in</strong>eers and geologists who are explor<strong>in</strong>g<br />

for new deposits <strong>of</strong> oil.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se well records played a central role<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> development <strong>of</strong> petroleum exploration<br />

<strong>in</strong>to an enterprise that uses <strong>the</strong> scientific<br />

method <strong>in</strong> its endeavors. Each medium and<br />

large operator began keep<strong>in</strong>g copies <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> public data, toge<strong>the</strong>r with its private<br />

<strong>in</strong>formation, <strong>in</strong> a “vault” cover<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> regions<br />

<strong>in</strong> which it operated. Today this <strong>in</strong>formation<br />

is used to help determ<strong>in</strong>e where to drill<br />

<strong>in</strong>-field wells, design cas<strong>in</strong>g programs, well<br />

completions, well stimulation procedures and<br />

more. Geologists (company employees and<br />

<strong>in</strong>dependents) use <strong>the</strong> data to map geologic<br />

structures and estimate depths and locations<br />

<strong>of</strong> potential oil reservoirs adjacent to or near<br />

exist<strong>in</strong>g fields. Any clues, such as a change <strong>in</strong><br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g rate or density <strong>of</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g mud, or use<br />

<strong>of</strong> a new type <strong>of</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g bit, can be mean<strong>in</strong>gful<br />

to an experienced geologist or eng<strong>in</strong>eer. Over<br />

<strong>the</strong> years oil seekers have supplemented<br />

DOGGR records <strong>in</strong> various ways, such as<br />

do<strong>in</strong>g geophysical surveys or send<strong>in</strong>g someone<br />

to observe oil field operations. Scouts<br />

have estimated how deep a competitor is<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g by us<strong>in</strong>g b<strong>in</strong>oculars to count <strong>the</strong><br />

number <strong>of</strong> stands <strong>of</strong> pipe when a driller is<br />

“tripp<strong>in</strong>g out.” Any available clue is potentially<br />

useful, especially today <strong>in</strong> a state where<br />

most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> obvious pools <strong>of</strong> oil have already<br />

been found. DOGGR is currently <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

process <strong>of</strong> upload<strong>in</strong>g all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir old files<br />

onl<strong>in</strong>e for public use through <strong>the</strong>ir webpage.<br />

In addition to record keep<strong>in</strong>g, <strong>the</strong><br />

Department <strong>of</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> and Gas had<br />

enforcement power to require operators to<br />

follow procedures to shut <strong>of</strong>f water, and to<br />

repair a well that was damaged. Such orders<br />

could be reviewed at <strong>the</strong> request <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> operator<br />

by a board composed <strong>of</strong> fellow operators.<br />




Large companies like Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>, Shell, Associated<br />

(affiliated with Sou<strong>the</strong>rn Pacific Railroad) and Union are prom<strong>in</strong>ent<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> annals <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> oil, but small <strong>in</strong>dependent companies<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir thousands have collectively made as big a contribution as<br />

any major company. This is especially true for many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> early,<br />

shallow-production fields such as Los Angeles City and Kern River.<br />

Independents participated <strong>in</strong> many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>novations, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

methods <strong>of</strong> controll<strong>in</strong>g water <strong>in</strong>trusion <strong>in</strong> wells. We shall see <strong>in</strong><br />

later chapters how <strong>in</strong>dependents have recently become <strong>the</strong> major<br />

players <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, gett<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> most out <strong>of</strong> mature fields with<br />

new technology.<br />

Independents have been able to form associations to <strong>in</strong>crease<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir <strong>in</strong>fluence on <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry. One such comb<strong>in</strong>ation, <strong>the</strong><br />

Independent Oil Producers Agency, was formed <strong>in</strong> 1904 at Kern<br />

River, largely as a result <strong>of</strong> a very low price <strong>of</strong> 11 2/3 cents per<br />

barrel <strong>of</strong>fered by Pacific Coast Oil Company (<strong>the</strong>n controlled by<br />

<strong>the</strong> Standard trust). Orig<strong>in</strong>ally consist<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> n<strong>in</strong>eteen operators,<br />

<strong>the</strong> Independent Oil Producers Agency represented a significant<br />

portion <strong>of</strong> Kern River production. <strong>The</strong> agency leased <strong>the</strong> members’<br />

land and gave <strong>the</strong>m licenses to operate <strong>the</strong>ir hold<strong>in</strong>gs. <strong>The</strong><br />

Agency had <strong>the</strong> right to sell <strong>the</strong> oil and thus had considerably<br />

more negotiat<strong>in</strong>g power than any <strong>in</strong>dividual company. In 1907<br />

<strong>the</strong> Coal<strong>in</strong>ga Oil Producers Agency was formed by heavy oil<br />

producers <strong>in</strong> that field. In 1910 <strong>the</strong>se two agencies merged.<br />

Low oil prices plagued <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dependents <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early years <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> century. <strong>The</strong> high production at Kern River and o<strong>the</strong>r fields<br />

was a major factor. Two major buyers were Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong><br />

and Associated. Many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dependents thought that <strong>the</strong>se<br />

two colluded to keep prices low. By 1909 <strong>the</strong> two agencies<br />

accounted for more than 10 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s production,<br />

accord<strong>in</strong>g to contemporary estimates. Suddenly <strong>in</strong> May <strong>of</strong> that<br />

year <strong>the</strong> agencies made an agreement with Union to build a<br />

pipel<strong>in</strong>e from San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley to <strong>the</strong> coast so that <strong>the</strong>y<br />

would not have to use Standard’s pipel<strong>in</strong>e. Of this comb<strong>in</strong>ation<br />

<strong>California</strong> Oil World said “For <strong>the</strong> first time <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> history <strong>of</strong> oil <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> West <strong>the</strong>re is an absolutely dom<strong>in</strong>ant hand at <strong>the</strong> head <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> bus<strong>in</strong>ess.” Although this is an overstatement, it has a r<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong><br />

truth. <strong>The</strong> comb<strong>in</strong>e was shortly to be jo<strong>in</strong>ed by Associated. By<br />

1919 <strong>the</strong> Independent Oil Producers Agency was responsible for<br />

8.8 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s production. Union and Associated<br />

each had almost <strong>the</strong> same production, for a total <strong>of</strong> 26.5 percent,<br />

surpass<strong>in</strong>g that <strong>of</strong> Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>. Clearly, Standard <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> had to reth<strong>in</strong>k its policy <strong>of</strong> buy<strong>in</strong>g most <strong>of</strong> its crude<br />

from o<strong>the</strong>r producers. With a free hand s<strong>in</strong>ce it had been released<br />

from its ties to <strong>the</strong> Standard Rockefeller trust <strong>in</strong> 1911, Standard<br />

developed its own exploration program and went on to become<br />

<strong>the</strong> giant we know today as Chevron.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>in</strong>dependents went on to endure many ups<br />

and downs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong>dustry. Competition with majors cont<strong>in</strong>ued,<br />

as it does today. Nearly all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> production at Kern River<br />

was eventually taken over by Chevron; somewhat ironically, <strong>the</strong><br />

actions <strong>of</strong> those <strong>in</strong>dependents streng<strong>the</strong>ned Chevron immeasurably.<br />

Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> small, early companies are forgotten, but some still<br />

exist after a century or more. Younger <strong>in</strong>dependents have jo<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

<strong>the</strong>m to create <strong>the</strong> dynamic <strong>California</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>of</strong> today, as we<br />

shall see <strong>in</strong> Chapter 5.<br />

If necessary law courts could be called on<br />

to enforce orders. Companies were required<br />

to follow procedures when abandon<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

well so that water could not travel through<br />

<strong>the</strong> well bore to a productive sand. <strong>The</strong><br />

department <strong>in</strong>itially had an annual budget<br />

<strong>of</strong> $45,000, out <strong>of</strong> which McLaughl<strong>in</strong><br />

hired four assistants who were assigned to<br />

different geographic areas. <strong>The</strong>y had to<br />

regulate an <strong>in</strong>dustry that had some 7,000<br />

produc<strong>in</strong>g wells, almost 81,000 acres <strong>of</strong><br />

proved oil land, 2,000 miles <strong>of</strong> pipel<strong>in</strong>es, 30<br />

ref<strong>in</strong>eries, and about 40 tanker ships. It was<br />

a Herculean task. Gradually a modus operandi<br />

developed <strong>in</strong> which operators cooperated to<br />

make <strong>the</strong> system work, because it was <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry’s <strong>in</strong>terest. An important reason<br />

why this government regulation has worked<br />

is that it was devised over time with <strong>the</strong><br />

participation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry be<strong>in</strong>g regulated,<br />

ra<strong>the</strong>r than be<strong>in</strong>g imposed “top down”<br />

without <strong>the</strong> expertise <strong>of</strong> those operat<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> fields.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Kern River Field went on to produce<br />

about 2 billion barrels as <strong>of</strong> 2007, third <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> after Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton and Midway-<br />

Sunset, and fifth <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> U.S. <strong>The</strong> field now<br />

has about 9,000 wells <strong>in</strong> an area <strong>of</strong> 17 square<br />

miles. Rema<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g reserves are probably<br />

around 500 million barrels and annual<br />

production was about 26 million <strong>in</strong> 2012.<br />

<strong>The</strong> early small companies were eventually<br />

consolidated so that only a few operators<br />

such as Tidewater, Getty, and Texaco were left.<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally <strong>the</strong>se were for <strong>the</strong> most part bought<br />

out by Chevron, whose ancestor had built<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


that orig<strong>in</strong>al 8-<strong>in</strong>ch pipel<strong>in</strong>e. This made it<br />

possible to operate <strong>the</strong> field <strong>in</strong> a consistent,<br />

rational manner, us<strong>in</strong>g all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> log and o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

data to design ways to maximize production.<br />



More discoveries were made <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> first<br />

years <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> new century, and Kern River <strong>in</strong><br />

its turn was eclipsed. Drill<strong>in</strong>g near seeps<br />

was still common. However, geological ideas<br />

about anticl<strong>in</strong>es and faults <strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>gly<br />

became prime considerations <strong>in</strong> explor<strong>in</strong>g for<br />

oil. At first this meant look<strong>in</strong>g for outcrops<br />

and surface expressions such as l<strong>in</strong>es <strong>of</strong> low<br />

hills. Companies varied <strong>in</strong> how much trust<br />

<strong>the</strong>y placed <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> new ideas. Geologists with<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir fancy degrees from Stanford or Berkeley<br />

<strong>of</strong>ten met resistance from hard-scrabble oil<br />

men who with <strong>the</strong>ir years <strong>of</strong> experience<br />

thought <strong>the</strong>y could better manage a well<br />

without <strong>in</strong>terference. Progress was slow but it<br />

was sure.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Santa Maria Field near <strong>the</strong> present-day<br />

town <strong>of</strong> Orcutt <strong>in</strong> nor<strong>the</strong>rn Santa Barbara<br />

County was opened by Western Union Oil<br />

Company, part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Shell comb<strong>in</strong>e, <strong>in</strong> 1902.<br />

Map <strong>of</strong> present-day oil and gas fields.<br />

San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley is <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> center-right<br />

portion <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> map. Also shown are fields<br />

near Santa Maria (Orcutt Hill), Cuyama,<br />

Sal<strong>in</strong>as Valley, and <strong>of</strong>fshore Santa Maria<br />

and Santa Barbara, all <strong>of</strong> which are<br />

discussed <strong>in</strong> follow<strong>in</strong>g pages. Oil fields<br />

are grey, gas fields are black. Present-day<br />

major highways are shown as grey l<strong>in</strong>es.<br />



Above: Members <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Hartnell family<br />

look<strong>in</strong>g at <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> “Old Maud” sumps.<br />

<strong>The</strong>ir faces suggest differ<strong>in</strong>g op<strong>in</strong>ions about<br />

what <strong>the</strong>y are see<strong>in</strong>g.<br />


Right: “Old Maud” (Hartnell No. 1),<br />

12,000 barrel a day gusher, 1904.<br />


Below: Sumps, or lakes <strong>of</strong> oil from<br />

“Old Maud.”<br />


This drill<strong>in</strong>g was based on outcrops <strong>of</strong><br />

“asphaltum” on canyon walls. O<strong>the</strong>r prom<strong>in</strong>ent<br />

operators <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> area were P<strong>in</strong>al and<br />

Dome Oil Companies, both owned by J. F.<br />

Goodw<strong>in</strong> and his partners. Union Oil, with<br />

new ideas and an aggressive leas<strong>in</strong>g policy,<br />

would prove to be a major player. After send<strong>in</strong>g<br />

its geologist, W. W. Orcutt, to survey <strong>the</strong><br />

area, Lyman Stewart leased almost 70,000<br />

acres. Strik<strong>in</strong>g oil only three days before <strong>the</strong><br />

leases expired, Union went on to drill 38<br />

wells. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> most famous <strong>of</strong> all oil wells,<br />

“Old Maud,” blew <strong>in</strong> at 12,000 barrels a day<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1904. It took three months to get <strong>the</strong> well<br />

under control. Water was a serious problem<br />

at Santa Maria, as elsewhere <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

Union’s Drill<strong>in</strong>g Super<strong>in</strong>tendent Frank Hill<br />

came up with a bailer that had holes to allow<br />

cement to flow out <strong>of</strong> it and outside <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

cas<strong>in</strong>g, seal<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> well from higher water<br />

sands. This was one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> first down-hole<br />

cement<strong>in</strong>g jobs attempted.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Above: Excavation <strong>of</strong> La Brea Tar Pits<br />

for fossils, by Orcutt and o<strong>the</strong>rs, about<br />

1900-1915. Oil derricks are visible just<br />

north <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tar pits. Bones up to 38,000<br />

years old have been found. <strong>The</strong> modern<br />

day tar lake (left), complete with concrete<br />

models <strong>of</strong> trapped mammoths, was once<br />

an asphalt m<strong>in</strong>e. Hancock Park is now<br />

surrounded by densely populated city,<br />

and no signs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> early oil field rema<strong>in</strong>.<br />

<strong>The</strong> George C. Page Museum, at <strong>the</strong> park,<br />

has a million fossils from <strong>the</strong> pits, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

mammoths, saber tooth cats, bisons, camels,<br />

and more.<br />



Below: W. W. Orcutt, Union Oil’s geologist.<br />



<strong>The</strong> town <strong>of</strong> Orcutt, named after <strong>the</strong> company<br />

geologist for <strong>the</strong> many oil discoveries<br />

credited to him, was a company town built<br />

to house <strong>the</strong> many workers needed for this<br />

successful oil field. Orcutt was considered<br />

<strong>the</strong> “dean” <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> petroleum geologists.<br />

He established a petroleum geology department<br />

at Union and used surface geology<br />

to explore successfully for petroleum. He<br />

pioneered <strong>the</strong> use <strong>of</strong> aerial photography<br />

(from rickety early biplanes) to record<br />

surface geology. He made use <strong>of</strong> oil seeps,<br />

but he <strong>in</strong>corporated this <strong>in</strong>formation <strong>in</strong>to<br />

his geologic mapp<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> potential oil-produc<strong>in</strong>g<br />

formations, ra<strong>the</strong>r than bl<strong>in</strong>dly drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

any location merely because it was near<br />

a seep<br />



Top: Go<strong>in</strong>g up Hartnell grade, Santa Maria<br />

Bas<strong>in</strong>, haul<strong>in</strong>g equipment for a gas plant<br />

with seven horses, five mules and a steam<br />

traction eng<strong>in</strong>e.<br />


Middle: P<strong>in</strong>al No. 26, Orcutt Hill, Santa<br />

Maria Bas<strong>in</strong>. Early <strong>in</strong>ternal combustion<br />

eng<strong>in</strong>e, with flywheels sp<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g, is driv<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> belt that goes <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> shed at right.<br />


Bottom: Work<strong>in</strong>g on tools, P<strong>in</strong>al No. 26<br />

well. A heavy cable tool is rest<strong>in</strong>g on <strong>the</strong><br />

anvil. <strong>The</strong> tool dresser had to ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong> and<br />

repair <strong>the</strong>se tools us<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> forge <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> shed<br />

next to a well.<br />


BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Orcutt was a remote place <strong>in</strong> those days.<br />

As at Pico Canyon and many o<strong>the</strong>r oil fields,<br />

workers and <strong>the</strong>ir families lived close to <strong>the</strong><br />

oil wells. Transportation was difficult, and<br />

<strong>the</strong> necessities <strong>of</strong> life had to be brought to<br />

<strong>the</strong> people who lived <strong>the</strong>re. <strong>The</strong> hilly terra<strong>in</strong><br />

made it difficult to br<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> heavy equipment<br />

needed. Draft animals and steam<br />

eng<strong>in</strong>es were sometimes comb<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

to do <strong>the</strong> job. Electrical power was<br />

<strong>of</strong>ten lack<strong>in</strong>g, and steam eng<strong>in</strong>es<br />

or early “hit-and-miss” <strong>in</strong>ternal<br />

combustion eng<strong>in</strong>es were used to<br />

generate electricity or directly supply<br />

motive power. <strong>Black</strong>smiths and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r skilled artisans had to improvise<br />

solutions to problems, usually<br />

“lost tools,” as <strong>the</strong>y arose. In spite <strong>of</strong><br />

remoteness <strong>the</strong> companies and <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

workers were able to build an <strong>in</strong>frastructure<br />

that <strong>in</strong>cluded not only<br />

oil wells, but pipel<strong>in</strong>es, process<strong>in</strong>g<br />

facilities such as gas plants, tankage,<br />

and transport term<strong>in</strong>als.<br />

Back <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley, production<br />

at Oil City was <strong>in</strong> decl<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong><br />

1900 after just a few years. <strong>The</strong>n <strong>in</strong><br />

1901 <strong>the</strong> Coal<strong>in</strong>ga West pool was<br />

brought <strong>in</strong>. <strong>The</strong> Coal<strong>in</strong>ga East pool<br />

followed about a year later. In 1909<br />

<strong>the</strong> Silvertip gusher blew <strong>in</strong>, produc<strong>in</strong>g<br />

102,000 barrels <strong>in</strong> a month. <strong>The</strong> Los Angeles<br />

Stock Exchange was closed for a day so that<br />

its traders could go to Coal<strong>in</strong>ga and witness<br />

<strong>the</strong> gusher for <strong>the</strong>mselves. A pipel<strong>in</strong>e was<br />

built 110 miles west to Monterey on <strong>the</strong><br />

coast, and a branch was built to <strong>the</strong> Standard<br />

Oil Kern River—Richmond pipel<strong>in</strong>e.<br />

Above: Brookshire Lease, Rice Ranch Oil<br />

Company. A truck from Orcutt Mercantile<br />

is deliver<strong>in</strong>g supplies.<br />


Below: Life on Orcutt Hill, 1908.<br />




Top: P<strong>in</strong>al Gas plant, 1916.<br />


Middle: Interior <strong>of</strong> P<strong>in</strong>al Gas plant, 1916.<br />


Bottom: Internal combustion eng<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> rear<br />

is driv<strong>in</strong>g a generator <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> foreground,<br />

P<strong>in</strong>al Gas plant, 1916.<br />


BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


<strong>The</strong> town <strong>of</strong> Coal<strong>in</strong>ga boomed. Although<br />

<strong>the</strong> nearest railroad depot was twenty miles<br />

away, people got <strong>the</strong>re somehow. <strong>The</strong> swell<strong>in</strong>g<br />

town had a roughneck district, with “Whiskey<br />

Row” at <strong>the</strong> center. <strong>The</strong> streets were mud, and<br />

conveniences like baths were rare and expensive<br />

(for <strong>the</strong> second person us<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> bathwater<br />

it was cheaper). Gambl<strong>in</strong>g could be had<br />

anywhere. In 1913 much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> production <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> area was purchased by Shell, giv<strong>in</strong>g that<br />

company a significant foothold <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

Shell built a company town called Oilfields<br />

near Coal<strong>in</strong>ga. Almost a billion barrels have<br />

been produced at Coal<strong>in</strong>ga, and rema<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g<br />

reserves are about 60 million. Coal<strong>in</strong>ga, like<br />

several o<strong>the</strong>r fields along <strong>the</strong> western marg<strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>of</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley, is <strong>in</strong> an anticl<strong>in</strong>e that<br />

has surface expression as a low, elongated hill.<br />

In 1889 preparations were made to drill near<br />

some tar seeps <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> vic<strong>in</strong>ity <strong>of</strong> present-day<br />

Maricopa, southwest <strong>of</strong> Bakersfield. This would<br />

ultimately be recognized as ano<strong>the</strong>r anticl<strong>in</strong>e,<br />

and <strong>the</strong> field would be named Midway-<br />

Sunset. Drill<strong>in</strong>g activity cont<strong>in</strong>ued at a slow<br />

pace through <strong>the</strong> 1890s and early 1900s. A<br />

small ref<strong>in</strong>ery was built at Maricopa. Daily<br />

production was less than a few thousand<br />

barrels until 1908. Oil field workers and<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir families lived among <strong>the</strong> derricks <strong>in</strong><br />

towns like Taft and Sunset. Higher oil prices<br />

stimulated drill<strong>in</strong>g, and daily production rose<br />

to almost 150,000 barrels <strong>in</strong> 1914. Eventually,<br />

22 <strong>in</strong>dividual oil reservoirs were found <strong>in</strong><br />

six formations <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 30 square mile area <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> field. Discoveries were still be<strong>in</strong>g made <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> 1980s. By 2008 <strong>the</strong> field had more than<br />

Above: Auto race through <strong>the</strong> streets <strong>of</strong><br />

Oilfield on Wash<strong>in</strong>gton’s Birthday, 1912.<br />



Left: “Derrick Blvd.” at Coal<strong>in</strong>ga, an<br />

example <strong>of</strong> evenly spaced wells, a more<br />

efficient way <strong>of</strong> develop<strong>in</strong>g a field than <strong>the</strong><br />

chaotic town lot drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> several <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

early fields.<br />


Below: Monarch Maricopa Ref<strong>in</strong>ery,<br />

Midway-Sunset Oil Field, 1907.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Temblor Range is <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> background.<br />





Above: <strong>The</strong> town <strong>of</strong> Taft sprang up <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> midst <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Midway-Sunset Field.<br />

This panoramic photograph, with residents<br />

(and possibly as many horses and mules)<br />

assembled, was taken <strong>in</strong> 1910.<br />


Right: School <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil field at Sunset, 1902.<br />



Below: Box<strong>in</strong>g match at Taft, 1913.<br />

This was typical <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> enterta<strong>in</strong>ment <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

oil towns.<br />



BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


11,000 produc<strong>in</strong>g wells. Estimated reserves<br />

have risen over <strong>the</strong> years with discovery <strong>of</strong><br />

new pools and use <strong>of</strong> new methods <strong>of</strong><br />

enhanced oil recovery, such as steamflood<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Midway-Sunset has produced more oil than<br />

any o<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, hav<strong>in</strong>g reached 3<br />

billion barrels by 2006, three times <strong>the</strong> total<br />

reserves estimated <strong>in</strong> 1930.<br />

Probably <strong>the</strong> most spectacular gusher <strong>in</strong><br />

U.S. history occurred at Midway-Sunset <strong>in</strong><br />

1910-1911. <strong>The</strong> famous Lake View gusher<br />

flowed out <strong>of</strong> control for 18 months and<br />

produced 9 million barrels <strong>of</strong> oil. This well<br />

had been spudded by <strong>the</strong> small Lake View Oil<br />

Company. Supposedly Julius Fried, a grocer<br />

who wanted to have an oil well, had located<br />

<strong>the</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g site by look<strong>in</strong>g for a patch <strong>of</strong> red<br />

grass <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> late summer. Whe<strong>the</strong>r or not this is<br />

true, Fried leased <strong>the</strong> land. Lack<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> capital<br />

to drill <strong>the</strong> well, he teamed up with Charles Off<br />

to form <strong>the</strong> Lake View Oil Company. Us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

second-hand tools <strong>the</strong>y managed to get down<br />

to 1,340 feet, where <strong>the</strong>re was a show <strong>of</strong> gas.<br />

<strong>The</strong>n <strong>the</strong>y ran out <strong>of</strong> money.<br />

Below: Charles Off, fac<strong>in</strong>g camera, stak<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g location for <strong>the</strong> well that would<br />

become <strong>the</strong> Lake View gusher.<br />





Off and Fried made a deal with a much<br />

larger company that controlled a neighbor<strong>in</strong>g<br />

piece <strong>of</strong> land. This was Union Oil, which<br />

seems to have a piece <strong>of</strong> many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> big<br />

stories <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> oil. Union wanted<br />

Lake View’s land for a tank farm, not to drill<br />

for oil. <strong>The</strong> deal gave Union 51 percent <strong>of</strong><br />

Lake View’s stock <strong>in</strong> exchange for drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

well when <strong>the</strong>ir crews were not busy drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir own wells. Union put one <strong>of</strong> its drillers,<br />

Charles Woods, whose unfortunate nickname<br />

was “Dry Hole Charlie,” on <strong>the</strong> job. Charlie<br />

had more than a dozen dry holes for Union,<br />

but when he hit one, he really hit it. <strong>The</strong> well<br />

gushed 125,000 barrels <strong>the</strong> first day. This<br />

was more than <strong>the</strong> whole rest <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field<br />

Top: In <strong>the</strong> early days gushers were signs <strong>of</strong><br />

success (not mistakes) and were great draws<br />

for spectators. Here, <strong>the</strong> San Francisco<br />

Stock Exchange is visit<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> Lake View<br />

gusher <strong>in</strong> its dy<strong>in</strong>g days. <strong>The</strong>y brought <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

flag and carefully posed for <strong>the</strong> occasion.<br />

Hopefully <strong>the</strong>y did not get those white shirts<br />

and coats dirty.<br />


Above: Stock certificate for Grace M. Off,<br />

dated <strong>in</strong> 1916. This was six years after <strong>the</strong><br />

Lake View gusher, when <strong>the</strong> company was<br />

controlled by Union Oil. Union’s geologist,<br />

W. W. Orcutt signed <strong>the</strong> certificate as<br />

president <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> company.<br />


Right: Crater left by <strong>the</strong> Lake View gusher. A<br />

small amount <strong>of</strong> oil is still com<strong>in</strong>g out. Men<br />

work<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> crater are soaked with oil.<br />



BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


produced. A month later it was still mak<strong>in</strong>g<br />

90,000 a day. <strong>The</strong>y had to build ear<strong>the</strong>n levees<br />

to conta<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> flow. As it turned out less than<br />

half <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil was saved. As for Dry Hole,<br />

he went on to drill ano<strong>the</strong>r dozen dusters.<br />

Although <strong>the</strong>se great gushers and <strong>the</strong> oil<br />

fields <strong>the</strong>y bir<strong>the</strong>d were <strong>of</strong>ten discovered as<br />

<strong>the</strong> result <strong>of</strong> seeps, or perhaps ideas about red<br />

grass, <strong>the</strong>y became <strong>the</strong> prov<strong>in</strong>g grounds for<br />

solid geological pr<strong>in</strong>ciples that would make<br />

for still greater discoveries. Data from well<br />

logs and records housed at <strong>the</strong> Department<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> and Gas made it possible to<br />

map <strong>the</strong> anticl<strong>in</strong>es <strong>in</strong> west San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley.<br />

<strong>The</strong> anticl<strong>in</strong>es are more or less parallel to <strong>the</strong><br />

San Andreas Fault, which runs just to <strong>the</strong> west,<br />

close to <strong>the</strong> boundary between <strong>the</strong> Valley<br />

and <strong>the</strong> Coast Ranges. <strong>The</strong> association <strong>of</strong><br />

anticl<strong>in</strong>es with a fault is someth<strong>in</strong>g that has<br />

been repeated time and aga<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

That <strong>the</strong> movement <strong>of</strong> a fault can cause fold<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> crust <strong>in</strong>to an anticl<strong>in</strong>al oil trap is<br />

a scientific explanation that can lead to very<br />

sophisticated ways <strong>of</strong> look<strong>in</strong>g for oil. For<br />

example, knowledge <strong>of</strong> when <strong>in</strong> geologic time<br />

a fault moved can imply when an oil trap<br />

formed, and whe<strong>the</strong>r oil was available at that<br />

time to migrate <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> trap.<br />

Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong> was to become <strong>the</strong> stage<br />

where <strong>the</strong> new ideas succeeded spectacularly.<br />

Two <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> largest pre-1900 discoveries <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

bas<strong>in</strong>, <strong>the</strong> Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da and Whittier Fields,<br />

are <strong>in</strong> a range <strong>of</strong> prom<strong>in</strong>ent hills. Although<br />

<strong>the</strong>se fields had been discovered by drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

near seeps, development <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> fields revealed<br />

that <strong>the</strong>y were conta<strong>in</strong>ed <strong>in</strong> an anticl<strong>in</strong>e that<br />

ran along <strong>the</strong> range <strong>of</strong> hills. Ano<strong>the</strong>r range<br />

with smaller hills, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Coyote Hills, lay<br />

to <strong>the</strong> southwest <strong>of</strong> and parallel to <strong>the</strong> larger<br />

range. Several more fields were discovered<br />

Below: Oil fields <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong><br />

discovered between 1900 and 1919<br />

(labeled). Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se fields are <strong>in</strong> a range<br />

<strong>of</strong> low hills parallel to and about five miles<br />

southwest <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> range where <strong>the</strong> earlier<br />

discoveries were made.<br />



Right: Santa Fe Spr<strong>in</strong>gs Field <strong>in</strong> 1929.<br />



Below: Beverly Hills Field, discovered by<br />

W. W. Orcutt <strong>in</strong> 1900 by drill<strong>in</strong>g on a<br />

slight ridge or spur extend<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong><br />

Santa Monica Mounta<strong>in</strong>s to <strong>the</strong> north.<br />

<strong>The</strong> La Brea Tar Pits are located about a<br />

mile to <strong>the</strong> west. This view is look<strong>in</strong>g west<br />

from Highland Avenue just south <strong>of</strong> Sixth<br />

Street. Unlike <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City Field,<br />

this area was mostly rural at <strong>the</strong> time.<br />

Wells cont<strong>in</strong>ued to be drilled <strong>in</strong> this field,<br />

right up to <strong>the</strong> present, as <strong>the</strong> city grew up<br />

over it.<br />



<strong>the</strong>re between 1900 and 1919 us<strong>in</strong>g geological<br />

ideas about anticl<strong>in</strong>es ra<strong>the</strong>r than simply<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g near seeps. <strong>The</strong> West Coyote Field<br />

was discovered <strong>in</strong> 1909 by drill<strong>in</strong>g on a<br />

broad, 300-foot high hill. Geologist William<br />

Plotts <strong>of</strong> Murphy Oil predicted oil would<br />

be <strong>the</strong>re, perhaps because a local water well<br />

had a show <strong>of</strong> oil, but <strong>the</strong> anticl<strong>in</strong>e idea<br />

<strong>in</strong>spired drill<strong>in</strong>g on <strong>the</strong> hill.<br />

Early development at West Coyote<br />

revealed <strong>the</strong> outl<strong>in</strong>e <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> anticl<strong>in</strong>e, which<br />

led to <strong>the</strong> discovery <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r fields <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> trend. First came East Coyote <strong>in</strong> 1909.<br />

Next were Richfield and <strong>the</strong> giant Santa Fe<br />

Spr<strong>in</strong>gs Field, <strong>the</strong> latter six miles to <strong>the</strong><br />

northwest <strong>of</strong> West Coyote. Santa Fe Spr<strong>in</strong>gs<br />

was <strong>in</strong> a seem<strong>in</strong>gly flat area. Never<strong>the</strong>less it is<br />

said that J. Paul Getty’s fa<strong>the</strong>r George F.<br />

noticed a freight tra<strong>in</strong> stra<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g as it traveled<br />

<strong>the</strong> apparently flat land, <strong>the</strong>n suddenly beg<strong>in</strong><br />

to speed up even as it ceased to labor, <strong>in</strong>dicat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

it had reached <strong>the</strong> top <strong>of</strong> an almost<br />

imperceptible hill. <strong>The</strong> Gettys leased four<br />

small lots and proceeded to drill <strong>the</strong><br />

Nordstrom No. 1, which was a 2,300 barrel<br />

a day producer. Although this was not <strong>the</strong><br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


field’s discovery well it highlighted <strong>the</strong><br />

importance <strong>of</strong> geologic structures that sometimes<br />

show <strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong>utest possible surface<br />

manifestations. Ano<strong>the</strong>r discovery was <strong>the</strong><br />

Montebello Field <strong>in</strong> 1917, which was on <strong>the</strong><br />

Whittier-Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da trend. <strong>The</strong>se fields,<br />

with <strong>the</strong>ir anticl<strong>in</strong>es and surface expressions,<br />

spurred wildcatters to look for similar surface<br />

structural expressions without reference to<br />

seeps, lead<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early 1920s to a quick<br />

succession <strong>of</strong> discoveries on yet ano<strong>the</strong>r<br />

trend that added more than 3 billion barrels<br />

<strong>of</strong> oil to <strong>California</strong>’s reserves.<br />


Until after 1920 virtually all wells <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> were drilled us<strong>in</strong>g cable tools. In<br />

this method a heavy bit was suspended on<br />

a rope (usually hemp <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early, shallow<br />

wells and wire rope for deeper wells) that<br />

was raised and lowered, caus<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> bit to<br />

repeatedly pound at <strong>the</strong> bottom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hole.<br />

Periodically <strong>the</strong> bit was removed and a bailer,<br />

a long, heavy pipe, was sent to <strong>the</strong> bottom to<br />

remove <strong>the</strong> cutt<strong>in</strong>gs and o<strong>the</strong>r debris from <strong>the</strong><br />

hole. <strong>The</strong> bailer had a door on <strong>the</strong> lower end<br />

Below: Cable tool drill<strong>in</strong>g rig.<br />

A steam eng<strong>in</strong>e provided power to <strong>the</strong> band<br />

wheel via a belt. <strong>The</strong> band wheel caused <strong>the</strong><br />

walk<strong>in</strong>g beam to rock up and down on <strong>the</strong><br />

appropriately named Samson post. This<br />

imparted <strong>the</strong> up and down strokes to <strong>the</strong><br />

drill str<strong>in</strong>g.<br />




BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Opposite, clockwise start<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong> top:<br />

Hopper hoist mounted on a Caterpillar<br />

tractor be<strong>in</strong>g used to run cable down a hole.<br />



A driller and his tooly work<strong>in</strong>g on a cable<br />

tool rig. <strong>The</strong> cable is shown clamped <strong>in</strong><br />

place leav<strong>in</strong>g slack so that it can be moved<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> up and down strokes.<br />



A steam boiler, typical <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> type used to<br />

supply power for drill<strong>in</strong>g rigs.<br />



Left: Men atop a derrick <strong>in</strong> 1916.<br />





Right: Cable tools. Bits were shaped like a<br />

chisel or <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> a fish’s tail. Jars were<br />

jo<strong>in</strong>ts <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> upper part could be lifted<br />

up to thirteen <strong>in</strong>ches without lift<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

lower part; this was used to cause a sudden,<br />

sharp blow on <strong>the</strong> upstroke to dislodge a<br />

stuck set <strong>of</strong> tools. <strong>The</strong> auger stem was a<br />

very heavy bar, thirty feet long and<br />

weigh<strong>in</strong>g half a ton. This weight provided<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>ertia for <strong>the</strong> downstroke <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> bit.<br />

A spear was just one <strong>of</strong> hundreds <strong>of</strong> tools<br />

for “fish<strong>in</strong>g,” <strong>the</strong> process <strong>of</strong> recover<strong>in</strong>g tools,<br />

cas<strong>in</strong>g, or o<strong>the</strong>r objects that dropped or were<br />

stuck <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> hole. Fish<strong>in</strong>g tools were <strong>of</strong>ten<br />

improvised by <strong>the</strong> crew to solve a particular<br />

problem. Successful fish<strong>in</strong>g tools, with<br />

names like alligator grab, collar grab and<br />

rope knife, made it <strong>in</strong>to supply catalogues.<br />


Opposite, top: Rotary rig. <strong>The</strong> drive cha<strong>in</strong>,<br />

gear set and rotary table can be seen.<br />

This rig seems to be coated with mud.<br />



Opposite, bottom: Base <strong>of</strong> a wooden derrick<br />

with its crew. <strong>The</strong> massive block is visible.<br />

O<strong>the</strong>r derricks, two beh<strong>in</strong>d and one to <strong>the</strong><br />

left, are quite nearby, <strong>in</strong>dicat<strong>in</strong>g that this<br />

is probably town lot drill<strong>in</strong>g. <strong>The</strong> men are<br />

paus<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong>ir hard labor, with gloves<br />

<strong>in</strong> hand and tools close by, to pose for this<br />

picture. Presumably <strong>the</strong> slighter-built man<br />

at left <strong>in</strong> cleaner cloth<strong>in</strong>g is <strong>the</strong> boss.<br />

Shifts, or “tours” <strong>in</strong> those days lasted for<br />

twelve hours <strong>of</strong> relentless, dangerous work.<br />

No hard hats back <strong>the</strong>n. <strong>The</strong>se n<strong>in</strong>e men<br />

represent <strong>the</strong> backbone <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> petroleum<br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry. Without <strong>the</strong>m it would be noth<strong>in</strong>g.<br />


that would open to accept <strong>the</strong> cutt<strong>in</strong>gs, and<br />

<strong>the</strong>n close as <strong>the</strong> bailer was pulled back up.<br />

<strong>The</strong> wooden derricks were about 50 feet high,<br />

and power was usually provided by a steam<br />

eng<strong>in</strong>e. A small crew <strong>of</strong> only two was needed,<br />

<strong>the</strong> driller and a tool dresser. <strong>The</strong> tool dresser<br />

kept <strong>the</strong> bits and o<strong>the</strong>r equipment <strong>in</strong> repair<br />

us<strong>in</strong>g a forge next to <strong>the</strong> derrick. Tool dressers<br />

were expert blacksmiths, and were <strong>of</strong>ten<br />

<strong>in</strong>genious <strong>in</strong>ventors <strong>of</strong> whatever tools were<br />

needed <strong>in</strong> any situation, such as “fish<strong>in</strong>g” out<br />

a stuck drill str<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong> hole.<br />

Rotary drill<strong>in</strong>g is a much more complex<br />

operation than cable tool drill<strong>in</strong>g, although <strong>in</strong><br />

pr<strong>in</strong>ciple it is no more complicated than a<br />

household electric drill. <strong>The</strong> cable is replaced<br />

by a str<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> pipe with <strong>the</strong> bit at <strong>the</strong> end.<br />

Mud circulat<strong>in</strong>g down <strong>the</strong> pipe and up via <strong>the</strong><br />

annulus carries <strong>the</strong> cutt<strong>in</strong>gs out <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hole. A<br />

mud cake aga<strong>in</strong>st <strong>the</strong> wall <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hole keeps<br />

<strong>the</strong> mud from disappear<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> rock and<br />

helps to prevent <strong>the</strong> hole from cav<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>.<br />

“Tripp<strong>in</strong>g out” is a time-consum<strong>in</strong>g operation<br />

<strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> pipe is stacked up <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> derrick,<br />

<strong>of</strong>ten three jo<strong>in</strong>ts at a time, mean<strong>in</strong>g that <strong>the</strong><br />

derrick has to be about 100 feet high. Crews<br />

consist <strong>of</strong> five men, <strong>the</strong> driller, three roughnecks<br />

on <strong>the</strong> derrick floor, and <strong>the</strong> derrick<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />




man who goes up to <strong>the</strong> top <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> derrick to<br />

handle <strong>the</strong> stands <strong>of</strong> pipe.<br />

Rotary drill<strong>in</strong>g became popular along<br />

<strong>the</strong> Gulf Coast <strong>of</strong> Texas after 1895. By <strong>the</strong><br />

Sp<strong>in</strong>dletop discovery <strong>in</strong> 1901, more than 100<br />

wells had been drilled with rotary tools <strong>the</strong>re.<br />

Although rotary drill<strong>in</strong>g was tried <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong> 1889 at Pico Canyon, as we have seen, <strong>the</strong><br />

experiment was less than successful because <strong>the</strong><br />

rotat<strong>in</strong>g bit could not gr<strong>in</strong>d through hard cobbles.<br />

In 1902 M. K. Oil Company drilled a<br />

2,400 foot hole <strong>in</strong> Coal<strong>in</strong>ga with rotary tools,<br />

but <strong>the</strong> hole was so crooked that <strong>the</strong>y could not<br />

run cas<strong>in</strong>g. Amalgamated Oil rotary drilled a<br />

2,357 dry hole near <strong>the</strong> Salt Lake Field <strong>in</strong><br />

Los Angeles at about <strong>the</strong> same time. In 1908<br />

Standard Oil <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> decided to import<br />

some rotary rigs and crew from Louisiana to<br />

drill wells <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley. <strong>The</strong> same<br />

problem with cobbles kept com<strong>in</strong>g up. While<br />

a cable tool could pound its way through a<br />

cobble, a rotary bit would turn on top <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> cobble while f<strong>in</strong>e material was scoured out<br />

by <strong>the</strong> circulat<strong>in</strong>g mud. <strong>The</strong> cavity so formed<br />

would <strong>the</strong>n fill with o<strong>the</strong>r cobbles, creat<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

barrier that <strong>the</strong> bit could not penetrate. This<br />

cobble problem was quite severe <strong>in</strong> many<br />

<strong>California</strong> oil fields, while on <strong>the</strong> Gulf Coast<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


sands and shales could easily be drilled with<br />

rotary tools.<br />

O<strong>the</strong>r problems were less real and may have<br />

existed ma<strong>in</strong>ly <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong>ds <strong>of</strong> those who resisted<br />

change. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se was <strong>the</strong> idea that <strong>the</strong><br />

mud cake would seal <strong>of</strong>f an oil sand, prevent<strong>in</strong>g<br />

oil from enter<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> bore hole. Because <strong>of</strong><br />

this some operators started a hole with rotary<br />

tools and switched to cable just before reach<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> projected oil sand. <strong>The</strong>re was also prejudice<br />

and rivalry <strong>in</strong> cable tool crews, who called <strong>the</strong><br />

rotary crews “swivel necks.”<br />

In 1910 <strong>the</strong> first gusher drilled with a rotary<br />

rig <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> came <strong>in</strong> at 1,500 barrels a day<br />

at 2,432 feet (Standard Oil). After that <strong>the</strong><br />

technology slowly improved and adapted to<br />

<strong>California</strong> conditions. By 1911 Union Tool<br />

Company (one <strong>of</strong> Lyman Stewart’s bra<strong>in</strong> children)<br />

was manufactur<strong>in</strong>g rotary rigs so <strong>the</strong>y no<br />

longer needed to be brought <strong>in</strong> from out <strong>of</strong><br />

state. Union Tool also came up with a tw<strong>in</strong><br />

steam eng<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> two pistons were<br />

attached to <strong>the</strong> crankshaft a quarter turn out<br />

<strong>of</strong> phase so that <strong>the</strong> eng<strong>in</strong>e could be restarted<br />

easily from any stopped position. Guards were<br />

put over <strong>the</strong> rotary tables’ power cha<strong>in</strong>s, which<br />

were extremely dangerous if <strong>the</strong>y broke. In <strong>the</strong><br />

1920s a driller <strong>in</strong> Louisiana got <strong>the</strong> idea <strong>of</strong><br />

mix<strong>in</strong>g dense m<strong>in</strong>erals with <strong>the</strong> mud to make<br />

it heavier <strong>in</strong> order to avoid blowouts. Soon<br />

barite was be<strong>in</strong>g used everywhere, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. <strong>The</strong> wooden derricks were gradually<br />

replaced with steel ones <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1930s.<br />

Also <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1920s <strong>the</strong> grip r<strong>in</strong>g assembly, by<br />

which <strong>the</strong> pipe was gripped by <strong>the</strong> rotary<br />

table, was replaced by <strong>the</strong> kelly, a square crosssection<br />

length <strong>of</strong> pipe that fit <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> kelly<br />

bush<strong>in</strong>g set <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> table. <strong>The</strong> fish-tail drill bit,<br />

a leftover from cable days, was f<strong>in</strong>ally replaced<br />

by <strong>the</strong> new roll<strong>in</strong>g-cutter bits.<br />

Rotary drill<strong>in</strong>g goes a long way toward<br />

solv<strong>in</strong>g a major problem <strong>of</strong> cable tool drill<strong>in</strong>g:<br />

gushers. Although gushers were heralded as<br />

signs <strong>of</strong> success <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early days, <strong>the</strong>y resulted<br />

<strong>in</strong> wastage <strong>of</strong> much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> produced oil<br />

and <strong>in</strong> a loss <strong>of</strong> formation pressure, so that<br />

most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> reservoir could never be<br />

produced. When a cable tool penetrates a<br />

pressured formation <strong>the</strong>re is noth<strong>in</strong>g to<br />

prevent <strong>the</strong> fluids from “blow<strong>in</strong>g out.” On<br />

<strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r hand, <strong>the</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g mud used with<br />

rotary drill<strong>in</strong>g can be made heavy enough to<br />

prevent this, if <strong>the</strong> overpressured formation<br />

is anticipated.<br />

Opposite page, rotary rig floors and <strong>the</strong><br />

crews who man <strong>the</strong>m:<br />

Top, left: <strong>The</strong> man who is lean<strong>in</strong>g with his<br />

hand just below <strong>the</strong> rotary swivel looks like<br />

he is <strong>in</strong> charge; at least that is what he<br />

wants you to th<strong>in</strong>k. Below <strong>the</strong> swivel is <strong>the</strong><br />

kelly, which is square <strong>in</strong> cross section and<br />

fits <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> kelly bush<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> round<br />

table below.<br />

Top, right: This picture clearly shows <strong>the</strong><br />

square kelly. This same picture shows <strong>the</strong><br />

cha<strong>in</strong> that drives <strong>the</strong> rotary table, with a<br />

safety cover. <strong>The</strong> roughneck lean<strong>in</strong>g over <strong>the</strong><br />

safety cover seems to be say<strong>in</strong>g “It can’t get<br />

me now.”<br />

Bottom, left: A cha<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> ano<strong>the</strong>r probably<br />

earlier picture is exposed. Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> five<br />

men are smil<strong>in</strong>g but <strong>the</strong> younger man<br />

closest to <strong>the</strong> cha<strong>in</strong> looks a little dubious.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se cha<strong>in</strong>s could easily take an arm <strong>of</strong>f,<br />

and <strong>the</strong> safety cover was added for<br />

good reason.<br />

Bottom, right: Six o<strong>the</strong>r men are ga<strong>the</strong>red<br />

around two drill<strong>in</strong>g bits, enjoy<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

cigars. <strong>The</strong> cross-shaped bit could have been<br />

used <strong>in</strong> a cable tool rig. <strong>The</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r bit is a<br />

roller type designed for rotary drill<strong>in</strong>g.<br />



Left: Jack l<strong>in</strong>e cables runn<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>of</strong>fset<br />

wheel. As this wheel rotates <strong>the</strong> cables are<br />

pulled back and forth, each runn<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

pumpjack on a well. Thus several wells<br />

could be pumped us<strong>in</strong>g a s<strong>in</strong>gle steam or<br />

hit-and-miss eng<strong>in</strong>e.<br />





BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Opposite: Transition. A steel and a wooden<br />

derrick side by side. Taken from Signal Hill.<br />

<strong>The</strong> sun is sett<strong>in</strong>g over Palos Verdes Hills.<br />


Left: Steel derrick <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da Field.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se replaced <strong>the</strong> old wooden derricks,<br />

but <strong>the</strong>y <strong>in</strong> turn have been replaced by<br />

portable rigs. Nearly all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> thousands<br />

that once dotted <strong>the</strong> landscape <strong>of</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>rn<br />

<strong>California</strong> have been removed. This is one<br />

<strong>of</strong> a mere handful left stand<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> 2015.<br />

At least one o<strong>the</strong>r has been repurposed as a<br />

cell phone tower.<br />




Above: Newspaper advertisement for<br />

Red Crown Gasol<strong>in</strong>e, about 1917. Purity<br />

<strong>of</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e was an important advertis<strong>in</strong>g<br />

po<strong>in</strong>t. Standard claimed that <strong>the</strong>ir “straight<br />

distilled” gasol<strong>in</strong>e, not a mixture, gives easy<br />

start<strong>in</strong>g, quick acceleration, and good<br />

mileage. <strong>The</strong> ad uses a teakettle as an<br />

analogy for <strong>the</strong> “cont<strong>in</strong>uous range <strong>of</strong> boil<strong>in</strong>g<br />

po<strong>in</strong>ts” <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir fuel.<br />

Below: Delivery truck <strong>in</strong> Oakland.<br />




In <strong>the</strong> first two decades <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> twentieth<br />

century <strong>the</strong> uses <strong>of</strong> petroleum changed<br />

dramatically. Previously, kerosene for illum<strong>in</strong>ation,<br />

fuel oil, and lubricants were <strong>the</strong><br />

ma<strong>in</strong>stays. However, <strong>the</strong> new era <strong>of</strong> transportation<br />

brought gasol<strong>in</strong>e to <strong>the</strong> forefront.<br />

By 1910 <strong>the</strong> amount <strong>of</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e manufactured<br />

exceeded that <strong>of</strong> kerosene. By 1920 <strong>the</strong><br />

little town <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles had become a<br />

metropolis <strong>of</strong> 577,000, and many o<strong>the</strong>r cities<br />

dotted <strong>the</strong> landscape <strong>of</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong>,<br />

l<strong>in</strong>ked by <strong>the</strong> rails <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Pacific Electric and<br />

by a cont<strong>in</strong>ually improv<strong>in</strong>g network <strong>of</strong> roads.<br />

Unlike cities back east, <strong>the</strong>se towns grew<br />

dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> dawn<strong>in</strong>g age <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> automobile,<br />

and <strong>the</strong>y spread out. From 1910 to 1920<br />

automobile ownership went from 1 for every<br />

75 people to 1 for every 7. <strong>The</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>rn<br />

<strong>California</strong> car craze was on, and it needed<br />

one th<strong>in</strong>g more than anyth<strong>in</strong>g else—gasol<strong>in</strong>e.<br />

Market<strong>in</strong>g operations <strong>of</strong> most major oil<br />

companies before 1910 were mostly wholesale.<br />

For example, Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>,<br />

which dom<strong>in</strong>ated <strong>the</strong> market for all products<br />

except fuel oil, had “stations” (really district<br />

warehouses) that used horse-drawn wagons<br />

and later trucks to deliver products <strong>in</strong> tanks<br />

and barrels to retailers. Distillate, a fuel heavier<br />

than gasol<strong>in</strong>e, was delivered to factories<br />

for use <strong>in</strong> stationary eng<strong>in</strong>es. Kerosene, and<br />

later gasol<strong>in</strong>e, were usually sold to consumers<br />

<strong>in</strong> t<strong>in</strong>s. Before about 1913 a motorist would<br />

go to a hardware store or even a grocery store<br />

and purchase gasol<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> five-gallon t<strong>in</strong>s to<br />

store at home for later use. At Union Oil’s yard<br />

at Sixth and Santa Fe <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles, a row <strong>of</strong><br />

fifty-gallon tanks was set up, each with <strong>the</strong><br />

name <strong>of</strong> an <strong>in</strong>dividual motorist. When <strong>the</strong> car<br />

owner wanted some gas he simply drove to<br />

<strong>the</strong> yard and filled up himself. On a trip one<br />

would seek out a garage, a car dealership, or<br />

even a bicycle shop that might be sell<strong>in</strong>g<br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e as a side bus<strong>in</strong>ess. <strong>The</strong> gas would be<br />

poured from a barrel <strong>in</strong>to a measur<strong>in</strong>g conta<strong>in</strong>er<br />

and <strong>the</strong>n <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> car’s tank. Sometimes<br />

a small buggy with a tank and a hose was used<br />

to gas up a car pulled to <strong>the</strong> curb <strong>of</strong> a street,<br />

but this caused traffic problems. Quality<br />

varied, and merchants sometimes adulterated<br />

<strong>the</strong> gas with <strong>the</strong> cheaper and less desirable<br />

distillate. As <strong>the</strong> Model Ts and Chevies proliferated,<br />

this had to change.<br />

In 1907 a Standard Oil warehouseman <strong>in</strong><br />

Seattle repurposed a water tank, fitt<strong>in</strong>g it<br />

with a hose and a valve, and sold gasol<strong>in</strong>e to<br />

customers who would come to <strong>the</strong> ma<strong>in</strong><br />

plant. Thus Standard lays claim to hav<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> first “service station” anywhere. <strong>The</strong> next<br />

move was to have <strong>the</strong> service station by itself,<br />

away from <strong>the</strong> warehouse and <strong>in</strong> every<br />

neighborhood. Such stations began to appear<br />

<strong>in</strong> Seattle and elsewhere. In 1912, Standard<br />

tried to build four neighborhood stations <strong>in</strong><br />

Los Angeles. Citizens, perhaps encouraged by<br />

garage owners, objected on grounds <strong>of</strong> fire<br />

hazard and possible damage to <strong>the</strong>ir property<br />

values, and got <strong>the</strong> city council to deny <strong>the</strong><br />

permits. In <strong>the</strong> follow<strong>in</strong>g year several auto<br />

dealers <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Earl C. Anthony, later owner<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> famous KFI radio station, formed<br />

National Supply Stations, Inc. <strong>The</strong>y built a<br />

little one-pump gas station with a 12 by 15<br />

foot wooden build<strong>in</strong>g whose ro<strong>of</strong> extended<br />

over <strong>the</strong> pump. <strong>The</strong>y sold Standard’s Red<br />

Crown gasol<strong>in</strong>e, and had a sign with <strong>the</strong> red,<br />

white, and blue colors still used by Chevron<br />

today. In a few months <strong>the</strong>y had n<strong>in</strong>e stations<br />

<strong>in</strong> Los Angeles and Pasadena, and <strong>in</strong> January<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


1914 accounted for 22 percent <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles<br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e sales.<br />

Not to be outdone by Standard, o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

companies were gett<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> act. Union<br />

Oil opened its first station <strong>in</strong> downtown<br />

Los Angeles <strong>in</strong> 1913. By 1914 stations were<br />

beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g to appear <strong>in</strong> places like San<br />

Francisco, San Diego, Berkeley, Santa Ana,<br />

Oakland, and Anaheim. By <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> 1914<br />

<strong>the</strong>re were fifty stations <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles.<br />

Stations appeared <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Sacramento and San<br />

Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valleys, and <strong>California</strong> oil companies<br />

supplied stations <strong>in</strong> Oregon and Wash<strong>in</strong>gton.<br />

<strong>The</strong> “gas pumps,” with glass bowls at <strong>the</strong> top<br />

graduated <strong>in</strong> gallons to accurately and conveniently<br />

dispense <strong>the</strong> fuel, were a big advance.<br />

Companies touted <strong>the</strong>ir brands, such as Red<br />

Crown, P<strong>in</strong>al Dome’s Pennant brand, Motor<br />

Maid, Owl, and o<strong>the</strong>rs. Purity and consistency<br />

were ma<strong>in</strong> sell<strong>in</strong>g po<strong>in</strong>ts. Garage men and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>rs competed desperately, but <strong>the</strong> convenience<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> gas stations and <strong>the</strong> efficiency<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir operation meant that gas stations<br />

would take over <strong>the</strong> market. Eventually<br />

service stations <strong>of</strong>fered lubricants and conveniences<br />

like compressed air for tires, and<br />

even promotional items like road maps.<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r well-known feature <strong>of</strong> service<br />

station retail<strong>in</strong>g emerged <strong>in</strong> 1914: <strong>the</strong> gas war.<br />

An oversupply <strong>of</strong> crude oil and ref<strong>in</strong>ed stocks<br />

led to prices be<strong>in</strong>g cut from about 19 cents a<br />

gallon <strong>in</strong> 1912 to as low as 10 cents <strong>in</strong> 1915.<br />

Above: Garage sell<strong>in</strong>g gasol<strong>in</strong>e. <strong>The</strong> brand<br />

is “Aeroplane.” <strong>The</strong> garage also repairs<br />

batteries, sells tires, has a mach<strong>in</strong>e shop,<br />

services both cars and tractors, and<br />

advertises a ladies’ rest room. Two doors<br />

down is a horse shoe<strong>in</strong>g establishment.<br />


Below: Hardware store sell<strong>in</strong>g gasol<strong>in</strong>e.<br />




Early gas station operators (pages 58-61)<br />

experimented with different ways to market<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir products. Some sold only one brand<br />

<strong>of</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e, o<strong>the</strong>rs sold as many as four or<br />

five. One photo shows a station with five<br />

pumps l<strong>in</strong>ed up, each pa<strong>in</strong>ted differently<br />

to represent a brand. Stations <strong>of</strong>fered<br />

restrooms, tires, oil, and S&H Green<br />

Stamps (opposite, bottom). Uniformed<br />

attendants wear<strong>in</strong>g bow ties (opposite, top)<br />

would stand by ready to serve. Some<br />

stations had six or more islands. By <strong>the</strong> ’40s<br />

<strong>the</strong> glass bowl pumps(opposite, bottom)<br />

were mostly gone. A Richfield gas station <strong>in</strong><br />

Long Beach (below) was also an Oldsmobile<br />

Dealer. <strong>The</strong> pumps, where an attendant is<br />

shown air<strong>in</strong>g up a customer’s tire, are just<br />

outside <strong>the</strong> showroom. While gett<strong>in</strong>g gas for<br />

his beat-up old car <strong>the</strong> customer could look<br />

long<strong>in</strong>gly through <strong>the</strong> w<strong>in</strong>dow ten feet away<br />

at <strong>the</strong> spiffy new Oldsmobile <strong>of</strong> his dreams.<br />



F<strong>in</strong>ally prices began to stabilize <strong>in</strong> late 1915,<br />

end<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> first <strong>of</strong> many gas wars to come.<br />

Suppliers <strong>of</strong>ten gave 2 percent discounts to<br />

gas stations that paid <strong>in</strong> cash, and also lent<br />

equipment like tanks. Ra<strong>the</strong>r than discount<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

Standard <strong>in</strong>stead chose to market its Red<br />

Crown as be<strong>in</strong>g superior to o<strong>the</strong>r gasol<strong>in</strong>es <strong>in</strong><br />

start<strong>in</strong>g, acceleration, and fuel economy.<br />

Late <strong>in</strong> 1914, Standard purchased National<br />

Supply and its 31 stations. New stations were<br />

built <strong>of</strong> steel and were landscaped with flower<br />

beds. Attendants wore white uniforms and<br />

were expected to take care <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> shrubbery<br />

when <strong>the</strong>y were not busy with customers.<br />

By 1919 Standard led <strong>the</strong> field by far with<br />

218 stations. Associated had 85, Shell, a new<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


entrant <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry,<br />

had 77, and Union had 32.<br />

Union Oil did not <strong>in</strong>itially get <strong>in</strong>to service<br />

stations <strong>in</strong> a big way like Standard, but <strong>the</strong>y<br />

soon made up for lost time. Union had a<br />

much larger market share <strong>of</strong> fuel oil than<br />

Standard and lagged <strong>in</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ed products.<br />

<strong>The</strong>ir first gas station at Sixth and Mateo <strong>in</strong><br />

Los Angeles was set up only because motorists<br />

l<strong>in</strong>ed up around <strong>the</strong> block at <strong>the</strong>ir yard.<br />

Union’s entry <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> retail market was still<br />

quite meager until it acquired <strong>the</strong> P<strong>in</strong>al-Dome<br />

Oil Company. P<strong>in</strong>al-Dome was a small concern<br />

that produced ma<strong>in</strong>ly <strong>in</strong> Santa Maria<br />

Valley and had 20 service stations mostly <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Los Angeles area. P<strong>in</strong>al-Dome had been<br />



forced <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> retail market earlier as a means<br />

<strong>of</strong> dispens<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>ir production. With a less<br />

aggressive exploration program than Union’s,<br />

P<strong>in</strong>al-Dome saw its production fall to <strong>the</strong><br />

po<strong>in</strong>t that it could no longer fully supply its<br />

retail outlets. Union needed more outlets for<br />

its production and <strong>the</strong> merger was thus a<br />

perfect fit.<br />

Almost at <strong>the</strong> same time that Union got<br />

P<strong>in</strong>al-Dome’s 20 gas stations, its newly built<br />

Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Ref<strong>in</strong>ery began churn<strong>in</strong>g out<br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e. Union quickly built more gas stations,<br />

putt<strong>in</strong>g on a contest among architects<br />

to come up with a functional, attractive<br />

design. Bus<strong>in</strong>ess skyrocketed as <strong>the</strong> auto<br />

boom really got under way. By <strong>the</strong> early<br />

1920s Union was issu<strong>in</strong>g credit cards to its<br />

customers. Union eventually developed a system<br />

<strong>of</strong> leas<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> stations out to <strong>in</strong>dependent<br />

small bus<strong>in</strong>ess people, keep<strong>in</strong>g only a handful<br />

<strong>in</strong> company ownership for tra<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g and to<br />

try out new ideas. <strong>The</strong> <strong>in</strong>dependent operators<br />

and <strong>the</strong>ir employees were tra<strong>in</strong>ed to provide<br />

a consistent type <strong>of</strong> service and to ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> stations <strong>in</strong> a clean, attractive condition.<br />

Union needed a name to market its highoctane<br />

anti-knock gasol<strong>in</strong>e as a counter to <strong>the</strong><br />

gas wars, which became potentially more<br />

ru<strong>in</strong>ous <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> depression years <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1930s.<br />

Robert D. Mat<strong>the</strong>ws, a vice president specializ<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>in</strong> account<strong>in</strong>g and f<strong>in</strong>ance, was a Welsh<br />

immigrant who was study<strong>in</strong>g for his citizenship<br />

exam. He proposed <strong>the</strong> patriotic symbol<br />

“76,” which fortuitously was also <strong>the</strong> octane<br />

value <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> anti-knock gasol<strong>in</strong>e com<strong>in</strong>g out<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Union ref<strong>in</strong>eries. <strong>The</strong> name stuck, and<br />

it is still here today even though Union Oil<br />

no longer exists and <strong>the</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e is now<br />

be<strong>in</strong>g sold by Tosco (Phillips <strong>Petroleum</strong>).<br />

Gas stations grew <strong>in</strong> size and complexity.<br />

Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m added service bays where major<br />

repair work could be done, thus ironically<br />

recall<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> early days <strong>of</strong> garages which had<br />

lost <strong>the</strong>ir gasol<strong>in</strong>e bus<strong>in</strong>ess to <strong>the</strong> stations.<br />

Multiple islands served many cars at once.<br />

Some <strong>of</strong> us can recall when we could drive<br />

<strong>in</strong>to a gas station and just sit <strong>the</strong>re while <strong>the</strong><br />

white-attired attendant would check our oil<br />

and wash our w<strong>in</strong>dows with those blue<br />

towels while we listened to <strong>the</strong> “d<strong>in</strong>g-d<strong>in</strong>g”<br />

<strong>of</strong> our tank be<strong>in</strong>g effortlessly filled. We could<br />

get enough complimentary cups and plates<br />

to fill a whole table if we kept com<strong>in</strong>g back.<br />

For a while <strong>the</strong>re were “full-serve islands”<br />

and “self-serve islands,” or just “full” and<br />

“self.” Not any more, except <strong>in</strong> a few places<br />

like Oregon. Now <strong>the</strong> service bays are<br />

mostly gone. Today we can get anyth<strong>in</strong>g we<br />

want for our stomachs and our cupholders.<br />

One th<strong>in</strong>g is still <strong>the</strong> same: we have a delivery<br />

system for fuel for our vehicles that is so<br />

efficient and effortless that we completely<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


take it for granted. Of course, once <strong>in</strong> a<br />

while that is not <strong>the</strong> case, as <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early<br />

1970s when <strong>the</strong>re was gas ration<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong><br />

response to <strong>the</strong> OPEC oil embargo, or <strong>the</strong><br />

now forgotten episode <strong>in</strong> 1920 when an<br />

acute shortage forced Union and o<strong>the</strong>r companies<br />

to order special tra<strong>in</strong>s <strong>of</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>efilled<br />

tank cars to come from Texas. Such<br />

events, however, are <strong>the</strong> exception and not<br />

<strong>the</strong> rule.<br />




THREE<br />


FROM SHORTAGE TO GLUT: 1920 TO 1930<br />

Above: Ventura Field, discovered <strong>in</strong> 1919.<br />

This photograph was taken <strong>in</strong> 1926.<br />



Opposite, middle: Third trend <strong>of</strong> hills, with<br />

fields from Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach to Inglewood,<br />

discovered <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1920s. Beverly Hills,<br />

discovered <strong>in</strong> 1900, is on <strong>the</strong> same trend.<br />

Opposite, bottom: Map <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton<br />

Beach Field. <strong>Black</strong> dots are all wells up<br />

to <strong>the</strong> present. <strong>The</strong> star <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> center is<br />

<strong>the</strong> 1920 discovery well. Many different<br />

methods have been used to develop this field<br />

over <strong>the</strong> years, from <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>efficient town lot<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong> more orderly development at<br />

Bolsa Chica. Directional wells were drilled<br />

under <strong>the</strong> ocean from a skid parallel to<br />

Pacific Coast Highway. Later <strong>of</strong>fshore<br />

development was from moveable rigs and<br />

<strong>the</strong>n platforms.<br />



<strong>The</strong> American petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry produced 80 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil used by <strong>the</strong> Allies <strong>in</strong> World<br />

War I. As Lord Curzon said, <strong>the</strong>y “floated to victory on a wave <strong>of</strong> oil.” <strong>The</strong> war was followed by a<br />

shortage that was made worse by <strong>the</strong> cont<strong>in</strong>u<strong>in</strong>g proliferation <strong>of</strong> automobiles, from 150,000 <strong>in</strong><br />

1915 to 500,000 by 1920. An especially severe gasol<strong>in</strong>e shortage developed <strong>in</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong>.<br />

At <strong>the</strong> same time <strong>the</strong>re was pessimism <strong>in</strong> some quarters about <strong>the</strong> prospects <strong>of</strong> f<strong>in</strong>d<strong>in</strong>g more oil.<br />

<strong>The</strong> chief geologist <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> U.S. Geological Survey, David White, said <strong>in</strong> 1920:<br />

…<strong>the</strong> production <strong>of</strong> natural petroleum <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> United States must pass its peak at an early date,<br />

probably with<strong>in</strong> five years and possibly with<strong>in</strong> three years, due to <strong>the</strong> exhaustion <strong>of</strong> our reserves.<br />

White was an em<strong>in</strong>ent scientist and probably most experts at <strong>the</strong> time agreed with him.<br />

<strong>The</strong> problem with this statement, however, was that <strong>the</strong> experts did not anticipate new ideas and<br />

technology that would <strong>in</strong>crease <strong>the</strong> reserves many fold. Such predictions <strong>of</strong> doom have been<br />

repeated many times s<strong>in</strong>ce, always to be refuted by new methods and <strong>in</strong>ventions that led to waves<br />

<strong>of</strong> discoveries. <strong>The</strong> situation would be summed up thirty-two years later <strong>in</strong> a famous statement<br />

by ano<strong>the</strong>r petroleum geologist, Wallace E. Pratt, “Where oil is first found, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> f<strong>in</strong>al analysis,<br />

is <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong>ds <strong>of</strong> men.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> “Roar<strong>in</strong>g Twenties” proved Pratt’s po<strong>in</strong>t even before he said it, and it did so most<br />

conv<strong>in</strong>c<strong>in</strong>gly <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. <strong>The</strong> total United States reserves figure <strong>of</strong> 7 billion barrels cited by<br />

White was more than doubled <strong>in</strong> a few years <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong> alone. Annual production<br />

for <strong>California</strong>, which had been steadily <strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>g for about twenty-five years, suddenly went<br />

from 100 million barrels to 250 million between 1921 and 1923. Much <strong>of</strong> this was from<br />

development <strong>of</strong> previously discovered fields such as Montebello, Santa Fe Spr<strong>in</strong>gs, Midway-<br />

Sunset, Ventura, and o<strong>the</strong>rs. <strong>The</strong> early 1920s also saw <strong>the</strong> discovery <strong>of</strong> new giant fields, and<br />

eventually billions <strong>of</strong> barrels <strong>of</strong> reserves, that were located without benefit <strong>of</strong> any nearby seeps or<br />

asphaltum outcrops.<br />

Discoveries <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> previous decade along <strong>the</strong> Coyotes Hills-Santa Fe Spr<strong>in</strong>gs trend focused<br />

attention on ano<strong>the</strong>r long range <strong>of</strong> narrow, low hills and mesas that stretched from Newport Beach<br />

on <strong>the</strong> south to near <strong>the</strong> Beverly Hills Field, discovered <strong>in</strong> 1900, on <strong>the</strong> north. To be sure, shallow<br />

wells had been drilled on this trend as far back as 1889, but <strong>the</strong>y were ei<strong>the</strong>r dry or yielded only<br />

small amounts <strong>of</strong> oil or gas. In one case <strong>the</strong>re was just enough gas to supply a man’s house.<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r well ran a small asbestos factory. <strong>The</strong>n <strong>in</strong> 1920-1921, two giant fields, Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


and Long Beach (Signal Hill) were brought <strong>in</strong><br />

almost simultaneously. By 1924, fields were<br />

found at Dom<strong>in</strong>guez, Seal Beach, Rosecrans,<br />

and Inglewood. Toge<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong>se six fields have<br />

produced over 3 billion barrels, and <strong>the</strong>y are<br />

still produc<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

<strong>The</strong> discovery well <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton<br />

Beach Field was completed by Standard Oil<br />

on May 24, 1920. Located on top <strong>of</strong> a mesa<br />

near <strong>the</strong> coastl<strong>in</strong>e, it flowed 45 barrels a day<br />

from 2,199 feet. While this did not stir much<br />

excitement, <strong>the</strong> nearby Bolsa Chica No. 1<br />

came <strong>in</strong> at 2,000 barrels a day <strong>in</strong> November.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se wells established <strong>the</strong> Old Field, which<br />

lies <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> anticl<strong>in</strong>e parallel to <strong>the</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> trace<br />

<strong>of</strong> what is now known as <strong>the</strong> Newport-<br />

Inglewood Fault. O<strong>the</strong>r pools were opened<br />

up later <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1920s, <strong>the</strong> Surf Area, <strong>the</strong><br />

Townsite Tideland Area, and <strong>the</strong> Ma<strong>in</strong> Street<br />

Field. <strong>The</strong> Townsite Tideland Area was townlots<br />

along <strong>the</strong> coast between <strong>Gold</strong>enwest<br />

Street and First Street. Wells were close<br />

toge<strong>the</strong>r on very small lots, with all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

difficulties that came with a multitude <strong>of</strong><br />

small compet<strong>in</strong>g operators. O<strong>the</strong>r parts <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> field, such as Bolsa Chica, were under<br />

one operator so that <strong>the</strong> coverage <strong>of</strong> wells<br />

and development <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field <strong>the</strong>re was more<br />

orderly. A str<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> wells spudded right on<br />

<strong>the</strong> coastl<strong>in</strong>e, almost on <strong>the</strong> beach, were<br />

whipstocked, or directionally drilled, under<br />

<strong>the</strong> ocean <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early 1930s.<br />

One part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Old Field presented a<br />

special problem to <strong>the</strong> operators. This was<br />

<strong>the</strong> “Encyclopedia Section” ma<strong>in</strong>ly along Ellis<br />

Avenue from Edwards to Gothard Streets.<br />

It turns out that many years previously sets<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Encyclopedia Americana were sold to<br />

people <strong>in</strong> New England for <strong>the</strong> ra<strong>the</strong>r steep<br />

price <strong>of</strong> $125. To sweeten <strong>the</strong> deal each set <strong>of</strong><br />

volumes was accompanied by a deed to a<br />

“seaside lot” <strong>in</strong> sunny <strong>California</strong>. Never m<strong>in</strong>d<br />

that <strong>the</strong> lots were a couple <strong>of</strong> miles from <strong>the</strong><br />

beach. <strong>The</strong> map showed streets that did not<br />

exist (and still do not today). Probably most<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> owners put <strong>the</strong>ir deed <strong>in</strong> a drawer<br />

and forgot about it. When oil was discovered<br />

under <strong>the</strong>ir property <strong>the</strong> landmen came<br />



Above: Wells along <strong>the</strong> beach,<br />

Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach.<br />


Right: Inland part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach<br />

Field. Downtown Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach and <strong>the</strong><br />

pier are <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> foreground.<br />


Below: Signal Hill, part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Long Beach Field.<br />



Opposite, top: Long Beach Field skyl<strong>in</strong>e<br />

show<strong>in</strong>g a seem<strong>in</strong>gly impenetrable curta<strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>of</strong> derricks. Signal Hill is on <strong>the</strong> left.<br />

Photograph probably taken <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1920s<br />

or 1930s.<br />


knock<strong>in</strong>g, <strong>of</strong>fer<strong>in</strong>g small amounts <strong>of</strong> money<br />

to buy <strong>the</strong>ir lots. While most sold, one or<br />

two paid <strong>the</strong>ir back taxes and reclaimed <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

lots so that <strong>the</strong>y could collect royalties on<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir new-found oil. <strong>The</strong>re was also money<br />

for lawyers who fought over who owned<br />

<strong>the</strong> land where <strong>the</strong> phantom streets were<br />

supposed to be. Today <strong>the</strong> lots are largely<br />

undeveloped scrubland used for horseback<br />

rid<strong>in</strong>g. Some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wells are still produc<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

<strong>The</strong> next giant field along <strong>the</strong> trend was <strong>the</strong><br />

Long Beach Field, which <strong>in</strong>cludes Signal Hill.<br />

Although exploration <strong>the</strong>re started as early<br />

as 1916, oil was not discovered until 1921,<br />

slightly after <strong>the</strong> Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach <strong>in</strong>itial<br />

f<strong>in</strong>d. Before <strong>the</strong> U.S. ga<strong>in</strong>ed ownership <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>, Signal Hill, north <strong>of</strong> what is now<br />

Long Beach, was known as El Cerrito, or<br />

“Little Hill.” Used as a lookout and signal<br />

post probably for centuries, it acquired <strong>the</strong><br />

moniker “Signal Hill” after a triangulation<br />

marker was placed on <strong>the</strong> summit <strong>in</strong> 1889.<br />

<strong>The</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al ranchos on Signal Hill, Los<br />

Alamitos and Los Cerritos, were subdivided<br />

<strong>in</strong>to town lots before oil was found.<br />

In 1916 Union Oil drilled a well at<br />

Wardlow Road and Long Beach Boulevard,<br />

just northwest <strong>of</strong> Signal Hill. <strong>The</strong>y abandoned<br />

<strong>the</strong> hole at 3,449 feet, not know<strong>in</strong>g that <strong>the</strong><br />

rich oil-bear<strong>in</strong>g sands <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Signal Hill reservoir<br />

lie slightly deeper. Had <strong>the</strong>y cont<strong>in</strong>ued<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> story <strong>of</strong> Signal Hill might have<br />

been very different. In 1919 geologists with<br />

Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> reported Signal Hill<br />

as “reflect<strong>in</strong>g an anticl<strong>in</strong>al fold<strong>in</strong>g or dome<br />

Opposite bottom, left: Union L. B. C.<br />

No. 11 gusher. <strong>The</strong> spectacle has drawn<br />

a crowd.<br />


Opposite bottom, right: Shell-Mart<strong>in</strong> No. 1<br />

gasser, November 17, 1921. Men <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

far right foreground are prepar<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

equipment <strong>in</strong> an effort to stop <strong>the</strong> flow.<br />


BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />




Long Beach Field <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1920s. Sign <strong>in</strong> front<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tent says “Parkford’s Signal Hill Oil<br />

Syndicate No.1.” Benches are piled up<br />

outside <strong>the</strong> tent. A group <strong>of</strong> well-dressed<br />

men and women is stand<strong>in</strong>g at <strong>the</strong> entrance<br />

to <strong>the</strong> tent. Several cars are parked nearby.<br />

It appears that some k<strong>in</strong>d <strong>of</strong> meet<strong>in</strong>g for<br />

potential <strong>in</strong>vestors has just concluded.<br />

<strong>The</strong> field is crowded with wooden derricks,<br />

tanks, steam boilers, stockpiled supplies,<br />

a welder’s shop and o<strong>the</strong>r oil drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

paraphernalia. Note <strong>the</strong> stand <strong>of</strong> pipe <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

derrick beh<strong>in</strong>d <strong>the</strong> tent.<br />


which gives favorable <strong>in</strong>dications <strong>of</strong> oil production.”<br />

This statement shows <strong>the</strong> new<br />

th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g that placed geological structures<br />

over seeps as <strong>in</strong>dicators <strong>of</strong> oil. Although<br />

Standard, now <strong>in</strong>dependent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> old<br />

Rockefeller comb<strong>in</strong>e, was one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> more<br />

forward-th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g companies, it did noth<strong>in</strong>g<br />

with <strong>the</strong> recommendation because it had a<br />

policy <strong>of</strong> avoid<strong>in</strong>g town lot plays.<br />

In 1918, Frank Hayes, a geologist with<br />

Royal Dutch Shell, recommended that <strong>the</strong><br />

company explore <strong>in</strong> Signal Hill. Company<br />

management, say<strong>in</strong>g that several dry holes<br />

had been drilled on <strong>the</strong> similar Dom<strong>in</strong>guez<br />

structure to <strong>the</strong> northwest, rejected <strong>the</strong> idea.<br />

Changes <strong>in</strong> management led to this decision<br />

be<strong>in</strong>g reversed two years later, and Shell<br />

leased 240 acres on <strong>the</strong> east slope <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hill<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


that were deemed unsuitable for homes. Shell<br />

did not obta<strong>in</strong> all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> available leases on <strong>the</strong><br />

top <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hill, and o<strong>the</strong>r companies passed on<br />

<strong>the</strong> opportunity. An executive with Union Oil,<br />

reflect<strong>in</strong>g his company’s earlier failure, said he<br />

would “dr<strong>in</strong>k every drop <strong>of</strong> oil” that Shell<br />

would f<strong>in</strong>d at Signal Hill. As it turned out it<br />

was a good th<strong>in</strong>g he did not shake hands on<br />

this deal.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Alamitos No. 1, at <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>tersection <strong>of</strong><br />

Hill and Temple Streets, was spudded by Shell<br />

on March 23, 1921. Drill<strong>in</strong>g with a rotary rig<br />

to 2,765 feet, <strong>the</strong>y cored an oil sand. Shell<br />

leased more land. <strong>The</strong> word was gett<strong>in</strong>g out<br />

that someth<strong>in</strong>g was up. Sett<strong>in</strong>g cas<strong>in</strong>g, <strong>the</strong>y<br />

switched to a cable rig because <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>n<br />

common fear that <strong>the</strong> rotary mud cake would<br />

seal <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> produc<strong>in</strong>g formation. At 3,114 feet<br />



Top: Long Beach Field, with a wooden derrick under construction. A group <strong>of</strong> men are convers<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> front <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> derrick. <strong>The</strong> lot next to <strong>the</strong> derrick is for sale.<br />

What appears to be a gas plant for extract<strong>in</strong>g cas<strong>in</strong>ghead gasol<strong>in</strong>e is <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> left background. All <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> derricks <strong>in</strong> this scene are wooden, probably plac<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> picture <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1920s.<br />


Middle: Long Beach Field, flat area north <strong>of</strong> Signal Hill. A few steel derricks appear <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> forest <strong>of</strong> wood. This picture was taken a bit later.<br />


Bottom: Field <strong>of</strong>fice <strong>of</strong> Shell, which drilled <strong>the</strong> discovery well at Signal Hill. This photograph was taken <strong>in</strong> 1925, four years after <strong>the</strong> discovery.<br />


BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Top: Hancock ref<strong>in</strong>ery fire. Tires and<br />

anyth<strong>in</strong>g else combustible have been<br />

destroyed <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> park<strong>in</strong>g lot.<br />


Left: Aerial view <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Dom<strong>in</strong>guez Field.<br />

Note <strong>the</strong> orderly spac<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wells.<br />


on June 23, a gusher <strong>of</strong> oil blew over <strong>the</strong><br />

crown block and up to 114 feet <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> air. <strong>The</strong><br />

well quickly sanded up, and after clean<strong>in</strong>g up,<br />

oil started flow<strong>in</strong>g to tanks. By now <strong>the</strong>re<br />

were 500 spectators on hand to witness <strong>the</strong><br />

sight. Shell had to erect a barricade around<br />

<strong>the</strong> well, which soon was produc<strong>in</strong>g 1,200<br />

barrels a day.<br />

<strong>The</strong> great Signal Hill boom was on. No<br />

s<strong>in</strong>gle company, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Shell, possessed<br />

more than a small fraction <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> land, which<br />

was mostly <strong>in</strong> town lots. Derricks were<br />

sprout<strong>in</strong>g like weeds, sometimes so close<br />

toge<strong>the</strong>r that <strong>the</strong>ir legs supposedly <strong>in</strong>terlaced.<br />

It was much like <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City Field <strong>of</strong><br />

thirty years before. It is said that one drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

crew fish<strong>in</strong>g for a lost tool str<strong>in</strong>g snagged<br />

that <strong>of</strong> a neighbor whose hole had wandered<br />

over <strong>the</strong> property l<strong>in</strong>e. Automobiles bear<strong>in</strong>g<br />

curious onlookers jammed <strong>the</strong> roads. Tents were<br />

set up where gullible <strong>in</strong>vestors were pitched<br />

while <strong>the</strong>y ate chicken drumsticks. Some people’s<br />

<strong>in</strong>terest<strong>in</strong>g concepts <strong>of</strong> arithmetic got <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> way. One lot owner, <strong>of</strong>fered a 1/10 royalty,<br />

refused th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g he could hold out for 1/20.<br />

Some hucksters erected fake derricks to make<br />

people th<strong>in</strong>k <strong>the</strong>y were actually produc<strong>in</strong>g oil.<br />

Bottom, left: Fire! This photograph was<br />

taken at <strong>the</strong> moment when a fireball was<br />

beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g to rise. Some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> onlookers<br />

appear to be try<strong>in</strong>g to beat a hasty retreat<br />

while o<strong>the</strong>rs are ra<strong>the</strong>r nonchalant about<br />

<strong>the</strong> scene, as if this has happened before.<br />


Bottom, right: Aerial view <strong>of</strong> Long Beach<br />

Field look<strong>in</strong>g south, with a mixture <strong>of</strong><br />

wooden and steel derricks, tanks, and<br />

pumpjacks. Some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> derricks almost<br />

touch each o<strong>the</strong>r. Signal Hill is <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> middle<br />

ground, with Cherry Street cutt<strong>in</strong>g across<br />

<strong>the</strong> west flank <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hill. Orange County<br />

and part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> coastl<strong>in</strong>e to <strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>ast is<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> far background. This photograph<br />

appears to have been taken <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1940s.<br />





While Signal Hill was boom<strong>in</strong>g a lemon and avocado grower<br />

named Samuel B. Mosher was quietly runn<strong>in</strong>g his farm <strong>in</strong> Pico<br />

Rivera, about ten miles north <strong>of</strong> Signal Hill. <strong>The</strong> Alamitos No.1<br />

gusher would have been pla<strong>in</strong>ly visible from <strong>the</strong> w<strong>in</strong>dows <strong>of</strong> his<br />

farm house, as would <strong>the</strong> apocalyptic vision <strong>of</strong> dozens <strong>of</strong> pipes<br />

flar<strong>in</strong>g gas every night, <strong>the</strong>ir glow perhaps giv<strong>in</strong>g Signal Hill <strong>the</strong><br />

appearance <strong>of</strong> a man-made volcano. But Mosher had no time to<br />

play <strong>the</strong> tourist. <strong>The</strong> twenty-eight year-old was busy try<strong>in</strong>g to feed<br />

his young wife and baby, <strong>of</strong>ten putt<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> twelve hour days on his<br />

tractor. Mosher’s dream was to be a farmer. After graduat<strong>in</strong>g from<br />

UC Berkeley with a degree <strong>in</strong> agriculture <strong>in</strong> 1916, he spent five<br />

years develop<strong>in</strong>g his seventeen acre lemon farm, never earn<strong>in</strong>g<br />

more than $50 a month <strong>in</strong> his first two years. F<strong>in</strong>ally, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> w<strong>in</strong>ter<br />

<strong>of</strong> 1922 he had his first big crop <strong>of</strong> lemons ready to harvest,<br />

br<strong>in</strong>g<strong>in</strong>g him hope <strong>of</strong> pay<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong>f part <strong>of</strong> his heavy mortgage.<br />

Mosher had a fraternity bro<strong>the</strong>r named Robert Ber<strong>in</strong>g, who<br />

had gone on to become a geologist’s assistant with an oil company.<br />

Ber<strong>in</strong>g told his friend what was go<strong>in</strong>g on at Signal Hill, arous<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> curiosity <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> young farmer, and perhaps <strong>in</strong>fect<strong>in</strong>g him<br />

with that “oil bug.” F<strong>in</strong>ally, on his twenty-n<strong>in</strong>th birthday, Mosher<br />

decided to take a day <strong>of</strong>f and go f<strong>in</strong>d out what <strong>the</strong> commotion<br />

was all about. He drove his battered old Buick up to <strong>the</strong> lower<br />

end <strong>of</strong> Hill Street and walked up to <strong>the</strong> Alamitos No. 1 Well.<br />

Com<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong> quiet <strong>of</strong> Pico Rivera, <strong>the</strong> noise <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil field<br />

must have been deafen<strong>in</strong>g, especially with <strong>the</strong> roar <strong>of</strong> cas<strong>in</strong>ghead<br />

gas escap<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> atmosphere at high pressure from every<br />

well. This gas was regarded as a waste product at Signal Hill, not<br />

worth bo<strong>the</strong>r<strong>in</strong>g with when <strong>the</strong> most important objective was to<br />

produce oil as quickly as possible.<br />

<strong>The</strong> wet gas at Signal Hill conta<strong>in</strong>ed a fraction that if separated<br />

from <strong>the</strong> rest <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> gas would be a liquid, gasol<strong>in</strong>e. Called natural,<br />

or cas<strong>in</strong>ghead gasol<strong>in</strong>e to differentiate it from gasol<strong>in</strong>e produced<br />

from oil at a ref<strong>in</strong>ery, this liquid could be blended with <strong>the</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ery<br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e to create a high-test, or “ethyl” fuel suitable for highperformance<br />

eng<strong>in</strong>es. Mosher and Ber<strong>in</strong>g thought that if <strong>the</strong>y<br />

could build a small plant to extract <strong>the</strong> natural gasol<strong>in</strong>e, <strong>the</strong>y<br />

could create a marketable product from <strong>the</strong> Signal Hill producers’<br />

waste gas. <strong>The</strong>y made an <strong>in</strong>formal agreement that Ber<strong>in</strong>g would<br />

set about secur<strong>in</strong>g leases for gas at Signal Hill while Mosher came<br />

up with <strong>the</strong> funds to build a plant. Mosher thought that his<br />

bumper crop <strong>of</strong> lemons, <strong>the</strong> first <strong>in</strong> his five years on <strong>the</strong> farm,<br />

would provide <strong>the</strong> capital to move <strong>the</strong> project forward.<br />

<strong>The</strong>n disaster struck, <strong>the</strong> k<strong>in</strong>d <strong>of</strong> disaster that sets <strong>in</strong> motion a<br />

series <strong>of</strong> events lead<strong>in</strong>g to someth<strong>in</strong>g far bigger and better than<br />

what was orig<strong>in</strong>ally hoped for. <strong>The</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> enemy <strong>of</strong> citrus growers<br />

<strong>in</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong> is freez<strong>in</strong>g wea<strong>the</strong>r. On January 19, 1922,<br />

a rare freeze brought <strong>the</strong> temperature at Mosher’s farm down to<br />

n<strong>in</strong>eteen degrees. Work<strong>in</strong>g all night sett<strong>in</strong>g out smudge pots, he<br />

saved his trees. However <strong>the</strong> entire crop <strong>of</strong> lemons and avocados<br />

was lost. Suddenly Mosher had no money for a natural gasol<strong>in</strong>e<br />

plant, and worse, he had no money to pay his mortgage or buy<br />

groceries. After such a calamity many people would give up, but<br />

not Sam Mosher. He decided to forge ahead with <strong>the</strong> natural<br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e project, come what may. He sent <strong>of</strong>f a penny postcard to<br />

request a free publication <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Department <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Interior,<br />

<strong>Petroleum</strong> Technology Pamphlet No. 176. This pamphlet showed,<br />

with diagrams, how to build for $4,000 a small plant us<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

absorption process to remove gasol<strong>in</strong>e from natural gas.<br />

Mosher <strong>in</strong> his optimism thought that all he needed to go <strong>in</strong>to<br />

<strong>the</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e bus<strong>in</strong>ess was $4,000. How was he go<strong>in</strong>g to get it?<br />

He decided to do <strong>the</strong> only th<strong>in</strong>g he could th<strong>in</strong>k <strong>of</strong>, swallow his<br />

pride and ask his fa<strong>the</strong>r for a loan. Henry M. Mosher was not<br />

predisposed to loan money for an oil venture, even to his son.<br />

Some twenty years earlier, he and o<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong>vestors formed a<br />

company that drilled several producers <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Santa Maria Bas<strong>in</strong>.<br />

Unfortunately <strong>the</strong> price <strong>of</strong> oil dropped, and <strong>the</strong>y shut <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

wells. When <strong>the</strong> price <strong>in</strong>creased <strong>the</strong>y opened <strong>the</strong>ir wells aga<strong>in</strong>,<br />

only to f<strong>in</strong>d <strong>the</strong>y had gone to water. A neighbor<strong>in</strong>g, much larger<br />

company with tankage to store oil had <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> meantime used<br />

<strong>of</strong>fset wells to dra<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil from <strong>the</strong> reservoir. Sam expla<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

<strong>in</strong> detail what he and Ber<strong>in</strong>g were plann<strong>in</strong>g to do and why it<br />

would be successful. However, Dad was not believ<strong>in</strong>g. Although<br />

Mrs. Mosher was sitt<strong>in</strong>g nearby apparently engrossed <strong>in</strong> a book,<br />

she was actually listen<strong>in</strong>g to every word pass<strong>in</strong>g between fa<strong>the</strong>r<br />

and son. F<strong>in</strong>ally, when H. M. flatly refused to loan <strong>the</strong> money,<br />

she said, “Dad, Sam will be gett<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> money after we’re<br />

gone anyway. But he needs it now. If you don’t lend him that<br />

$4,000, I will.” Dad knew when he was beaten, and reached for<br />

his checkbook.<br />

It turned out to be more difficult than <strong>the</strong>y thought. For one<br />

th<strong>in</strong>g, it was almost impossible to get producers to sign gas leases.<br />

Even though <strong>the</strong>y would be turn<strong>in</strong>g over a waste product and<br />

would receive <strong>in</strong> return <strong>the</strong> residue gas for free for <strong>the</strong>ir boilers,<br />

and a 1/3 royalty on <strong>the</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e, <strong>the</strong>y did not want to sign<br />

life-<strong>of</strong>-<strong>the</strong>-field leases. After all, Mosher and Ber<strong>in</strong>g were unknown<br />

farm boys who as yet had no plant. Maybe <strong>the</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ers would not<br />

buy <strong>the</strong> natural gasol<strong>in</strong>e. F<strong>in</strong>ally Ber<strong>in</strong>g said he had a contract<br />

with San Mart<strong>in</strong>ez Oil Company, his former employer. Based on<br />

this <strong>the</strong>y got a surface lease on two acres for <strong>the</strong>ir plant. Mosher<br />

started look<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to components that he would need to build <strong>the</strong><br />

plant. <strong>The</strong>se were <strong>in</strong> short supply, and much more expensive than<br />

orig<strong>in</strong>ally thought. <strong>The</strong> government’s three-year-old estimate <strong>of</strong><br />

$4,000 was barely one tenth <strong>of</strong> what was actually needed.<br />

Fortunately for Mosher, <strong>the</strong> giddy success <strong>of</strong> Signal Hill and<br />

<strong>the</strong> onset <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> automobile age resulted <strong>in</strong> a climate <strong>of</strong> almost<br />

unlimited credit for oil ventures. He purchased equipment and<br />

supplies us<strong>in</strong>g m<strong>in</strong>iscule down payments and easy terms such as<br />

no payments for n<strong>in</strong>ety days, by which time Mosher and Ber<strong>in</strong>g<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Opposite: <strong>The</strong> Signal sign, which was familiar to <strong>California</strong>ns for decades.<br />

Above: Samuel Mosher purchased Hancock Oil <strong>in</strong> order to obta<strong>in</strong> its ref<strong>in</strong>ery and<br />

gas stations.<br />


were sure <strong>the</strong>ir little plant would be putt<strong>in</strong>g out gasol<strong>in</strong>e. Us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

old wood and second hand pipe, Mosher built a cool<strong>in</strong>g tower.<br />

Instead <strong>of</strong> purchas<strong>in</strong>g a dehydrator for $975, Mosher used a<br />

discarded boiler he found beh<strong>in</strong>d a laundry. Unable to f<strong>in</strong>d a<br />

distillation unit, which would have been $2,000, Mosher used<br />

an old gasol<strong>in</strong>e truck with a 1,000 gallon tank that sat rust<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>in</strong> a yard <strong>in</strong> Vernon. Some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> laborers that Mosher hired were<br />

to be paid later out <strong>of</strong> earn<strong>in</strong>gs when <strong>the</strong> plant was on l<strong>in</strong>e.<br />

Meanwhile, Mosher was gett<strong>in</strong>g precious little sleep as he had to<br />

keep work<strong>in</strong>g on his farm as well as on <strong>the</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e plant.<br />

<strong>The</strong> optimistically named Plant No. 1 was almost f<strong>in</strong>ished<br />

when Mosher and Ber<strong>in</strong>g found out that none <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wells on <strong>the</strong><br />

San Mart<strong>in</strong>ez Lease would be produc<strong>in</strong>g. <strong>The</strong>y had a plant but<br />

noth<strong>in</strong>g to feed <strong>in</strong>to it. Mosher, who had never tried to get a gas<br />

contract before, decided <strong>in</strong> desperation to ask <strong>the</strong> production<br />

boss <strong>of</strong> Shell’s Alamitos No. 1, a few blocks from <strong>the</strong> gas plant.<br />

Look<strong>in</strong>g at <strong>the</strong> makeshift plant, <strong>the</strong> boss said he could “knock as<br />

much gasol<strong>in</strong>e out <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> gas with a stick” as Mosher could with<br />

his plant. He wasn’t go<strong>in</strong>g to go for it until Mosher rem<strong>in</strong>ded<br />

him about <strong>the</strong> competitor who had said he would dr<strong>in</strong>k all <strong>the</strong><br />

oil Shell could f<strong>in</strong>d, and added, “If he could be wrong, maybe<br />

you are too.” <strong>The</strong> boss laughed and said that Mosher could tap<br />

<strong>in</strong>to Alamitos No. 1.<br />

This was <strong>the</strong> break <strong>the</strong>y needed. By <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> May, just four<br />

months after <strong>the</strong> disastrous freeze destroyed his lemons, Mosher’s<br />

gas plant was ready to test. Mosher had <strong>in</strong>stalled a small iron box<br />

with glass w<strong>in</strong>dows <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> l<strong>in</strong>e where <strong>the</strong> newly distilled gasol<strong>in</strong>e<br />

flowed. In this <strong>the</strong> first few dribbles <strong>of</strong> natural gasol<strong>in</strong>e were<br />

seen, prov<strong>in</strong>g that <strong>the</strong> plant worked. This soon became a steady<br />

stream, and it was a good market<strong>in</strong>g tool. Many a producer on<br />

Signal Hill was conv<strong>in</strong>ced by this “lookbox” to sign gas contracts<br />

with Mosher.<br />

Plant No. 1 could process only 250 gallons <strong>of</strong> natural gasol<strong>in</strong>e<br />

a day. Out <strong>of</strong> this t<strong>in</strong>y start a great oil company, Signal Oil and<br />

Gas, was born. H. M. Mosher became a believer, partly by see<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> stream <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> lookbox, and jo<strong>in</strong>ed Signal’s Board <strong>in</strong> 1924. For<br />

some time <strong>the</strong> company hung by a thread and was beset by<br />

controversies such as a stock fight for ownership between Mosher<br />

and Ber<strong>in</strong>g. In 1930 Standard cancelled its contract to buy natural<br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e from Signal, depriv<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> company <strong>of</strong> its largest customer.<br />

Mosher took <strong>the</strong> characteristically bold step, over <strong>the</strong> objections<br />

<strong>of</strong> many <strong>of</strong> his Board members, <strong>of</strong> acquir<strong>in</strong>g a ref<strong>in</strong>ery and service<br />

stations, so that Signal could retail gasol<strong>in</strong>e on its own. Eventually<br />

<strong>the</strong> company became stable with as many as twenty gasol<strong>in</strong>e<br />

process<strong>in</strong>g plants. <strong>The</strong> company branched out <strong>in</strong>to exploration<br />

and production <strong>of</strong> oil. Portable drill<strong>in</strong>g rigs, directional drill<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

and treat<strong>in</strong>g sour gas were pioneered by this dynamic company.<br />

Signal ventured <strong>in</strong>to o<strong>the</strong>r states and even countries. Signal was<br />

one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dependents beh<strong>in</strong>d Am<strong>in</strong>oil (American Independent<br />

Oil Company), which secured drill<strong>in</strong>g rights <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> neutral zone<br />

between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia <strong>in</strong> 1948. Signal purchased<br />

several o<strong>the</strong>r small oil companies <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1950s and 1960s to<br />

become a fully <strong>in</strong>tegrated oil company. It also diversified <strong>in</strong>to<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong>dustries such as shipp<strong>in</strong>g (American President L<strong>in</strong>es),<br />

snacks (Laura Scudders), and aviation technology (Garrett).<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally, <strong>the</strong>se o<strong>the</strong>r enterprises became so successful that<br />

Signal ended up sell<strong>in</strong>g its entire petroleum operations to a<br />

Scottish Oil Company, Burmah, <strong>in</strong> 1974. Ironically, Burmah sold<br />

everyth<strong>in</strong>g two years later to Am<strong>in</strong>oil.<br />

Thus, Signal Oil and Gas is no longer on <strong>the</strong> roster <strong>of</strong> players<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil and gas <strong>in</strong>dustry, but <strong>the</strong> legacy <strong>of</strong> Samuel Mosher and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r pioneer<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>novators lives on. <strong>The</strong> will<strong>in</strong>gness <strong>of</strong> a lemon<br />

grower to risk everyth<strong>in</strong>g, and to completely change his life,<br />

made all <strong>the</strong> difference.<br />



Above: Red Crown gasol<strong>in</strong>e be<strong>in</strong>g put <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Spirit <strong>of</strong> St. Louis for L<strong>in</strong>dberg’s historic<br />

flight, one 5 gallon can at a time. <strong>The</strong> plane<br />

carried 500 gallons. L<strong>in</strong>dberg said he used<br />

Red Crown because it would give him more<br />

fly<strong>in</strong>g range.<br />


Below: Airplane fuel<strong>in</strong>g with a hose.<br />


O<strong>the</strong>rs sold over 100 percent <strong>in</strong>terest <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

wells. Gushers, fires and o<strong>the</strong>r mishaps were<br />

ra<strong>the</strong>r common <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early, ra<strong>the</strong>r chaotic<br />

days <strong>of</strong> this field.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Dom<strong>in</strong>guez Field, discovered <strong>in</strong> 1923,<br />

was developed <strong>in</strong> a much more orderly fashion<br />

than Signal Hill, primarily because all <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> acreage was controlled by just three companies,<br />

Union, Shell, and Associated. Wells<br />

were drilled on a 600 foot spac<strong>in</strong>g ra<strong>the</strong>r than<br />

haphazardly on small lots. Injection <strong>of</strong> produced<br />

gas to ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> reservoir pressure<br />

was commenced with<strong>in</strong> two years, and by<br />

1926 virtually all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> gas be<strong>in</strong>g produced<br />

was ei<strong>the</strong>r re<strong>in</strong>jected or utilized. In contrast,<br />

out <strong>of</strong> 290 million cubic feet <strong>of</strong> gas produced<br />

daily at Signal Hill, all but about 70 million<br />

was released <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> atmosphere.<br />

O<strong>the</strong>r discoveries <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1920s <strong>in</strong>clude<br />

<strong>the</strong> Mount Posos, Edison and Kettleman Hills<br />

Fields <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley (1926, 1928, and<br />

1928, respectively), R<strong>in</strong>con <strong>in</strong> Ventura County<br />

(1927), and Elwood <strong>in</strong> Santa Barbara County<br />

(1928). Production from all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se fields led<br />

to an oversupply <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> by <strong>the</strong> late ’20s.<br />

By 1929 <strong>California</strong> produced 801,120 barrels<br />

a day (292 million annually). Production <strong>of</strong> a<br />

potential additional 190,985 per day was shut<br />

<strong>in</strong>. <strong>The</strong> glut <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> led some companies<br />

to beg<strong>in</strong> look<strong>in</strong>g abroad for oil and markets.<br />

Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> explored <strong>in</strong> Mexico,<br />

Central America, Sou<strong>the</strong>ast Asia, and <strong>the</strong><br />

Philipp<strong>in</strong>es to supply <strong>the</strong> Pacific Bas<strong>in</strong> market.<br />

By <strong>the</strong> late 1920s Standard was more <strong>in</strong>terested<br />

<strong>in</strong> sell<strong>in</strong>g oil abroad than import<strong>in</strong>g oil<br />

for its <strong>California</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>eries. Standard was also<br />

explor<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Permian Bas<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> Texas <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

’20s, and built a pipel<strong>in</strong>e <strong>the</strong>re <strong>in</strong> 1928. Union<br />

Oil had six produc<strong>in</strong>g wells <strong>in</strong> Wyom<strong>in</strong>g and<br />

Texas <strong>in</strong> 1922, set up Union Oil <strong>of</strong> Canada,<br />

Ltd., to run a ref<strong>in</strong>ery <strong>in</strong> Vancouver, and was<br />

explor<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> Venezuela <strong>in</strong> 1926.<br />

<strong>The</strong> 1920s saw important advances <strong>in</strong><br />

ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g and <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> products <strong>of</strong>fered to consumers.<br />

Oil companies started add<strong>in</strong>g<br />

tetraethyl lead to gasol<strong>in</strong>e to reduce eng<strong>in</strong>e<br />

knock<strong>in</strong>g. High-octane aviation gasol<strong>in</strong>e was<br />

promoted through air races, especially after<br />

<strong>the</strong> L<strong>in</strong>dberg flight <strong>in</strong> 1927 popularized aviation.<br />

Standard was quick to publicize that<br />

<strong>the</strong>y had provided Red Crown gasol<strong>in</strong>e for<br />

<strong>the</strong> Spirit <strong>of</strong> Sa<strong>in</strong>t Louis. Union promoted<br />

Aristo Motor Oil, <strong>the</strong> “aristocrat <strong>of</strong> motor<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


oils,” which <strong>the</strong>y said was free<br />

<strong>of</strong> asphalt. Standard began market<strong>in</strong>g<br />

an asphalt emulsion for<br />

roads and ro<strong>of</strong><strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> 1925.<br />

In 1929 <strong>the</strong> first test <strong>of</strong> electrical<br />

well logg<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> U.S. was<br />

done for Shell <strong>in</strong> Kern County.<br />

Electrical logg<strong>in</strong>g was <strong>in</strong>vented<br />

by <strong>the</strong> French bro<strong>the</strong>rs Conrad<br />

and Marcel Schlumberger, whose<br />

company ran this first U.S. test.<br />

Electrical logg<strong>in</strong>g utilizes a sonde<br />

or tool that is lowered on a cable<br />

<strong>in</strong>to a well. Sens<strong>in</strong>g electrical or<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r physical properties, electrical<br />

logg<strong>in</strong>g can among o<strong>the</strong>r th<strong>in</strong>gs<br />

provide <strong>the</strong> depths <strong>of</strong> rock formations cut<br />

by a well. From this beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g logg<strong>in</strong>g has<br />

become a major method throughout <strong>the</strong><br />

world, now be<strong>in</strong>g done as a rout<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> every<br />

well when it is drilled. Logg<strong>in</strong>g is used by<br />

geologists to correlate formations between<br />

adjacent wells, much as Pacific Coast Oil<br />

Company tried to do us<strong>in</strong>g well cores at Pico<br />

Canyon <strong>in</strong> 1889.<br />



By 1930 <strong>the</strong> old ways <strong>of</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g seeps were<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> distant past. Search<strong>in</strong>g for geologic<br />

traps led to giant discoveries where geologic<br />

structures such as anticl<strong>in</strong>es could be<br />

observed at <strong>the</strong> surface, generally as outcrops<br />

or topography. However, <strong>the</strong>re are vast flat<br />

areas with buried anticl<strong>in</strong>es that cannot be<br />

seen at <strong>the</strong> surface. <strong>The</strong>re are also oil-bear<strong>in</strong>g<br />

strata <strong>in</strong> coastal areas that extend <strong>of</strong>fshore, as<br />

at Summerland. Early geophysical methods<br />

showed some promise <strong>of</strong> provid<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>formation<br />

about geological structures beneath <strong>the</strong><br />

surface. Gravity or magnetic measurements<br />

made at various locations gave <strong>in</strong>dications <strong>of</strong><br />

different k<strong>in</strong>ds <strong>of</strong> rocks. Pass<strong>in</strong>g sound waves<br />

through salt domes on <strong>the</strong> Gulf Coast (seismic<br />

refraction) could provide drill<strong>in</strong>g locations for<br />

oil trapped around <strong>the</strong> domes. Unfortunately<br />

all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se methods were ra<strong>the</strong>r specialized<br />

and worked only <strong>in</strong> certa<strong>in</strong> places. A more<br />

universal method <strong>of</strong> imag<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> earth’s <strong>in</strong>terior<br />

was needed.<br />

In 1921 a new <strong>in</strong>vention called reflection<br />

seismology, or <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong>dustry simply<br />

“seismic,” was tested successfully for <strong>the</strong> first<br />

time <strong>in</strong> Oklahoma. Seismic methods <strong>in</strong> those<br />

early days were primitive compared to today.<br />

Sound (seismic) waves were generated us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

explosive charges <strong>in</strong> shot holes about 100<br />

feet deep drilled by small rigs. Seismographs<br />

were <strong>of</strong> an early heavy, cumbersome type. <strong>The</strong><br />

record<strong>in</strong>g device used a light source, a mirror<br />

that was moved by <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>com<strong>in</strong>g electric<br />

signal, and photographic paper.<br />

About four seismographs were deployed <strong>in</strong><br />

a l<strong>in</strong>e a few hundred feet long <strong>in</strong> l<strong>in</strong>e with <strong>the</strong><br />

shot po<strong>in</strong>t. Or, two such l<strong>in</strong>es were “crossed”<br />

perpendicular to each o<strong>the</strong>r go<strong>in</strong>g away from<br />

<strong>the</strong> shot. Such cross-spreads would allow<br />

determ<strong>in</strong>ation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> dip direction <strong>of</strong> strata.<br />

Shots were spaced from several thousand feet<br />

to a mile apart depend<strong>in</strong>g on <strong>the</strong> geology. In<br />

<strong>the</strong> ra<strong>the</strong>r simple geologic situation <strong>in</strong><br />

Oklahoma or Texas, <strong>in</strong>dividual layers <strong>of</strong> rock<br />

persisted over long distances, and such a bed<br />

caused similar seismic reflections from shots<br />

over a large area. All <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se arrival times <strong>of</strong><br />

similar waves could be correlated to make a<br />

map show<strong>in</strong>g anticl<strong>in</strong>es and o<strong>the</strong>r structures<br />

that might conta<strong>in</strong> oil.<br />

In 1928 and aga<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> 1931, seismic was<br />

tried <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, but <strong>the</strong>se <strong>in</strong>itial results<br />

were unsatisfactory. In <strong>California</strong> beds <strong>of</strong><br />

sandstone and o<strong>the</strong>r rock are <strong>of</strong>ten lenslike<br />

and persist only for short distances.<br />

<strong>The</strong> seismic correlation method that worked<br />

so well elsewhere mostly failed <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong><br />

Schlumberger early logg<strong>in</strong>g truck, about<br />

1932. <strong>The</strong> cable goes <strong>of</strong>f frame to <strong>the</strong> right,<br />

and down a well. <strong>The</strong> two men at left are<br />

operat<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> record<strong>in</strong>g equipment.<br />




ecause <strong>the</strong> reflected seismic waves <strong>in</strong> different<br />

places bore no resemblance to one ano<strong>the</strong>r.<br />

In spite <strong>of</strong> disappo<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g results, experimental<br />

work cont<strong>in</strong>ued. F<strong>in</strong>ally, some reasonable<br />

data were obta<strong>in</strong>ed that led to <strong>the</strong> discovery<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Chowchilla Gas Field near Merced <strong>in</strong><br />

1934. Although this field turned out to have<br />

little commercial importance at <strong>the</strong> time,<br />

<strong>the</strong> way <strong>in</strong> which it was discovered was a<br />

promis<strong>in</strong>g development.<br />

Gradually it became clear that ano<strong>the</strong>r<br />

method was needed <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. In what<br />

came to be called <strong>the</strong> dip method, reflections<br />

at different shot locations were compared based<br />

on <strong>the</strong>ir dips, not on whe<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong> reflections<br />

look similar. If a geologically reasonable<br />

“hypo<strong>the</strong>tical” bed could be drawn on a<br />

cross-section between reflections at two shot<br />

locations us<strong>in</strong>g only <strong>the</strong> dip <strong>in</strong>formation at<br />

<strong>the</strong> two locations, <strong>the</strong>n <strong>the</strong> two reflections<br />

could be considered to be from <strong>the</strong> same<br />

geologic layer even though <strong>the</strong>y looked<br />

different. A map could be prepared <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

hypo<strong>the</strong>tical bed from shots distributed over<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


a survey area. If such a map showed closure<br />

such as a dome or anticl<strong>in</strong>e, a prospective<br />

target was <strong>in</strong>dicated. This method was used<br />

successfully to discover several more gas<br />

fields <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> and Sacramento<br />

Valleys. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> biggest successes, however,<br />

was <strong>the</strong> discovery <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> giant Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton<br />

Oil Field <strong>in</strong> 1936.<br />

We now know that <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Field<br />

and <strong>the</strong> nearby Torrance Field lie along a<br />

geological structure similar to three o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

trends so successfully explored earlier, <strong>the</strong><br />

Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da-Whittier, Coyotes Hills, and<br />

Newport-Inglewood trends. Unlike <strong>the</strong> fields<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>se o<strong>the</strong>r trends, <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton anticl<strong>in</strong>e<br />

shows no <strong>in</strong>dication at <strong>the</strong> surface that it<br />

exists. It occurs <strong>in</strong> a very flat, low-ly<strong>in</strong>g area<br />

that now makes up most <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles—<br />

Long Beach Harbor. After <strong>the</strong> Torrance Field<br />

was discovered <strong>in</strong> 1922 many wells were<br />

drilled to extend <strong>the</strong> produc<strong>in</strong>g trend to <strong>the</strong><br />

sou<strong>the</strong>ast. A well drilled <strong>in</strong> 1932 was later<br />

proven to be beyond <strong>the</strong> saddle that separates<br />

<strong>the</strong> Torrance structure from <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton<br />

structure. Although this is sometimes cited as<br />

<strong>the</strong> discovery well, at <strong>the</strong> time it gave no <strong>in</strong>dication<br />

<strong>of</strong> ano<strong>the</strong>r field.<br />

<strong>The</strong> real Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton discovery four years<br />

later was made on <strong>the</strong> basis <strong>of</strong> a seismic survey.<br />

About twenty shot locations an average<br />

distance apart <strong>of</strong> 3,200 feet, with crossspreads<br />

<strong>of</strong> seismographs about 450 feet long<br />

at each, were used. <strong>The</strong>se locations were more<br />

or less evenly distributed, although not <strong>in</strong> a<br />

strict grid pattern because <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> presence <strong>of</strong><br />

build<strong>in</strong>gs, shipp<strong>in</strong>g channels, and <strong>in</strong>dustrial<br />

plants. <strong>The</strong> depth and dip <strong>of</strong> a hypo<strong>the</strong>tical<br />

bed 2,000 to 4,000 feet deep was determ<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

at each shot po<strong>in</strong>t, and a map was made from<br />

<strong>the</strong>se data show<strong>in</strong>g a domal structure. Based<br />

on this map <strong>the</strong> General <strong>Petroleum</strong> No. 1 well<br />

was drilled <strong>in</strong> 1936. It came <strong>in</strong> at 1,500<br />

barrels a day at 3,625 feet. In 1942 a map was<br />

made based on over 1,000 wells that by <strong>the</strong>n<br />

had been drilled, which is remarkably similar<br />

to <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al seismic map. Production at<br />

Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton is now near <strong>the</strong> 3 billion barrel<br />

mark; <strong>the</strong> size <strong>of</strong> this field and <strong>the</strong> way it was<br />

discovered make it one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> most important<br />

milestones <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> history <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> entire petroleum<br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry, not just <strong>California</strong>’s.<br />

Encouraged by this and o<strong>the</strong>r successes,<br />

seismic grew <strong>in</strong>to an <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong> its own right.<br />

Some seismic work was done by <strong>the</strong> oil companies<br />

<strong>the</strong>mselves, but numerous contractors<br />

also appeared <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1930s. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se was<br />

Western Geophysical, founded <strong>in</strong> 1933 by<br />

<strong>California</strong>n Henry Salvatori, who did <strong>the</strong> seismic<br />

survey at Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton. <strong>The</strong>se companies<br />

and o<strong>the</strong>rs cont<strong>in</strong>ually improved <strong>the</strong>ir product,<br />

mak<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> geophones (seismographs) smaller<br />

and lighter, develop<strong>in</strong>g analog magnetic tape<br />

record<strong>in</strong>g devices (1954), and creat<strong>in</strong>g “swamp<br />

buggies.” For use <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> ocean <strong>the</strong>y <strong>in</strong>vented<br />

energy sources, hydrophone arrays (1947),<br />

and navigation systems.<br />

Eventually correlation and dip shoot<strong>in</strong>g<br />

became obsolete. Cont<strong>in</strong>uous pr<strong>of</strong>il<strong>in</strong>g, which<br />

used a series <strong>of</strong> shot po<strong>in</strong>ts and overlapp<strong>in</strong>g or<br />

adjo<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g spreads <strong>of</strong> geophones along a l<strong>in</strong>e,<br />

became <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry standard. This provided<br />

an actual “image” or picture, although distorted,<br />

<strong>of</strong> geologic structure along a cross section.<br />

<strong>The</strong> next big advance was multichannel seismic,<br />

<strong>in</strong> which reflections from a s<strong>in</strong>gle po<strong>in</strong>t<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> subsurface to numerous geophones<br />

were summed or “stacked.” Vibroseis on land<br />

replaced explosives. Three-dimentional seismic<br />

allows imag<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> a volume <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> subsurface<br />

ra<strong>the</strong>r than only along a 2D cross section. All <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong>se advances made possible detailed imag<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> subsurface. Such imag<strong>in</strong>g has for many<br />

years been considered essential for <strong>the</strong> development<br />

<strong>of</strong> a viable petroleum prospect.<br />



<strong>The</strong> stock market crash <strong>of</strong> 1929 and ensu<strong>in</strong>g<br />

depression affected <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> petroleum<br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry severely. Annual production<br />

plummeted from a high <strong>of</strong> 290 million barrels<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1929 to around 170 million <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early<br />

1930s. New well notices decl<strong>in</strong>ed steadily<br />

from a high <strong>of</strong> 1,256 <strong>in</strong> 1929 to 279 <strong>in</strong> 1932<br />

before ris<strong>in</strong>g to 596 <strong>in</strong> 1934. <strong>The</strong> Federal<br />

Government began controll<strong>in</strong>g production<br />

rates <strong>in</strong> 1933. Recovery was slow until <strong>the</strong><br />

onset <strong>of</strong> World War II. <strong>The</strong> 1929 production<br />

level was not reached aga<strong>in</strong> until 1943. New<br />

well notices <strong>in</strong>creased dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> war years,<br />

reach<strong>in</strong>g 2,252 by 1944.<br />

Opposite, top: Map show<strong>in</strong>g Torrance and<br />

Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Fields. Included <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> latter is<br />

<strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>ast extension <strong>in</strong>to downtown<br />

Long Beach and <strong>the</strong> adjacent harbor.<br />

Both fields are located <strong>in</strong> a long anticl<strong>in</strong>e<br />

that has a saddle between <strong>the</strong> two fields.<br />

Opposite, bottom: Seismic map (top, left)<br />

made us<strong>in</strong>g shot locations <strong>in</strong>dicated by<br />

ovals. Similar map <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> structure (top,<br />

right) used data from 1,000 wells drilled<br />

after 1936. A typical 1930s seismic record<br />

with traces from six seismographs is also<br />

shown. <strong>The</strong> trace at <strong>the</strong> bottom is from <strong>the</strong><br />

seismograph far<strong>the</strong>st from <strong>the</strong> shot location.<br />

Adapted from Salvatori, H., 1944<br />

“Early reflection seismograph<br />

exploration <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.”<br />



Above: Discovery well <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Ten Section<br />

Field, San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley. This discovery <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> flat part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley was made<br />

with seismic.<br />



Life among <strong>the</strong> derricks, four photographs<br />

below and entire opposite page: <strong>The</strong>y were<br />

ubiquitous along streets and waterways<br />

<strong>of</strong> Sou<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong> for most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

twentieth century. In all k<strong>in</strong>ds <strong>of</strong> street<br />

scenes, pictures <strong>of</strong> children (or adults)<br />

play<strong>in</strong>g with boats, an orchard, someone’s<br />

laundry, or a merchant display<strong>in</strong>g his<br />

wares, a derrick or two crop up and no one<br />

seems to m<strong>in</strong>d. <strong>The</strong>y could sometimes be<br />

useful, as dur<strong>in</strong>g a row<strong>in</strong>g event <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1932<br />

Olympics when people climbed high onto<br />

derricks to get a good view.<br />






Despite <strong>the</strong> depression <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry,<br />

remarkable accomplishments were made <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> 1930s. <strong>The</strong> use <strong>of</strong> seismic to discover<br />

Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton <strong>in</strong> 1936 has already been mentioned.<br />

Fields <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> flat part <strong>of</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong><br />

Valley were discovered with seismic <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

same year, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Ten Section. Several<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r fields followed <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> next few years.<br />

<strong>The</strong> first large commercial gas fields were<br />

discovered <strong>in</strong> Sacramento Valley <strong>in</strong> 1935,<br />

followed by more discoveries <strong>in</strong> 1936 and<br />

beyond. Records for <strong>the</strong> deepest well <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

world were set and rapidly broken. Often<br />

<strong>the</strong> record-hold<strong>in</strong>g well was <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

In 1934 it was 11,377 feet at South Belridge.<br />

In 1938 a well was drilled to 15,004 feet <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Wasco Field. Four billion barrels were<br />

added to <strong>California</strong>’s reserves <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1930s.<br />

By 1930 <strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry was a<br />

ubiquitous part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> urban scene <strong>of</strong> Sou<strong>the</strong>rn<br />

<strong>California</strong>. Wooden and steel derricks made<br />

a new k<strong>in</strong>d <strong>of</strong> “forest” all over Los Angeles<br />

Bas<strong>in</strong>. Derricks could be seen on hilltops,<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> centers <strong>of</strong> busy streets with traffic<br />

stream<strong>in</strong>g around <strong>the</strong>m, <strong>in</strong> parks and o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

places where people went for recreation.<br />

Photographs <strong>of</strong> sport<strong>in</strong>g events, family picnics,<br />

or sailboats <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> harbor <strong>of</strong>ten had derricks<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> background. It was as if <strong>the</strong> derricks and<br />

pumpjacks were a normal part <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles<br />

scenery, to be paid no more attention than<br />

power poles, build<strong>in</strong>gs or o<strong>the</strong>r structures.<br />

Dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> 1932 Olympic Games, when Los<br />

Angeles proudly displayed itself to <strong>the</strong> world,<br />

oil fields were visible next to some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

venues, such as where <strong>the</strong> row<strong>in</strong>g events were<br />

held. Ref<strong>in</strong>eries were ano<strong>the</strong>r visible manifestation<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry, and <strong>of</strong> course gas stations<br />

were by <strong>the</strong>n everywhere. In <strong>the</strong> 1930s<br />

many people were still alive who remembered<br />

<strong>the</strong> horse and buggy days. It seems likely that<br />

people <strong>in</strong> general appreciated <strong>the</strong> way <strong>in</strong><br />

which petroleum had improved <strong>the</strong>ir lives.<br />

Larger <strong>California</strong> companies, such as<br />

Union and Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>, expanded<br />

<strong>the</strong> out-<strong>of</strong>-state and foreign operations that<br />

<strong>the</strong>y had begun before 1930. Standard participated<br />

<strong>in</strong> Aramco, which discovered <strong>the</strong><br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />




Sale <strong>of</strong> Victory Bonds dur<strong>in</strong>g World War II<br />

at Standard’s El Segundo Ref<strong>in</strong>ery.<br />


supergiant Damman Field <strong>in</strong> Saudi Arabia<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1938. Union explored <strong>in</strong> Texas, Alaska<br />

and Colombia <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> late ’30s. Out-<strong>of</strong>-state<br />

companies like Shell cont<strong>in</strong>ued to work <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>. Thus <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry that<br />

had been ra<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong>sular <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1800s and<br />

early 1900s became more <strong>in</strong>tegrated with <strong>the</strong><br />

world petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry. <strong>The</strong> early isolation<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>, its geology, and <strong>the</strong> peculiar<br />

nature <strong>of</strong> its oil forced explorers and ref<strong>in</strong>ers<br />

to <strong>in</strong>novate. Increas<strong>in</strong>gly, <strong>the</strong>se <strong>in</strong>novations<br />

would be applied around <strong>the</strong> world, benefit<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry generally.<br />

<strong>The</strong> heavy, sulfur-rich <strong>California</strong> oil posed<br />

problems for ref<strong>in</strong>ers, as we have seen. Just<br />

as it was difficult to manufacture highquality<br />

kerosene <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1800s, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1900s<br />

lubricants, especially motor oil, suffered.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se difficulties stimulated companies <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> to develop new methods <strong>of</strong> ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g<br />

that would later be used <strong>in</strong>ternationally.<br />

In 1934 Union came up with a way <strong>of</strong> us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

liquid propane to remove asphalt from <strong>the</strong><br />

crude. This allowed <strong>the</strong>m to make a 100<br />

percent paraff<strong>in</strong>-based motor oil that was<br />

just as good as anyth<strong>in</strong>g that could be<br />

made from Pennsylvania oil. To promote<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir new oil, Union had a team <strong>of</strong> drivers<br />

run a Studebaker President 8 for 60,000<br />

miles <strong>in</strong> sixty days without chang<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> new<br />

oil. That averages a little over forty miles per<br />

hour, 24-7. <strong>The</strong> eng<strong>in</strong>e showed remarkably<br />

little wear. Call<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>ir new product Triton,<br />

Union quickly cut <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> 50 percent<br />

<strong>California</strong> market share that <strong>the</strong> eastern<br />

motor oils had. <strong>The</strong>y also began sell<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

oil back East.<br />

By 1940 Union had developed an alkylation<br />

plant that produced 100-octane aviation<br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e. This obviously had implications for<br />

<strong>the</strong> impend<strong>in</strong>g war. By <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> World War<br />

II <strong>the</strong> production <strong>of</strong> aviation gasol<strong>in</strong>e had<br />

<strong>in</strong>creased seven fold.<br />

Chemical research, much <strong>of</strong> it stimulated<br />

by <strong>the</strong> obst<strong>in</strong>ate <strong>California</strong> crude, led to <strong>the</strong><br />

growth <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> petrochemical <strong>in</strong>dustry, which<br />

was to change <strong>the</strong> life <strong>of</strong> every human on <strong>the</strong><br />

planet. <strong>The</strong> mid-’30s saw <strong>the</strong> development <strong>of</strong><br />

nylon and syn<strong>the</strong>tic rubber. <strong>The</strong> war effort<br />

brought about large-scale production <strong>of</strong><br />

toluene for explosives and new ways <strong>of</strong><br />

mak<strong>in</strong>g lube oil for diesel eng<strong>in</strong>es.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />



On December 19, 1941, just twelve days<br />

after Pearl Harbor, General <strong>Petroleum</strong>’s tanker<br />

Emidio was torpedoed by <strong>the</strong> Japanese near<br />

Crescent City <strong>in</strong> nor<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong>. Two<br />

days later <strong>the</strong> Union tanker Montebello left<br />

Avila, on <strong>the</strong> central <strong>California</strong> Coast, with a<br />

load <strong>of</strong> oil bound for Vancouver. A few hours<br />

later <strong>the</strong> ship was torpedoed and sunk by a<br />

Japanese submar<strong>in</strong>e. All <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> crew survived.<br />

Two months later, on February 23, 1942,<br />

ano<strong>the</strong>r submar<strong>in</strong>e surfaced just <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong><br />

Ellwood Oil Field and fired a number <strong>of</strong> five<br />

and a half <strong>in</strong>ch shells <strong>in</strong>to it, do<strong>in</strong>g $500<br />

worth <strong>of</strong> damage. This was <strong>the</strong> first attack by<br />

a foreign power on <strong>the</strong> cont<strong>in</strong>ental homeland<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> U.S. s<strong>in</strong>ce 1812, when <strong>the</strong> British<br />

sacked Wash<strong>in</strong>gton D.C. Thus <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong><br />

petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry was directly <strong>in</strong>volved <strong>in</strong><br />

World War II from <strong>the</strong> very start. <strong>California</strong><br />

made a critical contribution to <strong>the</strong> war effort,<br />

produc<strong>in</strong>g one billion barrels <strong>of</strong> oil out <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

seven billion barrels used by <strong>the</strong> allies.<br />

World War II was to be a mechanized war<br />

like no o<strong>the</strong>r. Recent developments <strong>in</strong> eng<strong>in</strong>e<br />

technology, especially as applied to aviation,<br />

meant that high-test fuels and temperature-<br />

Above: Woman work<strong>in</strong>g at a Standard tank<br />

farm. Women were engaged <strong>in</strong> many oil<br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry jobs dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> war.<br />


Below: General <strong>Petroleum</strong> tanker Emidio<br />

after be<strong>in</strong>g torpedoed <strong>in</strong> 1941.<br />




esistant lubricants were needed quickly,<br />

and <strong>in</strong> large quantities. For example, a s<strong>in</strong>gle<br />

armored division required 60,000 gallons <strong>of</strong><br />

fuel a day to fight. In addition it soon became<br />

clear that <strong>the</strong> products were not just needed,<br />

but were needed <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> right place. Gett<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> fuel and oil to <strong>the</strong> far-flung islands and<br />

atolls <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Pacific, for example, would test<br />

<strong>the</strong> mettle <strong>of</strong> both <strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry<br />

and <strong>the</strong> military. <strong>The</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry was<br />

well-equipped to assist <strong>in</strong> that part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> war<br />

because it was positioned along <strong>the</strong> rim <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Pacific <strong>The</strong>atre.<br />

<strong>Industry</strong> resources, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g oil, tankers,<br />

and o<strong>the</strong>r facilities, were commandeered by<br />

<strong>the</strong> military for <strong>the</strong> duration <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> war.<br />

Tankers were taken over and reassigned to<br />

<strong>the</strong> companies that owned <strong>the</strong>m. A supply<br />

cha<strong>in</strong> was set up <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> big, slow<br />

company tankers filled <strong>the</strong> smaller, faster<br />

Navy supply ships which <strong>in</strong> turn fueled <strong>the</strong><br />

combat vessels. Supply<strong>in</strong>g island <strong>in</strong>vasions<br />

was more difficult, as oil drums had to be<br />

rolled ashore <strong>of</strong>f land<strong>in</strong>g craft <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> middle<br />

<strong>of</strong> a battle. A plant was set up by Union Oil at<br />

Pittsburg, <strong>California</strong> (near San Francisco Bay)<br />

to fill 4,800 barrels a day. A surge <strong>of</strong> activity<br />

at this plant could <strong>in</strong>dicate to <strong>the</strong> enemy an<br />

upcom<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>vasion, so <strong>the</strong> plant was kept<br />

secret until <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> war, by which time<br />

862,000 barrels had been filled with 46 million<br />

gallons <strong>of</strong> fuel.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> Adm<strong>in</strong>istration for War<br />

was set up by <strong>the</strong> government, with <strong>in</strong>dustry<br />

representatives, to put <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry on a war<br />

foot<strong>in</strong>g. One committee was responsible for<br />

<strong>California</strong> and o<strong>the</strong>r Pacific states. It came<br />

up with <strong>the</strong> concept <strong>of</strong> maximum efficient<br />

rates (MER), which was def<strong>in</strong>ed as <strong>the</strong><br />

production rate for a field that if cont<strong>in</strong>ued<br />

for six months would not reduce <strong>the</strong> ultimate<br />

production <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field.<br />

Catalytic crackers were <strong>in</strong>stalled <strong>in</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>eries<br />

to boost <strong>the</strong> production <strong>of</strong> high-test gasol<strong>in</strong>e.<br />

O<strong>the</strong>r products produced for <strong>the</strong> war <strong>in</strong>cluded<br />

plastics, syn<strong>the</strong>tic textiles, and chemicals for<br />

explosives and syn<strong>the</strong>tic rubber. <strong>The</strong>se new<br />

technologies provided <strong>the</strong> bases for new<br />

bus<strong>in</strong>esses after <strong>the</strong> war. When <strong>the</strong> war f<strong>in</strong>ally<br />

came to an end <strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry was<br />

set to expand <strong>in</strong>to a new era <strong>of</strong> opportunity.<br />



Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s oil fields produce<br />

natural gas <strong>in</strong> addition to oil. As we have<br />

seen, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early days gas was allowed to<br />

vent <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> atmosphere <strong>in</strong> places like<br />

Signal Hill, where town lot drill<strong>in</strong>g and<br />

competition with neighbors meant that one’s<br />

ma<strong>in</strong> motivation was to produce as much<br />

oil as possible before someone else got it.<br />

Cas<strong>in</strong>ghead gasol<strong>in</strong>e was sometimes extracted<br />

from natural gas, and <strong>the</strong> residue could be<br />

used as a fuel <strong>in</strong> oil field eng<strong>in</strong>es.<br />

Natural gas as an <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong> its own right<br />

did not really get under way <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong><br />

until about 1910, and did not reach its stride<br />

until <strong>the</strong> 1930s when seismic exploration<br />

came to <strong>the</strong> fore. Prior to 1910 gas was<br />

sometimes collected from seeps or from<br />

shallow wells that had been drilled for water.<br />

In 1854 <strong>the</strong> courthouse <strong>in</strong> Stockton was<br />

provided enough gas for light<strong>in</strong>g by a water<br />

well nearby. This hydrocarbon-produc<strong>in</strong>g<br />

well was drilled at least five years before<br />

<strong>the</strong> famous Drake Well <strong>in</strong> Titusville,<br />

Pennsylvania. Gas and oil seeps were be<strong>in</strong>g<br />

found along <strong>the</strong> tributary rivers <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Sacramento River that were <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> range <strong>of</strong><br />

hills west <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley. Unsuccessful wells<br />

were drilled near seeps <strong>in</strong> Colusa and Glenn<br />

Counties <strong>in</strong> 1865-1866. A gas seep was<br />

found next to Sutter Buttes, a volcanic plug<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> middle <strong>of</strong> Sacramento Valley. A m<strong>in</strong>e<br />

shaft was dug to f<strong>in</strong>d out where <strong>the</strong> gas came<br />

from; <strong>the</strong>y thought <strong>the</strong> source would be oil or<br />

coal. Unfortunately, an explosion <strong>in</strong>jured two<br />

m<strong>in</strong>ers and <strong>the</strong>y had to stop. By 1890 many<br />

water wells from Tehama County south to <strong>the</strong><br />

lower part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Sacramento River Bas<strong>in</strong><br />

were supply<strong>in</strong>g gas as well as water to<br />

farmhouses. In 1890-1891 companies were<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g wells <strong>in</strong> Stockton and Sacramento.<br />

Some water/gas wells <strong>in</strong> Stockton reached<br />

depths <strong>of</strong> 1,000 to 2,000 feet.<br />

In 1909, large amounts <strong>of</strong> dry gas were<br />

found <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Buena Vista Oil Field, which<br />

was <strong>in</strong> an anticl<strong>in</strong>e parallel to and nor<strong>the</strong>ast<br />

<strong>of</strong> that <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Midway-Sunset Oil Field <strong>in</strong><br />

San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley. By 1913 pipel<strong>in</strong>es<br />

were supply<strong>in</strong>g this gas to Bakersfield and<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Los Angeles. Gas was discovered <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Elk<br />

Hills Oil Field <strong>in</strong> 1919. At Buttonwillow <strong>the</strong><br />

first large accumulation <strong>of</strong> gas that was not<br />

associated with oil was found <strong>in</strong> 1927. More<br />

gas found <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Kettleman Hills Oil Field<br />

brought about <strong>the</strong> construction <strong>of</strong> a pipel<strong>in</strong>e<br />

to San Francisco. By this time an oversupply<br />

<strong>of</strong> gas caused many producers to flare or vent<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir gas. This was a factor <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> legislature’s<br />

pass<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Gas Act <strong>in</strong> 1929, which<br />

required producers to utilize <strong>the</strong>ir gas or<br />

<strong>in</strong>ject it back <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> formation. Re<strong>in</strong>jection,<br />

as <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Dom<strong>in</strong>guez Oil Field, helped to<br />

ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong> formation pressure, mak<strong>in</strong>g it<br />

possible to recover a greater percentage <strong>of</strong> a<br />

field’s oil reserves.<br />

A dry gas field was discovered <strong>in</strong> 1934 at<br />

Trico, about forty miles north <strong>of</strong> Bakersfield,<br />

on <strong>the</strong> basis <strong>of</strong> gas <strong>in</strong> water wells and a slight<br />

topographic rise. This field is <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> central,<br />

almost flat part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley. Us<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> new<br />

tool <strong>of</strong> seismic, and adapt<strong>in</strong>g it to <strong>California</strong>’s<br />

conditions, explorationists began f<strong>in</strong>d<strong>in</strong>g<br />

fields <strong>in</strong> new places. In 1933 seismic helped<br />

discover gas near Sutter Buttes <strong>in</strong> Sacramento<br />

Valley. <strong>The</strong> Tracy Field was found, followed<br />

by <strong>the</strong> Rio Vista Field, <strong>the</strong> largest gas field <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>, <strong>in</strong> 1936. Smaller gas fields were<br />

discovered <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> nor<strong>the</strong>rn part <strong>of</strong> San<br />

Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley. <strong>The</strong> Santa Barbara—Ventura<br />

area is also home to gas fields, as is Santa<br />

Maria Bas<strong>in</strong>. Gas <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong> is<br />

associated with oil.<br />

Sacramento Valley is almost exclusively a<br />

gas prov<strong>in</strong>ce, with about eighty gas fields and<br />

only two small oil fields. About 10 trillion<br />

cubic feet (TCF) <strong>of</strong> gas, and just a few million<br />

barrels <strong>of</strong> oil, have been produced from a<br />

fairway about 200 miles long and 45 miles<br />

wide. <strong>The</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> reason for <strong>the</strong> lack <strong>of</strong> oil is<br />

that <strong>the</strong> Monterey Formation is conf<strong>in</strong>ed to<br />

central and sou<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong>. <strong>The</strong> habitat<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> gas <strong>in</strong> Sacramento Valley is quite<br />

different from that <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>rn<br />

part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> state. <strong>The</strong> reservoir and source<br />

rocks are much older, ma<strong>in</strong>ly Upper<br />

Cretaceous through Eocene (38 million years<br />

old or older). Traps were formed by fold<strong>in</strong>g<br />

and fault<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> Oligocene time (38 to 25<br />

million years), before deposition <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Monterey Formation to <strong>the</strong> south even began.<br />

A formation called <strong>the</strong> Great Valley Sequence<br />

outcrops <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> hills west <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley.<br />

Consist<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>terbedded sandstone and<br />

shale, <strong>the</strong> Great Valley Sequence houses both<br />

<strong>the</strong> source rocks and reservoir rocks. <strong>The</strong><br />

strata dip almost vertically west <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley,<br />

and “bottom out” deep under <strong>the</strong> middle <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> valley, where <strong>the</strong>y are buried under<br />

thousands <strong>of</strong> feet <strong>of</strong> younger rocks. <strong>The</strong> seeps<br />

are found <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> hills where <strong>the</strong> Great Valley<br />

rocks are at <strong>the</strong> surface. In <strong>the</strong> valley <strong>the</strong><br />

deeply buried rocks have no effect on surface<br />

topography, and gas traps must be located<br />

with seismic methods.<br />

Out <strong>of</strong> 80 gas fields, only 6 have production<br />

<strong>of</strong> more than 250 billion cubic feet<br />

(BCF). <strong>The</strong> Rio Vista Field is by far <strong>the</strong><br />

largest. By 2010 it had produced more<br />

than 3.6 TCF, three times that <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> next<br />

largest field. Cover<strong>in</strong>g 29,000 acres <strong>in</strong><br />

two counties, <strong>the</strong> field is located <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Sacramento Delta region about twenty miles<br />

northwest <strong>of</strong> Stockton. <strong>The</strong> confluence <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Sacramento and San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Rivers is<br />

nearby. <strong>The</strong> Town <strong>of</strong> Rio Vista is completely<br />

surrounded by <strong>the</strong> field. <strong>The</strong> field also<br />

underlies several islands <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Sacramento<br />

River Delta. Much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> area is below sea<br />

level and is protected by levees. Production<br />

significantly <strong>in</strong>creased dur<strong>in</strong>g World War II<br />

to meet demand as gas could no longer be<br />

shipped to San Francisco from Kettleman<br />

Hills. <strong>The</strong> Kettleman pipel<strong>in</strong>e had been<br />

converted from gas to oil for <strong>the</strong> war effort.<br />

Rio Vista was unitized <strong>in</strong> 1965, and <strong>in</strong> 1999,<br />

Amerada Hess sold <strong>the</strong> field.<br />

Many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Sacramento Valley gas<br />

deposits are elusive. This is because anticl<strong>in</strong>es<br />

and o<strong>the</strong>r traps <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> reservoir rocks<br />

do not project upward <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> overly<strong>in</strong>g<br />

strata, at least <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> central part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley.<br />

<strong>The</strong> result<strong>in</strong>g lack <strong>of</strong> surface expression<br />

has made Sacramento Valley a laboratory for<br />

development <strong>of</strong> better methods <strong>of</strong> imag<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> subsurface, especially seismic. Seismic<br />

methods such as bright spots and AVO<br />

(amplitude variation with <strong>of</strong>fset) were developed<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1970s and 1980s us<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> part<br />

data from Sacramento Valley to prove <strong>the</strong><br />

method. Today 3D seismic is used extensively<br />

to explore for new deposits <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley.<br />




FOUR<br />



Above: Three major Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong><br />

Fields discovered s<strong>in</strong>ce World War II:<br />

Las Cienegas, Belmont Offshore, and Beta.<br />

Opposite, top: Fire hydrant <strong>in</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton<br />

Field area. Subsidence has taken <strong>the</strong> land<br />

surface, where <strong>the</strong> dog is sitt<strong>in</strong>g, well<br />

below sealevel. <strong>The</strong> bow, gun turret and<br />

superstructure <strong>of</strong> a navy ship are visible<br />

beh<strong>in</strong>d <strong>the</strong> levy <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> background.<br />


Opposite, bottom: Well heads that were<br />

raised dur<strong>in</strong>g a landfill operation carried<br />

out to compensate for subsidence. <strong>The</strong> land<br />

surface was subject to <strong>in</strong>undation before<br />

<strong>the</strong> landfill.<br />


With <strong>the</strong> close <strong>of</strong> World War II <strong>the</strong> military demand for fuel and o<strong>the</strong>r petroleum products<br />

decreased to a fraction <strong>of</strong> its former self. This was more than made up for by <strong>the</strong> baby boom<br />

and new prosperity <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1950s. New well notices <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> climbed to 2,772 <strong>in</strong> 1948.<br />

Production was opened <strong>in</strong> Cuyama Valley <strong>in</strong> 1948-1949 and <strong>in</strong> Sal<strong>in</strong>as Valley <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> ’50s. <strong>The</strong><br />

natural gas prov<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>in</strong> Sacramento Valley was greatly expanded <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> ’50s and ’60s. <strong>California</strong>’s<br />

gas production, after slowly decl<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g through most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1950s, went from about 450 billion<br />

cubic feet (BCF) annually <strong>in</strong> 1958 to 725 BCF ten years later. <strong>The</strong> Paloma Field <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong><br />

Valley was <strong>the</strong> scene <strong>of</strong> a new world drill<strong>in</strong>g record, 20,521 feet.<br />

On <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r hand, mature areas saw a taper<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong>f. Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong>, home <strong>of</strong> billion<br />

barrel giants, has seen only three substantial discoveries s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> war, Belmont Offshore <strong>in</strong> 1948<br />

(75 million barrels, actually an extension <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Field), Las Cienegas <strong>in</strong> 1960<br />

(75 million), and Beta <strong>of</strong>fshore <strong>in</strong> 1976 (220 million). Total new field discoveries <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> bas<strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> last seventy years amount to only about half a billion barrels, a small fraction <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

10 billion or more barrels that have been produced.<br />

Far more has been added to <strong>California</strong>’s reserves s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> war by develop<strong>in</strong>g new enhanced<br />

recovery methods than by explor<strong>in</strong>g for new fields. U.S. Department <strong>of</strong> Energy data <strong>in</strong>dicate that<br />

only 3 percent <strong>of</strong> reserves additions <strong>in</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1980s came from new field<br />

discoveries. <strong>The</strong> rest was from enhanced recovery and development <strong>of</strong> new pools <strong>in</strong> exist<strong>in</strong>g<br />

fields. Giant fields discovered <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early days, such as Kern River, Coal<strong>in</strong>ga, Midway-Sunset,<br />

South Belridge, and Elk Hills saw <strong>the</strong> biggest ga<strong>in</strong>s. For example, Midway Sunset went from<br />

an estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) <strong>of</strong> 1 billion barrels <strong>in</strong> 1950 to 3.5 billion <strong>in</strong> 2000, and<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Kern River went from 500 million to 2 billion<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> same period. Similar <strong>in</strong>creases occurred<br />

at Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach, Ventura, and San Ardo<br />

<strong>in</strong> Sal<strong>in</strong>as Valley. Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton has also benefited,<br />

although its major ga<strong>in</strong>s have been from<br />

field extensions to <strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>ast—Long Beach<br />

Harbor (THUMS) and Belmont Offshore.<br />

Sometimes producers got enhanced oil<br />

recovery as an additional benefit from oil field<br />

operations that were <strong>in</strong>tended for ano<strong>the</strong>r<br />

purpose. <strong>The</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Field had been<br />

produc<strong>in</strong>g at top speed for <strong>the</strong> war effort.<br />

After <strong>the</strong> war strange events were occurr<strong>in</strong>g at<br />

<strong>the</strong> Naval Shipyard and o<strong>the</strong>r facilities <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

oil field area. Railroad tracks buckled. Sewer<br />

l<strong>in</strong>es broke. Walls cracked. Surveyors found<br />

that <strong>the</strong> land was subsid<strong>in</strong>g as much as two<br />

feet per year <strong>in</strong> some places by <strong>the</strong> early<br />

1950s. Dikes were built to keep <strong>the</strong> ocean<br />

away from <strong>the</strong> shipyard as well as from<br />

factories and warehouses employ<strong>in</strong>g 1,000<br />

people. Horizontal movement associated<br />

with <strong>the</strong> subsidence caused a large amount <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> damage. <strong>The</strong> oil field itself was affected.<br />

Well cas<strong>in</strong>gs were crushed or sheared <strong>of</strong>f, and<br />

many produc<strong>in</strong>g wells had to be abandoned.<br />



Well on a long, narrow (about 100 feet<br />

wide) lease that <strong>in</strong>cluded <strong>the</strong> tracks <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Sou<strong>the</strong>rn Pacific Railroad. <strong>The</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al<br />

lease holder was Jack Herley Operations.<br />

Operations coexisted at close quarters for<br />

decades with both railroad<strong>in</strong>g<br />

and agriculture.<br />


By this time it was known that more reserves<br />

existed to <strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>ast under Downtown Long<br />

Beach and <strong>the</strong> adjacent harbor. If <strong>the</strong> subsidence<br />

problem could not be solved perhaps<br />

this rich resource would never be developed.<br />

Richfield and o<strong>the</strong>r operators realized that<br />

production <strong>of</strong> oil from <strong>the</strong> field’s shallow,<br />

thick, unconsolidated sands was <strong>the</strong> cause<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> problem. Reduction <strong>of</strong> formation<br />

pressure as <strong>the</strong> oil was produced allowed <strong>the</strong><br />

sands to compact. In 1955 <strong>the</strong> president <strong>of</strong><br />

Richfield, Charles Jones, proposed a solution<br />

<strong>in</strong> a speech at <strong>the</strong> Long Beach Rotary Club.<br />

He suggested that water be <strong>in</strong>jected <strong>in</strong>to<br />

<strong>the</strong> reservoir to <strong>in</strong>crease <strong>the</strong> pressure and<br />

arrest <strong>the</strong> subsidence. Because <strong>the</strong>re were a<br />

hundred operators and over 1,000 property<br />

owners, legislation was needed to unitize <strong>the</strong><br />

field. Agreements were made on how <strong>the</strong> City<br />

<strong>of</strong> Long Beach and <strong>the</strong> operators would work<br />

toge<strong>the</strong>r to make <strong>the</strong> biggest waterflood<strong>in</strong>g<br />

project <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> world work.<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally, water <strong>in</strong>jection got underway <strong>in</strong><br />

October 1959. Not only did it arrest <strong>the</strong><br />

subsidence <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> land, <strong>the</strong> water also pushed<br />

oil ahead <strong>of</strong> it to produc<strong>in</strong>g wells, lead<strong>in</strong>g<br />

to <strong>the</strong> recovery <strong>of</strong> an ano<strong>the</strong>r 500 to 700<br />

million barrels. In addition <strong>the</strong> City <strong>of</strong> Long<br />

Beach opened bidd<strong>in</strong>g on <strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>astern<br />

extension <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field when it was clear that<br />

<strong>the</strong> subsidence had stopped. This added<br />

ano<strong>the</strong>r 1 to 1.2 billion barrels to <strong>the</strong> total<br />

reserves <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field.<br />

O<strong>the</strong>r ways <strong>of</strong> gett<strong>in</strong>g oil out <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ground<br />

were tried <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> oil fields, lead<strong>in</strong>g<br />

to enhanced oil recovery methods now<br />

used around <strong>the</strong> world. By 1950, as much as<br />

40 billion barrels <strong>of</strong> heavy, sulfur-rich crude<br />

had been discovered <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, but by<br />

some estimates only 10 percent <strong>of</strong> it had any<br />

chance <strong>of</strong> be<strong>in</strong>g recovered. One approach<br />

was to heat up <strong>the</strong> oil to reduce its viscosity.<br />

Several ways <strong>of</strong> do<strong>in</strong>g this were experimented<br />

on <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> laboratory, <strong>the</strong>n tried <strong>in</strong> small pilot<br />

projects <strong>in</strong> oil fields.<br />

One idea was to set <strong>the</strong> oil sand on fire.<br />

Called “fireflood<strong>in</strong>g,” this was done by pump<strong>in</strong>g<br />

air <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> formation. Oxidation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

oil heated <strong>the</strong> formation enough to cause<br />

spontaneous ignition. It was hoped that about<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


10 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil would burn (primarily<br />

<strong>the</strong> tarry, less desirable fraction) and heat <strong>the</strong><br />

rest so that it would flow more easily to <strong>the</strong><br />

produc<strong>in</strong>g wells. In 1956 General <strong>Petroleum</strong><br />

ran a test <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> South Belridge Field us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

an <strong>in</strong>jection well <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> center <strong>of</strong> a 330 foot<br />

square with a produc<strong>in</strong>g well on each corner.<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r test was done <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> same year<br />

by Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> at Midway-Sunset<br />

with an <strong>in</strong>jection well and three producers<br />

<strong>in</strong> a 200 foot circle around <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>jector.<br />

Increases <strong>in</strong> production were observed but<br />

<strong>the</strong> method was expensive. It never really<br />

took <strong>of</strong>f, especially with smaller operators.<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r method was bottom hole heat<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

<strong>in</strong> which a fluid, ei<strong>the</strong>r oil or water, was<br />

heated at <strong>the</strong> surface and pumped via tubes<br />

<strong>in</strong>side <strong>the</strong> cas<strong>in</strong>g down to a heat exchanger<br />

unit at <strong>the</strong> bottom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hole. <strong>The</strong> surround<strong>in</strong>g<br />

formation was heated by conduction. This<br />

was much cheaper than fireflood<strong>in</strong>g as it<br />

used equipment that could be moved from<br />

well to well. New <strong>in</strong>jection wells did not have<br />

to be drilled. <strong>The</strong> problem was that it could<br />

heat <strong>the</strong> formation only up to a short distance<br />

from <strong>the</strong> borehole. A better way <strong>of</strong> heat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

large volumes <strong>of</strong> oil sand was needed.<br />

That idea was steamflood<strong>in</strong>g. It was tried<br />

first by Shell <strong>in</strong> 1960 <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Yorba L<strong>in</strong>da<br />

Field. This field, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> eastern part <strong>of</strong><br />

Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong>, was discovered <strong>in</strong> 1930<br />

with reserves <strong>of</strong> about 90 million barrels <strong>of</strong><br />

12 gravity oil. Shell’s pilot project, estimated<br />

to cost $150,000, <strong>in</strong>volved pump<strong>in</strong>g steam<br />

<strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> shallow (600 foot) pay zone to heat<br />

<strong>the</strong> heavy oil. Shell kept <strong>the</strong> project secret,<br />

and began ano<strong>the</strong>r pilot on <strong>the</strong> 15 gravity oil<br />

at Coal<strong>in</strong>ga later <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> same year. This test<br />

called for an <strong>in</strong>jection well <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1,000 foot<br />

deep pay zone, four observation wells 90 feet<br />

away, and two producers on opposite sides<br />

180 feet from <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>jector. Shell kept mum on<br />

this test too, but <strong>the</strong> cont<strong>in</strong>u<strong>in</strong>g steam<strong>in</strong>g<br />

operations at both sites could be observed<br />

by competitors.<br />

Meanwhile, Tidewater was experiment<strong>in</strong>g<br />

with hot water flood<strong>in</strong>g at Kern River. This<br />

method had a problem with channel<strong>in</strong>g, <strong>in</strong><br />

which <strong>the</strong> water created pathways that left much<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> surround<strong>in</strong>g sand unaffected. Tidewater<br />

began experiments with steamflood<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Although Shell and Tidewater did<br />

<strong>the</strong>se tests <strong>in</strong> secret, o<strong>the</strong>rs eventually<br />

figured out what <strong>the</strong>y were do<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

What soon became obvious to everyone<br />

was that a large number <strong>of</strong> leases<br />

were suddenly be<strong>in</strong>g sold, and that <strong>the</strong><br />

buyer was usually Shell or Tidewater.<br />

Many leases were go<strong>in</strong>g for prices far<br />

above <strong>the</strong> value <strong>of</strong> current production<br />

from stripper wells. Clearly someth<strong>in</strong>g<br />

was up. O<strong>the</strong>r companies started buy<strong>in</strong>g<br />

leases. Steamflood<strong>in</strong>g was much<br />

cheaper than fireflood<strong>in</strong>g, and even a<br />

relatively small operator could do it.<br />

People talked about ten-fold <strong>in</strong>creases<br />

<strong>in</strong> production <strong>of</strong> stripper wells at<br />

Midway-Sunset and South Belridge.<br />

By 1964 <strong>the</strong> secrecy had melted away.<br />

Publications like <strong>California</strong> Oil World<br />

were talk<strong>in</strong>g about steamflood<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

<strong>The</strong> habitat <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> heavy <strong>California</strong> oil<br />

makes it especially suited for steamflood<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

For example, at Midway-Sunset most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

pay sands are at 7,000 feet or less, and reservoir<br />

temperatures are relatively low, below<br />

100 degrees F. Porosity and permeability are<br />

very good. Under <strong>the</strong>se conditions <strong>the</strong> steam<br />

can substantially <strong>in</strong>crease <strong>the</strong> temperature <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> cool, heavy crude. Waterflood<strong>in</strong>g and<br />

fireflood<strong>in</strong>g had been tried at Midway-Sunset<br />

as early as 1954 and 1960, respectively.<br />

Steamflood<strong>in</strong>g, which started <strong>in</strong> 1963, was<br />

expanded to five different pools by 1970. A<br />

rapid <strong>in</strong>crease <strong>in</strong> EUR <strong>of</strong> about 500 million<br />

barrels occurred <strong>in</strong> 1969-1970. Later stepwise<br />

<strong>in</strong>creases were due to discovery <strong>of</strong> new<br />

pools and fur<strong>the</strong>r enhanced recovery.<br />



In <strong>the</strong> early town-lot days wells were<br />

drilled with little regard for <strong>the</strong> effects <strong>of</strong><br />

noise, fumes, runaway spills, fires, gushers,<br />

and o<strong>the</strong>r events that at <strong>the</strong> time were considered<br />

normal oil field occurrences. Derricks<br />

seem<strong>in</strong>gly appeared almost anywhere <strong>in</strong><br />

Los Angeles, <strong>of</strong>ten close to residences, parks<br />

or bus<strong>in</strong>esses. As <strong>the</strong> city grew it became<br />

apparent that oil field operations would have<br />

to adapt to an urban environment. This led to<br />

Steam <strong>in</strong>jection well, Kern County,<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1960s.<br />





<strong>in</strong>novations <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> that were eventually<br />

adopted <strong>in</strong> many o<strong>the</strong>r places <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> world.<br />

One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> first times a well was drilled<br />

with special consideration for surround<strong>in</strong>g<br />

people and bus<strong>in</strong>esses was right <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

middle <strong>of</strong> World War II. In 1943 at First and<br />

Gardner Streets, fifty years and three miles<br />

removed from <strong>the</strong> boisterous Los Angeles City<br />

Field, Shell drilled <strong>the</strong> Verne Community No. 1<br />

Well <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> old Salt Lake Field. This deep<br />

test was appropriately named after <strong>the</strong> author<br />

<strong>of</strong> 20,000 Leagues Under <strong>the</strong> Sea. Shell used<br />

electric motors enclosed <strong>in</strong> a noise and fume<br />

pro<strong>of</strong> cover<strong>in</strong>g. <strong>The</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g site was also<br />

surrounded by a high fence. Although <strong>the</strong><br />

7,924 foot test was a dry hole, it <strong>in</strong>troduced<br />

<strong>the</strong> idea <strong>of</strong> beautify<strong>in</strong>g and sound-pro<strong>of</strong><strong>in</strong>g<br />

an urban drill<strong>in</strong>g site.<br />

In 1949 Union Oil began develop<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

Sans<strong>in</strong>ena Field near La Habra, which had<br />

been discovered <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> clos<strong>in</strong>g days <strong>of</strong> World<br />

War II. M<strong>in</strong>eral rights for this 3,400 acre tract<br />

had been purchased by Lyman Stewart back<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Opposite, top: Bolsa Chica section <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach Field, <strong>in</strong> close proximity<br />

to a hous<strong>in</strong>g development. Also visible is one<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore platforms, and beh<strong>in</strong>d it<br />

Santa Catal<strong>in</strong>a Island.<br />


<strong>in</strong> 1902 without tell<strong>in</strong>g his board <strong>of</strong> directors.<br />

Union had done little with <strong>the</strong> property<br />

even though it was on-trend between <strong>the</strong><br />

Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da and Whittier Fields. Years later<br />

<strong>the</strong> surface rights were sold <strong>of</strong>f and affluent<br />

residential areas developed. <strong>The</strong> homeowners<br />

were conv<strong>in</strong>ced to allow drill<strong>in</strong>g only when<br />

Union <strong>of</strong>fered to give <strong>the</strong>m royalties (even<br />

though it owned <strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong>eral rights) and<br />

pledged to drill directionally from “islands.”<br />

Us<strong>in</strong>g sites hidden <strong>in</strong> canyons, Union developed<br />

<strong>the</strong> field <strong>in</strong>to a 11,000 barrel per day<br />

producer by 1957. Derricks were covered<br />

with glass cloth and fiberglass sheet<strong>in</strong>g that<br />

was pa<strong>in</strong>ted green on <strong>the</strong> outside to blend<br />

<strong>in</strong> with <strong>the</strong> surround<strong>in</strong>gs. Exhausts were<br />

equipped with mufflers. Instead <strong>of</strong> us<strong>in</strong>g mud<br />

pits, drill<strong>in</strong>g fluids were stored <strong>in</strong> tanks and<br />

waste was hauled away <strong>in</strong> tank trucks.<br />

This successful development provided an<br />

example for fur<strong>the</strong>r drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> more<br />

densely populated Los Angeles. In 1950 <strong>the</strong><br />

Los Angeles City Council adopted rules<br />

permitt<strong>in</strong>g drill<strong>in</strong>g only from “islands.”<br />

Electric motors, soundpro<strong>of</strong>ed rigs, disposal<br />

<strong>of</strong> waste, and o<strong>the</strong>r practices used at<br />

Sans<strong>in</strong>ena were required. Some <strong>in</strong>terest<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Opposite, bottom left: Build<strong>in</strong>g to house<br />

derrick at Occidental’s oil island. Installed<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1966, <strong>the</strong> site is now operated by Pacific<br />

Coast Energy Company. Complete with a<br />

v<strong>in</strong>e-covered wall, shrubbery and trees,<br />

<strong>the</strong> site blends <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>rwise typical<br />

west Los Angeles street scene. <strong>The</strong> only<br />

sound emitted is a fa<strong>in</strong>t hum <strong>of</strong> mach<strong>in</strong>ery.<br />

Interest<strong>in</strong>gly, <strong>the</strong> three streets that converge<br />

here are all named after oil pioneers.<br />


Opposite, bottom right: A covered derrick.<br />



Above: Oil <strong>in</strong> Surf City. Covered rig along<br />

Pacific Coast Highway, Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach.<br />


Left and below, three views <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> same<br />

build<strong>in</strong>g: Oil island at Pico Boulevard and<br />

Genesee Avenue built by Standard Oil.<br />

Now operated by Freeport-McMoRan,<br />

it can house two drill<strong>in</strong>g rigs at a time.<br />

<strong>The</strong> build<strong>in</strong>g appears to have a front<br />

entrance like an ord<strong>in</strong>ary <strong>of</strong>fice build<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Landscap<strong>in</strong>g is meticulously ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong>ed.<br />




Right: R<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> boulders will form <strong>the</strong><br />

perimeter <strong>of</strong> a THUMS island. <strong>The</strong> dredge<br />

is beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g to fill <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>terior <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> island.<br />

Downtown Long Beach is <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> background.<br />


Below: Map <strong>of</strong> part <strong>of</strong> west Los Angeles<br />

show<strong>in</strong>g trackl<strong>in</strong>es <strong>of</strong> wells drilled from<br />

Occidental’s oil island. Major streets are<br />

shown <strong>in</strong> orange. O<strong>the</strong>r oil islands are<br />

nearby, and toge<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong>y provide coverage<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Beverly Hills Field. Wells to <strong>the</strong><br />

southwest were drilled from <strong>the</strong> Hillcrest<br />

Country Club, and wells along <strong>the</strong> east<br />

marg<strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> map were drilled from<br />

Standard’s oil island far<strong>the</strong>r east at<br />

Pico Boulevard and Genesee Avenue.<br />





drill<strong>in</strong>g sites were used, such as <strong>the</strong> Twentieth<br />

Century Fox Movie lot, which was <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> old<br />

Beverley Hills Field. This field, discovered<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1900, was fad<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1950s when <strong>the</strong><br />

Universal Consolidated Oil Company drilled<br />

5,000 feet deeper than <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al 2,500 pay<br />

zone. <strong>The</strong>y brought <strong>in</strong> a 525 barrel per day<br />

producer. Fifty-two wells were drilled from<br />

two islands on <strong>the</strong> studio lot. Concrete reta<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g<br />

walls and o<strong>the</strong>r soundpro<strong>of</strong><strong>in</strong>g were<br />

essential so as not to disturb nearby moviemak<strong>in</strong>g<br />

operations.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Ano<strong>the</strong>r drill<strong>in</strong>g site was <strong>the</strong> Hillcrest<br />

Country Club, whose membership list <strong>in</strong>cluded<br />

show bus<strong>in</strong>ess names and high f<strong>in</strong>ance<br />

people. Signal Oil and Gas wanted to drill<br />

directionally at a site 100 yards from <strong>the</strong><br />

clubhouse. <strong>The</strong> country club managers agreed<br />

to <strong>the</strong> deal as a means <strong>of</strong> cover<strong>in</strong>g ris<strong>in</strong>g<br />

expenses. Jack Benny, a member <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> club,<br />

found a way as usual to make a joke <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

situation, say<strong>in</strong>g, “Perhaps if we sign up with<br />

Signal, we will be as rich as Bob Hope and<br />

B<strong>in</strong>g Crosby someday.”<br />

Drill<strong>in</strong>g islands sprouted all over <strong>the</strong> city.<br />

Three such sites were built along Pico<br />

Boulevard, appropriately named after <strong>the</strong><br />

early oil pioneer. Two were made to look<br />

like multi-story <strong>of</strong>fice build<strong>in</strong>gs. Occidental<br />

<strong>Petroleum</strong>, which built one at a cost <strong>of</strong><br />

$1,000,000, called it <strong>the</strong> “world’s first architecturally<br />

designed oil derrick.” Ano<strong>the</strong>r site,<br />

owned by Standard <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>, was so well<br />

disguised that a group <strong>of</strong> visit<strong>in</strong>g executives<br />

from ano<strong>the</strong>r company reportedly drove by<br />

it three times before a policeman conv<strong>in</strong>ced<br />

<strong>the</strong>m that <strong>the</strong> “<strong>of</strong>fice build<strong>in</strong>g” was really<br />

an oil island. <strong>The</strong> Las Cienegas Field was<br />

developed entirely from oil islands, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> three on Pico Boulevard. Yet ano<strong>the</strong>r<br />

oil rig, built by Mobil at Venice Beach, looked<br />

like a lighthouse.<br />

One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> best known, and most elaborately<br />

disguised, oil operations is <strong>the</strong> set <strong>of</strong><br />

four oil islands operated by THUMS <strong>in</strong> Long<br />

Beach Harbor. <strong>The</strong>se are islands <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> real<br />

sense <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> word, artificially made to develop<br />

<strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>ast extension <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton<br />

Field. When it was clear <strong>in</strong> 1964 that subsidence<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Field was under<br />

control, <strong>the</strong> City <strong>of</strong> Long Beach and <strong>the</strong> state,<br />

co-owners <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong>eral rights, opened <strong>the</strong><br />

extension to bidd<strong>in</strong>g. Five companies jo<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

toge<strong>the</strong>r to submit <strong>the</strong> w<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g bid, which<br />

had a razor-th<strong>in</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>it marg<strong>in</strong>. <strong>The</strong> companies<br />

were will<strong>in</strong>g to take a small percentage<br />

because oil was already known to exist <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> area where <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Anticl<strong>in</strong>e<br />

cont<strong>in</strong>ues to <strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>ast, and because transportation<br />

and ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g facilities existed close<br />

at hand. <strong>The</strong> five companies <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al<br />

consortium were Texaco, Humble, Union,<br />

Mobil, and Shell; hence <strong>the</strong> acronym THUMS.<br />

THUMS constructed four islands <strong>in</strong> Long<br />

Beach Harbor by mak<strong>in</strong>g r<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>of</strong> boulders<br />

quarried on Santa Catal<strong>in</strong>a Island, <strong>the</strong>n fill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Piers. <strong>The</strong> first “platform” was a portion <strong>of</strong><br />

a pier like <strong>the</strong>se.<br />





Top, left: THUMS island newly filled with<br />

dredged material.<br />


Top, right: Derricks and o<strong>the</strong>r facilities are<br />

be<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>stalled. Palm trees that will make<br />

up part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> landscap<strong>in</strong>g have been<br />

planted. <strong>The</strong> derricks are covered to vary<strong>in</strong>g<br />

degrees with structures to make <strong>the</strong>m look<br />

like condom<strong>in</strong>iums.<br />


Middle: Nearly completed THUMS island<br />

as it appears from ground level. More work<br />

is needed to completely extend <strong>the</strong> cosmetic<br />

r<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> trees and shrubs around <strong>the</strong> island.<br />


Bottom: THUMS Island Chaffey.<br />

<strong>The</strong> four islands have been named after<br />

U.S. astronauts who gave <strong>the</strong>ir lives <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> early part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> NASA space program.<br />

Tracks are visible on which <strong>the</strong> derrick can<br />

be moved to access well sites. Tanks and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r support<strong>in</strong>g equipment are <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>terior <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> island. Landscap<strong>in</strong>g and<br />

cosmetic structures can be seen on<br />

<strong>the</strong> perimeter.<br />



BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


<strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>teriors with sand dredged from <strong>the</strong> harbor<br />

floor. <strong>The</strong> derricks were disguised with<br />

pa<strong>in</strong>ted balconies and light<strong>in</strong>g to look like<br />

luxury condom<strong>in</strong>iums. Only a few derricks<br />

were needed on each island as <strong>the</strong>y could be<br />

moved to any desired location on a set <strong>of</strong> rails.<br />

Directional wells were drilled from surface<br />

locations only six feet apart. <strong>The</strong> perimeter <strong>of</strong><br />

each island is decorated with palm trees,<br />

oleanders and o<strong>the</strong>r shrubs, and <strong>the</strong>re are<br />

waterfalls illum<strong>in</strong>ated at night. Although many<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> locals know that <strong>the</strong> towers are derricks,<br />

<strong>the</strong>y seem to be pleased with <strong>the</strong> es<strong>the</strong>tics,<br />

as are <strong>the</strong> many visitors and tourists. By <strong>the</strong><br />

end <strong>of</strong> 1967 THUMS was complet<strong>in</strong>g about<br />

one well a day, some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m bottom<strong>in</strong>g out<br />

under <strong>the</strong> streets <strong>of</strong> downtown Long Beach.<br />

Production was 50,000 barrels a day and ris<strong>in</strong>g.<br />


As has already been mentioned, <strong>the</strong> U.S.<br />

<strong>of</strong>fshore petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry started <strong>in</strong> 1897<br />

when <strong>the</strong> first <strong>of</strong> many wooden piers were<br />

built to support small derricks drill<strong>in</strong>g shallow<br />

wells <strong>of</strong>f <strong>of</strong> Summerland. Seeps seen at low<br />

tide <strong>in</strong>dicated that <strong>the</strong> produc<strong>in</strong>g beds on land<br />

cont<strong>in</strong>ued <strong>of</strong>fshore. <strong>The</strong>se were small wells<br />

produc<strong>in</strong>g an average <strong>of</strong> 1 barrel a day. <strong>The</strong>y<br />

were pr<strong>of</strong>itable because many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m could<br />

be operated cheaply with jackl<strong>in</strong>es and <strong>the</strong>re<br />

was a local market for <strong>the</strong> oil. Although storms<br />

destroyed many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wells, production<br />

cont<strong>in</strong>ued until <strong>the</strong> last well was lost <strong>in</strong> 1939.<br />

After a tideland leas<strong>in</strong>g act was passed by<br />

<strong>the</strong> legislature <strong>in</strong> 1921, drill<strong>in</strong>g was done at<br />

R<strong>in</strong>con and Elwood, near Ventura and Santa<br />

Barbara respectively. Steel and concrete were<br />

used <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> piers, which went as far as 2,300<br />

feet <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> ocean. In 1932 <strong>the</strong> first platform<br />

not connected to shore was built at R<strong>in</strong>con,<br />

actually a section <strong>of</strong> a pier. This structure<br />

survived until 1940, when it was brought<br />

down by a w<strong>in</strong>ter storm. All <strong>of</strong> this activity<br />

was extensions <strong>of</strong> known onshore fields. <strong>The</strong><br />

first discovery <strong>of</strong> an entirely <strong>of</strong>fshore field <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> was Summerland Offshore <strong>in</strong> 1957.<br />

A scene <strong>of</strong> much early <strong>of</strong>fshore development,<br />

and controversy, was Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach.<br />

<strong>The</strong> earliest <strong>of</strong>fshore production was apparently<br />

known only to <strong>the</strong> operators and not to<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry generally. Two wells drilled <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

early ’30s <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> townlot section had unusually<br />

high production for townlot wells. <strong>The</strong> Superior<br />

Babbitt No. 1 at one po<strong>in</strong>t reached 1,450<br />

barrels a day, and <strong>the</strong> Wilshire H. B. No. 15<br />

came <strong>in</strong> at 4,815 barrels a day. It was found<br />

that this well had drifted 1,400 feet <strong>of</strong>fshore.<br />

It was suspected that o<strong>the</strong>r operators had<br />

trespassed <strong>in</strong>to <strong>of</strong>fshore state lands, so <strong>the</strong><br />

state got an <strong>in</strong>junction to force one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m to<br />

do a directional survey. An <strong>of</strong>fshore pool <strong>in</strong> an<br />

anticl<strong>in</strong>e extend<strong>in</strong>g obliquely <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> ocean<br />

from <strong>the</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach structure<br />

had been tapped. <strong>The</strong> Babbitt Well was determ<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

after <strong>the</strong> fact to be <strong>the</strong> discovery well.<br />

In 1934 <strong>the</strong> production rate <strong>in</strong> this pool was<br />

over 20,000 barrels a day, far greater than<br />

any previous <strong>of</strong>fshore <strong>California</strong> production.<br />

Eventually <strong>the</strong> state and operators reached<br />

a compromise <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> state received<br />

royalties on <strong>the</strong> oil. A state lands act passed <strong>in</strong><br />

1938 provided a more orderly way <strong>of</strong> leas<strong>in</strong>g<br />

and drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong>fshore, sett<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> stage for<br />

great expansion <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> post-war era.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> late 1940s, Mar<strong>in</strong>e Exploration<br />

Company (later Monterey Oil Company) had<br />

a state tidelands lease <strong>of</strong>f Seal Beach. Seal Beach<br />

had an ord<strong>in</strong>ance aga<strong>in</strong>st drill<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> city<br />

limits, so Mar<strong>in</strong>e Exploration had to drill a<br />

well from an onshore site <strong>in</strong> adjacent Long<br />

Beach. This remarkable well, drilled <strong>in</strong> 1948,<br />

was spudded one and a half miles <strong>in</strong>land<br />

and whipstocked 9,271 feet, almost two<br />

miles, toward <strong>the</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore<br />

lease. <strong>The</strong> length <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

borehole was 12,180 feet<br />

and <strong>the</strong> true vertical<br />

depth was 5,700 feet.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y hit an oil sand and<br />

<strong>the</strong> well came <strong>in</strong> at 30<br />

barrels a day, not a barnburner,<br />

but encourag<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

<strong>The</strong> City <strong>of</strong> Seal Beach<br />

claimed jurisdiction out<br />

to three miles <strong>of</strong>fshore,<br />

a claim that Mar<strong>in</strong>e<br />

Exploration decided to<br />

test. <strong>The</strong>y built an island<br />

one and a half miles <strong>of</strong>fshore.<br />

<strong>The</strong> city filed a<br />

crim<strong>in</strong>al compla<strong>in</strong>t that<br />

Piers at Elwood, 1934.<br />





<strong>The</strong> Pacific Driller, used by Chevron to<br />

prove up <strong>the</strong> first fully <strong>of</strong>fshore field<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />


was rejected by <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> Supreme Court,<br />

which said <strong>the</strong> city had no jurisdiction. Mar<strong>in</strong>e<br />

could go ahead. Monterey, or Belmont Island,<br />

built <strong>in</strong> 1954, was 75 feet <strong>in</strong> diameter, with a<br />

perimeter made <strong>of</strong> sheet steel pil<strong>in</strong>gs and an<br />

<strong>in</strong>terior filled with rocks and sand. <strong>The</strong><br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g contractor made a stag<strong>in</strong>g area<br />

onshore with <strong>the</strong> same dimensions, where a<br />

test well was drilled with <strong>the</strong> crew required to<br />

stay <strong>in</strong>side <strong>the</strong> circle. <strong>The</strong> discovery well <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Belmont Offshore Field at <strong>the</strong> south end <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton anticl<strong>in</strong>e was drilled <strong>in</strong> 1954,<br />

produc<strong>in</strong>g 300 barrels a day from a reservoir<br />

at about 6,000 feet. <strong>The</strong> island was abandoned<br />

and removed <strong>in</strong> 2002. Ano<strong>the</strong>r <strong>of</strong>fshore<br />

island, built <strong>in</strong> 1958 to tap <strong>the</strong> R<strong>in</strong>con<br />

Offshore Field, has a causeway that connects<br />

it to <strong>the</strong> ma<strong>in</strong>land. It still exists today.<br />

Dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> 1950s several companies experimented<br />

with <strong>of</strong>fshore seismic surveys. <strong>The</strong>y<br />

also began drill<strong>in</strong>g core holes <strong>in</strong> open water<br />

from ships modified for <strong>the</strong> purpose. <strong>The</strong>se<br />

were <strong>in</strong>tended to identify potential petroleum<br />

reservoirs, not actually produce oil. Some <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong>se vessels were ex-Navy ships equipped<br />

with over-<strong>the</strong>-side drill<strong>in</strong>g rigs. <strong>The</strong>n <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

mid-’50s Standard and Richfield each modified<br />

a Navy land<strong>in</strong>g ship for center drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

through a hole <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> hull. In 1956,<br />

Cont<strong>in</strong>ental, Union, Shell and Superior jo<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

forces to create <strong>the</strong> world’s largest drill<strong>in</strong>g vessel<br />

at <strong>the</strong> time, <strong>the</strong> CUSS I. This modified<br />

Navy freight ship could drill to 10,000 feet <strong>in</strong><br />

up to 400 feet <strong>of</strong> water. <strong>The</strong> vessel had some<br />

<strong>in</strong>novations that were used on subsequent<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g ships. <strong>The</strong> travell<strong>in</strong>g block moved up<br />

and down on vertical rails to prevent it from<br />

sway<strong>in</strong>g as <strong>the</strong> vessel rocked. Stands <strong>of</strong> pipe<br />

or cas<strong>in</strong>g were stored horizontally on <strong>the</strong> deck<br />

ra<strong>the</strong>r than <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> derrick. When needed <strong>the</strong>y<br />

could be raised quickly to a vertical position<br />

by a specially designed pipe-handl<strong>in</strong>g system.<br />

CUSS I drilled dozens <strong>of</strong> holes up and down<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> Coast.<br />

<strong>The</strong> first discovery <strong>of</strong> an <strong>of</strong>fshore <strong>California</strong><br />

oil field that was not an extension <strong>of</strong> an<br />

onshore field was made by Standard <strong>in</strong> 1957.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y used a jack-up rig called <strong>the</strong> Pacific<br />

Driller, which had two 195 foot stilts on<br />

each corner and was capable <strong>of</strong> drill<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

16,000 foot hole <strong>in</strong> 90 feet <strong>of</strong> water. A<br />

standard 136-foot derrick was mounted on<br />

<strong>the</strong> barge. Hopper tanks received waste mud<br />

which was <strong>the</strong>n transferred to barges for<br />

disposal ashore. Core holes drilled from this<br />

rig proved up <strong>the</strong> field, but <strong>the</strong>y were not<br />

<strong>in</strong>tended to produce oil.<br />

In 1958 <strong>the</strong> first modern <strong>of</strong>fshore platform<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> was <strong>in</strong>stalled to develop <strong>the</strong> new<br />

field, designated <strong>the</strong> Summerland Offshore<br />

Field (although it has a trap separate from that<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Summerland Field onshore). <strong>The</strong> lower<br />

part <strong>of</strong> Platform Hazel was a tower 75 feet<br />

wide by 170 feet high. <strong>The</strong> tower’s four legs<br />

had caissons that were filled with water to<br />

s<strong>in</strong>k <strong>the</strong> tower at <strong>the</strong> job site. When <strong>the</strong> tower<br />

was on <strong>the</strong> bottom airjets were used to hose<br />

away sand so that <strong>the</strong> feet could rest on a<br />

more solid bottom. <strong>The</strong>n <strong>the</strong> caissons were<br />

filled with 6,000 tons <strong>of</strong> sand and concrete. A<br />

110 foot square deck was <strong>in</strong>stalled on <strong>the</strong><br />

tower, as well as a special 162 foot derrick<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Left: Deck and derrick <strong>in</strong>stalled on <strong>the</strong><br />

lower part <strong>of</strong> Platform Hazel after <strong>the</strong> latter<br />

was sunk.<br />


Below: Lower part <strong>of</strong> Platform Hazel. <strong>The</strong><br />

tops <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> caissons are visible; <strong>the</strong>y were<br />

subsequently filled with water to s<strong>in</strong>k <strong>the</strong><br />

structure to <strong>the</strong> seafloor.<br />


that could drill two wells simultaneously. <strong>The</strong><br />

platform had liv<strong>in</strong>g and work<strong>in</strong>g quarters<br />

as well as a helipad and was designed to<br />

drill 25 directional wells. Later a second<br />

platform, Hilda, was added about one and a<br />

half miles to <strong>the</strong> west to complete development<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field. Designed for <strong>the</strong> shallow,<br />

relatively placid waters <strong>of</strong> Santa Barbara<br />

Channel, <strong>the</strong>se platforms were <strong>the</strong> forerunners<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> mighty structures used today<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> hostile waters <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> North Sea and<br />

deepwater Gulf <strong>of</strong> Mexico.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> next several years more fields<br />

were drilled from platforms <strong>in</strong> state waters,<br />

<strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Conception and Quarta west <strong>of</strong><br />

Santa Barbara, as well as <strong>of</strong>fshore Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton<br />

Beach and Seal Beach. N<strong>in</strong>e <strong>of</strong>fshore oil fields<br />

were developed <strong>in</strong> state waters between 1959<br />

and 1966. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se fields, Carp<strong>in</strong>teria<br />

Offshore (1966), was near <strong>the</strong> 3-mile limit,<br />

rais<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> possibility that it could dra<strong>in</strong> oil<br />

from federal waters. This motivated <strong>the</strong><br />





Ever s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> 1969 <strong>of</strong>fshore spill, one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> most politically<br />

and emotionally charged issues <strong>of</strong> our time has been how to<br />

balance <strong>the</strong> need to produce and import energy with hav<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

clean, safe coastl<strong>in</strong>e.<br />

Major sources <strong>of</strong> oil and natural gas <strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore mar<strong>in</strong>e water are<br />

naturally occurr<strong>in</strong>g seeps. L<strong>in</strong>es <strong>of</strong> seeps are found <strong>in</strong> Santa Monica<br />

Bay and especially <strong>in</strong> Santa Barbara Channel. Isolated seeps have<br />

been found <strong>in</strong> San Pedro Bay and around <strong>the</strong> Channel Islands.<br />

L<strong>in</strong>es <strong>of</strong> seeps occur along <strong>the</strong> axes <strong>of</strong> two parallel anticl<strong>in</strong>es up to<br />

two miles <strong>of</strong>f Coal Oil Po<strong>in</strong>t west <strong>of</strong> Santa Barbara. Globules <strong>of</strong> tar<br />

are commonly found on nearly any beach <strong>in</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong>,<br />

and almost any resident who goes to <strong>the</strong> beach will step on it<br />

sooner or later. At Carp<strong>in</strong>teria State Beach, oil oozes from active<br />

seeps <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> beach bluffs, and great mounds <strong>of</strong> immobile tar,<br />

look<strong>in</strong>g much like lava flows, extend <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> surf zone.<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1989. Platform Holly is located on ano<strong>the</strong>r seep. Both platform<br />

and tents are right on <strong>the</strong> axis <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> South Elwood Anticl<strong>in</strong>e.<br />

<strong>The</strong> seeps can be mapped us<strong>in</strong>g sound waves <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> ocean.<br />

Echo sounders detect sound waves that reflect <strong>of</strong>f <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> column<br />

<strong>of</strong> bubbles <strong>of</strong> gas <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> water above a seep. Runn<strong>in</strong>g a small boat<br />

<strong>in</strong> a grid pattern allows one to build up a map. Comparison <strong>of</strong><br />

mapp<strong>in</strong>g surveys conducted from 1973 to 1995 showed that<br />

seepage with<strong>in</strong> two-thirds <strong>of</strong> a mile from Platform Holly had<br />

almost disappeared by 1995. In contrast, o<strong>the</strong>r seeps along <strong>the</strong><br />

south Elwood Anticl<strong>in</strong>e rema<strong>in</strong>ed about <strong>the</strong> same. Between 1967<br />

(when Holly began produc<strong>in</strong>g) and when <strong>the</strong> last seep survey was<br />

done <strong>in</strong> 1995, 50 million barrels <strong>of</strong> oil, an equal volume <strong>of</strong> water,<br />

and 30 BCF <strong>of</strong> gas were produced.Reservoir pressure decreased<br />

about 35 percent <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> same period. It seems likely that production<br />

<strong>of</strong> fluids from <strong>the</strong> reservoir caused a reduction <strong>in</strong> seepage.<br />

Sometimes it is possible to use<br />

chemical analysis to determ<strong>in</strong>e whe<strong>the</strong>r<br />

oil pollution on a beach comes from<br />

a spill or from natural seeps. On<br />

February 7, 1990, <strong>the</strong> American Trader<br />

ran aground about two and a half miles<br />

<strong>of</strong>f Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach, spill<strong>in</strong>g 9,381<br />

barrels <strong>of</strong> Alaskan crude. Much <strong>of</strong> this<br />

oil washed ashore <strong>in</strong> a storm 7 and 8<br />

days after <strong>the</strong> accident. <strong>The</strong> last <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

oil came ashore on day 12. Skimm<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>of</strong>fshore removed about 38 percent <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> spilled oil before it reached shore or<br />

sank to <strong>the</strong> bottom. Ano<strong>the</strong>r 9 percent<br />

was removed by cleanup operations<br />

onshore. Chemical analysis <strong>of</strong> biological<br />

marker compounds, leftovers <strong>of</strong><br />

orig<strong>in</strong>al organic molecules that were<br />

<strong>the</strong> raw material that became oil, serves<br />

to “f<strong>in</strong>gerpr<strong>in</strong>t” or identify <strong>the</strong> oil.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Alaska oil has a f<strong>in</strong>gerpr<strong>in</strong>t quite<br />

dist<strong>in</strong>ct from that <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> local oil.<br />

This made it possible to show that<br />

<strong>the</strong> spilled oil had disappeared from<br />

<strong>the</strong> beach by day 20 after <strong>the</strong> spill.<br />

Platform Holly, <strong>in</strong> state waters <strong>of</strong>f Coal Oil Po<strong>in</strong>t, west <strong>of</strong> Santa Barbara. <strong>The</strong> platform is now operated by Veneco. Tar globules found after that were<br />


“background” seep oil that is virtually<br />

always present.<br />

Some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore seeps are quite active, especially <strong>of</strong>f Coal <strong>The</strong>se examples show how modern technology—chemical<br />

Oil Po<strong>in</strong>t, discharg<strong>in</strong>g large amounts <strong>of</strong> natural gas and smaller analysis, mar<strong>in</strong>e acoustical survey<strong>in</strong>g, and o<strong>the</strong>r methods—can<br />

amounts <strong>of</strong> oil. In 1982 ARCO <strong>in</strong>stalled two seep tents, steel help us better understand how normal oil field operations,<br />

pyramids 20,400 square feet <strong>in</strong> area, on a seep about a mile sou<strong>the</strong>ast<br />

<strong>of</strong> Platform Holly. <strong>The</strong>se tents <strong>in</strong>itially collected about 1 MCF This could support rational plann<strong>in</strong>g for <strong>of</strong>fshore production and<br />

accidental spills, and natural seepage all affect coastal pollution.<br />

<strong>of</strong> gas per day. <strong>The</strong> rate doubled before beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g a long decl<strong>in</strong>e coastal term<strong>in</strong>als.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Left: Map show<strong>in</strong>g track <strong>of</strong> seismic reflection<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>ile shot across <strong>the</strong> Palos Verdes Fault.<br />


Below: Seismic pr<strong>of</strong>ile show<strong>in</strong>g prospective<br />

oil traps formed <strong>in</strong> part by <strong>the</strong> Palos Verdes<br />

Fault. This was developed as <strong>the</strong> Beta Field.<br />






Gas l<strong>in</strong>e at a Chevron station <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles<br />

dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> 1973 oil embargo.<br />


federal government to hold a lease sale for a<br />

dra<strong>in</strong>age tract <strong>in</strong> 1966. In ano<strong>the</strong>r lease sale a<br />

little over a year later, it <strong>of</strong>fered 110 tracts <strong>of</strong><br />

outer cont<strong>in</strong>ental shelf (OCS) land <strong>in</strong> Santa<br />

Barbara Channel.This sale brought <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

highest bid for any <strong>of</strong>fshore sale up to that<br />

time. Interest <strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore <strong>California</strong> was at<br />

a peak. By <strong>the</strong> late 1970s companies were<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g test holes throughout <strong>the</strong> OCS.<br />

Thousands <strong>of</strong> miles <strong>of</strong> multi-channel seismic<br />

reflection pr<strong>of</strong>iles were acquired to map<br />

possible oil traps. Some wells and seismic<br />

were done as far <strong>of</strong>fshore as Cortes and<br />

Tanner Banks, 100 miles from <strong>the</strong> coast and<br />

45 miles from San Clemente Island, <strong>the</strong><br />

nearest land. This remote (for that time) area<br />

<strong>of</strong> violent seas, high risk, and enormous<br />

logistical challenge would probably have<br />

required a supergiant discovery larger than<br />

Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton to justify development.<br />

Explorationists made significant discoveries<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> OCS <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1970s, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

Beta Field on <strong>the</strong> San Pedro Shelf. However<br />

<strong>the</strong> pace <strong>of</strong> development <strong>of</strong> platforms and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r facilities slowed before pick<strong>in</strong>g up<br />

aga<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1980s. Four platforms were<br />

<strong>in</strong>stalled <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1970s, compared to eighteen<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1960s (<strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g four islands) and<br />

fourteen <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1980s. <strong>The</strong> 1970s slowdown<br />

was <strong>in</strong> part due to <strong>the</strong> 1969 <strong>of</strong>fshore oil spill<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> OCS Dos Quadras Field near Santa<br />

Barbara. Although <strong>the</strong> flow <strong>of</strong> oil was under<br />

control <strong>in</strong> about eleven days, heavy seas<br />

moved <strong>the</strong> oil slick onto <strong>the</strong> shore, where<br />

it was sprayed onto sea cliffs and homes<br />

by w<strong>in</strong>d and waves. Struggl<strong>in</strong>g wildlife and<br />

coastal damage received <strong>in</strong>tense media<br />

attention, and pockets <strong>of</strong> strong opposition to<br />

<strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong> general developed.<br />

Litigation by environmental groups delayed<br />

until 1977 <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>stallation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> third<br />

platform <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Dos Quadras Field. However,<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore <strong>in</strong>dustry recovered, and most<br />

platforms <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> Coast were<br />

permitted and built after <strong>the</strong> 1969 spill<br />

with <strong>the</strong> most recent platform erected <strong>in</strong><br />

1989. Fur<strong>the</strong>rmore, drill<strong>in</strong>g from exist<strong>in</strong>g<br />

leases both <strong>in</strong> state and federal waters is<br />

allowed today.<br />


Ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> heavy, <strong>California</strong> oil had<br />

always been a problem. Simple distillation<br />

would separate out gasol<strong>in</strong>e or kerosene range<br />

compounds, but left a large amount <strong>of</strong> heavy<br />

fuel oil and a smaller amount <strong>of</strong> mostly<br />

useless tar. By <strong>the</strong> 1950s ref<strong>in</strong>eries at Union<br />

Oil were able to produce about 55 barrels<br />

<strong>of</strong> fuel from every 100 barrels <strong>of</strong> crude. This<br />

mix did not satisfy <strong>the</strong> demand, which was<br />

cont<strong>in</strong>u<strong>in</strong>g to shift to gasol<strong>in</strong>e and jet fuel. A<br />

method called “hydrocrack<strong>in</strong>g” could break<br />

down <strong>the</strong> large molecules <strong>of</strong> fuel oil and tar to<br />

smaller molecules that make up gasol<strong>in</strong>e and<br />

jet fuel. <strong>The</strong> problem was that hydrocrack<strong>in</strong>g<br />

had to be done at extremely high pressures,<br />

up to 10,000 pounds per square <strong>in</strong>ch. <strong>The</strong><br />

large vessels needed for a commercial process<br />

could not take this k<strong>in</strong>d <strong>of</strong> pressure. Some<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r solution was needed. Union’s researchers<br />

found a catalyst that would promote <strong>the</strong><br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


eaction at much lower pressures. <strong>The</strong>y<br />

named <strong>the</strong> new process “Unicrack<strong>in</strong>g.” It<br />

could actually produce 115 barrels <strong>of</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e<br />

from 100 barrels <strong>of</strong> crude, without leav<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

tarry residue. This “magic” resulted from <strong>the</strong><br />

fact that <strong>the</strong> gasol<strong>in</strong>e takes up more volume<br />

than <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong>al oil. At long last <strong>the</strong> old<br />

problem <strong>of</strong> ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g <strong>California</strong>’s oil was solved!<br />

<strong>The</strong>re was a problem however. <strong>The</strong><br />

researchers found, after a full size conta<strong>in</strong>ment<br />

unit for a crack<strong>in</strong>g unit had been<br />

ordered, that <strong>the</strong> catalyst breaks down <strong>in</strong>to a<br />

f<strong>in</strong>e powder. <strong>The</strong>y had to spend six months<br />

<strong>of</strong> non-stop work to f<strong>in</strong>d a bond<strong>in</strong>g agent that<br />

would hold <strong>the</strong> catalyst toge<strong>the</strong>r. <strong>The</strong>y f<strong>in</strong>ally<br />

found it <strong>in</strong> alum<strong>in</strong>um oxide, a very simple,<br />

common compound.<br />

It turned out that Standard <strong>of</strong> New Jersey<br />

was work<strong>in</strong>g on <strong>the</strong> same crack<strong>in</strong>g problem.<br />

<strong>The</strong> two companies decided to pool <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

patents and toge<strong>the</strong>r license <strong>the</strong> process to<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r companies. Soon after Unicrack<strong>in</strong>g<br />

came on l<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> 1964, ten o<strong>the</strong>r companies<br />

were build<strong>in</strong>g crack<strong>in</strong>g units.<br />


<strong>The</strong> 1970s were a difficult time for <strong>the</strong><br />

petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> and elsewhere.<br />

In 1971 President Nixon announced a<br />

wage and price freeze. Although general wage<br />

and price controls were elim<strong>in</strong>ated <strong>in</strong> 1973,<br />

price controls were kept on crude oil until<br />

1981. <strong>The</strong> Arab oil embargo <strong>in</strong> 1973 caused<br />

extreme shortages <strong>of</strong> ref<strong>in</strong>ed products, and<br />

<strong>the</strong> well-known gas l<strong>in</strong>es. In March 1974 <strong>the</strong><br />

embargo ended, allow<strong>in</strong>g plentiful supplies <strong>of</strong><br />

fuel to return. Price controls on domestic oil<br />

discouraged exploration <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> U.S., <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>California</strong>. Imports <strong>of</strong> foreign oil <strong>in</strong>creased<br />

dramatically <strong>in</strong> order to satisfy demand.<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r shortage, with gas l<strong>in</strong>es <strong>in</strong> some<br />

places, occurred at <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> decade partly<br />

as a result <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> revolution <strong>in</strong> Iran. F<strong>in</strong>ally,<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1979 phased decontrol <strong>of</strong> prices began,<br />

although a “w<strong>in</strong>dfall pr<strong>of</strong>its” tax was proposed<br />

to compensate for <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>creased <strong>in</strong>come oil<br />

companies would receive from <strong>the</strong> higher oil<br />

prices. Ultimately, price controls were completely<br />

and immediately lifted when President<br />

Reagan took <strong>of</strong>fice <strong>in</strong> January 1981.<br />

It would seem that <strong>the</strong> 1970s was an experiment<br />

<strong>in</strong> detailed government management<br />

and control <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong>dustry. It did not work<br />

out very well. <strong>The</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> th<strong>in</strong>gs it did were<br />

to discourage domestic exploration and production<br />

and <strong>in</strong>crease our consumption <strong>of</strong><br />

imported oil. A long last<strong>in</strong>g effect <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

decade was an <strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>g concern <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

public for environmental problems. Much <strong>of</strong><br />

this concern at <strong>the</strong> time had to do with air<br />

pollution, notably <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong>.<br />

Clean Air Act amendments and <strong>the</strong> creation <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Environmental Protection Agency led to<br />

catalytic converters <strong>in</strong> vehicles and removal<br />

<strong>of</strong> lead from gasol<strong>in</strong>e. This required ref<strong>in</strong>ers to<br />

come up with new processes to manufacture<br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e that would perform well with m<strong>in</strong>imal<br />

eng<strong>in</strong>e wear.<br />

<strong>California</strong> saw a decrease <strong>of</strong> about 15<br />

percent <strong>in</strong> its production over <strong>the</strong> first half <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> 1970s. Production <strong>the</strong>n recovered to <strong>the</strong><br />

previous long-term rate <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>crease that had<br />

prevailed for more than seventy years, ever<br />

s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> discovery <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles City<br />

Field. However, change was com<strong>in</strong>g to<br />

<strong>California</strong>’s petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> next<br />

decade and beyond. Ris<strong>in</strong>g challenges <strong>in</strong><br />

this now mature petroleum prov<strong>in</strong>ce would<br />

br<strong>in</strong>g new players and <strong>in</strong>novations to <strong>the</strong><br />

fore. New environmental concerns and <strong>of</strong>ten<br />

vocal critics required companies to focus<br />

significant effort on how <strong>the</strong>ir projects affected<br />

surround<strong>in</strong>g communities. In spite <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

chang<strong>in</strong>g bus<strong>in</strong>ess climate <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry was<br />

able to cont<strong>in</strong>ue to be a critical part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

state’s economy <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> 1980s and beyond.<br />




FIVE<br />


1980 TO PRESENT<br />

In 1980 a new era was about to beg<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s petroleum<br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry. Many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> stalwarts such as Union, Getty, and Signal<br />

Oil had disappeared or would do so <strong>in</strong> time. New names would<br />

take <strong>the</strong> stage. Bus<strong>in</strong>esses <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> state and <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> whole world<br />

had been disrupted by embargoes, <strong>in</strong>flation, and shortages <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

1970s. <strong>The</strong> environment <strong>of</strong> government regulation and taxation<br />

was highly unpredictable, mak<strong>in</strong>g long-range plann<strong>in</strong>g difficult.<br />

<strong>California</strong>’s production rate reached its peak and began a longterm<br />

decl<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> mid-’80s. For more than twenty years, reserve<br />

<strong>in</strong>creases had been due largely to enhanced recovery methods ra<strong>the</strong>r<br />

than discovery <strong>of</strong> new fields. Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> giant fields like Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton<br />

and Midway-Sunset were mature. Production was decl<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g despite <strong>the</strong><br />

best efforts <strong>of</strong> operators.<br />

Never<strong>the</strong>less a bright future lie ahead. Federal regulation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry rationalized <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> early ’80s allow<strong>in</strong>g new ideas and new<br />

<strong>in</strong>novators to come to <strong>the</strong> fore. <strong>California</strong>’s oil fields are mature, but<br />

given <strong>California</strong>’s complex geology and technological <strong>in</strong>novations,<br />

oil fields with stacked pay and previously unreached deposits have<br />

largely stabilized what would typically be decl<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g production.<br />

<strong>California</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> last several years has been <strong>the</strong> third highest producer<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> U.S., after Texas and North Dakota.<br />

<strong>California</strong> <strong>in</strong>dependent Venoco was founded <strong>in</strong> 1992 by Tim Marquez with<br />

$3,000 <strong>in</strong> capital. <strong>The</strong> company now has several onshore and <strong>of</strong>fshore fields,<br />

and <strong>in</strong> 2006, expanded to Texas.<br />


BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


UNION OIL:<br />


Union Oil¸ or Unocal, passed <strong>in</strong>to history <strong>in</strong> 2005 when it<br />

was absorbed by Chevron. In its long and storied existence it<br />

survived four takeover attempts. Each crisis played a role <strong>in</strong><br />

shap<strong>in</strong>g this company. <strong>The</strong> first was <strong>the</strong> proxy battle precipitated<br />

by Thomas Bard <strong>in</strong> 1899, <strong>the</strong> second <strong>in</strong> 1922 was by a group <strong>of</strong><br />

foreign <strong>in</strong>vestors known as Royal Dutch Shell, and <strong>the</strong> third<br />

was by Phillips <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>in</strong> 1959.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Shell struggle received a great deal <strong>of</strong> media attention.<br />

<strong>The</strong> patriotic zeal <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s citizenry was appealed to <strong>in</strong><br />

order to prevent <strong>the</strong> company from fall<strong>in</strong>g under foreign<br />

control. <strong>The</strong> Los Angeles Chamber <strong>of</strong> Commerce raised “…<strong>the</strong><br />

real danger <strong>of</strong> foreign dom<strong>in</strong>ation <strong>of</strong> this company, which<br />

has been heret<strong>of</strong>ore ‘<strong>of</strong> and for’ <strong>California</strong>ns.” <strong>The</strong> Los Angeles<br />

Express said, “…Every stockholder owes it to his pocketbook,<br />

to <strong>California</strong> and to <strong>the</strong> nation to keep <strong>the</strong> American flag fly<strong>in</strong>g<br />

over <strong>California</strong>’s oil fields.” When it came down to <strong>the</strong> stockholders’<br />

vote on March 20, 1922, Union had won by 25,000<br />

shares. It would be Lyman Stewart’s last great fight, and his f<strong>in</strong>al<br />

victory. He died <strong>in</strong> 1923 at <strong>the</strong> age <strong>of</strong> eighty-three. It is likely<br />

that this episode helped to cement Union’s reputation as a<br />

<strong>California</strong> company. It reta<strong>in</strong>ed this regional stamp for decades<br />

even as it began to expand <strong>in</strong>to overseas operations.<br />

<strong>The</strong> company’s fourth struggle to ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong> its <strong>in</strong>dependence<br />

would help to redef<strong>in</strong>e <strong>the</strong> company and contribute to its<br />

ultimate fate. In late 1984, while engaged <strong>in</strong> a bid to take<br />

over Phillips <strong>Petroleum</strong>, T. Boone Pickens and Mesa <strong>Petroleum</strong><br />

began buy<strong>in</strong>g shares <strong>of</strong> Union. Union, reorganiz<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to<br />

Unocal, a Delaware corporation, began go<strong>in</strong>g by that name<br />

dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> fight with Pickens. Delaware’s laws have been<br />

crafted to make it harder for an outsider to take over a company<br />

and are why many companies have <strong>in</strong>corporated <strong>the</strong>re.<br />

After acquir<strong>in</strong>g 13.7 percent <strong>of</strong> Unocal’s stock, Mesa announced<br />

that it would buy ano<strong>the</strong>r 37 percent at $54 a share. Unocal<br />

CEO Fred Hartley decried Pickens as a corporate raider,<br />

say<strong>in</strong>g that his method was to buy stock <strong>in</strong> a target company<br />

with borrowed money, <strong>the</strong>n dismember <strong>the</strong> company by us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

its assets to pay <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> loans. Said Hartley, “Mesa was<br />

com<strong>in</strong>g not to build, but to destroy. <strong>The</strong>y were out to loot and<br />

liquidate Unocal.”<br />

Unocal countered Pickens’ hostile tender with an <strong>of</strong>fer <strong>of</strong><br />

its own: to buy all rema<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g shares at $72 if Mesa succeeded<br />

<strong>in</strong> gett<strong>in</strong>g enough shares to control <strong>the</strong> company. This would<br />

leave Unocal with so much debt that it would not be a desirable<br />

target for Pickens. A court battle ensued <strong>in</strong> Delaware over<br />

whe<strong>the</strong>r Unocal had <strong>the</strong> right to deny <strong>the</strong> $72 <strong>of</strong>fer to Mesa<br />

for its shares. <strong>The</strong> number <strong>of</strong> law firms and lawyers <strong>in</strong>volved<br />

was phenomenal and <strong>the</strong>y worked around <strong>the</strong> clock. <strong>The</strong>y set<br />

up a special room at corporate headquarters <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles<br />

called <strong>the</strong> “Dungeon” where <strong>the</strong>y kept documents under<br />

tight security.<br />

In May 1985, Unocal won both <strong>the</strong> court case and <strong>the</strong> proxy<br />

fight, but it was a costly victory. Aside from a six month disruption<br />

<strong>of</strong> company affairs, Unocal’s debt went from $1.2 billion<br />

to $5.3 billion.This was money that could not be spent on<br />

acquir<strong>in</strong>g new leases or develop<strong>in</strong>g exist<strong>in</strong>g fields. Although<br />

<strong>the</strong>y later restructured <strong>the</strong>ir debt, it took <strong>the</strong>m at least fifteen<br />

years to pay it <strong>of</strong>f.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> 1990s Unocal went overseas <strong>in</strong> a big way, acquir<strong>in</strong>g<br />

a large <strong>of</strong>fshore natural gas concession <strong>in</strong> Thailand and o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

leases <strong>in</strong> Asia and Lat<strong>in</strong> America. Domestic exploration was<br />

restricted to <strong>the</strong> Gulf <strong>of</strong> Mexico. To free up capital, Unocal<br />

disposed <strong>of</strong> all <strong>of</strong> its <strong>California</strong> fields by 1996. In 1997 <strong>the</strong><br />

ref<strong>in</strong>eries, gas stations and transportation facilities were sold<br />

to Tosco, along with <strong>the</strong> “76” logo so familiar to <strong>California</strong>ns.<br />

<strong>The</strong> research center <strong>in</strong> Brea was closed. Even <strong>the</strong> corporate<br />

headquarters <strong>in</strong> downtown Los Angeles was sold and <strong>the</strong><br />

company moved to nearby El Segundo. This reduced <strong>the</strong><br />

company’s debt to about $2.2 billion. In <strong>the</strong> early 2000s<br />

Unocal’s reserves had decl<strong>in</strong>ed, although <strong>the</strong> company was<br />

mak<strong>in</strong>g more money because <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>creased price <strong>of</strong> oil. New<br />

projects, ma<strong>in</strong>ly <strong>in</strong> Asia, were about to come on l<strong>in</strong>e, promis<strong>in</strong>g<br />

an <strong>in</strong>crease <strong>in</strong> production.<br />

Unocal had been radically transformed. Most <strong>of</strong> its assets<br />

were overseas and <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Gulf <strong>of</strong> Mexico. It had divested itself<br />

<strong>of</strong> virtually all <strong>of</strong> its U.S. ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g and market<strong>in</strong>g assets. Its<br />

great discoveries at Orcutt, Midway-Sunset, Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da, Santa<br />

Maria <strong>of</strong>fshore and many o<strong>the</strong>rs were now under <strong>the</strong> flags<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>dependents. Although its headquarters was still <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>, nearly all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> “stamp” <strong>of</strong> Unocal was<br />

gone. Lyman Stewart would have been amazed, although he<br />

might have recognized <strong>the</strong> risk-tak<strong>in</strong>g culture, especially <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

foreign projects.<br />

With its new mix <strong>of</strong> assets and petroleum reserves Unocal<br />

was a ripe takeover candidate and Chevron saw it as a good fit.<br />

A deal was reached <strong>in</strong> 2005 for some $18 billion <strong>in</strong> stock<br />

and cash. A company partly owned by <strong>the</strong> Ch<strong>in</strong>ese government<br />

made a counter <strong>of</strong>fer, spark<strong>in</strong>g a controversy rem<strong>in</strong>iscent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

one <strong>in</strong>volv<strong>in</strong>g Royal Dutch Shell <strong>in</strong> 1922, although it was less<br />

<strong>in</strong>tense. Chevron won, end<strong>in</strong>g Unocal’s remarkable 115 year<br />

span. In a sense it was com<strong>in</strong>g full circle as Pacific Coast Oil<br />

Company, Chevron’s forerunner, had given Stewart and<br />

Hardison <strong>the</strong>ir start <strong>in</strong> Pico Canyon back <strong>in</strong> 1883. Unocal may<br />

be gone, but its contributions to <strong>California</strong>’s petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry<br />

have had a permanent impr<strong>in</strong>t.<br />



Well on Signal Hill, operated by<br />

Signal Hill <strong>Petroleum</strong>.<br />


Operat<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> mature areas such as Los<br />

Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong> was becom<strong>in</strong>g less pr<strong>of</strong>itable<br />

for <strong>the</strong> large oil companies, especially after <strong>the</strong><br />

drop <strong>in</strong> oil prices <strong>in</strong> 1986. <strong>The</strong>se companies<br />

determ<strong>in</strong>ed that <strong>the</strong> best strategy was to focus<br />

outside <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>, and needed capital for<br />

large, higher-marg<strong>in</strong> ventures <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Gulf<br />

<strong>of</strong> Mexico or overseas. <strong>The</strong> ’80s ushered <strong>in</strong><br />

an era <strong>of</strong> mergers and attempted takeovers,<br />

plac<strong>in</strong>g many companies <strong>in</strong> temporarily<br />

delicate f<strong>in</strong>ancial positions. In 1984 Texaco<br />

bought Getty, a Los Angeles-based company.<br />

This controversial move resulted <strong>in</strong> a $3<br />

billion legal judgement for Pennzoil, which<br />

had made a previous merger <strong>of</strong>fer for Getty.<br />

In 1985 Chevron acquired Gulf follow<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

takeover attempt <strong>of</strong> Gulf by T. Boone Pickens<br />

and Mesa <strong>Petroleum</strong>. Royal Dutch Shell<br />

merged with several o<strong>the</strong>r companies <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> mid-’80s. Occidental (Oxy) merged with<br />

Cities Service, ano<strong>the</strong>r company that had<br />

been targeted by Pickens. Later, Chevron<br />

would merge with Texaco, and Exxon with<br />

Mobil. In 1985, Union barely survived yet<br />

ano<strong>the</strong>r hostile takeover bid by Pickens, but<br />

it was weakened <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> process. Eventually<br />

Union would merge with Chevron. All <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong>se companies had mature properties <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>, and many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se hold<strong>in</strong>gs could<br />

be used as a source for much needed cash if<br />

<strong>the</strong>y were sold.<br />

When a need arises, <strong>the</strong> bus<strong>in</strong>ess world<br />

f<strong>in</strong>ds a way to fill it. Independent oil companies<br />

arose to take over many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> fields from <strong>the</strong> majors. <strong>The</strong>se <strong>in</strong>dependents<br />

could focus on new ideas to brea<strong>the</strong><br />

new life <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> old fields. <strong>The</strong>re are several<br />

breeds <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>dependents <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. Some<br />

were formed from scratch specifically <strong>in</strong> order<br />

to revitalize old fields. In <strong>the</strong> early ’80s,<br />

Hal Washburn and Randy Breitenbach were<br />

roommates at Stanford study<strong>in</strong>g petroleum<br />

eng<strong>in</strong>eer<strong>in</strong>g. At <strong>the</strong> time <strong>the</strong> oil <strong>in</strong>dustry was<br />

boom<strong>in</strong>g, and <strong>the</strong> two students chose <strong>the</strong><br />

energy sector over <strong>the</strong> up-and-com<strong>in</strong>g Silicon<br />

Valley tech sector <strong>in</strong> Stanford’s back yard.<br />

By <strong>the</strong> time <strong>the</strong> pair left Stanford <strong>the</strong> oil<br />

patch had hit a downturn. Despite <strong>the</strong><br />

down times, Washburn and Breitenbach saw<br />

an opportunity <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> fields, which<br />

still had a lot <strong>of</strong> oil that could be recovered<br />

through advanced technology even though<br />

<strong>the</strong>y had been produc<strong>in</strong>g for decades.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y formed Breitburn Energy <strong>in</strong> 1988, later<br />

acquir<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> West Pico and Sawtelle Oil<br />

Fields from Oxy. With<strong>in</strong> a few years <strong>the</strong>y<br />

had proved <strong>the</strong> value <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s oil<br />

fields by quadrupl<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> estimated reserves<br />

<strong>of</strong> those two fields. In 1999 <strong>the</strong>y bought Santa<br />

Fe Spr<strong>in</strong>gs and Rosecrans from Texaco. Today<br />

Breitburn operates 572 wells <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>,<br />

produc<strong>in</strong>g 5,500 barrels a day. It has also<br />

leveraged <strong>the</strong> experience gleaned from<br />

<strong>California</strong>’s complex geology and expanded its<br />

oil operations to Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma,<br />

Michigan, Ill<strong>in</strong>ois, Florida, and elsewhere.<br />

O<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong>dependents were formed out <strong>of</strong><br />

a major for <strong>the</strong> purpose <strong>of</strong> tak<strong>in</strong>g over its<br />

<strong>California</strong> operations. In 2014 Oxy was one <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> largest oil and gas producers <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>,<br />

with thousands <strong>of</strong> wells <strong>in</strong> five giant fields<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Left: Arroyo Grande Field.<br />


<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong>, San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley,<br />

Ventura, and Sacramento Valley. Oxy had<br />

taken over THUMS Oil Company and was<br />

thus operat<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> Long Beach unit <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Field. In November 2014, Oxy<br />

formed <strong>California</strong> Resources Corporation<br />

(CRC) out <strong>of</strong> its <strong>California</strong> hold<strong>in</strong>gs, giv<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Oxy shareholders 0.4 shares <strong>of</strong> CRC stock<br />

for every Oxy share <strong>the</strong>y owned.Operat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

exclusively <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, this new company<br />

has 19,800 gross drill<strong>in</strong>g locations on 2.3<br />

million acres.<br />

Below: Wells on <strong>the</strong> Ma<strong>in</strong>o Lease,<br />

Arroyo Grande Field, near Pismo Beach,<br />

Santa Maria Bas<strong>in</strong>. Formerly operated by<br />

Grace <strong>Petroleum</strong>, <strong>the</strong> field is now operated<br />

by Freeport-McMoRan, which is<br />

us<strong>in</strong>g steamflood<strong>in</strong>g.<br />




BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Opposite, top: L<strong>in</strong>ear rod pumps (LRP)<br />

provide direct control <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sucker rod,<br />

without need for <strong>the</strong> heavy counterweight<br />

system used on conventional pumpjacks.<br />



Left: Approximate trackl<strong>in</strong>es <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

directional wells, Tunnell site. <strong>The</strong> natural<br />

terra<strong>in</strong> is left undisturbed except for <strong>the</strong><br />

small drill<strong>in</strong>g site.<br />



Below: Modern pump<strong>in</strong>g operation<br />

by Vaquero Energy <strong>in</strong>volv<strong>in</strong>g a set <strong>of</strong><br />

directional wells. Tunnell site, Sisquoc,<br />

Santa Barbara County.<br />





Aera Energy was formed from hold<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>of</strong><br />

Shell and Exxon-Mobil, and is a subsidiary <strong>of</strong><br />

affiliates <strong>of</strong> those two companies. Aera claims<br />

to have 25 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s production,<br />

mostly <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley. Its proved<br />

reserves are 682 million barrels.<br />

Hundreds <strong>of</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong>dependents have<br />

hold<strong>in</strong>gs rang<strong>in</strong>g from just a few wells <strong>in</strong><br />

one field to hundreds <strong>of</strong> wells <strong>in</strong> multiple<br />

fields. Some are small, perhaps family-owned<br />

concerns that have existed for decades.<br />

O<strong>the</strong>rs such as Warren Resources and E & B<br />

Natural Resources have grown by consolidat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

properties <strong>of</strong> smaller companies and<br />

majors. Many <strong>in</strong>dependents that operate<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> also have similar mature oil<br />

properties <strong>in</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r states, and may be headquartered<br />

out <strong>of</strong> state. Some are diversified<br />

ei<strong>the</strong>r locally or nationwide, or are affiliated<br />

with oil field services, ref<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g operations, or<br />

are engag<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> m<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g, real estate, or o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

<strong>in</strong>dustries. <strong>The</strong>se companies have names like<br />

Freeport-McMoRan, L<strong>in</strong>n, Vaquero, Veneco,<br />

and Signal Hill <strong>Petroleum</strong>. Along with<br />

rema<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g majors such as Chevron, <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>dependents form <strong>the</strong> backbone <strong>of</strong> today’s<br />

dynamic <strong>California</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Although <strong>the</strong> names have changed, <strong>the</strong> history<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry has<br />

<strong>in</strong> some ways come full circle. Many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

issues that confronted <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong> its earliest<br />

days are still around. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> biggest<br />

challenges is <strong>the</strong> heavy, viscous oil, up to 10<br />

billion barrels <strong>of</strong> it still <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> ground await<strong>in</strong>g<br />

new technologies to extract it. Ano<strong>the</strong>r largely<br />

untapped opportunity is <strong>the</strong> Lower Monterey<br />

Formation, which <strong>in</strong> many places is a reservoir<br />

rock as well as be<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> source rock for <strong>the</strong><br />

oil. Although it <strong>of</strong>ten conta<strong>in</strong>s a light oil, it is<br />

also home to a peculiar low-permeability rock<br />

called diatomite from which it is difficult to<br />

remove <strong>the</strong> oil us<strong>in</strong>g conventional methods.<br />

Billions <strong>of</strong> barrels could be locked away <strong>in</strong><br />

this rock. <strong>The</strong>se challenges exist more or less<br />

anywhere oil is found <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>.<br />

Opposite, top: Tower to collect solar energy<br />

for production <strong>of</strong> steam. Ano<strong>the</strong>r way to<br />

provide energy for steamflood<strong>in</strong>g.<br />


Opposite, bottom: Steam <strong>in</strong>jection pipes at<br />

Kern River.<br />


Above: Steam cogeneration plant at Kern<br />

River Field. This plant produces steam for<br />

steamflood<strong>in</strong>g but also produces electricity<br />

for o<strong>the</strong>r purposes. Chevron has rema<strong>in</strong>ed a<br />

major player <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, operat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Kern River and o<strong>the</strong>r fields.<br />


Left: Two billion barrels <strong>in</strong>cludes what <strong>the</strong><br />

Elwoods got with <strong>the</strong>ir little cable tool rig,<br />

<strong>the</strong> nation-lead<strong>in</strong>g output <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> early<br />

1900s, <strong>the</strong> output <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Independent Oil<br />

Producers Agency which competed with<br />

Standard <strong>in</strong> those early years, and <strong>the</strong><br />

technology and ideas <strong>of</strong> today’s Chevron.<br />






One field, Belridge (north and south) <strong>in</strong><br />

San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Valley, is a microcosm <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong>’s attempts to get its oil out <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

ground.It is a showcase for <strong>in</strong>novations driven<br />

by necessity, <strong>in</strong>novations that are be<strong>in</strong>g<br />

applied around <strong>the</strong> world. <strong>The</strong> Belridge Field<br />

has been produc<strong>in</strong>g for 104 years. It has seen<br />

everyth<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong> old wooden derricks and<br />

steam eng<strong>in</strong>es to <strong>the</strong> most modern horizontal<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g, enhanced recovery, and even remote<br />

sens<strong>in</strong>g from satellites.<strong>The</strong> discovery well<br />

was drilled by <strong>the</strong> Belridge Oil Company<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1911 with a cable tool rig. <strong>The</strong>y found an<br />

oil sand at 602 feet <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Tulare Formation.<br />

<strong>The</strong>re was also oil <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> underly<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Monterey Formation. <strong>The</strong> well’s <strong>in</strong>itial production<br />

was 100 barrels a day <strong>of</strong> mostly<br />

heavy oil. In 1919, after drill<strong>in</strong>g about 130<br />

wells, <strong>the</strong> company made its valuation report.<br />

It said, mirror<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> pessimism <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

aforementioned David White <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> USGS<br />

(Chapter 3), “It is estimated that with<strong>in</strong> ten<br />

years both pools will be commercially<br />

exhausted,” and “Future production…is<br />

estimated to be about 1.8 million barrels.”<br />

However, technology has repeatedly belied<br />

predictions <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> available oil. Rotary<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g, steel derricks, and diesel eng<strong>in</strong>es<br />

made for deeper holes and <strong>in</strong>creased <strong>the</strong><br />

longevity <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wells. Eventually a third pool<br />

<strong>of</strong> natural gas and oil was discovered below<br />

<strong>the</strong> Monterey. In 1934 <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>n-deepest well<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> world at 11,377 feet was drilled <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Belridge Field. By 1960 144 million barrels<br />

had been produced, eighty times <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>itial<br />

reserve estimates. Unfortunately, by <strong>the</strong>n<br />

production rates had decl<strong>in</strong>ed seriously, and<br />

once aga<strong>in</strong> it appeared <strong>the</strong> field was <strong>in</strong> its<br />

f<strong>in</strong>al days.<br />

Steamflood<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Tulare pool, with<br />

its heavy oil, rejuvenated <strong>the</strong> field. Daily<br />

production <strong>in</strong>creased from about 11,000<br />

barrels <strong>in</strong> 1960 to nearly 50,000 by 1979.<br />

Shell purchased Belridge Oil Company for<br />

$3.6 billion, <strong>the</strong> largest U.S. merger up to<br />

that time. Shell fur<strong>the</strong>r developed <strong>the</strong><br />

field, br<strong>in</strong>g<strong>in</strong>g production to almost 175,000<br />

barrels a day <strong>in</strong> 1987. After peak<strong>in</strong>g around<br />

1990 <strong>the</strong> field aga<strong>in</strong> began to fade. Even so<br />

it reached <strong>the</strong> 1 billion barrel mark <strong>in</strong> May,<br />

1995. Thus Belridge jo<strong>in</strong>ed an exclusive<br />

club with half a dozen o<strong>the</strong>r <strong>California</strong> fields.<br />

It is exceeded <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r forty-n<strong>in</strong>e states<br />

only by Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay and a few fields<br />

<strong>in</strong> Texas and <strong>the</strong> Gulf.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Tulare now had decl<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g production.<br />

<strong>The</strong> sub-Monterey pool <strong>of</strong> mostly natural gas,<br />

with primary gas expansion drive, had<br />

already begun to decl<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1950s. This<br />

left <strong>the</strong> Monterey pool, with its light oil<br />

imprisoned <strong>in</strong> diatomite. Up until <strong>the</strong> 1970s<br />

<strong>the</strong> Monterey was almost always completed<br />

with <strong>the</strong> Tulare so that some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> light<br />

Monterey oil would move up <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> Tulare<br />

and dilute <strong>the</strong> heavy oil <strong>the</strong>re. Diatomite is<br />

made up <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> skeletons <strong>of</strong> diatoms, microscopic<br />

mar<strong>in</strong>e organisms. <strong>The</strong>se t<strong>in</strong>y, fragile<br />

fossils give <strong>the</strong> rock a high porosity but a<br />

very low permeability. Although it holds a lot<br />

<strong>of</strong> oil, <strong>the</strong> oil is firmly trapped. If some oil<br />

comes out, <strong>the</strong> result<strong>in</strong>g loss <strong>of</strong> pressure<br />

tends to make <strong>the</strong> layers <strong>of</strong> diatoms collapse,<br />

block<strong>in</strong>g any fur<strong>the</strong>r flow <strong>of</strong> oil. <strong>The</strong><br />

Monterey at Belridge is quite thick, up to<br />

3,500 feet, so that as much as 6 billion<br />

barrels <strong>of</strong> oil is reservoired <strong>the</strong>re.<br />

Along came ano<strong>the</strong>r technology called<br />

hydraulic fractur<strong>in</strong>g, which revived <strong>the</strong> field<br />

once aga<strong>in</strong>. Start<strong>in</strong>g around 1978 a mixture<br />

<strong>of</strong> water and sand was pumped <strong>in</strong>to wells at<br />

pressure, creat<strong>in</strong>g small fractures <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> formation.<br />

Gra<strong>in</strong>s <strong>of</strong> sand propped <strong>the</strong> fractures<br />

open, allow<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> relatively light oil to flow<br />

to <strong>the</strong> borehole. Waterflood<strong>in</strong>g was used to<br />

ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong> pressure <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> formation as oil was<br />

produced, so that <strong>the</strong> diatomite would not<br />

collapse. Significant production <strong>in</strong>creases<br />

were realized <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> diatomite until about<br />

1985. <strong>The</strong>n it levelled <strong>of</strong>f for about <strong>the</strong> next<br />

ten years.<br />

In 1997 Aera Energy took over <strong>the</strong><br />

hold<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>of</strong> Shell and Mobil at Belridge,<br />

which accounted for almost <strong>the</strong> entire field.<br />

A s<strong>in</strong>gle operator allows enhanced recovery<br />

methods to be applied <strong>in</strong> a systematic way,<br />

and data from hundreds, even thousands<br />

<strong>of</strong> wells, can be used toge<strong>the</strong>r with modern<br />

computer technology to plan <strong>in</strong>fill and<br />

<strong>in</strong>jection wells.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


In <strong>the</strong> Monterey diatomite reservoir a<br />

computerized database <strong>of</strong> some 14,500 wells<br />

(as <strong>of</strong> 2011) is used to create grids <strong>of</strong> geologic,<br />

completion, and production data. In recent<br />

years <strong>the</strong> database has been expanded by<br />

700 new <strong>in</strong>fill wells drilled annually, some<br />

only 50 feet from older wells. Compar<strong>in</strong>g<br />

logs <strong>of</strong> new wells with adjacent older ones,<br />

certa<strong>in</strong> depth <strong>in</strong>tervals showed reduced oil<br />

saturation, <strong>in</strong>dicat<strong>in</strong>g that waterflood<strong>in</strong>g had<br />

flushed out <strong>the</strong> oil. Such depths could <strong>the</strong>n<br />

be avoided when complet<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> new well.<br />

Well density is now high enough to predict oil<br />

saturation <strong>in</strong> places where no well has yet<br />

been drilled. This can be done <strong>in</strong> detail <strong>in</strong> a<br />

three dimensional space, allow<strong>in</strong>g Aera to<br />

plan drill<strong>in</strong>g and completion <strong>of</strong> new wells.<br />

Maps <strong>of</strong> hydraulic fractures made with tiltmeter<br />

data help to plan spac<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>fill wells.<br />

Although <strong>the</strong> field has an extremely dense<br />

pattern <strong>of</strong> vertical wells, it was found that<br />

horizontal wells would more efficiently dra<strong>in</strong><br />

th<strong>in</strong> lenses or beds <strong>of</strong> diatomite. A horizontal<br />

well can provide <strong>the</strong> equivalent <strong>of</strong> 1,200 feet<br />

<strong>of</strong> pay <strong>in</strong> a 400 foot zone. With a fracture<br />

azimuth map, horizontal bore holes can be<br />

aligned with <strong>the</strong> fractures.<br />

InSAR (Interferometric syn<strong>the</strong>tic aperture<br />

radar, a satellite-based remote sens<strong>in</strong>g method)<br />

is used to map ground subsidence as a way <strong>of</strong><br />

assess<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> degree <strong>of</strong> collapse <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> diatomite<br />

layers. Satellite data are collected every twentyfour<br />

days to monitor how both <strong>in</strong>jection and<br />

production are affect<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> diatomites.<br />

Aera is th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g about future <strong>in</strong>novations.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y say that diatomite production at<br />

Belridge will cont<strong>in</strong>ue for decades. Steam will<br />

have to be created to keep <strong>the</strong> production<br />

go<strong>in</strong>g. Solar or biomass (from agricultural<br />

waste) energy could be used <strong>in</strong>stead <strong>of</strong><br />

gas-fired generators for this purpose. When<br />

<strong>the</strong> field is f<strong>in</strong>ally depleted heat will rema<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> steamed reservoirs. This heat could be<br />

removed and utilized, accord<strong>in</strong>g to Aera, us<strong>in</strong>g<br />

low temperature geo<strong>the</strong>rmal projects ak<strong>in</strong> to<br />

those used for natural geo<strong>the</strong>rmal systems.<br />

HUFF ‘ N PUFF<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r method <strong>of</strong> extract<strong>in</strong>g heavy oil,<br />

cyclic steam <strong>in</strong>jection, has been used <strong>in</strong> many<br />

places <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. <strong>The</strong> first step, “huff,” is<br />

<strong>in</strong>jection <strong>of</strong> steam over days or weeks.<br />

A soak<strong>in</strong>g phase <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> well is shut <strong>in</strong><br />

follows so that <strong>the</strong> reservoir can heat up.<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally, <strong>the</strong> “puff” stage is production <strong>of</strong> oil<br />

and water from <strong>the</strong> same well for weeks<br />

to months. When production tapers <strong>of</strong>f as<br />

<strong>the</strong> temperature decreases, <strong>the</strong> puff stage is<br />

stopped and <strong>the</strong> whole cycle is repeated.<br />

An advantage <strong>of</strong> cyclic steam <strong>in</strong>jection is that<br />

separate <strong>in</strong>jection wells are not needed.<br />

Orcutt Hill.<br />

Clockwise, start<strong>in</strong>g from top, left:<br />

Distribution l<strong>in</strong>es.<br />


Production manifold. This and additional<br />

photographs show <strong>the</strong> small environmental<br />

footpr<strong>in</strong>t <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> cyclic steam <strong>in</strong>frastructure<br />

at Orcutt Hill.<br />


Oil/gas facility.<br />


Water facility.<br />




Top: Orcutt Hill today.<br />


Above: Control room for Orcutt Hill cyclic<br />

steam <strong>in</strong>jection facility.<br />


Huff ‘n Puff is be<strong>in</strong>g used by Pacific Coast<br />

Energy Company at Orcutt Hill <strong>in</strong> Santa<br />

Barbara County, a field that was developed<br />

over 100 years ago by Union Oil. Orig<strong>in</strong>ally<br />

called <strong>the</strong> Santa Maria Field, <strong>the</strong> field was<br />

renamed Orcutt <strong>in</strong> 1947 after Union’s pioneer<strong>in</strong>g<br />

geologist, W. W. Orcutt. Peak production<br />

was reached <strong>in</strong> 1908 at 8.7 million barrels<br />

annually. Enhanced recovery methods, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

waterflood<strong>in</strong>g, began <strong>in</strong> 1951. In 1990<br />

Union (Unocal) sold <strong>the</strong> field. S<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong>n it<br />

has been owned by various <strong>in</strong>dependent<br />

operators. Breitburn bought a large part <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> field <strong>in</strong> 2004, and <strong>the</strong> operator name<br />

later changed to PCE, a partnership <strong>in</strong>volv<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> founders <strong>of</strong> Breitburn. PCE (which also<br />

operates one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Pico Boulevard oil islands<br />

<strong>in</strong> Los Angeles), has 6,000 acres at Orcutt<br />

Hill. PCE uses eight drill<strong>in</strong>g pads, similar to<br />

oil islands, from which it proposed <strong>in</strong> 2012<br />

to drill 96 new produc<strong>in</strong>g wells. Steam for<br />

huff ‘n puff is generated us<strong>in</strong>g br<strong>in</strong>e water<br />

produced from wells. <strong>The</strong> complexity and<br />

technology <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> operation can be seen from<br />

<strong>the</strong> field <strong>in</strong>stallations as well as <strong>the</strong> control<br />

room with its many monitors <strong>of</strong> various<br />

sens<strong>in</strong>g devices.<br />



<strong>The</strong> pace <strong>of</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore activity quickened<br />

from <strong>the</strong> doldrums <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1970s, but <strong>the</strong><br />

boom was to prove temporary. With a regulatory<br />

climate <strong>in</strong> Wash<strong>in</strong>gton D.C. that valued<br />

domestic production, and pent up discoveries<br />

from <strong>the</strong> ’70s, ten new platforms were erected<br />

from 1980 to 1985. Production started <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Beta Field <strong>in</strong> 1981 five years after discovery.<br />

Peak production <strong>of</strong> almost 21,000 barrels a<br />

day from three production platforms was<br />

reached <strong>in</strong> 1986. Several fields were developed<br />

<strong>of</strong>fshore Santa Maria. Significant work<br />

was still go<strong>in</strong>g on as late as 1989, when two<br />

platforms were <strong>in</strong>stalled. Also <strong>in</strong> 1989 Union<br />

(Unocal) drilled a well from Platform Irene<br />

that had a horizontal reach <strong>of</strong> 12,739 feet<br />

and a true vertical depth <strong>of</strong> only 4,057 feet.<br />

<strong>The</strong> length <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> borehole was 14,387 feet.<br />

Wide areas <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> OCS were covered <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

early 1980s with seismic pr<strong>of</strong>il<strong>in</strong>g, <strong>in</strong>dicat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

optimism that fur<strong>the</strong>r exploration and<br />

discoveries would occur. Several more fields<br />

were discovered <strong>of</strong>fshore Santa Maria, largely<br />

as a result <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> seismic surveys.<br />

Right: Platform Gail. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Channel<br />

Islands is <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> background. Installed <strong>in</strong><br />

1985, this is almost <strong>the</strong> last <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore platforms built.<br />


BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


<strong>The</strong> precipitous drop <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> price <strong>of</strong> oil <strong>in</strong><br />

1986 was a blow to <strong>the</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore <strong>California</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>dustry. <strong>The</strong> price recovered, but lease sales<br />

<strong>of</strong> new Federal blocks have been stopped.<br />

<strong>The</strong> two platforms built <strong>in</strong> 1989 proved to be<br />

<strong>the</strong> last. <strong>The</strong> possibility <strong>of</strong> directional drill<strong>in</strong>g<br />

from exist<strong>in</strong>g platforms is now <strong>the</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> way<br />

<strong>of</strong> tapp<strong>in</strong>g new resources. This is especially<br />

true for <strong>the</strong> undeveloped fields <strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore<br />

Santa Maria.<br />

Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> majors have left <strong>the</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore<br />

arena to smaller companies like Freeport-<br />

McMoRan, which has all four Santa Maria<br />

platforms, Irene, Harvest, Hildago, and<br />

Hermosa. Memorial Partners has a controll<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>in</strong>terest <strong>in</strong> two <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> three production<br />

platforms <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Beta Field. Veneco has<br />

platform Holly <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> Santa Barbara Coast.<br />

Exxon-Mobil still operates Heritage, Harmony<br />

and Hondo, west <strong>of</strong> Holly.<br />

For <strong>the</strong> time be<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>re will be no OCS<br />

Lease sales <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>. Offshore reserves<br />

most likely <strong>in</strong> excess <strong>of</strong> 10 billion barrels<br />

exist, <strong>in</strong> addition to those proven <strong>in</strong> Santa<br />

Maria Bas<strong>in</strong>, await<strong>in</strong>g future development. A<br />

treasure trove <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>formation also exists from<br />

<strong>the</strong> test drill<strong>in</strong>g and seismic exploration <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

’70s and ’80s. In <strong>the</strong> early 2000s a twenty-five<br />

year confidentiality period for an enormous<br />

body <strong>of</strong> seismic data expired. <strong>The</strong>se data are<br />

now freely available to <strong>the</strong> scientific community<br />

from <strong>the</strong> U.S. Geological Survey. Aside<br />

from <strong>the</strong>ir value for petroleum exploration,<br />

<strong>the</strong>se data are now be<strong>in</strong>g used to map <strong>of</strong>fshore<br />

faults and better understand <strong>the</strong> mechanisms<br />

and potential for earthquakes.<br />


Seismic reflection survey<strong>in</strong>g, especially 3D,<br />

has become more popular with companies<br />

try<strong>in</strong>g to develop mature fields as this mapp<strong>in</strong>g<br />

method can image traps or small compartments<br />

that can be developed by carefully<br />

planned directional wells. Pla<strong>in</strong>s Exploration<br />

(PXP; now part <strong>of</strong> Freeport-McMoRan) did<br />

<strong>the</strong> first 3D seismic survey <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Los Angeles<br />

Bas<strong>in</strong>, cover<strong>in</strong>g 21 square miles <strong>in</strong> and around<br />

<strong>the</strong> Inglewood Field <strong>in</strong> 2003. <strong>The</strong> survey was<br />

meant to image compartments isolated by<br />

small branch faults <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Newport-Inglewood<br />

Fault, as well as to reveal deep pay zones. <strong>The</strong><br />

first test well based on this survey came <strong>in</strong> at<br />

800 barrels a day <strong>in</strong> 2004.<br />

Top, left: Record<strong>in</strong>g GPS position for<br />

placement <strong>of</strong> a node.<br />


Top, right: Node be<strong>in</strong>g buried.<br />


Below: A node with all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> components<br />

that allow it to cont<strong>in</strong>uously record data.<br />




Top, left: Four vibrator trucks <strong>in</strong> downtown<br />

Long Beach.<br />


Top, right: Vibrator truck.<br />


Above: School children on a field trip<br />

learn<strong>in</strong>g about <strong>the</strong> seismic survey.<br />


Three-dimensional surveys had become<br />

quite cumbersome as <strong>the</strong> number <strong>of</strong> geophones<br />

deployed simultaneously <strong>in</strong>creased.<br />

Conventional geophones require cables to<br />

connect <strong>the</strong>m to a central record<strong>in</strong>g device.<br />

In surveys done <strong>in</strong> remote areas cables can<br />

be laid out on <strong>the</strong> ground. For a 3D survey<br />

with 30,000 geophones this would be a very<br />

extensive grid <strong>of</strong> cables. In a city, cables<br />

would have to go along sidewalks or similar<br />

places, and can be stepped on, run over,<br />

or even vandalized. Geophones would be<br />

left exposed, perhaps covered only with<br />

sandbags. Of course <strong>the</strong> cables and geophones<br />

have to work, and bad connections need<br />

time-consum<strong>in</strong>g trouble shoot<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Self-powered and self-record<strong>in</strong>g geophones,<br />

called “nodes,” have been developed. <strong>The</strong>se<br />

geophones do not require cables. Each node<br />

has a battery, a solid-state memory, a GPS for<br />

accurate tim<strong>in</strong>g, and a geophone sensor. About<br />

<strong>the</strong> size <strong>of</strong> a small c<strong>of</strong>fee can, a node can be<br />

easily buried <strong>in</strong> a flower bed or lawn with<br />

a shovel. A hand-held GPS gives accurate<br />

position<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> each node. Batteries allow nodes<br />

to be left buried for up to two weeks. It is not<br />

necessary to “trigger” record<strong>in</strong>g by <strong>the</strong> nodes<br />

as each one has satellite-based tim<strong>in</strong>g and<br />

records cont<strong>in</strong>uously dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> entire two<br />

week run. Noth<strong>in</strong>g is done with <strong>the</strong> nodes until<br />

<strong>the</strong>y are dug up and connected to a computer.<br />

In 2011 Nodal Seismic did a 3D survey<br />

cover<strong>in</strong>g most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> City <strong>of</strong> Long Beach,<br />

38 square miles, with 6,000 nodes deployed.<br />

This is a densely populated city, with over<br />

9,000 people per square mile. Vibrator trucks<br />

provided <strong>the</strong> energy source. A pilot project<br />

was performed <strong>in</strong> and around <strong>the</strong> campus<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> State University Long Beach<br />

before <strong>the</strong> full-scale project was attempted.<br />

Detailed plann<strong>in</strong>g was necessary, as well as a<br />

comprehensive community relations strategy,<br />

<strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g notification <strong>of</strong> residents, educational<br />

programs, post<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> signs, and cooperation<br />

<strong>of</strong> local city, university, and police authorities.<br />

A 99.7 percent data recovery was obta<strong>in</strong>ed.<br />

<strong>The</strong> survey provided better imag<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Long Beach Oil Field (Signal Hill) for Signal<br />

Hill <strong>Petroleum</strong>. Nodal learned that without<br />

cables to constra<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir positions geophones<br />

could be laid out <strong>in</strong> a more efficient array.<br />

This meant that <strong>the</strong> vibrator trucks could be<br />

kept ma<strong>in</strong>ly on major boulevards ra<strong>the</strong>r than<br />

small residential streets.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Ano<strong>the</strong>r unexpected benefit <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> survey<br />

was that several small earthquakes occurred<br />

dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> six months when <strong>the</strong> sensor array<br />

was deployed. <strong>The</strong> sensors recorded <strong>the</strong><br />

earthquake waves as <strong>the</strong>y passed, and it was<br />

revealed that <strong>the</strong> waves did not spread out<br />

uniformly like waves on <strong>the</strong> surface <strong>of</strong> a<br />

lake, but ra<strong>the</strong>r were affected by geologic<br />

structures. A major structure <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> area is<br />

<strong>the</strong> Newport-Inglewood Fault, which focused<br />

<strong>the</strong> seismic waves as <strong>the</strong>y passed through.<br />

This could provide important <strong>in</strong>sights to<br />

seismologists who are try<strong>in</strong>g to develop better<br />

seismic hazard models for sou<strong>the</strong>rn <strong>California</strong>.<br />

THE AGE OF<br />


<strong>The</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry has always been<br />

driven by <strong>the</strong> latest technologies. This was as<br />

true <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> cable tool days as it is today. In<br />

early <strong>California</strong>, with its isolation and lack <strong>of</strong><br />

coal, <strong>the</strong> oil revolution made <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustrial<br />

revolution possible. Motive power (steam, <strong>the</strong>n<br />

diesel), rotary drill<strong>in</strong>g, directional drill<strong>in</strong>g, seismic<br />

methods, well logg<strong>in</strong>g, enhanced recovery,<br />

modern pipel<strong>in</strong>es, deepwater platforms, tanker<br />

ships, and modern ref<strong>in</strong>eries are all triumphs<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry. But someth<strong>in</strong>g else has revolutionized<br />

<strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry s<strong>in</strong>ce about 1980:<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>formation revolution. This revolution has<br />

made changes <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong> energy development<br />

not felt <strong>in</strong> many o<strong>the</strong>r places.<br />

Early analog seismic and well log data were<br />

recorded on paper or magnetic tape. However,<br />

efficient process<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> multi-channel seismic<br />

required digital comput<strong>in</strong>g. In <strong>the</strong> 1970s and<br />

’80s expensive ma<strong>in</strong>frame computers were used<br />

by large oil companies and seismic contractors.<br />

<strong>The</strong> people process<strong>in</strong>g seismic with <strong>the</strong>se<br />

computers were not <strong>the</strong> people us<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> data<br />

to generate oil prospects. Paper seismic pr<strong>of</strong>iles<br />

were pr<strong>in</strong>ted by <strong>the</strong> processors and geologists<br />

used <strong>the</strong>se paper records to create prospect<br />

maps by hand. Today what used to be done<br />

on ma<strong>in</strong>frames is done on an ord<strong>in</strong>ary PC.<br />

Raw data can be processed rapidly <strong>in</strong>-house,<br />

and subtle features like bright spots can<br />

be brought out. Data can be processed and<br />

reprocessed quickly, with geologists provid<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>in</strong>put at each stage. <strong>The</strong> result is clearer imag<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> features that geologists use when <strong>the</strong>y<br />

are putt<strong>in</strong>g toge<strong>the</strong>r prospects. Wirel<strong>in</strong>e logs<br />

are now rout<strong>in</strong>ely collected <strong>in</strong> digital form.<br />

Old paper logs are scanned and digitized.<br />

Several s<strong>of</strong>tware companies have produced<br />

3D visualization and <strong>in</strong>terpretation systems<br />

that allow seismic data, well logs, production<br />

data, and o<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong>formation to be <strong>in</strong>tegrated.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se programs are run on a PC, whereas<br />

major oil companies previously had similar<br />

programs that ran on ma<strong>in</strong>frames. Today<br />

this type <strong>of</strong> s<strong>of</strong>tware is available to even <strong>the</strong><br />

smallest <strong>in</strong>dependent. This fact alone has had<br />

a pr<strong>of</strong>ound effect on <strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, where new reserves will <strong>in</strong> large<br />

part be found by hav<strong>in</strong>g 3D gridded, detailed<br />

<strong>in</strong>formation on a reservoir. In <strong>the</strong> case <strong>of</strong><br />

Belridge, cited above because it is a typical<br />

field <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, <strong>the</strong> data are actually 4D,<br />

where <strong>the</strong> fourth dimension is time. For<br />

example, cased-hole neutron logs are run<br />

on some wells annually. 3D seismic is be<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>gly used <strong>in</strong> mature <strong>California</strong> fields<br />

where <strong>the</strong> seismic is <strong>in</strong>tegrated with logs<br />

from thousands <strong>of</strong> wells. Most large <strong>California</strong><br />

fields are located along faults and small<br />

compartments among fault splays, such as<br />

those <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Inglewood Field, are common.<br />

We may expect that <strong>the</strong>se <strong>in</strong>formation-rich<br />

3D and 4D methods will be ma<strong>in</strong>stays <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>California</strong> development for years to come.<br />

Chevron Viz Lab at San Ramon.<br />

Used for 3D visualization.<br />




Three-dimensional model <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> reservoir at<br />

Kern River.<br />


Information technology is also critical <strong>in</strong><br />

enhanced recovery operations. One look at<br />

Pacific Coast Energy’s control room at Orcutt<br />

Hill can confirm this. Cyclic steamflood<strong>in</strong>g<br />

requires constant feedback on what is happen<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> reservoir around each well. <strong>The</strong><br />

same is true for Belridge or any o<strong>the</strong>r field<br />

that has hundreds, even thousands, <strong>of</strong> wells.<br />

Decisions have to be made quickly, and <strong>the</strong>y<br />

must be based on reliable <strong>in</strong>formation. This<br />

applies to safety and environmental concerns<br />

as well as to efficient production <strong>of</strong> oil.<br />


Today, <strong>California</strong> produces more than 200<br />

million barrels <strong>of</strong> oil annually from about<br />

50,000 active wells. Although this is half<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> peak production <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> mid-’80s,<br />

<strong>California</strong>’s domestic production is still third<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> nation. <strong>The</strong> state also produces 350 BCF<br />

<strong>of</strong> natural gas annually. Fourteen ref<strong>in</strong>eries,<br />

mostly <strong>in</strong> Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay,<br />

process about 2 million barrels <strong>of</strong> oil per day.<br />

Customers receive natural gas via 100,000 miles<br />

<strong>of</strong> pipel<strong>in</strong>es. Gasol<strong>in</strong>e and o<strong>the</strong>r products are<br />

sold at 9,500 retail outlets throughout <strong>the</strong><br />

state. In 2004 <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry had $143 billion <strong>in</strong><br />

sales, paid $22 billion <strong>in</strong> wages and $5 billion<br />

<strong>in</strong> taxes.Its 364,000 employees account for<br />

about 2 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> jobs <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, a<br />

significant number for any major <strong>in</strong>dustry.<br />

Even with this level <strong>of</strong> production, <strong>the</strong> state<br />

still operates at an energy deficit and needs to<br />

import over 60 percent <strong>of</strong> its oil, 90 percent <strong>of</strong><br />

its natural gas and 28 percent <strong>of</strong> its electricity.<br />

<strong>Petroleum</strong> made <strong>California</strong> an <strong>in</strong>dustrial<br />

and economic giant, and made our far-flung<br />

car-oriented lifestyle possible. Although <strong>the</strong><br />

petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry has changed it will be<br />

an <strong>in</strong>tegral part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> economy<br />

for decades to come. Given <strong>the</strong> grow<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>California</strong> population and <strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>g demand<br />

for energy, petroleum is and will cont<strong>in</strong>ue to<br />

be a major part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> economic life <strong>of</strong> communities<br />

across <strong>the</strong> state. Every <strong>California</strong>n’s<br />

quality <strong>of</strong> life is directly correlated with hav<strong>in</strong>g<br />

access to ample, affordable, secure energy.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong>volves itself <strong>in</strong> local and cultural<br />

affairs and makes long-term positive<br />

contributions to <strong>California</strong>’s quality <strong>of</strong> life.<br />

America has thousands <strong>of</strong> oil companies,<br />

large and small. Each has its own strategy on<br />

how to explore for and produce petroleum.<br />

A host <strong>of</strong> technologies have been developed<br />

by entrepreneurs try<strong>in</strong>g to get a competitive<br />

edge. For more than a century and a half,<br />

<strong>California</strong> has been a ma<strong>in</strong>spr<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> this<br />

dynamic enterprise.<br />

Today, thanks to technological advances and<br />

cont<strong>in</strong>ued need, oil and natural gas exploration<br />

is occurr<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> geological locations previously<br />

unimag<strong>in</strong>ed. Technologies like horizontal<br />

drill<strong>in</strong>g and hydraulic fractur<strong>in</strong>g have shown<br />

promis<strong>in</strong>g results. Dire predictions <strong>of</strong> peak oil<br />

and depleted reserves have come and gone.<br />

Wallace Pratt’s famous aphorism reasserts itself:<br />

Oil is, and always will be, found <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong>ds<br />

<strong>of</strong> thousands <strong>of</strong> explorationists <strong>in</strong> as many<br />

places. <strong>California</strong> is a well-developed petroleum<br />

prov<strong>in</strong>ce, and thanks to <strong>the</strong> legions <strong>of</strong><br />

m<strong>in</strong>ds look<strong>in</strong>g for oil, it has a bright future.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />




Listed here are a number <strong>of</strong> museums that have various artifacts <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> early days <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, especially<br />

large objects such as pumpjacks, derricks, eng<strong>in</strong>es, or old-style shops and <strong>of</strong>fices. O<strong>the</strong>r museums may have <strong>in</strong>door static displays that<br />

relate to <strong>the</strong> petroleum <strong>in</strong>dustry. In contrast, <strong>the</strong> museums listed below provide opportunities to walk among <strong>the</strong> last rema<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g relics <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> early <strong>in</strong>dustry and appreciate <strong>the</strong>m <strong>in</strong> a way that cannot be done with photographs.<br />

Monuments, plaques, and o<strong>the</strong>r rem<strong>in</strong>ders can be found <strong>in</strong> many corners <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> state. A few are pictured on pages 113 through 117.<br />



2040 North Santa Fe Avenue, Vista, <strong>California</strong> 92083<br />

760-941-1791 • www.agsem.com<br />

This museum has restored eng<strong>in</strong>es and o<strong>the</strong>r equipment<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> type used <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> oil fields, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g pumpjacks, steam<br />

eng<strong>in</strong>es, and early hit-and-miss <strong>in</strong>ternal combustion eng<strong>in</strong>es.<br />

One steam eng<strong>in</strong>e was “rescued” from Pico Canyon. What sets<br />

this museum apart from <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>rs is that <strong>the</strong> eng<strong>in</strong>es have been<br />

restored to <strong>the</strong> work<strong>in</strong>g order and appearance, down to <strong>the</strong><br />

pa<strong>in</strong>t, that <strong>the</strong>y would have had when <strong>the</strong>y were new. <strong>The</strong>se<br />

mach<strong>in</strong>es can be observed <strong>in</strong> operation dur<strong>in</strong>g shows <strong>in</strong> June<br />

and October. <strong>The</strong> museum has many o<strong>the</strong>r types <strong>of</strong> eng<strong>in</strong>es,<br />

two portable cable tool rigs, early agricultural equipment and<br />

tractors, steam traction eng<strong>in</strong>es and o<strong>the</strong>r artifacts.<br />

Above: Internal combustion eng<strong>in</strong>es <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> type used <strong>in</strong> oilfields (arrows).<br />

Dates <strong>of</strong> manufacture range from before 1910 to <strong>the</strong> 1950s.<br />


Left: Test eng<strong>in</strong>e used <strong>in</strong> research to improve gasol<strong>in</strong>e.<br />



Traces <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s Past<br />



1001 East Ma<strong>in</strong> Street, Santa Paula, <strong>California</strong> 93060<br />

805-933-0076 • www.caoilmuseum.org<br />

Display <strong>of</strong> cable tool components.<br />

Left to right, Steam boiler, steam eng<strong>in</strong>e,<br />

band wheel, walk<strong>in</strong>g beam, and base <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

derrick. <strong>The</strong> large-diameter hemp rope goes<br />

down <strong>the</strong> hole.<br />



Occupy<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> build<strong>in</strong>g that served as Union Oil’s company headquarters before it moved<br />

to Los Angeles, this museum features a very well-preserved cable tool drill<strong>in</strong>g rig. A number <strong>of</strong><br />

gasol<strong>in</strong>e pumps from early gas stations display old brands like Red Crown. <strong>The</strong> former <strong>of</strong>fices<br />

<strong>of</strong> Union Oil on <strong>the</strong> second floor are meticulously restored, and one can imag<strong>in</strong>e <strong>the</strong> debates<br />

between Lyman Stewart and Thomas Bard that took place <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> board room. Ano<strong>the</strong>r <strong>of</strong>fice<br />

was occupied by Union geologist, W. W. Orcutt, and still ano<strong>the</strong>r was <strong>the</strong> payroll <strong>of</strong>fice, with<br />

enormous ledger books full <strong>of</strong> handwritten records.<br />


11901 Florence Avenue, Santa Fe Spr<strong>in</strong>gs, <strong>California</strong> 90670<br />

562-777-3444 • www.hathaworld.com<br />

This five-acre museum has a ranch house, a belt-driven mach<strong>in</strong>e shop, and oil field equipment.<br />

Guided tours are available.<br />


3801 Chester Avenue, Bakersfield, <strong>California</strong> 93301<br />

661-437-3330 • www.kcmuseum.org<br />

This county museum has as one <strong>of</strong> its exhibits, “<strong>Black</strong> <strong>Gold</strong>: <strong>The</strong> Oil Experience.” With <strong>in</strong>door<br />

and outdoor exhibits <strong>of</strong> oil field equipment and o<strong>the</strong>r artifacts, this exhibit emphasizes <strong>the</strong> local<br />

Kern County oil <strong>in</strong>dustry.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />



27201 Pico Canyon Road, Newhall, <strong>California</strong> 91381<br />

661-259-2701 • www.scvhistory.com/mentryville<br />

This is <strong>the</strong> ghost town described <strong>in</strong> Chapter 1, with <strong>the</strong> mansion, school<br />

house, o<strong>the</strong>r build<strong>in</strong>gs, and old equipment such as steam eng<strong>in</strong>es. A 1.5<br />

mile hike up a paved road br<strong>in</strong>gs you to <strong>the</strong> Pico No. 4 Discovery Well and<br />

monument. A replica <strong>of</strong> a wooden derrick, old equipment, and <strong>the</strong> old<br />

pipel<strong>in</strong>e can be seen along <strong>the</strong> way. <strong>The</strong> field has almost totally gone back<br />

to a natural state, but signs <strong>of</strong> it can still be seen if you look carefully.<br />

Top and <strong>in</strong>set: Pico No. 4 Well,<br />

with two commemorative plaques nearby.<br />

<strong>The</strong> well was plugged, and pipes left to show<br />

<strong>the</strong> well’s location. An old eng<strong>in</strong>e and some<br />

cable for a jack l<strong>in</strong>e are at left.<br />


Left: Early oil field steam eng<strong>in</strong>e near <strong>the</strong><br />

schoolhouse at Mentryville.<br />



Traces <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s Past<br />



4025 Santa Fe Road, Brea, <strong>California</strong> 92823<br />

714-671-4447 • www.city<strong>of</strong>brea.net/<strong>in</strong>dex.aspx?NID=438<br />

This twelve-acre park, located on <strong>the</strong> edge <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hills <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Brea-Ol<strong>in</strong>da Field, has a house that served as a field<br />

<strong>of</strong>fice, ano<strong>the</strong>r build<strong>in</strong>g with an eng<strong>in</strong>e that ran jackl<strong>in</strong>es<br />

go<strong>in</strong>g to numerous wells, <strong>the</strong> discovery well <strong>of</strong> this portion<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> field, Ol<strong>in</strong>da No. 1, which has been cont<strong>in</strong>uously produc<strong>in</strong>g<br />

s<strong>in</strong>ce 1897, and a walk<strong>in</strong>g path that w<strong>in</strong>ds its way<br />

among work<strong>in</strong>g wells <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> modern field and a few oil seeps.<br />

Top: This build<strong>in</strong>g at <strong>the</strong> Ol<strong>in</strong>da Museum and Trail housed <strong>the</strong> eng<strong>in</strong>e that ran jackl<strong>in</strong>es to several wells.<br />

Above: Jackl<strong>in</strong>es to <strong>in</strong>dividual wells came <strong>in</strong> through <strong>the</strong> w<strong>in</strong>dows <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> build<strong>in</strong>g and were attached to holes around <strong>the</strong> rim <strong>of</strong> this <strong>of</strong>f-center wheel <strong>in</strong>side.<br />

Each jackl<strong>in</strong>e was balanced by ano<strong>the</strong>r one on <strong>the</strong> opposite side <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wheel. <strong>The</strong> wheel was turned by a motor via <strong>the</strong> vertical shaft, giv<strong>in</strong>g each jackl<strong>in</strong>e a back-and-forth movement.<br />

Model <strong>of</strong> a derrick is <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> background.<br />



1168 Wood Street, Taft, <strong>California</strong> 93268<br />

661-765-6664 • www.westkern-oilmuseum.org<br />

Located <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Midway-Sunset Field, <strong>the</strong> West Kern Oil Museum is on eight acres <strong>of</strong> land,<br />

and has <strong>the</strong> derrick and cable tool rig <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> old Jameson No. 17 well, drilled <strong>in</strong> 1917. This last<br />

wooden derrick was donated to <strong>the</strong> museum <strong>in</strong> 1974, and <strong>the</strong> museum was on its way toward<br />

amass<strong>in</strong>g a collection <strong>of</strong> pumpjacks, eng<strong>in</strong>es, boilers, old vehicles and o<strong>the</strong>r oil field equipment.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


Above: Monument to oil field workers, Signal Hill. Downtown Long Beach and Santa Catal<strong>in</strong>a Island <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> background.<br />

Right: Plaques at Signal Hill. Several work<strong>in</strong>g wells surround a park on <strong>the</strong> steep side <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hill.<br />

Below: Plaque at Discovery Well Park, Hunt<strong>in</strong>gton Beach.<br />



Traces <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong>’s Past<br />



Allen, M. E., Lalicata, J. J., 2012, <strong>The</strong> Belridge giant oil field—100 years <strong>of</strong> history and a look to a bright future, Search and Discovery<br />

Article No. 20124, American Association <strong>of</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> Geologists.<br />

Allen, M. E., Rahman, M., and Rycerski, B., 2006, Belridge giant oil field, diatomite pool; Learn<strong>in</strong>gs from an unusual mar<strong>in</strong>e reservoir<br />

<strong>in</strong> an old field, AAPG Visual Presentation, American Association <strong>of</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> Geologists, National Convention, April 11, 2006.<br />

Biddle, K. T., 1991, <strong>The</strong> Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong>: An overview, <strong>in</strong> Biddle, K. T., ed. Active Marg<strong>in</strong> Bas<strong>in</strong>s, American Association <strong>of</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong><br />

Geologists Memoir 52, p. 5-24.<br />

Bilodeau, W. L., Bilodeau, S. W., Gath, E. M., Oborne, M., and Proctor, R. J., 2007, Geology <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles, United States <strong>of</strong> America,<br />

Environmental and Eng<strong>in</strong>eer<strong>in</strong>g Geoscience, vol. 13, p. 99-160.<br />

Davis, K., and Signal Hill Historical Society, 2006, Images <strong>of</strong> America: Signal Hill, Arcadia Publish<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Francis, R. D., Javanfar, A., and Brenner, J. P., 1992, Rapid disappearance <strong>of</strong> oil from a moderate-sized spill; cleanup effort coupled with<br />

natural degradation processes, Mar<strong>in</strong>e Technology Society Journal vol. 26, p. 26-33.<br />

Hayden, Deloris, 1997, Power <strong>of</strong> Place; Urban Landscapes <strong>in</strong> Public History, <strong>The</strong> MIT Press.<br />

Houseworth, J. and Str<strong>in</strong>gfellow, W., 2015, A case study <strong>of</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore petroleum production, well stimulation, and associated<br />

environmental impacts, An Independent Scientific Assessment <strong>of</strong> Well Stimulation <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>, Volume III, Case Studies <strong>of</strong> Hydraulic<br />

Fractur<strong>in</strong>g and Acid Stimulations <strong>in</strong> Select Regions: Offshore, Monterey Formation, Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong> and San Joaqu<strong>in</strong> Bas<strong>in</strong>, Chapter 2,<br />

p. 28-111.<br />

Keat<strong>in</strong>g, M. T., 2006, <strong>Black</strong> <strong>Gold</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Gold</strong>en State: <strong>The</strong> Role <strong>of</strong> Oil <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Development <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Puente Hills, History Department, Claremont<br />

Graduate University.<br />

Lawyer, L. C., Bates, C. C., and Rice, R. B., 2001, Geophysics <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Affairs <strong>of</strong> Mank<strong>in</strong>d, Society <strong>of</strong> Exploration Geophysicists.<br />

Mayne, W. H., 1962, Common reflection po<strong>in</strong>t horizontal data stack<strong>in</strong>g techniques, Geophysics, vol. 27, p. 927-938.<br />

Mayuga, M. N. and Allen, D. R., 1949, Subsidence <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton oil field area, Long Beach, <strong>California</strong>, USA, Stanford Research<br />

Institute, p. 66-79.<br />

Otott, G. E. and Clarke, D. D., 1996, History <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Wilm<strong>in</strong>gton Field—1986-1996, Old fields and New Life: A Visit to <strong>the</strong> Giants <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Los Angeles Bas<strong>in</strong>, 1996 American Association <strong>of</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> Geologists.<br />

Pack, R. W., 1920, <strong>The</strong> Sunset-Midway Oil Field, <strong>California</strong>, United States Geological Survey Pr<strong>of</strong>essional Paper 116.<br />

Pederson, B. L., 1990, A Century <strong>of</strong> Spirit: Unocal 1890-1990, Unocal Corporation.<br />

Pratt, W. E., 1952, Toward a philosophy <strong>of</strong> oil-f<strong>in</strong>d<strong>in</strong>g, Bullet<strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> American Association <strong>of</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> Geologists, vol. 36, p. 2231-2236.<br />

Quigley, D. C., Hornafius, J. S., Luyendyk, B. P., Francis, R. D., Clark, J., and Washburn, L., 1999, Decrease <strong>in</strong> natural hydrocarbon<br />

seepage near Coal Oil Po<strong>in</strong>t, <strong>California</strong>, associated with <strong>of</strong>fshore oil production, Geology, vol. 27, p. 1047-1050.<br />

Redpath, L. V., 1900, <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>California</strong>: A Concise and Reliable History <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Oil <strong>Industry</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> State, Lionel V. Redpath.<br />

BLACK GOLD IN CALIFORNIA: <strong>The</strong> <strong>Story</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>California</strong> <strong>Petroleum</strong> <strong>Industry</strong><br />


R<strong>in</strong>toul, W., 1978, Oildorado: Boom Times on <strong>the</strong> West Side, Valley Publishers.<br />