The history of oil and gas in California can be traced back over 150 years. Pioneers travelling across California used oil from natural seeps to grease their wagon wheels and Native Americans used asphaltum to waterproof their baskets and wooden canoes (“tomols”), fasten arrowheads to shafts, and decorate sea shells.
Early oil development activities in the San Joaquin Valley started with hand-dug oil wells on the west bank of the Kern River, leading to the discovery of the Kern River oil field in 1899. This discovery initiated an oil boom, and caused a forest of wooden derricks to spring up overnight on the flood-plain just north of Bakersfield. By 1903, the Kern River field had made California the top oil-producing state in the country.
Inspired by the Kern River discovery, “oil prospectors” fanned out across the San Joaquin Valley, and derricks began to pop up everywhere. Many discoveries followed, and a string of spectacular gushers at the Coalinga, McKittrick and Midway-Sunset fields kept the valley in oil news. The Lakeview gusher oil blowout in 1910 is still a reminder of the possible environmental effects of oil and gas production – the uncontrolled flow rate peaked at 100,000 barrels of oil per day (BOPD).
In the Los Angeles Basin, oil production began in late 1800s with the discovery of the Brea Olinda and Los Angeles City fields. To date the basin’s fields have produced over 8.6 billion barrels of oil (Bbbls) and 7.6 trillion cubic feet of gas (TCF).
The first field discovery in the Ventura Basin was in Santa Paula in 1861. This was followed by another discovery in 1866 at Sulphur Mountain in Ventura County. The Ventura Avenue oil field was discovered in 1919, and to date has produced over 1.2 billion barrels of oil.
In 1897 the first offshore well in the U.S. was drilled from a pier in the Santa Barbara area of California. Summerland oil field started production onshore in 1866, but the field extended offshore under the ocean sparking the first venture into Pacific waters. Offshore exploration and development revealed the presence of a number of anticlines in the Ventura basin, paralleling the Santa Barbara coast, with the first offshore discovery made in 1959 in state waters followed by several major field discoveries in federal waters in the 1960s. The offshore Santa Maria Basin was opened in the late 1970s and two giant discoveries were made.
Today, in order to continue managing the development of conventional (oil and gas), renewable energy (wind, wave, ocean current) and mineral resources on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) offshore California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii in an environmentally and economically responsible way, it is important to understand California’s oil and gas history.
In this presentation, more detail will be provided on the rich California oil and gas development history and the role geoscientists play towards conventional energy development.