The sunny beaches and Hollywood glamor of Los Angeles are world-famous, but the city has a long and fascinating history as a booming oil city. Maps help tell the stories of this part of the past and present of Los Angeles that is often forgotten. In the 1890s, the first successful wells were drilled along the northern edge of Orange County, CA. Soon, oil fields were built in La Habra, Brea Canyon, and Olinda.
Major strikes in Placentia (1911) and Huntington Beach (1920) triggered an oil boom that spread throughout the county. Early settlers discovered ways to distill the substance to create oil for lamps, replacing oil from whales and seals. This improved the quality of life for Californians, replacing whale oil and fuel-burning appliances and keeping homes, schools, businesses and hospitals safely and reliably illuminated. Most of the wells turned out to be “garbage dumps”, but eventually about a dozen oil fields were identified in the county. In 1922-23, the Long Beach press announced the sale of small tracts of land in a community called “Petroleum Gardens” with “all oil rights included”.
Natural gas was almost considered a waste product, and was burned or sold cheaply for local domestic use. The biggest contribution of oil to the local economy were lease payments to several landlords and property taxes paid to the county. The state has not issued a new offshore oil and gas lease since 1969. By enforcing violations that are not considered threatening or serious on oil platforms, federal inspectors from the Office of Environmental Safety and Compliance give the operator “reasonable time” to correct the violation. Amplify has oil and natural gas operations in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming, in addition to its Beta Field assets. The offshore facility platform processes and ships crude oil from Ellen and Eureka, the company's two oil production platforms in the Beta field, to an onshore pumping station in Long Beach through the 41-year-old 17.3-mile San Pedro Bay pipeline. The proliferation of oil drilling in this field is evident in the 1906 map by petroleum engineer Ralph Arnold. People had been drilling wells in the Brea Canyon area since the 1860s, and by the 1880s, a few had even discovered oil. According to Boesch, this is part of a broader campaign to completely eliminate the oil and gas industry, an initiative that is important to address climate change, but which could pose other risks. Orange County's history with oil and gas production is an interesting one that has shaped its economy for over a century.
From its early days as a source of whale oil replacements to its current role as an important part of California's energy infrastructure, it's clear that this part of California's history is still alive today.