Burying the Pot of Black Gold in Los Angeles for Good


It is no surprise that oil is the lifeblood of the City of Los Angeles and its surrounding municipalities. But what is not known by many, even its residents, is the abundant amount of oil that sits below their feet. Though most of the oil consumed in the US are from imports, oil production was a productive and is still an ongoing industry in the greater Los Angeles region.

In 1892, two oil businessmen, Edward Doheny and Charles A. Canfield first struck black gold about 4 miles of the City’s Central Business District. This became the Los Angeles City Oil Field. From there, oil fields of all sizes manifested across the region. By the 1920’s, 1930’s, oil production in the region reached its peak, producing as much as 27 million barrels of oil per year. Some of the major oil fields in the region still in operation today are the Los Angeles City Oil Field, Inglewood Oil Field, Long Beach/Signal Hill Oil Field and Santa Fe Springs Oil Field. The latter three are situated further away from the densely populated areas. The region naturally grew in population and diversified in economy, but the drilling continued. Today, the oil fields are hidden behind sleepy neighborhoods, shrouded in vegetation, disguised as monuments adjacent to buildings or  tightly wrapped by metal fencing. The region is still producing about $3 billion worth of oil annually.

However, the proximity of these and many other oil fields to urban life through the years has subjected many residents to adverse health and environmental impacts. Residents near the Inglewood Oil Field have experienced noxious fumes, noise pollution and higher rates of asthma and lung cancers. The residents near this oil field are predominantly African American, which has triggered cries for environmental justice. Soil and groundwater contamination and soil subsidence from water withdrawal are one of many environmental hazards resulting from the oil drilling. According to NASA, land around the Long Beach Oil Field subsided nearly 9 meters before fluid injection was implemented to offset the problem. In recent years, lawsuits brought forth by citizens, local governments and advocacy groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Community Health Councils, Inc. and the desire for space to develop much needed housing and public facilities are putting an end to the industry.

As of early 2012, the Los Angeles Oil Field is closing down to make way for an affordable housing project. Capping of the oil wells has begun and completion date of the housing project is slated for mid 2014. After a lengthy battle in the courts, production at the Inglewood Oil Field will be greatly limited in operation size, monitored and assessed for local health and environmental impacts. A sustainable residential community is replacing the Santa Fe Springs Oil Field. Construction of homes is in progress. Many of the completed units are already occupied. While this oil field still has a dozen of active oil wells, they are enclosed by block walls and vigilantly monitored by the State of California and City of Santa Fe Springs. Many other oil fields are now defunct and abandoned; the equipment still standing as if frozen in time. Slowly, the oil industry in Los Angeles is becoming another page in the region’s history books.

Photo credit: consrv.ca.gov/dog/photo_gallery/drilling_rigs/Pages/photo_01.aspx

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