It is often forgotten that Los Angeles is located over some very large oil fields and that the city continues to be a significant oil producing region. A couple months ago I wrote a blog entry that discussed the history of oil in Los Angeles and featured photos of oil wells which are camouflaged into the urban landscape. Here I turn my attention to the other end of the spectrum, Los Angeles oil wells that do draw attention to themselves and that are prominent features of the landscape. This time, the main areas that I have explored and photographed are Baldwin Hills and Signal Hill; I also visited some of the refineries in the South Bay area and checked out the Long Beach THUMS project. For locations scroll down on this map.
This area is the largest undeveloped open space in Los Angeles County; underneath lies the Inglewood Oil Field. PXP (Plains Exploration and Production) owns the area and pumps more than 3 million barrels of oil from here a year (430 of the 1200 wells here are currently active). Some parts of this region are inaccessible, however Stocker Street (a handy shortcut to the airport) and the upper section of Fairfax Ave. (running between Stocker St. and Slauson Ave.) give good views of the many oil wells pumping away.
The history of this township has always been linked to oil: Signal Hill was incorporated in 1924 in part to keep oil tax revenue from going into Long Beach’s coffers. The oil field below, Long Beach Oil Field, is the second richest oil deposit in Los Angeles County (nearby Wilmington Oil Field is number one). 266 pumpjacks in the town continue to produce over 1.5 million barrels of oil a year. The landscape here is very strange as the oil wells are distributed among the housing developments and in front of McDonalds and Starbucks. It is clear is that the production of oil is still somwhat a matter of civic pride here. (The pumpjacks here are connected by underground pipes that move the freshly pumped oil and water mixture off-site for processing).
In 1964 the THUMS Long Beach Company, its name drawn from the original investors Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobil, and Shell, initiated this project that pumps oil from the Wilmington Oil Field (the richest field in Los Angeles County). In order to minimize disturbance to the community of Long Beach, 4 islands were built just offshore (named Grissom, White, Chaffee and Freeman, after the deceased Apollo astronauts). Each island has 300 wells, drilled at an angle for maximum access to the oil field. The ones closest to shore have decorative structures on the shore that hide the interior industrial landscape. The islands are currenlty owned by Occidental Petroleum and remain active pumping sites. One side effect of drawing almost billion barrels of oil from the Wilmington Oil Field is land subsidence; to keep land in Long Beach from collapsing, salt water must continually be pumped underground.
Land use in the South Bay is all over the place, shifting between residential areas, shopping centers, port facilities, and large refineries such as those run by ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Chevron. At the refineries the landscape consists of large and intimidating corporate facilities tending towards industrial sublime.
Once more I am indebted to the CLUI article surveying the urban oilscape. Photos by Noah Albert