Nightmarish Photos of California Littered with Oil Rigs

Nightmarish Photos of California Littered with Oil Rigs
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Nightmarish Photos of California Littered with Oil Rigs

In the 1890s, the small town of Los Angeles (population 50,000) began a transformation driven by the discovery and drilling of some of the most productive oil fields in history.

Oil pumping in California.
Oil pumping in California.

Machinery was camouflaged, loud noises were abated, methane pockets were vented, as residents learned to live side-by-side with oil production facilities. To this day, oil fields in the Los Angeles Basin remain very productive, and modern techniques have centralized operations into smaller areas or moved offshore.

California was not always all about Hollywood, the bliss and glamour of being a superstar, and walking the red carpet on Academy Award night. In fact, these photos bring a bleak contrast and show us what was once a state heavily fed on oil.

Oil! Oil! Oil! It was truly “black gold” that moved the nation’s Golden State into the future of the 20th century.

The sight of myriads of oil towers installed on familiar venues such as Downtown Los Angeles, Venice Beach, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, or Santa Fe, was overwhelming. Dark. Gloomy. As if the landscapes were taken out of the next Blade Runner movie.

Oil wells at Venice, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, which are bringing oil up from beach area.
Oil wells at Venice, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, which are bringing oil up from beach area.

 

Oil derrick decorated as a Christmas tree, Huntington Beach, 1939.
Oil derrick decorated as a Christmas tree, Huntington Beach, 1939.

It was a noisy county, fueled by the machinery of the oil towers: next to palm trees, next to the beaches, even next to your church and local graveyards.

The first oil fields emerged on the surface throughout the 1860s, and the first drills were made in the area of Central Valley. In part, this helped San Francisco grow, at the time the most populated area in California at least until the 1906 earthquake.

Then more fields of oil were found in the proximity of Los Angeles, at the time nothing more than a village.

By 1892, the skyline of Southern California was dominated by a rapidly expanding forest of oil derricks.

At the turn of the century, the area had an output of 4 million barrels. By the end of the 1920s, this had grown to 77 million barrels.

The oil boom brought tycoons of all kinds, self-made millionaires, entertainers, as well as prostitutes. The oil-pumping state even had its own “queen” — Miss Emma Summers.

She is remembered as the Oil Queen of California, and at one point, it’s said, half of the oil production was under her administration and ownership.

Her first oil well was dug close to where L.A.’s Dodger Stadium is today.

Huntington Beach six years after the Huntington A-1 first produced oil in 1920.
Huntington Beach six years after the Huntington A-1 first produced oil in 1920.

 

Pumping oil from the sea – oil wells in the surf of Summerland, California.
Pumping oil from the sea – oil wells in the surf of Summerland, California.

 

Signal Hill oil field, Long Beach, California, 1937.
Signal Hill oil field, Long Beach, California, 1937.

By 1930, California was producing nearly one-quarter of the world’s oil output, and its population had grown to 1.2 million. In the decades that followed, many wells closed, but even more opened, surrounded by urban and suburban growth.

So it’s true when people say Southern California was “built on oil.” And it used to be nothing like the sunny image of today.


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John Smith has been with Histecho since 2017, A Senior Editor & Writer for Histecho. his work has been featured in outlets such as Scientific American, The Washington Post, NBC News, and Fox News. John grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York.