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The California Oil Industry

Byron King, Whiskey & Gunpowder
“LA is a great, big freeway,” go the words to the song. It is also one of the world’s great oil provinces, with historical oil extraction over the past 110 years of something near 9 billion barrels, and still counting. This volume easily places the oil production from the Los Angeles Basin in the ranks of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (near 10 billion barrels), and about 50% greater than the East Texas field (about 6 billion barrels). So in this article, let’s discuss Los Angeles and oil.

…There are other oil fields in places that are well known to many people familiar with Los Angeles, but the locales are not exactly known for their oil production in the public perception. There are oil fields beneath such high-end locales as Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, El Segundo, Los Angeles downtown, Century City, Cheviot Hills, and even Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills High School has oil wells right next to the football field. One drill site with more than 60 wells, drilled directionally to as far as a mile from the surface entry and casing, is located in what looks like a 10-story office building, all of two blocks from the Beverly Hills city line. Director Steven Spielberg’s mother lives down the street. And lore has it that the “Jed Clampett” of the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies fame was named after a local Los Angeles mineral rights owner of that same name (“J.D. Clampett”) who is now immortalized by the whim of a scriptwriter.

All in all, there are 55 known oil fields in the Los Angeles area, with something over 30,000 producing wells and an equal number of older, plugged, and abandoned wells. (There may be far more than 30,000 wells, but the number is not known, due to poor record keeping in the good old days.) Something like 9 billion barrels of oil has been extracted from the rocks over the past century or so. Much of the contemporary oil production involves pumping “oil-stained water,” but as I noted above, it adds up to quite a bit of extraction per day.

There are probably more oil fields that could be found beneath the streets of LA, because almost all of the past exploration in the urban part of the basin was performed before the mid-1960s.

… There is really no way that the early oil exploration found “all” of it. The hydrocarbon traps are far too subtle and stacked, deeply buried, and truncated by extensive faulting and permeability pinch-outs. So the older forms of exploration found only the obvious deposits, not the more clandestine deposits. In the modern oil industry, advances in the field of sequence stratigraphy, structural modeling, and seismic methodology, coupled with directional drilling and what is called “extended reach drilling,” have made it possible to find and extract such deposits. And it would be quite possible, from a technical standpoint, to drill the oil deposits even in a built-up urban area such as Los Angeles. But these oil deposits will probably never be drilled, due to modern city development, coupled with NIMBY attitudes and political opposition.
(4 April 2007)
Oil history from geologist, lawyer and peak oil author Byron King.

Trans-American Sources of Electricity

Byron King, Whiskey & Gunpowder
Greg’s Note: What happens “on the other side of the light switch?” Byron addresses that question today. Apparently, the electricity generation and transmission businesses have undergone extensive changes after deregulation and privatization. The free market has finally forced her way into the electricity sphere.

Where exactly does the juice that powers your toaster come from? It may be generated somewhere extremely far from your kitchen… Byron discusses long distance transmission systems and how they will continue to revolutionize the American utility sphere below.
(13 April 2007)

Big Is Beautiful

Christian Parenti, The Nation
Green utilities are growing, but they need to grow faster.
…”This is wind power on a grand scale,” says Hudgens. He is talking about projects like Maple Ridge Wind Farm, the biggest power plant of any sort built in New York during 2006. The farm’s 195 huge white wind turbines, with blades as long as jet wings perched atop tall steel towers, are spread across miles of ridgeline in Tug Hill, New York, catching steady airflow off the Great Lakes. On a good day this farm will produce 321 megawatts of power, as much as a midsize coal- or gas-fired plant.

The green future wasn’t supposed to look like this. In the environmental imagination of the 1960s and ’70s, the ecological ideal was something quaint, a village where every house had solar panels, a windmill and a vegetable garden where the lawn once soaked up pesticides. E.F. Schumacher told us that “small is beautiful,” and to this day many environmentalists see large centralized systems as inherently bad.

But the speed and magnitude of climate change dictate that we begin the transformation away from carbon-based fuels now–and on a very large scale. Only a few decades remain if we are to avoid cataclysmic runaway global warming and its attendant crises. Realistically, a green transformation will have to pivot on electricity and the existing electrical grid. At one end of the grid, zero-emission vehicles can be plugged in, while at the other end zero-emission power plants–most likely owned by large for-profit companies–can feed the system electricity.
(19 April 2007)

Growing Number of Americans See Warming as Leading Threat

Juliet Eilperin and Jon Cohen, Washington Post
A third of Americans say global warming ranks as the world’s single largest environmental problem, double the number who gave it top ranking last year, a nationwide poll shows.

In the new poll, conducted jointly by The Washington Post, ABC News and Stanford University, most of those surveyed said that climate change is real and that they want the federal government to do more about it. But the survey also shows there is little public agreement about the policies the United States should adopt to address it.
(20 April 2007)
Related from Christian Science Monitor: This Earth Day, a focus on Earth’s warming (“Public awareness about climate change is growing; 83 percent of Americans now call it a ‘serious’ problem.”