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Chronology of Oil & Gas Development

World, United States & California


Santa Barbara County

The first U.S. oil boom begins near Titusville, Pennsylvania. The search for mineral oil soon expands to other states, spurred by increasing demand for an economical alternative to dwindling supplies of the whale oil burned in lamps.




Prospecting for oil and gas commences; however, no significant discoveries are made until 1886.

The first commercial oil field in California begins operations at Pico Canyon in Los Angeles County.




First successful onshore oil well completed in Summerland.

Development of the internal combustion engine creates a new market for oil and gasoline.




Offshore oil development begins near Summerland following onshore well results during the late 1880s that are more successful near the ocean.

California becomes the nation’s largest oil-producing state with more than 3,000 producing wells.




Union Oil’s "Old Maud", located in the Santa Maria Field, produces an unprecedented 1 million barrels of oil in its first 100 days, attracting national attention as the "greatest gusher in the world".



Fearing oil pollution, Santa Barbara’s Chamber of Commerce opposes construction of an oil pipeline on Stearns Wharf.

The conversion of warships from coal to oil and mechanization of the battlefield during World War I increases oil demand.



California enacts the Mineral Leasing Act granting the State all mineral rights on State lands and offshore tidelands, requiring permits and leases to be issued by the California Surveyor General, and establishing regulations for offshore development.



California enacts the Oil Pollution Act, prohibiting discharges of oil into the sea and navigable waters.



California enacts an offshore exploration and leasing moratorium due to a variety of concerns ranging from industrialization of the coast to the potential drainage of State-controlled tideland oil fields from shore-based wells.


Santa Barbara citizens protest local oil development following discovery of the resource within the City limits. The City Council and Chamber of Commerce oppose drilling within City limits.

California enacts the State Lands Act establishing the California State Lands Commission and granting it State Tidelands leasing authority.


  • Japanese takeover of Southern Indochina leads the United States, Netherlands, and Britain to embargo oil to Japan.
  • Japan attacks Pearl Harbor.




A Japanese submarine surfaces about ˝ mile offshore Ellwood at approximately 7:00 p.m. on February 23rd. For approximately 20 minutes the submarine fires between 10 and 15 shells at an onshore oil refinery. Most of the 5.5-inch shells miss the refinery and many land in the ranchlands and canyons north of U.S. 101. No casualties are reported in the attack and damages are estimated to be approximately $500 in this first of a handful of minor Japanese raids against the continental United States during World War II.

The first offshore well drilled from a fixed platform is located 10.5 miles offshore Louisiana. This marks the beginning of the modern offshore oil industry’s use of barge and platform. This event also triggers an intense struggle between the federal and state governments over who governs the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and who should receive the revenue from OCS oil & gas leasing. This matter is resolved in 1953 with the passage of the Submerged Lands Act.




Following three large explosions, Santa Barbara fishermen complain that seismic exploration is impacting local fishing. Santa Barbara City and County attempt to prevent, or at least control, offshore oil development in the Santa Barbara Channel. Governor Earl Warren halts seismic exploration, then reauthorizes it with stricter regulations.

  • U.S. enacts the Submerged Lands Act dividing jurisdiction over offshore areas between state and Federal governments at three miles from shore.
  • U.S. enacts Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Lands Act authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to administer the leasing and diligent development of oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Under this authority, the Secretary prescribes regulations deemed necessary to prevent waste and conserve natural resources of the OCS.




Santa Barbara County and City lobby the California Legislature for a development-free oil sanctuary and authority to restrict offshore development through zoning.

California enacts the Cunningham-Shell Act, amending the 1938 State Lands Act and adding more detail regarding the leasing of submerged lands under the jurisdiction of the State Lands Commission. Oil and gas leases issued prior to enactment of the Cunningham-Shell Act do not contain detailed terms and conditions. Under this Act several tidelands areas are withheld from oil and gas development, including an area of State waters offshore Santa Barbara County from Summerland Bay to Coal Oil Point (see California Coastal Sanctuary). The Cunningham-Shell Act represents a compromise between competing interests for uninhibited offshore development and those for preservation of aesthetics and property values.




California’s State Lands Commission grants several major oil companies permission to conduct core drilling offshore Santa Barbara County in order to assess geological formations prior to bidding on leases.


  • The first major offshore fixed drilling platform in California waters (Hazel) is installed offshore Summerland.
  • Santa Barbara County approves construction of an onshore processing plant, marine terminal facilities, and storage tanks at Carpinteria in preparation for development of the Santa Barbara Channel’s Summerland Field.

U.S. establishes mandatory quotas on foreign oil imports following a decade of political pressure brought by independent American oil producers seeking economic relief from increasing foreign imports.



The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is founded in Baghdad.




The first Outer Continental Shelf tract is leased in Federal waters of the Santa Barbara Channel.



  • The Federal government creates a Federal Ecological Preserve (a buffer zone extending two miles seaward from the Santa Barbara Oil Sanctuary) in response to Santa Barbara County’s petition for a 16-mile-long Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) drilling sanctuary and one-year OCS drilling moratorium.
  • Consolidation of oil and gas facilities/sites along the south coast of Santa Barbara County is first formalized in the Statement of Policy Relative to the Location of On-Shore Oil Facilities, recommended by the Planning Commission (Resolution 67-22, approved April 12, 1967) and adopted by the Board of Supervisors on April 24, 1967.
  • The first Federal OCS fixed platform (Hogan) is installed in the Santa Barbara Channel; several more platforms follow.
  • Santa Barbara County’s natural gas production reaches an all-time high of 99,425,269 thousand cubic feet.
  • Alaska’s North Slope oil field is discovered.
  • California’s natural gas (total gas) production reaches all-time high (includes federal OCS production).




  • Union Oil’s Platform A oil well spills approximately 80-100 thousand barrels into the Santa Barbara Channel.
  • Drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel is suspended pending review of state and federal drilling regulations.
  • Secretary of the Interior Hickel announces an expanded federal buffer zone around the state sanctuary and new drilling regulations.
  • California’s Legislature expands the Coastal Sanctuary but rejects a bill banning oil drilling in State waters of the Santa Barbara Channel.
  • A class-action lawsuit filed by the State of California, Santa Barbara County, and the Cities of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria as a result of the Platform A blowout seeks $560-million in damages. Prior to trial (in 1976), the defendants settle for $9.45 million.


The federal government allows resumed drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf off Santa Barbara.



The Department of the Interior conducts the first public hearing in Santa Barbara regarding proposals for new platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel.


Environmental review commences for the first federal Outer Continental Shelf project under the National Environmental Policy Act (Exxon’s Santa Ynez Unit).

  • Following the Yom Kippur War, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and other Arab states (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members) impose an embargo on oil exports to the U.S. and other western governments that supported Israel during the war. The embargo spurs this country’s first non-wartime energy crisis.
  • President Nixon signs the Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act authorizing petroleum price, production, allocation, and marketing controls.


California State Lands Commission lifts the ban on additional drilling in the State waters of the Santa Barbara Channel following the 1969 oil spill.

  • The Department of the Interior accelerates federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) leasing and implements the use of "blanket Environmental Impact Statements" for future (OCS) projects.
  • Arab states, except Libya, end the oil embargo against the U.S.


  • Santa Barbara’s City Council bans oil support activities at Stearns Wharf.
  • Exxon requests that Santa Barbara County rezone Las Flores Canyon for Santa Ynez Unit onshore facilities. The County prepares an environmental impact report for the rezone, and the Secretary of the Interior approves the Santa Ynez Unit Plan of Operations.


  • Santa Barbara County’s Board of Supervisors approves rezoning of Las Flores Canyon to allow siting of Exxon’s Santa Ynez Unit onshore facilities; decision appealed to the California Coastal Commission.
  • A county-wide referendum by the Stop Exxon Committee to reject the rezoning of Las Flores Canyon is defeated.

State creates a State Operating Authority, designating the Department of Fish and Game as lead agency for overseeing oil spill cleanup.


  • The California Coastal Commission denies Exxon’s Las Flores Canyon onshore facility permit, prompting the company to consider building an offshore oil storage and treatment facility.
  • Santa Barbara County’s Board of Supervisors directs that a Joint Industry/Government Pipeline Working Group be established to assess transportation alternatives for oil.

First Alaskan North Slope crude oil reaches California’s market.




Federal court dismisses Get Oil Out’s effort to stop Exxon’s offshore oil storage and treatment facility.



Congress establishes the Channel Islands National Park and Santa Barbara Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary extending seaward six miles from the islands.

Saudi Arabia floods the world’s oil market; oil prices begin to decline.


Exxon moors its offshore oil storage and treatment facility in federal waters offshore Santa Barbara in order to avoid California Coastal Commission restrictions.



Santa Barbara County forms the Energy Division to address the rapid growth of offshore oil development.



POPCO’s Las Flores Canyon Gas Plant opens to process gas produced in the Santa Ynez Unit. In December, toxic hydrogen sulfide from the plant enters residential gas supplies creating a hazardous situation.



  • Measure A, which would subject all new onshore industrialization to public vote, is rejected by Santa Barbara County voters.
  • Advisory Measure B, which recommends that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors consolidate all onshore industrialization at Las Flores Canyon and Gaviota, is approved by County voters.
  • Santa Barbara County approves policies requiring offshore operators to transport oil by pipeline.
  • Santa Barbara County approves Chevron’s onshore processing facility at Gaviota.

California establishes the Well Conservation Program allowing the State’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources to order reabandonment of previously abandoned wells when future construction near the well could be hazardous.




  • Santa Barbara County revises its policies for consolidation of onshore processing facilities, designating two sites for such use on its South Coast.
  • The tanker PacBaroness spills off Point Conception, the biggest local oil release since 1969.
  • Celeron completes an oil pipeline connecting the Las Flores Canyon facility to oil refineries in Texas.

Exxon Valdez oil spill occurs offshore Alaska. The spill was the largest in U.S. history and tested the abilities of local, national, and industrial organizations to prepare for and, respond to, a disaster of such magnitude. Many factors complicated the cleanup efforts following the spill. The size of the spill and its remote location, accessible only by helicopter and boat, made government and industry efforts difficult and tested existing plans for dealing with such an event.



President Bush directs an Outer Continental Shelf oil leasing moratorium in specific planning areas, including most areas offshore California, until after the year 2000.



The U.S Congress begins annual moratorium on new leasing offshore California and on other specified OCS areas through its approval of the Department of the Interior’s budgets.



President Bush expands the Outer Continental Shelf oil leasing moratorium to cover all areas offshore California.




Santa Barbara County’s combined onshore-offshore oil production reaches an all-time high of 68,798,091 barrels.

The U.S. Department of Commerce lifts ban on exporting Alaskan-produced crude oil to foreign countries under certain conditions. Lifting of the ban seeks to bring several of California’s onshore wells back into production by reducing oversupplies of crude oil fueled, in part, by Alaskan production.


Santa Barbara County’s voters approve Measure A96. This measure, in part, calls for voter approval of any onshore oil and gas support facilities on the South Coast of Santa Barbara County, except for those facilities that would be located within an existing approved consolidated oil and gas processing site (see Section 35-154 of Santa Barbara County’s Coastal Zoning Ordinance).



The Minerals Management Service (MMS) announces that the Santa Barbara-Ventura Basin holds the greatest potential for undiscovered and economically recoverable oil and gas resources compared to other Pacific Outer Continental Shelf basins or provinces ( MMS 97-0019). Recoverable oil resources for 1997 were 1.744 – 1.953 billion barrels and recoverable gas resources were 3.840 – 5.481 trillion cubic feet.

President Clinton extends the Outer Continental Shelf leasing moratorium in specific planning areas, including offshore California, until mid-2012.



California Governor Gray Davis and the California Coastal Commission file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court blocking the action of the Department of the Interior, under former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, to approve the extension of 36 undeveloped federal leases offshore Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura Counties.


  • U.S. Superior Court rules that the actions of the Department of the Interior are not consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Therefore, the extension of the leases is discontinued pending further legal action.
  • The U.S. Department of the Interior files papers in a federal appeals court arguing that the Minerals Management Service should be allowed to proceed with plans for more offshore drilling without review by the California Coastal Commission.


  • Nine energy companies sue the U.S. Department of the Interior for $1.2 billion in reimbursement damages for stalling their plans to develop offshore oil and natural gas fields.
  • In December 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholds the lower court ruling in California v. Norton. Afterwards, the U.S. Department of the Interior announces its interest in purchasing back the leases if a suitable price can be agreed upon with lessees.





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