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Brief Oil and Gas History of Santa Barbara County

Oil exploration in the United States was stimulated by the search for an economical substitute to dwindling supplies of whale oil that had, until that time, been the best oil to burn in lamps. Exploration began in the early 1850s in Pennsylvania, with the first discovery using mechanical drilling methods occurring at Titusville in 1859. This discovery was followed shortly by the nation's first oil boom. Exploration moved outward from Titusville to other areas of Pennsylvania and beyond during the mid-1860s as individuals and upstart oil companies sought new sources of oil and wealth. The advent of the Industrial Revolution, internal-combustion engines, automobiles, and mechanization of the battlefield in World War I would provide significant markets and increased demand for oil by the early1900s.

Summerland Field

Nearly 100 different operators produced the Summerland field from 14 piers. Most wells were located close to the shoreline or in relatively shallow waters. By 1902, the operators had drilled 412 wells. Each well's output would dwindle quickly. By 1903, 114 wells were idle and 100 had been deserted. Only a few wells remained active in the 1920s.

Henry L. Williams successfully conducted onshore oil drilling at Summerland in 1886. Oil development at Summerland expanded considerably during the 1890s as well drilling moved offshore into coastal waters via piers. These wells are the first known to have been drilled offshore from piers for purposes of oil extraction.

Further north, onshore oil exploration started in the Santa Maria Valley in 1888, leading to large-scale discoveries in the Santa Maria field from 1900 to 1902. Several other significant discoveries followed soon after, including the Orcutt and Cat Canyon fields in 1904 and 1908 respectively. Union Oil's Hartnell Well No. 1 (known as Old Maud) struck a large oil-bearing reservoir in the Orcutt field in late 1904 and reportedly produced one million barrels of oil in its first 100 days of operation.

World War I, followed by economic prosperity of the 1920s and foreign demand for U.S. oil in the 1930s, spurred further oil development in the County. Oil production in the Orcutt Hills peaked near four million barrels in 1920 as a result of wartime demand, declined temporarily after WWI, but again increased with rising domestic automobile use. Further south, the El Capitan, Elwood, Goleta, and Mesa oil and gas fields were discovered in Santa Barbara County in the late 1920s. Oil production maintained a steady rate of gradual growth during the Great Depression years due, in part, to a growing foreign demand for oil, particularly by Japan.

World War II increased oil demand considerably and pushed oil production to record-high levels in Santa Barbara County. Important oil discoveries from the late 1940s to mid-1950s stimulated the last significant period of local onshore exploration. Five fields were discovered in the Cuyama Valley and, by the end of 1949, their combined production

The First Offshore Platform

A landmark event offshore Louisiana in October 1947. An independent oil company from Oklahoma, Kerr-McGee, successfully completed the first offshore well from a platform10.5 miles from shore. Prior to this time, offshore wells had been drilled from piers or in shallow waters adjacent to the shoreline. The offshore development that followed this event led to an intense struggle between the Federal and state governments over ownership of the Outer Continental Shelf and tax revenue rights related to oil and gas development on it.

exceeded all other areas of Santa Barbara County. Oil production declined slightly following WWII and spiked in the early 1950s with the start of the Korean War.

After peaking in 1952, oil and gas production in the County declined, as did exploration for new onshore fields. Beginning in the late 1950s, oil companies began to explore for oil in State tidelands. Platform Hazel, the first drilling platform off Santa Barbara County, was installed in 1958 offshore Carpinteria. Eight other platforms and other facilities were installed in State tidelands off Santa Barbara County between 1956 and 1966.

Four significant tideland areas were discovered and brought into production in the mid-to-late 1960s. These included the Conception field (1962), Summerland field (1964), Carpinteria offshore field (1966), and South Elwood field (1965). Tidelands production offshore Santa Barbara County peaked at approximately 8.9 million barrels in 1964 then declined through 2001.

Amid local protests, Phillips Petroleum, Continental, and Cities Service acquired the first federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lease in the Santa Barbara Channel south of Carpinteria in 1966. Platform Hogan was installed in 1967 to produce the lease. Local government had petitioned for a form of environmental review for these projects, but this was a time without a formalized process. Exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf increased offshore Santa Barbara County continued and additional leases were offered by the federal government.

1953 Federal Laws

The United States enacted the Submerged Lands Act and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) in 1953. The former settled a long dispute over ownership and tax revenue rights and granted the federal government jurisdiction over submerged lands starting at three miles seaward from coastal states' shorelines. The OCSLA, in turn, established the federal government's authority to lease federal submerged lands for the purpose of developing minerals, including oil and gas. The first Outer Continental Shelf lease offshore California occurred in 1963 with the first occurring offshore Santa Barbara County in 1966.

On January 28, 1969, Union Oil's Platform A experienced an uncontrolled blowout in the Dos Cuadras field that lasted for approximately eight days. The spill of approximately 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil affected over forty miles of coastline. Several environmental laws were passed at the federal and state levels following the blowout, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Future OCS and state tideland leasing would require a formalized environmental review process.

Crude oil price increases in the 1970s provided the incentive for operators to continue production from the county's maturing onshore fields. Enhanced production methods were being used on a regular basis. These methods maintained and slightly boosted onshore production in the early 1970s; however onshore production would continue its decline through 2001. In 1986, the market price of crude oil fell from $22 per barrel to $6 per barrel. Many onshore wells were closed in the Santa Maria Valley and throughout the County in the following years as onshore oil development declined considerably to levels not seen since the 1930s.

As onshore production declined, offshore production increased substantially. By the late 1970s, OCS production offshore Santa Barbara County had surpassed the combined output from onshore and tidelands leases. By the mid-1980s, twelve platforms produced oil and gas on OCS leases offshore Santa Barbara County.

In 1992, County oil production matched the previous high that was achieved in 1952, as OCS output increased while onshore and tidelands production continued to decline. Total oil production in Santa Barbara County, including offshore production landed in the County, reached an all-time high of 68,798,091 barrels in 1995, while natural gas production had reached an all-time high of 99,425,269 thousand cubic feet in 1967.

Santa Barbara County Oil & Gas Production

Cumulative oil and gas production volume in Santa Barbara County, including onshore, State Tidelands ,and on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), comprises 8% and 7%, respectively of California's total cumulative oil and gas production through 2000. However, the County accounts for 56% and 73%, respectively, of the cumulative oil and gas produced on California's OCS for the same time period. OCS production offshore Santa Barbara County represents 4.3% and .5%, respectively, of the total federal OCS oil & gas production.

Historic production rates indicate a long-term trend in which predominately onshore and near-shore production has shifted to production from federal waters three or more miles from shore. Some proposals to further develop offshore oil and gas projects are expected within the next ten years, unless the existing thirty-six undeveloped leases in federal offshore waters expire.

For more historic information, please review the Chronology of Oil & Gas Development.


1 U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. Santa Barbara County: Two Paths (Final Report). Camarillo: Minerals Management Service, Pacific OCS Region, 1996. Page14.
2 U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. Petroleum Extraction in Santa Barbara County, California: An Industrial History, Camarillo: Minerals Management Service, Pacific OCS Region, 1998. Page 3.2.12.
3 Ibid. Petroleum Extraction in Santa Barbara County, California: An Industrial History, Page 3.1.7, 3.2.19 & 3.2.20.
4 Ibid. Petroleum Extraction in Santa Barbara County, California: An Industrial History, Page 3.2.19, 3.2.20 & 9.11. See also, U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. Santa Barbara County: Two Paths (Final Report). Camarillo: Minerals Management Service, Pacific OCS Region, 1996. Page 49.
5 U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. Santa Barbara County: Two Paths (Final Report). Camarillo: Minerals Management Service, Pacific OCS Region, 1996. Page 66 & 67.
6 U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. Petroleum Extraction in Santa Barbara County, California: An Industrial History, Camarillo: Minerals Management Service, Pacific OCS Region, 1998. Page 3.2.30 - 3.2.34 & 3.2.37.
7 Ibid. Petroleum Extraction in Santa Barbara County, California: An Industrial History, Page 3.1.8.
8 Ibid. Petroleum Extraction in Santa Barbara County, California: An Industrial History, Page 3.2.32 - 3.2.24 & 9.17 - 9.19


 

 
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