Learn about the history of oil production in Southern California and its effect on the rest of the world.
Oil Transfer at
Union Oil Terminal
Click on the image to
view an animated map
The oil production location known as the Los Angeles Basin encompasses the
region of Southern California surrounding the City of Los Angeles. The basin is
approximately 22 miles wide and 42 miles long and sits within the southern portion
of Los Angeles County and the northwestern portion of Orange County. The region
is bounded by the Santa Ana Mountains on the east and the Pacific Ocean to the
southwest. Although not the first to be discovered in California (that distinction
goes to a well drilled in 1865 on the northern California coast near present day
Petrolia), the oil fields of the Los Angeles Basin played a significant role in
California's petroleum industry during the first two decades of the 20th century.
California has historically been a key player in the industry and led the nation
in oil production for many years during the first four decades of the 20th century.
Oil drilling began in the Los Angeles Basin prior to the turn of the century.
As early as 1909, the greater Los Angeles area was considered a major refining
center. The refining process of crude oil allowed for its conversion into many
different types of usable products, such as kerosene, grease, lubricating oils,
and asphalt. The constant growth of Southern California led to an ever increasing
need for these products.
Aerial of Berths 150-151
Two overriding factors helped increase the desirability of crude oil from
California following the turn of the century. The first was the fact that many
railroads on the west coast, increasingly followed by other railroads nationwide,
converted their fuel from coal (largely imported) to the cheaper, locally obtainable,
and more plentiful oil. This conversion also took place on many ocean-going vessels.
The second factor driving the search for crude was the explosion of automobile
use during the 1920s. Prior to the 1920s, gasoline was considered a useless byproduct
of the refineries and deemed an extreme nuisance that was difficult to dispose
of. However, in the new age of the internal combustion engine, gasoline quickly
became the most important ingredient in a barrel of oil.
In 1919, about two-thirds of California's oil came from the Lower San Joaquin
Valley, and the major refineries were concentrated in the San Francisco Bay area.
However, in the 1920s, the predominance of all aspects of the oil industry passed
to the Los Angeles region. In 1923, the production of oil from Signal Hill, Santa
Fe Springs, and Huntington Beach, combined with the remaining smaller pools of
the Los Angeles Basin, accounted for 20% of the world's total production of crude.
Only the State of Oklahoma rivaled California in terms of total production numbers
at the time.