30 November 2008

Olinda Oil Field History: United States Geological Survey Bulletin, 1924

In 1924, the United States Geological Survey, a division of the Department of the Interior, issued Bulletin 768, Geology and Oil Resources of the Puente Hills Region, Southern California by Walter A. English, with a section of chemical character of oil by the same Paul Prutzman who authored the California State Mining Bureau bulletin from 1913 covered in my last Olinda oil history post.

In the description of the "Brea Canyon and Olinda Field," the bulletin notes that there were nine companies developing the field, that most had been in control of their properties for some years, and that there was none of the spectacular activity as those in the boom oil zones of other regional fields (such as Huntington Beach, Signal Hill, Santa Fe Springs, and other bigger, more productive areas.)

It was also stated that determining the exact geological formations that characterized the Olinda field was difficult because of the fact that "the wells are old and the records imperfect, and the dips are so steep and the geology so complicatged that the oil zones probably do not in all places conform to the [geological] structure." Moreover, it was observed that "wells can produce from more than one zone, and the divisions are therefore of less importance" than in other fields. These zones had different names to describe their varied qualities, but the point is that Olinda seems to have been an anomaly in not having an obvious pattern of geological conditions for the pooling of oil below ground.

Also of significance is the fact that the lower the wells were located, the more the productivity, although this also meant that the wells had to be dug far deeper in the bottom lands of Carbon Canyon. At the east end of Olinda, in addition, the gravity of the oil, a measure of its quality, was far higher than in other sections of the same field. It is also worth noting that this deeper zone included, at the far western end, the famed Birch well #5 [see my post on the strange career of A. Otis Birch, namesake of the major Brea street], which had, by 1923, produced 5 million barrels of oil and, after a dozen years, was still yielding 200-300 barrels per day.

Finally, English wrote that "the field ends abruptly toward the east at the valley of Olinda Creek [now known as Carbon or Carbon Canyon Creek.] The writer suspects that there is a cross fault down this valley . . ." which would prevent the accumulation of crude.

One of the many plates that came with the bulletin was a map and panoramic photos of the Brea Canyon (second photo) and Olinda (first photo) field areas. Included with this post are some details of the map, with property boundaries for the various oil companies and numbered well sites, and copies of the photo.

Source: Geology and Oil Resources of the Puente Hills Region, Southern California, Walter A. English (Washington: Government Printing Office,) 1926. Courtesy of the Homestead Museum.

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