04 December 2008

Olinda Oil Field History: United States Geological Survey Bulletin, 1907

Aside from a 1900 book called Petroleum in California by Redpath, which I focused on in an earlier blog and a state report from around the same time, from which I'll be showing some maps soon, a 1907 U. S. Geological Survey (under the auspices of the Department of the Interior) bulletin is one of the earliest detailed sources of information about the Olinda oil field, which was then about a decade old.

This report deals with the Santa Clara River Valley of Ventura County, the old San Fernando field (discovered in the 1860s) in what is now the Santa Clarita area, the Los Angeles field (opened in 1892 by Edward Doheny, the first to drill in Olinda), and what was called, in 1907, the Puente Hills Oil District, embracing Whittier, La Habra, Puente [Rowland Heights], Brea Canyon, and Olinda.

Interestingly, there were some prominent individuals involved in Olinda area oil prospecting who were mentioned in the opening paragraph on the Puente Hills district section, including Fred T. Perris of the Santa Fe Railway, for whom the city in Riverside County was named; Dan Murphy of the Brea Canyon Oil Company, whose namesake is the Murphy Ranch neighborhood of Whittier; and Robert N. Bulla, a prominent Los Angeles businessman and politician Robert N. Bulla, of the Central Oil Company.

It is notable that, almost all of the producing areas in the Puente Hills district were on the south side of those hills, excepting the first discovered area, which was brought into production in 1885 on the northern slopes in what is now Rowland Heights. It is also notable that there was no distinction seen between the Puente Hills and the Chino Hills and that the hill structure was seen as a continuation of the Santa Ana Mountain Range that is south of Santa Ana Canyon.

The main geologic formations include the Puente, as characterized by mainly sandstone and shale, but also clay, conglomerate, sand and gravel, and the Fernando, described as younger and "of gray to yellow quartzose and granitic conglomerate and sandstone" along with shale and clay. Notably the interface of lower shale and the overlying sandstone is identified as being "especially conspicuous along lower Soquel Canyon" with the sandtone being thicker and greater in extent there than further west in the district. Above the lower shale and sandstone overlayment is an upper Puente shale that is earthy, chalks and has a silica content to it and "in the region of the Olinda field it appears to be considerable less than it is believed to be in the western portion of the hills," meaning toward La Habra and Whittier. Moreover, what distinguished Olinda from the three other main fields in the district (Whittier, Puente and Brea Canyon), as showsn in a plate of geologic sections, was its clear division on either side of a main fault between the Puente and Fernando formations, with existing wells falling clearly on the side of the Fernando, with its mixture of quartz and granite conglomerate, sandstone and shale. In fact, throughout the district it was noted that all existing oil deposits were in the Fernando formation with none yet discovered in the Puente, although it was made clear that oil could be found in locations with the latter depending on localized factors.

Relative to a specific description from October 1905 of Olinda, the report notes: The Olinda oil field lies 6 miles northeast of Fullerton, just within the southern edge of the Puente Hills, near the entrance to Soquel Canyon. It is connected with the main line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway by a branch line from Richfields [the area of southeast Placentia near today's Richfield Avenue], 4 miles south. As developed, the field extends . . . about a mile and a half, the breath [breadth] of the oil-bearing zone varying from one-eighth to one-third of a mile . . . Development has taken place in this valley and on the lower slope of the main mass of the hills to the north [above today's Olinda Ranch subdivision.]

It is also noted that: the Fernando formation constitutes the mass of the ridge south of Telegraph Canyon, the point of the ridge between Telegraph and Soquel Canyons, the hills west of the entrance to Soquel Canyon, and the low bench lands between the latter and Brea Ridge, at the west end of the field. It finally enters Brea Ridge and passes westward to the Brea Canyon field.

Concerning oil wells, the report stated that the oil wells of the Olinda field number over 100, and except for a few, chiefly along the outer ridge, all have been of wonderful productiveness, yields of 700 to 1,000 barrels of oil per day having been reached. The maximum depth attained is 3,000 feet. The wells are ranged along two lines, the northern group following the zone of greatest disturbance, together with the fault, and the southern following the land line which separates the properties of the Santa Fe and Fullerton Consolidated oil companies and having no connection whatever with the structure.

In terms of gravity, the heaviest (lowest quality) were to the west and lightest (highest quality) at the east end: the Olinda field furnishes both high and low grade oil, the high grade . . . coming from wells in the northeastern part of the field yielding from 2 or 3 to 150 barrels per day, and the low grade . . . coming from wells in the west end. Six "gushers" have been developed at Olinda, one of which is said to have flowed at the rate of 20,000 barrels per day for a short time.

Also of note is that in Olinda, the oil was stored in open earthen reservoirs, while inthe remainder of the district metal tanks were used. At the time of writing in the fall of 1905, there were 200,000 barrels stored at Olinda, equal to the capacity of Whittier, but twice that of the Puente field and about 2 1/2 times that of Brea Canyon.

As far as transport, most oil in the district was sent by pipeline controlled mainly by Union Oil Company, but because of the spur line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) Railroad from Richfields, most oil from Olinda was sent out by rail, although Union Oil did have a four-inch pipeline carrying some oil to Brea Canyon and from there to the regional harbor at San Pedro.

Generally, it was reported that most of the oil in the Puente Hills District was used in southern California, principally for fuel, illumination of lights, gas engine power, lubricants and the oiling of roads before asphalt and concrete paving became the norm and this latter, new use was given some attention in the report as the light sprinkling of oil with a thin overlay of sand provided a "road dressing." There were, however, some exports made to western states, Alaska, and the Hawaiian Islands. Some oil was even sent to Chile. In Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico, the crude was used as a power source for mining, while in Hawaii it was for refining sugar and powering mechanical irrigation systems for sugar and pineapple plantations. In Washington state, the product was used for fuel and gas production, as well.

Of interest is a chart that showed Puente Hills production climbing rapidly from 217,599 barrels in 1899 to over a half million the following year, nearly doubling again in 1901 and again in 1902. Production reached over 2.5 million barrels in 1903 and tapered off slightly the next year and down to 2 million in 1905. It was noted that "previous to 1899 the oil produced in this district came almost entirely from the Puente field." Although not mentioned, a rare exception was the first Olinda well drilled by Edward Doheny in 1896-97.

It is also relevant to see the price per barrel, which was 80 cents in 1901, dropping significantly as production rose to 60 cents in 1902, 53 in 1903, and 46 in 1905, with a slight rise in 1904 to 57 cents. Again, this is cents per barrel!

Finally, there was a chart of oil companies and number of wells in the district. At Olinda, there was:

Columbia Oil Producing Company with 12 wells;

Fullerton Oil Company with 12;

Fullerton Consolidated, 16;

Graham-Loftus, 18;

Hardison, 1;

Iowa, 1;

Olinda Crude, 5;

Puente Oil Company (leasing from Columbia), 28; and

Santa Fe Railway, 49.

Of these, Hardison, Iowa, and Olinda Crude were no longer operating in late 1905.

The images come from the report and are:

Top) U. S. Geological Survey topographical map detail of the Olinda field and surrounding area, dated 1906.

Middle) Detail from a township and section map showing oil companies and well locations operating at Olinda to Fall 1905.

Bottom) A set of panoramic photographs of the Olinda oil field looking north from the "Olinda Ridge", which is assumed to be the hills just south of Carbon Canyon Regional Park looking from farthest west in the upper left image to farthest east in the lower right, circa 1906.

Source: The Santa Clara Valley, Puente Hills and Los Angeles Oil Districts, Southern California, Bulletin No. 309, George Homans Eldridge and Ralph Arnold (Washington: Government Printing Office,) 1907. Courtesy of the Homestead Museum.

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