15 December 2008

Olinda Oil Field History: 1964 United States Geological Survey Report

So far, much material has been given in this blog pertaining to the pre-1930 history of the Olinda Oil Field. It is interesting (hopefully), then, to compare and contrast a "professional paper" on what was then referred to as the "Eastern Puente Hills Area," including Olinda, published by the United States Geological Survey in 1964 with its forebears.

Naturally, most of the report concerns the stratigraphy, relative to rock formations, fault structures, physiography and the like. The specific reference to Olinda comes mainly in the section labeled "Economic Geography."

In it, authors D. L. Durham and R. F. Yerkes wrote that "The Brea-Olinda oil field, which is about 5 miles long and averages 0.8 mile in width is along the Whittier fault zone northwest of the village of Olinda. . . Tar seeps in steeply dipping strata of the Fernando formation prompted exploration that led to the discovery of commercial oil production in the Olinda area in 1897 and in the Brea Canyon area, 2 miles farther northwest, in 1899."

As was discussed in previous reports discussed in this blog, the authors noted that "at the time of their discovery, these two areas were considered to be separate fields, but the intevening area [including Tonner Hills] was proved productive by 1913 . . . Except for the years between 1918 and 1928, development of the Brea-Olinda field has been fairly steady." It isn't explained, but the assumption is that the existing technolgy in the 1920s was limited in terms of what could be extracted from the field. After 1928, better drilling technology and equipment and a stronger understanding of the geological issues allowed for deeper drilling and tapping into pools of crude further than the 3,000-4,000 feet range that was typical previously.

Notably, Yerkes and Durham point out that "in the mid-1950s, drilling activity was concentrated in the western part of the field," whereas before 1930 the emphasized areas were further east. Moreover, "of 7 companies active in the field during 1957, 2 had about 75 percent of the production and did nearly all of the development drilling." While there were always bigger players in the earlier years, as well, including the subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railway, the high percentage of producers by thesee two unnamed companies indicated a consolidation of control of the field by 1960 that was not found decades earlier.

Of special interest is a table that shows that production and reserves of the seven oil fields located within the broader "Eastern Puente Hills Area." These included: Brea-Olinda (founded 1897-99); East Coyote (La Habra/Fullerton), discovered 1911); Richfield (Placentia area, 1919); Yorba Linda (1937); Chino-Soquel (in Soquel Canyon east of Olinda, 1951); Mahala (located a mile northwest of Prado Dam in Riverside County near Corona, 1955); and Esperanza [now Yorba Linda, east of Imperial Highway, 1956).

What is striking is that, of the three oldest fields, only Brea-Olinda had its most productive year after 1922, that year being 1953. In 1957, the field accounted for a little over half (just under 7,000,000 barrels) of the crude in the entire distrct and three times more than Richfield and East Coyote, the next two highest producing fields. Total production up to the end of that year was 257,000,000 barrels, almost double its next highest competitor (Richfield) and accounting historically for over half of the entire output of the area. Proven reserves were estimated at about 80,000,000 barrels, more than three times that of East Coyote and Richfield and, again, well over half of the entire area. The number of producing wells was 632 with Richfield in second at 429. Of course, the field was also much larger, accounting for more than 2,400 acres, roughly double that of Richfield or East Coyote and well over a third of total area acreage. It is also important to note that the Brea-Olinda field's rating of oil gravity was, at the upper hand, far superior to that of any other field in the Eastern Puente Hills region, although its lowest ratings were also the poorest.

In a section titled "Outlook for Future Development," it was pointed out that "production is declining in most of the fields" but that there were some new areas being tested and some production resulting. This was especially pointed out in the Mahala field, which was first opened in 1921 and then lay dormant until the mid-1950s. There was also some mention of "the eastward-trending Diamond Bar fault," but neither proved subsequently to be very substantial. Nowadays, however, there is much talk about returning to old fields, when financially feasible, and introducing deeper and angled drilling to tap into even deeper pools believed to be present.

Finally, there was a great aerial photograph of the area eastward from Olinda including parts of Carbon, Soquel and Telegraph canyons, which is reproduced (with details, as well) above.


Top) Detail showing the intersection of Carbon and Telegraph canyons and eastward;

Second to the Top) Detail showing the area from the Carbon and Telegraph canyon confluence and west to what is now Carbon Canyon Regional Park. Note Carbon [Canyon] Creek winding through the photo;

Second to the Bottom) Detail showing the area that is now the Olinda Ranch subdivision and was a main area of the Olinda oil field;

Bottom) The entire aerial view showing the Olinda field and points eastward.

Source: Geology and Oil Resources of the Eastern Puente Hills Area, Southern California, Geological Survey Professional Paper 420-B, D. L. Durham and R. F. Yerkes (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office,) 1964. Courtesy of the Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.

No comments: