29 July 2014

Oil Drilling in Carbon Canyon's Chino Hills Portion, Part Two

After the failed 1955 attempt by John Q. Tannehill to bring in oil on his 200-acre lease with Shelley Stoody on the latter's Double S Ranch, where today's Western Hills Country Club is located, another shot was taken at hitting black gold.

Albercalif [evidently, a combination of Alberta, the oil producing province in Canada and California] Petroleums, Ltd., with a local office established by Samuel M. Brooks in Long Beach in September 1952, was a foreign stock company based in Ontario, Canada. It had oil operations in Hanford in Kern Clounty and Whittier, Newport Beach and and Huntington Beach locally, and it appears to have drilled the well on the Double S for a Utah-based firm, Columbus-Rexall, which also had an office in Long Beach.  Consequently, the well was known as the Columbus-Rexall Stoody 30-4.

Sam Brooks was born in Cherokee Territory in Oklahoma about 1900 and was an oil driller in Long Beach before establishing his drilling contracting firm and then making connections with the Canadian investors in Albercalif.  His son, Robert, graduated from the University of Southern California School of Engineering in 1951 and had a classmate, Jack Crawford, son of an oilman, who hit it big in Huntington Beach and Sunset Beach while still in his early twenties and a USC student. 

Crawford hired the Brookses and Albercalif to drill his wells and evidently promised them a share in proceeds, though a lawsuit was filed in Fall 1955 by Brooks and his partners, Sol Marks and Morrie Morgan, alleging that Crawford failed to meet the terms of their agreement.  While the results of this suit haven't been found, it is an interesting sidelight that the young Crawford evidently kept plenty of his wealth, at least for a while, as he went on in the early Sixties to be an "pioneer" of ski partiers at the tony Colorado skiing mecca of Aspen.

Meantime, the Columbus-Rexall Oil Company was the result of a merger between two separate companies of those names operating in the precious metals business in Utah, meaning they mined for gold, silver and copper, and that firm's decision to become an oil company in 1957, just after the Stoody lease was being executed and a wildcat (meaning, in geologically unproven territory) well planned.

On 7 December 1956, Robert Brooks, as vice-president of Albercalif, filed a "Notice of Intention to Drill New Well" with the state Oil and Gas Divison with the well site being determined as within a short distance of the Tannehill well.  Receiving quick approval, Albercalif began operations the following day, spudding in the well in the morning and drilling down to over 350 feet.  For the next 24 days, the project continued, with the well casing cemented to about 415 feet and the hole deepened down to 3750 feet by the first of the new year.

A letter from 14 January 1957 by Shelley and Corrine Stoody informing the state Division of Oil and Gas that the dry wildcat oil well drilled on their Double S Ranch by Albercalif Petroleums for the Columbus Rexall Oil Company was to be converted to a water well.  Whether this was done or not, the well was never properly abandoned and, decades later, housing developer Meritage Homes had to make an attempt to complete the abandonment, but was physically unable to do so, so the well site remains as an undeveloped part of the tract finished by Warmington Homes and now known as Elements at Pine Valley Estates.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
Finally, on 2 January 1957, it was decided to give up, though the approved application permitted a drilling depth up to 5,000 feet.  As was the case with the Tannehill well, Stoody arranged to have the well converted to a water well and sent a letter, this time signed by his wife Corinne as well, to the Division of Oil and Gas, to confirm the conversion.

Notably, a little problem developed with Samuel Brooks and his involvement with the Columbus-Rexall Oil Company.  Namely, in June 1957, that firm hired a Miami-based commodities trader and conducted an exchange of stock that purchased a Cuban oil firm, United Caribbean Oil Company--this was at the tail end of the notoriously-corrupt regime in that island nation just before the revolution of 1959 spearheaded by Fidel Castro.  Stock that was transferred was assigned values for sale to investors that failed to reflect the fact that Columbus Rexall had essentially no value and the scheme of manipulation of stock value was designed to provide profit for company executives.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) then filed charges in federal court against twenty-one individuals, including Sam Brooks, for their role in the fraud.  It took a few years to process the case against many of those involved, but a number of convictions and guilty pleas were obtained by 1963.  Several of the defendants received two-year sentences, some suspended and changed to probation, and fines of generally around $15-20,000.  Brooks was found guilty, according to an SEC publication, but his sentence was not given.  In any case, this is a tangent to the Columbus Rexall Stoody well in Carbon Canyon that has some interest.

As to that well, the collapse of Columbus Rexall meant that the state's legal requirements for properly abandoning the well were not met and it can't be determined whether the well was converted to water use by Stoody or left partially closed.  Within a few years, Stoody died in a 1961 plane crash on the Double S Ranch and the property sold by his widow to investors known as Carbon Canyon Properties, Inc., who then developed the Western Hills Golf Course, as well as maintained undeveloped land, on which was the well.

Fast forward about a half century from the original drilling of that well and part of the Double S Ranch is sold for a housing tract developed by Meritage Homes called Pine Valley Estates and then sold to a new developer, Warmington Homes, and refashioned as Elements at Pine Valley Estates.  This subdivision sits on the hillside to the north and west of Western Hills, but there was the little matter of the improperly abandoned well site.  Consequently, in 2006-07, Meritage had to go through the official process through the state of having the well properly abandoned—except that there was no way to actually fully close the well because of the incompleteness of the work back in 1957.  So, the provision for Meritage to build on the parcel was that the well site had to be left undeveloped and so it remains somewhere within the gated Elements community today.

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