Unconventional oil development, including fracking, takes place in a variety of settings across California, from densely populated urban areas in Los Angeles, to state waters off the coast of Santa Barbara, to agricultural hubs in the Central Valley. To date, the vast majority of oil operations have been concentrated in Kern County, which produced 71% of California’s oil in 2013.1
A large portion of California’s crude oil reserves is thought to lie in the Monterey Shale, a 2,250 square mile rock formation that spans the San Joaquin, Los Angeles, and Monterey Basins. The U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA) originally estimated there could be between 13.7 and 15.4 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil. However, in 2014 the EIA drastic reduced their estimates by 95.6%, to 0.6 billion barrels of oil.
Well Stimulation Reporting
In accordance with regulations put in place after the passage of Senate Bill 4, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermic Resources (DOGGR) requires oil companies to submit written notice before beginning well stimulation treatments, including fracking and acidizing. Based on these reoprts, DOGgR has developed a map that allows users to search for new well stimulation notices by location, well type, and a variety of other variables. Note that companies were not required to submit notices until January 1, 2014, and that SB 4 exempts several forms of enhanced oil recovery which will likely not show up in DOGGR’s database.
The majority of California’s unconventional oil extraction occurs in the Central Valley. Oil wells in central California account for 78% of the total oil produced in the state, and Kern County, in the southern end of the Central Valley, is the number one producer of oil in California. In 2013, the County’s 43,568 active oil wells produced 141.6 million barrels of oil.[2 DOGGR Well Counts and Production by County 2013]
The oil industry has a long history of drilling in Southern California; 7,759 active oil wells producing 44 million barrels of oil a year dot the landscape from the drilling platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara to the urban oil fields of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Los Angeles County
Los Angeles sits atop the nation’s largest urban oil field, which produced 24 million barrels of oil in 2013. Approximately, 1 in 3 Angelenos live within a mile of one of the County’s 3,750 active oil wells, and some live as close as 85 feet.2
The map below shows reports of well stimulation activity from June 2, 2013 to January 29, 2014. For continuously updated notifications about new well stimulation activity in Los Angeles, you can sign up for daily emails from the South Coast Air Quality Monitoring District here. The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) has a complete guide to the urban oil fields of the Los Angeles Basin.
Legend: Red=Acidization, Yellow=Gravel Packing, and Purple=Hydraulic Fracturing. (Source: Baldwin Hills Oil Watch)
More information on oil drilling in Los Angeles can be found here.
Santa Barbara County
In Santa Barbara County, oil companies are using unconventional oil extraction techniques, like fracking, acidization, and cyclic steam injection, to extract previously unavailable resources. The increased use of these technologies led to the production of over 6 million barrels of oil in 2013.
In addition to onshore drilling, oil companies are using well stimulation techniques on existing platforms off the coasts of Long Beach and Santa Barbara. In 2013, independent investigations revealed that oil company Venoco has been fracking off the coast of Santa Barbara since 2010 without notification or approval from state regulators. Additionally, an investigation by the Associated Press found that federal officials been approving offshore fracking permits without notifying state regulators. In response, the California Coastal Commission conducted a briefing on State and Federal offshore fracking operations, outlining its next steps for developing offshore fracking regulations. Learn more about offshore fracking.
The Wilmington Oil Field in Long Beach houses over 1,200 oil wells and has an estimated ultimate recovery of 3 billion barrels of oil. The site runs 13 miles along the L.A. Basin and includes an offshore drilling site on four artificial islands in Long Beach Harbor.
There are very few oil reserves in Northern California, with less than 0.5% of all the oil produced in California coming from the region.
However, the recent surge in domestic oil production has led to the rapid expansion of oil shipments by rail. According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), the volume of crude oil imported to California by rail has skyrocketed from 45,491 barrels in 2009 to 6,169,264 barrels in 2013.
|County||Oil Production (bbl)||Active Wells|
|San Luis Obispo||420,733||190|