A Brief History of California's Oil Industry
The first oil well in California was drilled in 1865 in Humboldt County, and the state’s first gusher occurred in 1876 in the Pico Canyon oil field north of Los Angeles, launching a statewide industry.
This early success sparked a drilling rush, which, in turn, created supporting industries including pipeline construction and crude oil refinement.
Following the initial oil discovery in California, Edward L. Doheny struck a massive Los Angeles oilfield south of Pico Canyon in 1892. Five years later, the world’s first offshore well was drilled from a 300 ft long pier in the Pacific Ocean, launching an offshore drilling boom.
By 1910, California was producing more than 20% of the world’s total oil. California’s oil and gas business continued to thrive well into the 1960s. Four decorated, artificial platforms called “THUMS” islands were built in 1967 off the coast of Long Beach, from which more than 1,000 wells were drilled.
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Santa Barbara Oil Spill
Despite its early success, California's relationship with the oil industry took a nasty turn by the end of the 1960s. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill -- the largest in history at the time -- irrevocably stained the California oil industry.
The cause of the spill was a blow-out that occurred on January 28, 1969, 6 miles from the Santa Barbara coast on Union Oil's Platform A in the Dos Cuadras Offshore Oil Field. Over the next 10 days, between 80,000 and 100,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the Channel and onto the beaches of Santa Barbara County, coating the coastline from Goleta to Ventura, as well as the northern shores of the Channel Islands.
The spill killed an estimated 3,500 sea birds, as well as many marine animals including dolphins, elephant seals, and sea lions. The public outrage provoked by the catastrophe spawned numerous pieces of legislation that went on to form the structure of the legal and regulatory framework for the modern American environmental movement.
Strict Regulation and the Decline of Oil Production in California
As California's existing oil fields have matured, the state's hydrocarbon production has declined. Following the Santa Barbara oil spill, numerous regulations made California the most heavily regulated state in the U.S., and arguably the most controlled location on the planet for petroleum exploration and production. Drilling of new offshore wells in California state waters has been banned since 1969.
Still, until the end of the 2000s, California was set to surpass Texas in oil production. However, as shale oil extraction came into prominence, a stark contrast emerged between the states’ oil production and reserves. The shale boom helped Texas add millions of barrels to its daily production, while California’s oil production continued to decline.
The vast majority of the oil produced in California in recent years has been extracted from the Monterey/Santos Shale before migrating to more permeable layers, creating some of America's largest oil fields. In 2011, an INTEK study estimated the Monterey/Santos Shale holds more than 15 billion barrels of crude; more than the Eagle Ford and Bakken formations combined.
Despite that, California is one of the only 3 major oil-producing states, along with Louisiana and Alaska, which have experienced production declines since 2010.
California Oil Refinery Deaths
At least 15 deaths have been linked to Major Refinery Incidents (MRIs) in California since 1995. However, this figure is likely much lower fewer than the actual number of deaths of oil field workers, as many large oil refineries have been increasingly contracting out their most dangerous work to subcontractors and smaller companies. These jobs, which include drilling oil and gas wells, are classified separately from oil and gas production and are instead considered mining for the purposes of reporting. As such, their deaths are reported elsewhere in federal statistics.
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How Do Oil and Gas Worker Fatalities Occur?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most common cause of fatalities among oil and gas workers is transportation incidents, accounting for 41% of all incidents in 2008. Contact with objects and equipment accounts for another 25% of fatal incidents, followed by fires and explosions at 15%.
Bakersfield Oil Worker Hospitalized After Being Blown Off Rig
A worker filling in an abandoned oil well in Bakersfield was taken to the hospital after suffering major injuries when a rig blowout occurred and blew him off the platform, according to KGET TV 17 .
The Bakersfield Fire Department responded to reports of a potential oil rig explosion and major injuries around 8:26 a.m. on December 2, 2022, and treated it as a fire.
Public information officer Brian Bowman told 17 News the accident occurred near the Bakersfield Police Department academy on California Avenue when officers heard it and responded.
Bowman said when authorities arrived, they provided field care to the victim’s legs until an ambulance arrived. The victim was taken to Kern Medical with critical injuries including multiple fractures to both legs and extreme bleeding.
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