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The Sinking City

In 60 years you cannot begin to imagine the shit I've seen in the oilfield. From towering blowouts to mangled, burned bodies; skunks dropping out of drill pipe coming up the V-door, real dogs in dog houses getting electrified and lit up like Christmas trees; dry holes with my life savings bet on them and good wells that saved my bacon. Wow; what a ride. I should have taken more photos. I've seen 3000 feet of drill pipe get blown out of a well like a big long string of spaghetti and 150 foot high drilling rigs sink into holes never to be seen again. I saw a guy one time shoot at a deer off the top of a oil stock tank, near the vent line, after been warned not to, blowing himself 100 yards out in the pasture. He rode the top of that tank thru the air like a surfboard, with his hair on fire, and lived to talk about it, and get sued over it. Oil spills, lightening strikes, gunfights...some weird stuff, I am telling you. Stuff to make you laugh, stuff to cry about, and lots of stuff to have nightmares over.

I can't say I've ever watched my wells sink six or eight feet below ground, however; knock on wood.

This is a photograph of ground subsidence in Wilmington Oil Field in Long Beach, California in the 1930's. This subsidence, from production of over 3.75 billion barrels of crude oil, at one time earned the city of Long Beach the title of the "sinking city." At the center of the subsidence "bowl," almost in downtown Long Beach, the ground sank over 25 feet between 1926 and 1968 and caused severe damage to buildings, roads, bridges and homes.

Subsidence caused tension in casing strings and eventually those strings dropped, buckled and severed, or broke. In the photograph above operators have scabbed over casing strings to raise the well heads back to original ground elevations and are about to build coffer-like retaining walls around each well so they can be put back on line.

Subsidence "bowl" in Long Beach

The maximum extent of subsidence occurred over the structural apex of the field itself. They ultimately abated this subsidence by re-pressurization of very unconsolidated clastic sand reservoirs with massive amounts of produced and sea water beginning 1958. Onshore development of Wilmington gradually shifted to man-made islands in South Bay where deviated wells were drilled into the bay. There are still over 3,000 wells producing in Wilmington Field and as you might expect the City of Long Beach and the State of California monitor subsidence by the millimeter.

Subsidence in the "sinking city," 1942

La Cienaga Blvd., Beverly Hills, 1931

Early oil history in the Los Angles Basin is rich, and colorful, and worth reading about.

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