Oil was first found by cable tool rig in Pico Canyon, 30 miles north of Los Angeles, in 1876 near a natural oil spring. Pico Canyon is west of the village of Newhall, on the west front of the Santa Suzana Mountains. It was the birthplace of California oil history.
On the east front of the same Mountains, in the Placerita Canyon area, an incredibly unique "white," creme colored oil was found in 1900 oil. This oil was nearly 50 degree API gravity and clear enough to read a newspaper through. The discovery well came in making 100 BOPD and the oil from it burned better than any refined kerosene. The stuff could be put directly into an automobile and often sold for as much as $10 a barrel. Some 11 wells were drilled in the "white oil" district of of Placerita Canyon but only two produced commerical white oil.
It was eventually thought this oil had turned white by filtration thru sandstones; its source bed was never determined however and remains a mystery. There is a spring in Placerita Canyon State Park that still bubbles white oil. In the photo on the right, what appears to be water, is actually white oil. This photo is courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
In the late 1920's wells were being drilled in Placerita Canyon to deeper depths, but that oil was very viscous, 12 gravity stuff and very hard to get out of the ground by artifical lift.
The Newhall Oil District was eventually segmented into numerous smaller fields, like Placerita Field.
The structure of the field was believed to be a north-south, fault bound anticline with 20-30 feet of relief that dipped to the northwest. Early 1920 wells in the Kraft-York area of the field were very marginal, at best.
Yant Oil Company bought four, old 3-4 BOPD producers in the south portion of the field in 1935 and proceeded to drill its Yant No. 5 well, also to the Upper Kraft zone and it made 10 BOPD of 12 gravity sludge.
Yant subsequently lost interest in the southern part of the field and went north where he bought 80 acres of land in Section 31, upthrown, barely, on the San Gabriel Fault. He added to his fee purchases in the area and blocked up over 180 acres, most of which was located on top of a brushy hill above Placerita Cayon. In the field map above there is a section of land marked, See Marginal Map. Remember that section of land as it became quite famous.
The Con Man
Wilfred R. Yant, the founder of Yant Oil Company, was born in 1899 in Ohio; he joined the Navy before WW I but was discharged for medical reasons (gout). He then went to Scotland and joined the British Army in 1917 and was immediately shipped to the German front where he was gassed, badly, and sent back to England. The gassing must have scrambled his brains.
He was in Provo, Utah by 1925 where he created a Ku Klux Klan chapter and was arrested for check forgery, car theft and default of numerous promisory notes. He spent a year in a Utah prison, his mug shots above, was released and high tailed it to Florida with his wife to have a baby.
They ended up in Californai by 1930, with Milfred in his early 30's. He was charged with petty theft in Los Angeles in 1934 and his wife dumped him in 1935, the same year he was getting in the oil business near Newhall. In 1936 he was charged in Pennsylvania on counts of forgery and attempt to defraud but the case was dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence.
Wilfred Yant's sorted past got the best of him in 1937 in Placerita Canyon. The 80 acre tract of land he bought in the nothern most limits of the field offered him a great opportunity to chingle more people out money; he sold parcels of that 80 acres to unsuspecting investors, mostly in the Los Angeles, San Francisco area, including the minerals under the land, with a deed covenant that required buyers agree to a large, community oil lease.
Some of the parcels he sold on the hill were an acre large, others were more like 30 ft.x 80 ft. lots, all of which were supposedly surveyed with meets and bounds descriptions in the deeds. He bought the 80 acres for $50 dollar an acre in 1935 and by the end of 1936 had cleared $250,000 from the sale of his subdivision of the tract.
Investors went to visit the hill to see the beautiful views advertised and see oil bubbling out of the ground, as Yant promised. They were livid. There was no views, no oil bubbling out of the ground and re-surveys found tracts sold were overlapping each other and that the 80 acres being subdivided was actually only 71 acres. There was not an oil well in sight. The hill became known as Confusion Hill, or Mad Mountain, because nobody knew what they hell they owned.
When they could not find Yant or his agents to complain, they collectively filed charges on the man. Yant Oil went bankrupt and Wilfred went to San Quentin for SEC violations.
He spent two years in the penitentiary and came out declaring he was a changed man. He became an electrical supply salesman where he talked one of his customores, a wealthy cattle rancher named Roman Samovia, into putting up $53,000 to drill a well on acreage he still owned on Confusion Hill. The well was completed in the Lower Kraft sand at 1,700 feet and came in making 2,200 BOPD of 22 gravity oil. The well was not located where Mr. Samovia thought it was, he got pissed, found out what a dirt bag Yant was, and sold his interest in the well and acreage to a Texan named Tevis Morrow.
Texans don't dick around with stuff like this so as soon as the paper work was filed of record in early 1949, Morrow sent six drilling rigs to Confusion Hill and the fray lay was on. Within 45 days Morrow produced 240,000 BO from some 14 wells.
That was just the start. Above is a late 1949 photo of Confusion Hill. Because title was so messed up on this tract owners in one and 1/4 acre tracts leased to anyone promising them a well. The other owners who had never filed their deeds from Yant came forward and the biggest mineral chicken fight in California history commenced. California, in its infinite oil wisdom, suspened drilling spacing rules pending all the litigation and at one time in early 1950 there were 44 drilling rigs and 8,000 men working on this 71 acre tract.
There was only one road up the hill and tensions were high and got higher as some wells came in making 3,000 BOPD and it was first come, first served. There were fist fights and bombings that occured on Mad Mountain in 1950. Two rigs were so close together drilling wells that one time roughnecks got confused and rolled one company's drill pipe onto their own pipe racks accidently and an ensuing gunfight broke out. At one point a bulldozer owned by Morrow blocked the main road to keep another company's rig coming up the hill, that company drove its own dozer up the road and the two dozers proceeded to try and push each other off the road like two bulls in a pasture of willing cows.
By early 1950 there were 154 wells located on Confusion Hill, all producting from the Lower Kraft sand. In 19 months 4,357,000 barrels of oil had been sold, driving the price of oil down in Los Angeles from $2.16 a barrel to $1.50. Peak production from the hill reached 37,000 BOPD in October 0f 1949
Then, just like that, it was all over. The rigs were gone and production was down to less that 10,000 BOPD from water encroachment. By late 1951 pretty much all of Wilfred Yant's Confusion Hill-71 acre tract was watered out.
Original oil in place in the Lower Kraft zone was estimated to be 60,000,000 barrels, only 8% of that was actually recovered.
Plot showing production, left, v. completed wells, right. All of this happened in less than 8 months.
ARCO bought Confusion Hill and cleaned up the title, then started injecting steam into the Upper Kraft Zone. Berry Petroleum, a well known Los Angeles Company, bought the 71 acre tract from Arco and carried on with the steam injection until Linn Petroleum bought them out in 2013. Linn spun off this stuff and today it is still operated under Berry and makes 2,300 BOPD, mostly from the Upper Kraft, low gravity zone. Some EOR is underway in the more prolific lower zone but connate water is a severe problem and most of that estimated 55 MM BO of OOIP is gone forever.
In 2016 the "Sand Fire" burned up a lot of the Suscanna Mountains north of LA and a lot of oil wells, tank batteries and, even, workover rigs.