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Tijuana; 1915

Here are three wonderful photographs courtesy of the San Diego Historical Society. They are all of a single well being drilled onshore, on the West coast of Mexico in 1915, a few miles south of Tijuana, Mexico.

The location of the well in itself is remarkable. This shallow Miocene test across the boarder in Mexico, in an otherwise untested basin, would have been classified as a rank wildcat in 1915 Borderland Basin, appropriately named that for its location on the California, Baja Mexico border was believed to contain all the goodies that the Los Angles Basin had; sadly that did not end up being the case. This well was a dry hole. Subsequent offshore tests on the US side of this basin all found needed stratigraphic sediments, the mechanisms for traps, and source beds containing hydrocarbons, but no discoveries were made. As you might expect, this basin got axed early by anti-oil folks in the California Legislature.

Further north, up the coastline, toward Huntington Beach, etc., California starts getting covered up with oil wells by 1920.

1902 Map of California Oil Fields

The first photograph above is terrific for its location, company vehicles, company living quarters, etc. etc. The boiler at this rig is located perhaps 80 yards from the steam driven engine, located in the shack behind the walking beam. The boiler is clearly being fueled by coal and there is a rail line of sorts to the boiler that I suspect enables the coal to be dumped at the boiler.

Here is another view of the boiler and rig in the background. It is interesting how the entire boiler was covered in dirt to prevent heat from escaping and create higher steam pressures with better fuel efficiency. Above the boiler and behind the steam engine shed, left, we're looking at bleed off, or pop-off valves blowing steam off. In front of the boiler is the boiler man and he is doing what all good boiler men do, he is drying wet clothes out.

Tijuana was a blast to visit in the 1970's; it has lots of "joints" in it. Here is a joint in 1921 that might be the longest bar in North America; it might take you three days to drink yourself down this mama. Mexacali Beer, brewed in this region, in 1921 cost 15 cents a mug. If you needed to chase that nasty stuff with a shot of tequila, 25 cents more. So, for under a buck you could pretty much get twisted plum off, at least a little wobbly.

And here is my favorite of the three photos, above; same well, same rig. This woman is interested in hearing what the driller is telling her. She is not afraid to get right in the middle of it all and even has her hand on the temper screw. I like this person; she reminds me of Ms. Catherine. Behind her is yet another classic example of a bullwheel with laminated wood that is pegged together. The spool on this bullwheel assembly has block dividers and this well is being drilled with wire rope, it appears.

Below the rig floor is the cellar and there is likely a string of casing set to the surface; whether that casing string has a master valve on it, who knows. When wells blew in in this cable tool era it was usually up surface casing and out little holes in the wooden rig floor, just like this.

As I wander thru world oil history I am always amazed at the imagination of early map makers and explorers; the map above was created in 1889 basically by studying surface outcrops of rocks and identifying potential sediment loaded basins. A great deal of the yellow in this map has subsequently been explored and found to contain massive amounts of hydrocarbons including the great, Golden Lane in the Tuxpam Basin of Eastern Mexico where monster wells and Mexico's amazing oil future was got its amazing start.


Though much of the Baja Peninsula is unexplored because of its volcanic origins, there are some very cool wells in the area, particularly east of Tijuana in the Altar Desert of Sonora, including one war horse well shown on the map, left (Pemex, 1981; W-1).

What's neat about this basin, and this well, is that it found a gas filled sediment in a late Miocene siliciclastic sand in a deltaic like feature surrounding the Colorado River as it dumps in the Gulf of California.

The Extremeno 1 well was completed at 13,501 feet for 6.2 MMCFPD and 135 bbls. of condensate per day with 4,000 PSI FTP on a 25/64ths choke. It and the No. 2 well went on to make 250 BCF of gas. Ten more offshore wells were drilled down the Gulf of California, and seven onshore wells and numerous wells had shows in various deltaic sediments. I believe we can expect Pemex to explore, and hopefully develop, various basins down the Gulf looking for natural gas someday.


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