California Ventura OilA wildcat well struck oil in August 1930 and for decades pumped it from the Hermosa Beach, California, city dump.

As the Great Depression began, California-Ventura Oil Company discovered the Hermosa Beach oilfield. The field proved to be an important addition to the prolific Torrance oilfield.

The Torrence field, discovered in 1922, has produced more than 227 million barrels of oil from the Los Angeles Basin. The California-Ventura Oil’s Hermosa Beach discovery led to decades of litigation and referendums.

California-Ventura Oil incorporated in 1927 with capitalization of $500,000. By 1929 it has several working drilling rigs when lightning sparked the “Sulphur Mountain Fire,” which destroyed the derricks.

“The most disastrous fire in Ventura county’s history,” reported a local newspaper. Many other small independent companies also lost rigs, engines and production equipment in the 19,200-acre fire, which burned down more than 90 rigs.

Hermosa Beach, California, circa 1930. Photo courtesy Richard Finken, A History of Oil Production in Hermosa Beach.

Hermosa Beach, California, circa 1930. Photo courtesy Richard Finken, A History of Oil Production in Hermosa Beach.

Despite the destruction, California-Ventura Oil increased its capitalization to $650,000 and was back in business. The company began drilling its Hermosa Beach wildcat well in the summer of 1930.

“California-Ventura Oil Co.’s No. 1 Hermosa, a wildcat well within the city limits of Hermosa, has opened a new beach district to oil development,” the Boliver Breeze reported.

“On August 26, (the) well tested 225 barrels of 19 gravity oil at about 4,000 feet,” the newspaper noted.

The discovery well was not only within the city limits, it was within the Hermosa Beach city dump, today known as the “City Maintenance Yard.”

The No. 1 Hermosa well extended the prolific Torrance oilfield’s boundaries into the community of Hermosa Beach.

When California-Ventura Oil’s second well also struck oil, it brought the petroleum industry’s attention to the popular getaway beachfront community. More petroleum companies began arriving.

Drilling Debate

By May of 1932, the Hermosa Beach community hosted five oil wells pumping a total of 205 barrels of oil per day – at about 67-cents per barrel.

But then as today, the quest for California energy was contentious. In 1932, Hermosa Beach voters approved a ban on future drilling within the city, spawning decades of intermittent litigation and referendums.

Despite the 85 years of controversy, the Hermosa Beach oilfield has yielded over one million barrels of oil since California-Ventura Oil’s first well.  Stinnett No. 7, originally California-Ventura Oil Company well No. 2, was shut in January 1988.

 Hermosa Beach residents continue to debate petroleum exploration and production. A newly proposed site is on the ballot for March 3, 2015.

Hermosa Beach residents continue to debate petroleum exploration and production. A newly proposed site is on the ballot for 2015.

By 2005, all Hermosa Beach wells had been plugged and abandoned. The original wildcat well passed through several companies and interests over the decades: Stinnet Oil Company, City of Hermosa Beach, MacPherson Energy Company, and E&B Natural Resources.

Today the abandoned well site offers new opportunities. The technology of directional drilling presents a far more environmentally friendly and efficient approach to recovering oil reserves. Also see Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”

Hermosa Beach residents continue to debate petroleum exploration and production. E&B Natural Resources has proposed drilling at the original California-Ventura Oil Company site in the old city dump.

The issue is on the ballot for March 3, 2015.

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