Black gold in Tinseltown: The surprising tale of Los Angeles’ oil fields
There are oil fields in Beverly Hills. In West Hollywood too, right under the famous Farmers Market. Despite L.A.’s fame for being a city driven by film and entertainment, it began principally as an oil town. From the late 19th century and into the present day, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, home to the third largest oil field in the contiguous United States, has had a flourishing oil industry. The enclave of Signal Hill, within the city of Long Beach, just 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, used to be known as ‘Porcupine Hill’ because it was covered with the metal towers of over 100 oil wells.
Much of the oil under L.A. and Long Beach these days is extracted via slant drilling, which means the towers can be located at considerable distances outside of the city. Remember that episode of The Simpsons when Mr. Burns slant drilled into Springfield right under the elementary school? That’s pretty much how they do it, but some rigs are still right in the city.
“If you go to Beverly Hills High school, you see an oil well right on the campus,” Ershaghi said. “If you go to Century City, you see that beautifully decorated rig, that they put flowers around that so it matches the building. That’s a very unusual place.”
The oil machinery that still exists above ground in L.A. is mostly hidden inside nondescript buildings, but sometimes you can catch glimpses of towers and the iconic pumpjacks that extract oil from the wells. These symbols of the oil industry nod and raise their bird-like heads in rhythm, giant steel storks drinking repeatedly from the veins of the Earth.
Check out VBS.tv’s short documentary film entitled ‘Oil of L.A.’ about the strange and hidden drilling industry that continues to thrive in Los Angeles.
By Graham Land