The San Joaquin Valley Oil Industry
Except for a couple of mediocre wells on the "westside" of the
San Joaquin Valley, and a few
tar mining operations, farming was the mainstay of the valley in the late 1800s. However, the 1899 discovery of "black gold" in a shallow hand-dug oil well on the west bank of the Kern River changed all that. The Kern River discovery started an oil boom, and a forest of wooden derricks sprang up overnight on the flood plain just north of Bakersfield, a sleepy farm town known to most as "Bakers Swamp". Soon Kern River production accounted for 7 out of every 10 barrels of oil that came from California, and Kern River field by 1903 had made California the top oil-producing state in the country.
Over century later, the San Joaquin Valley still produces a lot of oil. In fact, just the Kern County part of the valley in 2008 had over 42,000 producing oil wells that provided about 68% of the oil produced in California, 10% of the entire United States production, and close to 1% of the total world oil production. Add to that another producing 2,000 wells in Fresno County. If the Valley was a state in its own right, it would rank right behind Texas, Alaska and Louisiana as the fourth largest oil producer in the country.
The Valley is also home to 21 giant oil fields that have produced over 100 million barrels of oil each, with four "super giants" that have produced over 1 billion barrels of oil. Among these "super gaints" are Midway-Sunset . . . the largest oil field in the lower 49 United States, and Elk Hills . . . the former U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve.
|Lousiana||1,463,000 barrels of oil per day|
|Texas||1,331000 barrels of oil per day|
|Alaska||894,000 barrels of oil per day|
|California||719,000 barrels of oil per day|
|515,000 barrels of oil per day|
|Oklahoma||177,000 barrels of oil per day|
|New Mexico||171,000 barrels of oil per day|
|RANK||FIELD||DATE||TOTAL PRODUCTION THROUGH 2008|
|1||Midway-Sunset||1894||2,947 million barrels of oil|
|2||Kern River||1899||2.035 million barrels of oil|
|3||South Belridge||1911||1,535 million barrels of oil|
|4||Elk Hills||1911||1,317 million barrels of oil|
|5||Buena Vista||1909||669 million barrels of oil|
|*||Coalinga East Extension||1928||504 million barrels of oil|
|6||Cymric||1909||497 million barrels of oil|
|*||Kettleman North Dome||1928||459 million barrels of oil|
|7||Lost Hills||1910||391 million barrels of oil|
|8||McKittrick||1896||309 million barrels of oil|
|9||Mount Poso||1926||299 million barrels of oil|
|10||Kern Front||1912||212 million barrels of oil|
|11||North Coles Levee||1938||165 million barrels of oil|
|12||Edison||1928||149 million barrels of oil|
|13||North Belridge||1912||143 million barrels of oil|
|14||Fruitvale||1928||125 million barrels of oil|
|15||Rio Bravo||1937||118 million barrels of oil|
|16||Greeley||1936||116 million barrels of oil|
|17||Round Mountain||1927||113 million barrels of oil|
|18||Yowlumne||1974||111 million barrels of oil|
|19||Mountain View||1933||91 million barrels of oil|
|20||Poso Creek||1938||88 million barrels of oil|
|Ten Section||1936||85 million barrels of oil|
|Paloma||1934||61 million barrels of oil|
|South Coles Levee||1938||59 million barrels of oil|
|San Joaquin Valley
District 4 (Kern Co.)
District 5 (Fresno Co.)
|14.3 billion barrels of oil
12.2 billion barrels
2.1 billion barrels
|California||28.3 billion barrels of oil|
The graph below shows the cumulative annual oil production from the San Joaquin Valley from 1900 to 2000 - a century of oil! Note how as time has gone by light oil has become less and less important to the San Joaquin Valley oil industry, and heavy oil has become more important. This trend is going to continue into the future.
A little known fact is that the southern San Joaquin Valley, and Kern County in particular, produces a tremendous amount of electricity through a process called steam cogeneration. Because about two-thirds of the oil produced in California is "heavy" (in other words, too thick and viscous to flow on its own), steam is pumped into the ground to heat the oil and make it behave more like water and less like molasses. Thus, steam injection makes the oil more mobile and enables it to flow into wells where it can be produced.
Cogeneration simply means using steam to first turn turbines and produce electricity before the steam is pumped into the subsurface to heat the heavy oil the sandstone reservoirs.
Enough electricity is produced through cogeneration in the southern San Joaquin Valley to supply the power needs for more than 1.5 million homes. This far exceeds the energy requirements of Kern County, so the excess electricity is sent south over the mountains to power-hungry Los Angeles. Were it not for oil-related cogeneration, the electricity bills of Los Angeles residents would be much higher than they are today.
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