Santa Fe Springs; 1921

July 21, 2019

In the early 1900's Santa Fe Springs, California was a rural farm area known for its orange groves and for its stinky, hot sulfur springs. This was Alphonso Bell's country, home of wealthy California ranch owners and the Hollywood elite. In 1919 Union Oil of California drilled some dry holes in the area but then hit a big well on the corner of Telegraph Rd. and Norwalk Blvd in 1921.  The well made 2,500 BOPD and California companies fresh off a big discovery in Huntington Beach (also known as "Bedlam Beach") started pouring into the area stacking wells like cord wood, derrick leg to derrick leg. A particularly dense plot of drilling in Santa Fe Springs was called "Hell's Half Acre" and the steam from boilers was so thick the site was engulfed in constant fog for the next decade. 

 

Los Angeles eventually grew out into Santa Fe Springs and by 1957 this was a photograph, right, of the corner of Telegraph Rd. and Norwalk Blvd. 

 

Today there are still 180 wells producing in the East LA, Santa Fe Springs Oil Field making about 2,390 BOPD. Those wells are tucked in empty parking lots, behind Walmart, in peoples back yards, in alley ways; you really have to see the LA Basin to believe where its oil wells are located. its an amazing this to see.                                                                        

From 1919 thru 2016 Santa Fe Springs Field produced 637 million barrels of oil. At one point in 1928 it was making  approximately 300,000 bbls of oil per day from 310 wells. 

 

 

 

 

The structural trap in Santa Fe Springs is a big, beautiful anticline with 300 feet of relief; the pay sands are stacked, shallow Pliocene sands and deeper Miocene stuff. The structure size is about 1400 acres. In 2016 the United States Geological Society estimated that only about 30% of OOIP had been recovered to date and that an estimated 250 million barrels of recoverable oil remained, likely stranded because of population density. The structural relief of the trap was  such that there were overpressured, shallow gas sands and gas caps on all oil reservoirs that kicked peoples asses all over the place in the early 1920's and Santa Fe Springs was home of some awesome blowouts, craters and big oil fires. The Hosmer Button type BOP was designed in Santa Fe Springs in a feeble attempt to control these blowouts. 

George F. Getty, father of John Paul Getty, wiggled his way into Santa Fe Springs in 1920 and this 17th well in the field, the Bell #17, in mid September 1921 launched a standard derrick across Telegraph Road into an empty orange grove. The blowout  was hurling big rocks that caused sparks, it  caught fire not long after this photo on the left was taken and shortly thereafter, cratered.

 

In 1921 there were a mixture of wooden derricks and cable tools being used with standard derricks and rotary tables; after the 17 well caught fire a nearby wooden derrick got its top burned off and other wells were threatened nearby. Pipe was pulled out of holes, wells were hastily bailed and shut in; wooden derricks were felled like big trees in a forest to prevent fires from spreading to nearby homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By early November the Bell 17 well had been on fire for 45 days and  pretty much burned up, or melted, every rig around it. The drill pipe laid over in the blowout well in early October and in the two photos above we can see flow coming out of drill pipe, far left, and around the drill pipe to casing annulus. The standard derrick seen thru the gasoline station bay in the top photo, has collapsed in the bottom photo. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8MM film of the 

Getty Bell 17; Santa Fe Springs Field, 1921

Ford Alexander, above, on the right, was a long time Southern California torpedo shooter. In 1913, up north in the Midway-Sunset Field near Taft, Ford, Karl Kinley and his then young son, Myron Kinley used a drum of glycerin gel to blow a fire out. Young Myron went on to be the world's premier well control expert and taught Red Adair, Boots Hansen, Coots Matthews and Richard Hatteburg. The plan in 1921 on the Bell 17 was to shoot the fire out but the drill pipe, and nearby homes, complicated matters and that process was not attempted. 

 

Instead, a tunnel was dug into the crater that was 60 feet below ground. The shaft was 200 feet long. The crater was pumped out of fluids and Alexander and his boys, on the right, were able to cut the drill pipe, or more likely, break it, and got  the fire going straight up.

 

This photo on the left is of the shaft entrance looking into the fire. A galvanized tin barrier keeps hands from getting too hot and there is a  pump with the suction disconnected above the  entrance. of the shaft. The two men in the photo appear to be sufficiently gassed, literally and figuratively. 

 

Once the drill pipe was cut and the fire was going straight up, the crater and tunnel were backfilled. While all this was going on a skid mounted steel 'hood' was made with a flanged outlet on the side and a sort of venturi tube on top, below a master valve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the photograph above the hood has been drug over the top of the casing/drill pipe stub  and the fire is seen getting sucked up and out the venturi tube. Water is being sprayed on the hood assembly. Eventually the master valve was pinched closed while the well was deluged with water under the hood and fire went out. Back pressure, so to speak, against the blowout flow caused the  well to eventually bridge. Getty was able to get tied onto something and get the well killed and buried in cement. This was late November. The steel hood idea, by the way, was used several more times in Santa Fe Springs over the next decade. And it was Red Adair who used a self-designed steel hood contraption in an attempt to  control the Ixtoc blowout in the Bay of Campeche in 1979.

 

Not five days after the Bell 17  well was killed another well, not 300 feet away, operated by Mohawk Oil Co. blew out and caught fire in a similar sand at around, 5880 feet.

 

Paybacks are hell, as they say, and in late 1928 General Petroleum Corp. (later Socony-Vacuum, later Mobil, later Exxon) had a big blowout off Telegraph Road and Pioneer Blvd. that burned two Getty wells plum to the ground. 

 

 

 

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                                              "The Oilfield Workers" by Carlos Terres, Santa Fe Springs, California City Park 

 

There are currently 18 million people living in the greater Los Angeles metroplex. In 2016 the USGS estimated there to be at least 3.5G BO of remaining, recoverable oil in ten major oil fields in the Los Angeles Basin, little of which will ever be recovered due to dense urban populations and California's strong anti-oil sentiment. Another 2G BO of recoverable, proven reserves from the LA Basin in smaller fields will never be recovered either, according to the USGS.

 

Earlier this year, 2019, the Sierra Club demanded that California get out of the oil business entirely and just last week the city of Berkley passed a resolution to prohibit natural gas being used in private homes for heating, cooking or hot water. 

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References:

 

New York Times

Los Angeles Times

Hathaway Ranch Museum

AAPG Bulletin 

Kinley Files on Ford Alexander 

 

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