Oil wells hidden under the streets of Los Angeles: how is it possible and how many there are

Los Angeles is the only place in the world where buildings have been built that are not real buildings, but hide oil wells inside. You understood correctly, in the midst of offices, schools, shops, restaurants, oil is extracted 24 hours a day. Throughout the entire city area of ​​Los Angeles there are approximately 20,000 oil wells, both active and inactive, and people literally live in one step away from these wells and recently the Los Angeles administration voted a law to eliminate drilling and close the wells within twenty years.

The story of hidden oil wells in Los Angeles

Aerial view of the Signal Hill oil field – 1930

Los Angeles is a city that stands on a large oil field, which was discovered at the end of the 1800s. After this discovery, Los Angeles, which was still a small town with 50,000 inhabitants, began a real transformation. Oil wells were built everywhere, but with urban expansion it was necessary to find new solutions to continue extracting oil in the middle of the city and they also became necessary because as Los Angeles grew, the space available for new drilling decreased. The practice of hiding oil wells inside buildings began in the 1920s. Buildings were then designed that seem to say “we have nothing to hide”, but then, bang! Oil well. To reduce the noise and vibrations associated with oil extraction, very advanced soundproofing technologies were used (how they are made and how they work is an industrial secret and therefore we have very little information about them). As a result, oil wells have popped up in the strangest places in a metropolis with 3.9 million inhabitantssuch as in the middle of residential areas, in McDonald's parking lots, in churches, behind areas with very high fences and even buildings such as the Cardiff Oil Tower disguised as a synagogue. Just think, artificial islands have even been built off the coast, with palm trees and glittering buildings to hide the wells.

Cardiff Oil Tower – Google Earth

La Brea Tar Pits

Just think that in the center of Los Angeles there are literally puddles of bitumen that stagnate on the surface, we are talking about “La Brea Tar Pit” which is located in the Hancock Park, here the oil rises through cracks in the earth's crust creating real lakes. Consider that the Native Americans who inhabited the area used this bituminous substance as glue and to waterproof their boats. So the oil pioneers went to dig right in the areas around these enormous pools, because the deposits were very close to the surface and therefore easily accessible. This enormous presence of deposits has made the region one of the most prolific oil-producing areas in the United States.

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles – Ken Lund

The geology of Los Angeles

To better understand why Los Angeles is such an oil-rich place, we need to examine the geology of the area. The Los Angeles region sits atop sedimentary basins that formed millions of years ago. These basins, like the Los Angeles Basin and the Ventura Basin, contain thick layers of porous rocks rich in organic matter. Over time, pressure and heat transformed this organic matter into oil – we made a video on how oil is formed, go and get it if you haven't seen it. The complex geological structure of Los Angeles, with its faults and folds, has created natural traps that have trapped large quantities of oil and natural gas. The first oil field in Los Angeles was discovered in 1892 from Edward Doheny, near what is now Dodger Stadium. Subsequently, oil fields were developed in the region Beverly Hills, Salt Lake, Inglewood, Long Beach And Wilmington, as well as others. By 1923, California was producing a quarter of the world's oil. And if you think that Los Angeles looked anything like it does now, you are very wrong, so much so that many described it as a place where wells “they were like trees in a forest”. Oil derricks popped up everywhere, even on beaches like that of Summerland or Huntington Beachand the city was totally different to how we know it today.

In the 1930s, when LA's oil industry was booming, having an oil field was the cheapest way to make money. In fact, 95 percent of Los Angeles residents in the early 20th century voted for a law allowing oil wells to be placed in their backyards.

Oil Drilling in Los Angeles: Why Don't People Know and What Are the Risks?

Oil well deployments in Los Angeles

Today I'm beyond that 3,000 active oil wells And 18,000 inactive and sealed. Los Angeles County alone produces the beauty of 18 million barrels per year.

But the most absurd thing is that citizens are almost completely unaware of this situation. This is because information about these activities is not always clear or easily available, as local regulations do not oblige oil companies to disclose details about their operations. Additionally, wells are often located in less affluent neighborhoods, where fewer resources and less access to information can make residents less aware of nearby industrial activities.

This is why most LA residents are convinced that the oil industry it was built upon is mostly exhausted and that operations ceased long ago. But this couldn't be further from the truth. The city still produces oil at an astonishing rate and every year more hidden oil wells are built throughout the city, and most of the time local residents have no idea they are living near an oil well.

Despite the economic benefits, oil extraction in Los Angeles also poses significant risks to the population and the environment. Oil wells can release harmful chemicals and cause land subsidence.

In some residential areas, residents have reported health problems related to gas emissions from nearby wells. There are also concerns about the structural safety of homes built on or near oil wells, so much so that a 2016 study “Potentially Induced Earthquakes during the Early Twentieth Century in the Los Angeles Basin” showed that wild drilling triggered a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that shook Long Beach in 1933.

But now all that has come to an end, because on January 24, 2023, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban new oil and gas drilling and phase out existing operations. The city has set a timeframe for eliminating all wells within 20 years.