--> Out into the Surf and Beyond: The Why, How And Where of Offshore Oil Exploration from Bristol Bay to Point Loma from the 1890’s to the 1980’s

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Out into the Surf and Beyond: The Why, How And Where of Offshore Oil Exploration from Bristol Bay to Point Loma from the 1890’s to the 1980’s


The 1890’s California oil boom led wildcatters to the beach where at Summerland benign conditions enabled building wharfs over the surf and shallow water to support land rigs. But elsewhere higher surf and a lack of infrastructure limited expansion offshore to early directional drilling as the boom continued through the 20’s. The Depression and WWII stymied a move offshore, but by the late 40’s a burgeoning oil demand and a wealth of post-WWII ocean engineering enabled industry to put intense effort in developing mobile submersibles, jack-ups, and steel jackets to operate out onto the broad Gulf of Mexico shelf. California was different with rougher seas during winter storms and a much narrower shallow shelf, so in the early 50’s dynamically positioned drillships with bottom BOP’s were first developed separate from Gulf of Mexico efforts. This plus geophysical advances and new leasing enabled broad offshore exploration in the mid to late 50’s with extensions of large fields such as Huntington Beach, Rincon and Summerland, and first surveys in the Cook Inlet. Two artificial islands were also built for land rigs off Seal Beach and Rincon. The 60’s saw large seismic surveys and lease sales from Alaska to San Diego with discoveries primarily in the Santa Barbara Channel including Carpinteria, Hondo, Pitas Point and Dos Cuadros. The artificial island push also continued with development of Wilmington Field. The Upper Cook Inlet saw the first offshore discovery at Middle Ground Shoal. Frontier basins were disappointing with dry holes off San Diego County, Central and Northern California and the Northwest. The decade ended with the blowout at Dos Cuadros, a wake-up call to both citizens and industry that led to environmental legislation nationwide and a dampening effect on exploration. In the 70’s and early 80’s activity in state waters slowed but a series of federal sales resulted in the last flurry of exploration, principally in Alaska. The Continental Offshore Stratigraphic Test program was set up to drill deep off-structure pre-lease wells in the Outer Banks, off Pt Conception and throughout Pacific Alaska. Discovery of Pt Arguello and Pt Pedernales followed, but no success in the Outer Banks or Alaska. Since then public sentiment and competition for tight exploration budgets have limited activity despite significant remaining resources estimated by BOEM.