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January 09, 2012

L.A. Puts a Plug in Oil

With the recent sealing of an abandoned oil well that will be the site of an affordable housing project, Los Angeles marks the end of an era. Last week workers plugged some of the city's oldest wells, and with that, retiring a historical chapter of oil extraction within city limits that began 120 years ago. At that time, L.A.'s first oil pioneers "used picks and shovels and, finally, a sharpened 60-foot-long eucalyptus tree trunk to drill about 200 feet" below the ground. The discovery of oil fueled rapid population growth and aggressive oil exploration during the ensuing decades.

Soon, drillers were sinking their pumping pipes as deep as 900 feet. When oil at that level started to run out, they bore down to 1,200 feet, then 1,500 feet. Most Los Angeles oil was found no deeper than that.

Four and sometimes five wells were drilled on small residential lots along a narrow swath that extended the Los Angeles City Oil Field about 31/2 miles from the Chinatown area south of Dodger Stadium west to Berendo Street. Tent cities sprang up to house bootleggers and prostitutes who streamed in behind the growing horde of oil drillers.

-- Brian Foley

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