Placerita Canyon - Resources for Oil and Geology


Placerita Canyon not only still contains a working oil field but also evidence of drilling back to the early 1900's


..........OIL HISTORY BRIEF SUMMARY..........

California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) records show that over 1000 wells have been drilled in Placerita Canyon. Most of these wells were drilled west of Sierra Highway.

The earliest documented oil well was described on page 355 of the 12th Report of the State Mineralogist, Two Years Ending September 15, 1894. It's location is not known:
"San Bernardino Oil Well - This is in Placerita Canyon, 4 miles from Newhall. This well is 640 feet deep; a set of tools was lost in it."
The "Schist area" or "White Oil field" was discovered around 1899 when miners were digging for gold. The oil found there was water-like and obtained from crystalline rocks, making it a very unique oil field. Ten wells were drilled by 1905, including three by the Freeman & Nelson White Oil Company and four by the New Century Oil Company. However, none of them found oil in commercial quantities. These wells were drilled in and around the Nature Center property, most west of Los Pinetos canyon, but some east of it. Here is a Microsoft Excel list of the white oil field wells that I have compiled from Walling (1934) and DOGGR records.

Another small group of wells were drilled between 1920 and 1933 starting with Equity Oil Company's "Daisy" 1 well (later called York 1). These wells had a limited success and in April of 1935, average well production was only about 9 barrels a day.

In March of 1948, the Nelson-Phillips Oil Company drilled well "Kraft" 1. It had an initial production of 70 barrels of oil per day, which encouraged new activity in the vicinity. This became called the Kraft-York area (east of Highway 14). In January of 1949, Milfred Yant and Ramon Somavia drilled well "Juanita" 1 about one mile north of the Kraft-York area. This well had an initial production of 340 barrels per day. The Juanita area was born. A major increase of leasing and drilling began. The State Well Spacing Act was declared unconstitutional leading to unrestricted drilling. This area became known as "Confusion Hill" (see Confusion Hill webpage). So many drilling wells caused an over production of the field and production steadily declined after 1950.

In July of 1949, the area was named the Placerita Oil Field by the Division of Oil and Gas (DOG).

In the late 1950's production was increased by using water injection (waterflooding) methods. Steam injection was also started in the 1960's. Today, the Placerita Oil Field is still producing thanks to EOR (enhaunced oil recovery) methods.



..........PAGES..........

The Story of Confusion Hill

Historic photos (including Confusion Hill)

Current photos - including those of oil artifacts and rocks

Oil wells near roads



..........WEBSITES..........

Santa Clarita Valley History Placerita Canyon website

Linn Energy website

Linn Energy Presentations website

Placerita Canyon page on the Santa Clarita Valley History Website.

Placerita Canyon Nature Center website.



..........DOGGR..........

Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) home page.

DOGGR Placerita Field map indicating all known Placerita Canyon well locations.

DOGGR Microsoft Excel file listing all known Placerita Canyon wells.



..........DOCUMENTS, MAPS, NEWSPAPER ARTICLES, AND SNIPPETS (in date order)..........

1875: Map of Township No. 3 North, Range No. 15 West, San Bernardino Meridian, dated January 14, 1875, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records (PDF 10.3MB).

1897: Map of the Los Angeles County Public Lands: T. 3-4 N. R. 15 W. S.B.M., circa 1897, from the Huntington Museum. Complete map here.

1900: Snippet from Petroleum in California, Lionel Redpath, 1900, p. 49.

1900: The Pioneer White Oil Company from the Los Angeles Saturday Post of September 1, 1900.

1900: In Placerita Canyon from the Los Angeles Herald of November 16, 1900.

1900: The White Oil of Placerita from the Pacific Oil Reporter of November 16, 1900.

1900: New Century Oil Company from the Los Angeles Herald of December 12, 1900.

1900: White Oil Wells from the Los Angeles Herald of December 12, 1900.

1901: Placerita's Natural Gas from the Los Angeles Times of January 12, 1901.

1901: Placerita White Oil from the Los Angeles Times of January 24, 1901.

1907: Snippet from The Santa Clara Valley, Puente Hills and Los Angeles Oil Districts Southern California, G.H. Eldridge and R. Arnold, USGS Bulletin No. 309, pp. 100-101.

1912: Automobile Touring Route from Los Angeles to Placerita Canyon, Automobile Club of Southern California.

1913: Snippet from Petroleum in Southern California, Paul Prutzman, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 63, pp. 177-178.

1913: Map of the Newhall Oil Field from Petroleum in Southern California, Paul Prutzman, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 63.

1919: Pacific Fields Wonders from Petroleum Age, November 1919, Vol. 6, No. 11, p. 480.

1924: Snippet from Geology and Oil Resources of a Part of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, California, William S. W. Kew, USGS Bulletin 753, pp. 155-156.

1932: Occurrence of Oil in Metamorphic Rocks of San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County, California, Arthur B. Brown and W. S. W. Kew, Bulletin of the AAPG Vol. 16, No. 8, pp. 777-785 (PDF 1.3MB).

1934: Placerita Canyon Area from Report on Newhall Oil Field, R.W. Walling, Vol. 20 No. 2, Summary of Operations California Oil Fields, Division of Oil and Gas (PDF .2MB).

1934: Geology of Portions of the Humphreys, Sylmar, Newhall, and Saugus Quadrangles, Charlton D. Cooksey, Cit Thesis (PDF 48.8MB).

1939: Geology of the Placerita Canyon Area, John A. Battle, CIT Thesis (PDF 16.1MB).

1948: Snippet from the Mineral Information Service, Division of Mines, Department of Natural Resources, State of California, November, 1948, p. 3.

1949: Snippet from the Mineral Information Service, Division of Mines, Department of Natural Resources, State of California, January, 1949, p. 4.

1949: Oil Prospects Upper Placerita Canyon Area, Hampton Smith (PDF 7.9MB).

1949: Placerita Oil Field, Cecil L. Barton and Norman N. Sampson, Summary of Operations-California Oil Fields, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 5-14 (PDF 1.1MB).

1949: Second Oil Gusher Sets Newhall Agog from the Los Angeles Times of March 3, 1949.

1949: Oil Men Feud in Newhall Field from the Oxnard Press Courier of October 27, 1949.

1949: Newhall-Placerita from the Bakersfield California of October 29, 1949.

1949: Wildcat Battle Halted as Oil Drills Rotate from the Bakersfield California of October 31, 1949.

1949: Frenzy Grips Placerita Canyon from the Daily News of 1949 (unknown day).

1950: Geology of the Placerita Oil Field, Los Angeles County, California, Gordon B. Oakeshott, California Journal of Mines and Geology, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 43-79 (PDF 26.6MB).

1950: Placerita Oil Field, Robin Willis, (PDF 4.5MB).

1952: Placerita Oil Field, Robin Willis, AAPG SEPM SEG Guidebook, Joint Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, California, (similar to Willis' 1950 document) (PDF 1.5MB).

1954: Geology of the Placerita Oil Field, Gordon Oakeshott, Map Sheet No. 31 from Division of Mines, Bulletin 170, Geology of Southern California (PDF .3MB).

1958: Placerita Oil Field, pp. 119-120 from Geology and Mineral Deposits of San Fernando Quadrangle, Los Angeles County, California, Gordon Oakeshott, Division of Mines Bulletin 172.

1958: Geologic Map of the San Fernando Quad, Plate 1 from Geology and Mineral Deposits of San Fernando Quadrangle, Los Angeles County, California, Gordon Oakeshott, Division of Mines Bulletin 172 (PDF .4MB).

1958: Map of the Placerita Oil Field, Plate 5 from Geology and Mineral Deposits of San Fernando Quadrangle, Los Angeles County, California, Gordon Oakeshott, Division of Mines Bulletin 172 (PDF .1MB).

1961: Water Flood Adds Millions of Barrels of Potential Oil Reserves, Los Angeles Times, January 4, 1961.

1961: Snippet from California Oil and Gas Fields Maps and Data Sheets, Part 2, Los Angeles-Ventura Basins and Central Coastal Regions, Division of Oil and Gas, pp. 632-633 (PDF .6MB).

1962: Recent Developments in the Kraft-York Area of Placerita Oil Field, Richard B. Tudor, Summary of Operations-California Oil Fields, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 47-53 (PDF 1.1MB).

1962: Snippet from Geology of Southeastern Ventura Basin Los Angeles County California, E.L. Winterer and D.L. Durham, Geological Survey Professional Paper 334-H, pp. 74-75.

1962: Geologic map from Geology of Southeastern Ventura Basin Los Angeles County California, E.L. Winterer and D.L. Durham, Geological Survey Professional Paper 334-H (PDF 9.5MB).

1965: Placerita-Soledad-Vasquez Rocks Area, Soledad Basin, Los Angeles County, California, Field Trip of AAPG (PDF 1.8MB).

1974: Geologic Report: Oil Possibilities in the Vicinity of Placerita Canyon County Park, Los Angeles County, Engineering Geology Section, Design Division, Department of County Engineer, Allan E. Seward, SCV History.com.

1978: Geology of the Newhall Area of the Eastern Ventura and Western Soledad Basins, Frederick M. Nelligan, Ohio University Thesis (PDF 24.7MB).

1983: Open Cycle Cogeneration Project - Placerita Field, Doscher, El-Arabi, and Stiglic, Society of Petroleum Engineers (PDF .3MB).

1983: Placerita Field, Los Angeles County, California, from An Evaluation of Heavy Oil Mining, Final Report, Volume I, by Piper, Riddell, and Trent, pp. 153-163 (PDF 2.5MB).

1986: Landslides and Related Features (plate 7B) and Geologic Map (plate 7C), from Landslide Hazards in the East Half of the Newhall Quadrangle by Jerome A. Treiman, 1987, Division of Mines and Geology, Open-file Report 86-16 (PDF 8.8MB).

1991, 1996: Geologic Map of the Placerita Canyon Area, Thomas W. Dibblee. See map notes here.

1996: Summary of Placerita Oil Field, Tom Berkman, From Structure and Hydrocarbon Exploration in the Transpressive Basins of Southern California, pp. 200-203 (PDF 5.5MB).

2000: Field Guide to the Geology Between the San Fernando Valley and Palmdale, California, Peter W. Weigand and Karen L. Savage from The Incredible Cenozoic Geologic History of Southern California, National Association of Geoscience Teachers, Far Western Section, Department of Geological Sciences, California State University Northridge, CA (PDF 7.2MB).

2004: 2004 Berry Petroleum Company Management Powerpoint Presentation.

2008: 2008 Berry Petroleum Company Investor Conference (PDF 5.5MB).

2010: Oil Wells and Equipment, Don Kott, Unpublished Docent Report, Placerita Canyon Nature Center (PDF 10.3MB).

2011: South Placerita Oil Field - Re-Activation Project, Amrich Energy Inc (PDF 1.9MB).

2012: 2012 Berry Petroleum Company Presentation (PDF 3.5MB).

2014: Berry Petroleum Company Security and Exchange Commission Form 10-k for 2013, Filed 3/31/2014 (PDF 1.0MB).


Steam injection is an increasingly common method of extracting heavy crude oil and is common in the Placerita oil field. Placerita oil typically has an API gravity of less than 21 degrees, which is quite heavy. Steam injection is an enhanced oil recovery (EOR) method and is by far the most energy-intensive and water-intensive method used in California oil extraction. There are several different forms of the technology, with the two main ones being Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) and Steam Flooding. Both are commonly applied to oil reservoirs which are relatively shallow and which contain crude oils which are very viscous at the temperature of the native underground formation. Berry (owned by Linn) is using both EOR methods in the Placerita Oil Field.

The above diagram shows one well during the 3 phases of CSS. Steam is injected into a well ("huff" phase) introducing heat. Then the well is shut-in allowing the dissipating heat to thin the oil (the "soak" phase). Finally, the well is placed back on production - i.e. pumped (the "puff" phase). The CSS process can be repeated until production falls below a profitable level. (The above schematic diagram is from the 2012 Berry presentation.)


In steam flooding, some wells are used as steam injection wells and other wells are used for oil production. Two mechanisms are at work to improve the amount of oil recovered. The first is to heat the oil to higher temperatures and to thereby decrease its viscosity so that it more easily flows through the formation toward the producing wells. The second mechanism is the physical displacement in a manner similar to water flooding (an EOR method used here in the past), in which oil is meant to be pushed to the production wells. While more steam is needed for this method than for the cyclic method, it is typically more effective at recovering a larger portion of the oil. (The above schematic diagram is also from the 2012 Berry presentation.)