Mapping Southern California’s history of oil extraction and spills

The Southern Coast of California is home to an active oil and gas industry and a legacy of environmental disasters.

Along the Southern California coast, tens of thousands of oil wells are sitting next to scenic beaches, dotting coastal mountains, and even occupying residential blocks of urban Los Angeles. Platforms on the Pacific Ocean pull oil from deep-sea wells and send it to the mainland via pipelines on the seafloor. Onshore and off, California's oil and gas industry persists, despite state goals to cut back carbon emissions and a legacy of numerous environmental disasters.

Southern California's biggest coastal oil spills

In terms of volume, the recent pipeline leak near Huntington Beach (at least 126,000 gallons of crude oil released) pales in comparison to some of Southern California's previous environmental disasters.

Decades of leaks discovered under dunes
After ceasing operations in 1994, it was discovered that pipelines at the Guadalupe Oil Field had been leaking diluent—a product that helps move oil through pipes—for perhaps four decades. An estimated 12 million gallons of the substance had been released underground into nearby dunes, beaches, the groundwater, and the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Barbara mega-spill starts a movement
In January 1969, a well on the Dos Cuadras field spewed as much as 4.2 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean. Oil from this incident was later found as far south as Mexico. The disaster killed thousands of birds and helped bring about the first Earth Day, in 1970.

Explosion causes fatalities at the L.A. Harbor
In December 1976, a loaded oil tanker named Sansinena exploded and killed nine people while refueling at the Los Angeles Harbor. The huge blast severed a nearby pipeline and released 1.2 million gallons of oil into the water.

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