CLUI Photo Archive

Urban Crude: The Oil Fields of the Los Angeles Basin investigates the exploitation of oil reserves in populated urban spaces. Los Angeles is notorious as a city that grew up with and for cars but it is a little-known fact that it is also the most densely populated oil field in the United States. Behind fences, in remote areas of the city, or camouflaged into architecture, the oil industry extracts the desirable resource unbeknownst to the majority of the city’s inhabitants from under their feet. 

In the mid 1920s, Los Angeles was the largest oil-exporting region in the world. At the peak of production in 1969, Los Angeles produced 133 million barrels of oil. Today, around 5,000 wells are still in use where 28 million barrels of oil are extracted every year. Los Angeles is an active laboratory for extracting oil from a developed city, a phenomenon that may become more significant as more of the world develops, and urbanizes.

Oil fields are not desired in most nonindustrial areas—they are generally considered unsightly, dirty, and smelly. Sound muffling technology and visual barriers help shield the industry from the community. While production continues in the cracks of the city, there are still several large swaths of exclusive oil production land that have remained in their pure industrial state, and are still used only as oil fields. These places are off limits to other forms of development. As land in Los Angeles increases in value, the pressure to convert the remains of these true “oil fields” into real estate will increase to the breaking point. The oil industry, though blamed for many urban woes, has paradoxically left a legacy of the largest remaining open spaces in the basin. How to develop these fields represents one of the major regional land use debates of the future.