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S.C.V. History
March 19
1875, 1:35PM - Outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez hanged in San Jose [story]

Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Sunday, Sep 8, 2013

Pico Canyon's CSO Hill is on the left in this 1910 photograph. Fifty years later, Standard Oil and Halliburton would frack the wells. Click image for more.
Darryl Manzer

Darryl Manzer

If I teach middle school and watch a movie (“GasLands”), can I be qualified to write a Senate bill for the state of California that limits or ends fracking?

The west side of the SCV is represented in the state Senate by Fran Pavley. She states in her missive concerning SB-4, her anti-fracking bill, that she is so qualified as stated above.

I couldn’t agree more. Teaching middle-school kids does qualify one for an insane asylum – and our state Senate, by many of its recent actions, certainly qualifies as a place housing the insane.

But I digress. The subject is “fracking,” a method used by oil and gas companies to extract more oil and gas from formations deep underground. It is most common on and in older oilfields, as found in our own Santa Clarita Valley.

Back in the day, it was called water and chemical injection. Sometimes steam has been used for the heavy, tar-like oil found in parts of Placerita Canyon.

What happens is that the water and chemicals are forced down a well into the oil-bearing formation, fracturing the rock deep underground, which then forces the oil and gas up the wells.

It isn’t a new technology. Been around a long time. Works well and is safe for most applications.

Long, long before you saw and heard about the Halliburton Co. during the war in Iraq, the trucks and rigs of that company could be found in just about every oil field in the SCV.

I’ll start by telling you the story about the Pico Canyon field of Mentryville.

Sometime in 1963 or 1964, we were sitting at the kitchen table in Pico Cottage (the “Big House” for some of you). I remember a company geologist saying all the oil in the world could be gone in the next 25 years. That was why the company was going to go back into long-abandoned Pico wells with water/chemical injection – i.e., “fracking” – and recover much of the oil still trapped in the formations of shale and rock below.

Soon after that, the company started to build roads up CSO Hill. That is the hill behind and north of Pico’s famous CSO No. 4 oil well that started the oil boom west of the Mississippi.

Unlike the 1870s and ’80s when mules and steam engines would drag the equipment up the hillside, modern rigs needed roads. For you hikers who know Pico, those are the roads that go to the right after you pass the old well and monument.

Roll in the Halliburton trucks and equipment. Re-drill and open the old wells. Inject water and chemicals. Recover more oil from an oil field long considered “dead.” Some of those wells pumped oil through the 1980s. Old No. 4 was one of the last to shut down. One hundred and thirteen years old, it finally got to rest in 1990.

The injection equipment was removed, and as the wells stopped producing, they were capped off and abandoned. Not much later, Chevron turned over the field to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (a state agency), and Pico Canyon became a public park.

Similar scenes were repeated all over the SCV as well as the oil fields in Fillmore, Santa Paula, Ojai, Ventura, Oxnard and Carpinteria. In fact, thousands of California oil wells have had the same process now called “fracking.” It happened nearly 50 years ago. The horses got out of the corral back then, and now Fran Pavley wants to shut the gate.

She might be just a little late. About 50 years late.

Now the water in Pico Creek smells of sulfur and leaves a white, salt-looking stain on the rocks when the creek dries up in the summer. It smelled the same in 1960 as it does now. Before fracking.

The worst environmental damage I can see done due to fracking is the road-building up CSO hill.

So what is the problem?  If done right, water/chemical injection can release more oil and gas for our energy needs. We could even become independent of Middle East oil. We could export even more oil and gas. (Yes, we do export oil and gas.)

Of course it can be done wrong. I would hope that after teaching middle school and watching the movie, “GasLands,” Sen. Pavley could show us when and where modern water/chemical injection harmed the environment in California. Show us the problem she is trying to solve, is what we ask.

Of course, she is also one who thinks guns kill people. If that were true, nobody would come out of a gun show alive.

But that logic would escape her, too.

By the way, I think that Standard Oil Co. geologist was a little wrong in his estimates of oil remaining in the world.


Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].


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  1. Jack says:

    Oh Yeah? Well Frack You!

  2. ejody says:

    Gasland 1 & 2 was just propaganda filled with lies. Watch “Fracknation” for the truth and reality.

  3. CaroleLutness says:

    Its probably a good idea to read the bill before you tell people what the bill says (see http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB4)
    It calls for a study about fracking. It does not prohibit fracking. I saw Gasland 2 also and I found it a pretty compelling condemnation of the process. At the very least, we should have a good scientific study (SB4) before we make up our minds.

  4. CaroleLutness says:

    The environmental community seems to be divided.

  5. Richard M. Mathews says:

    Water injection is not fracking. Traditional water injection involves pouring water into the ground to fill the void left by removing the oil and to push or float the oil to where you can get at it. Hydraulic fracking involves using high pressure and chemicals to crack and dissolve the rocks. This is new technology that has only become common in the last decade or so. The technology continues to change with new chemical mixes.

    The latest is wanting to use very strong hydrofluoric acid (HF). Acid fracking is being used in Santa Clarita now. I have used HF, and it is nasty stuff. I have seen the results of someone coming in contact with HF, and it is not pretty. It is excruciatingly painful. It doesn’t burn the skin, but it efficiently soaks through. Then it dissolves the bones and the months of pain begin. It is treated with a long series of deep injections that are themselves very painful. This stuff does not belong in the environment.

    Fracking will not make us independent of foreign oil (most comes from Mexico and South America, not the Middle East). The highest estimates of how much oil we have don’t add up to very much compared to our consumption. We’ll frack. We’ll cause earthquakes. We’ll cause sickness. And then we’ll run out of oil and be back where we started other than having added even more CO2 to our stressed atmosphere.

  6. Irena says:

    Well The author must be either extremely ignorant or got paid by greedy republicans, what can I say, fracking is distruction, One of The worst forms of it…we might as well use atom bombs to extract oil, is that safe too?

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