Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Natura Obscura

According to an article in the latest Orion magazine, the City of Angels sits on top of one of the nation's richest reserves of crude oil. You'll have to buy a copy or walk to the library to read it, since it's not published on the Orion web page.

It seems only fitting that the American city most associated with freeways and suburban sprawl is so rich in the nonrenewable resource that enables those things. But it's also surprising: few people think of oil derricks when they think of LA. That's the most interesting aspect of the Orion article, and of oil production in the nation's second-largest city: as it turns out, the oil wells of Los Angeles are all over the place- hidden in plain sight.

This is a satellite image of a building at Pico Blvd. and Genesee Avenue. Most people don't see the building from this angle; from the street, it looks like a typical modernist office (you can see the rows of "windows" on the northern, shaded side). From above, we see that it's actually an empty, roofless shell with an industrial-looking tangle of pipes nearby. It's not an office building: it's an oil rig in disguise, smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood (for a broader, zoomed-out view, click here).

Below is a photo of the running track at Beverly Hills High School. That colorful thing in the foreground isn't for air traffic control, nor is it a place where school bodyguards can keep a watchful eye on their celebrity students. It's an oil well that pumps up to 500 barrels of black gold a day and pays BHHS $300,000 a year in royalties.

An oil well also hides within a fake lighthouse in Venice Beach (I would love to have a photo, if any readers can find one). And there are many pumping away undisguised in places no one cares to look: under freeway ramps and at the edges of parking lots, for example.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, whole forests of oil rigs went up in neighborhoods of LA like Venice Beach (see the photo above of the old "Grand Canal," which was filled in and paved mid-century in order to make way for autos). Some wells are still in use; others are reopening as oil prices rise; still others are undocumented and periodically gush petrochemicals into Angelino homes and businesses built on top.

Why does the city hide its geological wealth behind elaborate disguises? The neighbors on Genesee Avenue are probably not fooled by the office building facade. But for thousands of passing motorists and all of those owners of two-car garages, a fake office building is a lot less confrontational to the conscience than a dirty, stinking oil rig. Los Angeles may rely on cheap oil, but it's also trying hard to hide it.


Turboglacier said...

Say, C-- have been away from monitoring TVN for a while since you left the winter hut world-- but now am delighted to see you have relocated right here to the Smallish City! Can't find your email address on the page, but if you're around, drop a line over at my place! Welcome to town. -Turbo

P.S. Enjoyed the posts on E. Prom.

Vanessa said...

This is very interesting. I have only ever noticed the open oil fields near Kenneth Hahn Park - I didn't know that there were hidden oil wells all over the city disguised as crappy office buildings. I'm going to have to look into this more ...