The environment is in your face this year. Here in Los Angeles, we had one of the clearest springs that I can remember. All because the COVID-19 virus resulted in a huge shutdown of most everything that took us outdoors. Come summer and the fires struck the western states. The air turned brown and the visibility went to nearly zero. It stayed that way all the way to summer’s end. This was a huge wakeup call on how sensitive the atmosphere is to changes brought about by aerosols.
This brings to mind a story about the biggest tourist attraction in the greater Los Angeles area in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1895, near the intersection of Cherry Avenue and Carson Street in Long Beach (now Lakewood) a farmer named Edward Bouton drilled an 18-inch water well. The well, called Big Bouton, burst forward a 90-foot-tall gusher. The water roared out of the ground for decades and quickly became the number one tourist draw for Los Angeles. The water’s roar could be heard for miles and seen from as far away as Whittier. Rail lines ran from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach and San Pedro where the harbor is. The rails were run to the Big Bouton and turned back to the harbors. The permanent bend in the tracks is still there. The drought started in 1915 and by 1932, artesian flow stopped, but the water that flowed down Bouton Creek was now only used for agriculture. A vast amount of water came from shallow artesian freshwater aquifers. Big Bouton alone produced 2,300 gallons of water per minute and filled a 200-acre lake nearby. Sadly, this spectacular show was at the expense of all the fresh water that would have otherwise ended up in the ocean. The residents of the Los Angeles Basin now have to bring water hundreds of miles through aqueducts. The original aquafers are now suffering from saltwater intrusion, which will render them useless.
The story here is that the valuable freshwater asset was squandered away because it was abundant. No one looked to future use because of this abundance.
Let’s not let this happen to oil. We need sustainability and we must conserve our natural resources.
Geologists’ Role in Oil Field Abandonment
The job market is confusing right now. There is work to do and people to do it.
So why aren’t we all working? For example, in California there is a strong push to abandon as many oil wells as possible. As you know, most of the oil fields were here first and urbanization filled in afterward. Also, there are many densely populated areas over these oil fields, including Beverly Hills, Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. There will always be the worry that people could be harmed and property damaged by oil operations. So, logically, people are protected by shutting down oil production. But this is a vastly more complex problem than that, but I will not go into that here. As oil operations are shut down, oil wells need to be abandoned. Geological specialists (petroleum geologists) will be required to abandon these wells. These experts know the rocks, the completions and the drilling methods used. They have a deep knowledge of these wells. They will be hired to abandon these wells. They need this experience and knowledge to understand the oil-bearing, freshwater-bearing and saltwater-bearing rocks and gas reservoirs.
Now is the time for old geologists and young geoscientists to work together and do the abandonment work. This is where the mentor and young geoscientist work together to help the oil operators and general public. The geologists need to get connected with the people who are looking to abandon the oil wells. Developers typically look to environmental companies who lack the needed experience. We need to get an engineer to partner with a geologist and provide this service to the community.
At the same time, we need to watch out for the environment. For example, the wellbore may need to be filled with cement through a shallow zone or at the base of freshwater. The non-experienced geological consultant may have the cement placed at too high a rate and the poorly consolidated rocks may fracture and the cement will be lost, resulting in a poor cement job that leaves the well a leaker. We are here to avoid this type of environmental problem. AAPG and many of the drilling companies need to reach out to the community and show them how the oil industry is ready to improve the environment and keep it safe in the future. I would appreciate your ideas on this.
I estimate that there are 30,000 to 50,000 wells in the Los Angeles Basin that will need to be abandoned. Get out there and find an experienced engineer and geologist to do this work. The experienced partner will work closely with the inexperienced one and they will produce excellent abandonments that will protect our precious ground water and the area of the abandonment. This is a transition where everyone wins. This should work in most other places in the United States and around the world.
ACE 2021 preparation is well underway. Put together your abstracts for the DEG session and send them in to AAPG.
Stay safe and well.