The 2.25 square mile city of Signal Hill lies within the Long Beach Oil Field. The City’s legacy of oil production began in 1919 when oil was first discovered. The Long Beach Field is termed a mega giant field. It is the eighth-largest by cumulative production in California, and although now largely depleted, still officially retains around 5 million barrels of recoverable oil.
The field was enormously productive in the 1920s, with hundreds of oil derricks covering Signal Hill and adjacent parts of Long Beach. Even with the dramatic land use changes over the decades since its discovery, it remains moderately productive, with oil wells and oilfield infrastructure intermixed with commercial and residential development.
Waterflooding is the method where water is injected into an oil reservoir to increase pressure and stimulate production. This supports pressure of the reservoir and pushes the oil towards a well. Normally only 30% of the oil in a reservoir can be extracted, but this increases and maintains the production rate of a reservoir over a longer period.
Waterflooding was begun as a solution to decreased land elevations. As early as the 1940s subsidence in the Long Beach/Signal Hill area was causing walls and foundations of buildings to crack and breakage of sewers and underground pipes. Remedial actions including trucking in landfill, raising foundations and construction dikes. Studies conducted linked oil production with the cause of sinking land, citing geologic characteristics of the oil field reservoirs. The area affected was approximately 21,600 acres.
In 1955, Charles S. Jones, Richfield’s president, proposed a waterflood solution. Water injected under pressure would push oil ahead of it to the areas of low pressure where the oil could escape through wells. In the following years, six fault block unitization areas were formed and by the mid 1960s the result was a halt of subsidence and increase in oil production.
Property ownership does not always include the right to develop vacant land, especially in an oil field, where land may be subject to an oil field lease. Some of these lease agreements date from the 1920s, when property owners gave up their property oil field operators. A property owner may have no legal standing to develop the land until the lease is renegotiated or removed from the property.
Persons interested in buying oil field land should obtain comprehensive title reports and seek legal advice regarding oil field leases and pipeline easements listed on the title. Developers should contact the oil field operator / leaseholder regarding development plans. Sometimes leaseholds can be renegotiated to allow for the joint or shared use of an oil field parcel.