Oil Fields and the Real Estate Environmental Due diligence

Aug 25, 2020

Environmental Enlightenment #315

Current and historical oil field operations may have issues that can impact real estate transactions. Oil fields in Los Angeles basin provide countless examples.

A basin is a tract of country drained by a river and its tributaries, or which drains into a lake or sea. Here is a basin in New Zealand.

water droplets on glass panel
The geographic LA Basin lies between the Pacific Ocean on the southwest, the Santa Monica Mountains and Puente Hills on the north, and the Santa Ana Mountains on the east. It is about 50 miles long in a northwest direction and about 20 miles wide, covering 4,083 square miles. (Wikipedia)

The basin currently has about 40 active oil fields that collectively have 4,000 operating wells. In 1904, there were over 1,150 wells in the city of Los Angeles alone. Almost 1 billion barrels per year produced in the late 1970s. The first reported oil-producing well was discovered in 1892 on the land that is presently beneath Dodger Stadium.


Here is an underground battery of well heads of directional, operating, oil and gas wells going thousands of feet deep, spreading thousands of feet laterally under a city.

There are thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells in the Los Angeles Basin. EPA estimates that in 2016 there were 3.11 million abandoned, plugged and unplugged oil and gas wells on shore in the U.S. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-04/documents/ghgemissions_abandoned_wells.pdf.

When we run the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, we want to know if our property might be sitting on an abandoned oil-field operation; because, past procedures of oil-well abandonment left many leaking crude oil and methane gas into the environment. We have tar seeps and methane gas as natural phenomenon and we have tar and methane in our soils as a man-made phenomenon. Buyers, sellers, land planning departments and regulators are interested in the potential impact of these factors on the land and its inhabitants.

La Brea Tar Pits is a natural phenomenon.

In the land of oil fields, it is not unusual to see tar oozing out from pavements in streets, in parking lots and in the open landscape. We have properties in Los Angeles where crude oil leaks into basements.

In previous issues of  Environmental Enlightenment, we presented the GeoTracker and Envirostor, two data-packed online sites that provide handy information on environmental conditions for sites of interest in California. (Ref. https://amiadini.com/one-useful-environmental-database/ and https://amiadini.com/environmental-data-bases-for-real-estate-due-diligence-the-envirostor/

With this issue, we present a fascinating, third site, the Well Finder, run by California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), formerly known as the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).


Data published by CalGEM includes regular updates to well locations and status. Well location data include a subset of the available information about each well, but can be linked to publicly accessible well databases.

Here is a map of historic and active oil production wells in the cities of Long Beach and Signal Hill, California.

The color key identifies Active, New, Idle, and Plugged wells.

Enlarge the map in accordance with your scale of interest. It will even show wells near or under current structures.

Click on any well of interest, and a world of information opens up.

Real-estate brokers, attorneys and investors can glide fast through the Well Finder  database to identify items of interest about properties in California.

Call me at any time, and I shall walk you through the entire search process.

Better yet, we can do this quick search for you free of charge.


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