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Anguish, Anger, and Activism Legacies of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill

History of Oil in California

The first successful oil well in California was drilled near Ojai in 1866. Santa Barbara County was the location of the world’s first offshore drilling when wells were drilled from piers in Summerland in 1896. By the mid-20th century, oil production had become an important part of the local economy and oil wells were commonplace.

The Summerland Oil Field was developed in the late 1800s. The world’s first offshore oil wells were drilled from piers at this site in 1896. They produced 3.18 million barrels of oil during the 50-year lifespan field.

The reservoir of the Ellwood Oil Field contained approximately 106 million barrels of oil, which was almost all extracted by the 1970s. This field is now abandoned and the piers and derricks have been removed.

Map showing oil leases in the Santa Barbara Channel, 1968.

“I remember when they built the oil platforms. Until then, it was beautiful. It was just the moonlight on the water. I remember the oil companies saying when they built the oil platforms, they were going to obscure them with clouds, so that you would never see them. They were telling us whatever we wanted to hear to get it approved.”

– Susan Hazard, Administrator with Santa Barbara Waterfront, as told to Pacific Standard magazine