The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Traveling to THUMS

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted September 24, 2009

No one likes to watch sausage being made, but most of us enjoy sausage. That seems to be the case with oil and natural gas, too. The vast majority of Americans enjoy the benefits afforded by these energy-rich fuels, but some Americans would prefer not to see how they are produced.

The City of Long Beach successfully addressed the "sausage-making issue" back in the 1960s when it passed a resolution allowing several oil companies to produce energy in its harbor. It said the companies could create man-made islands to drill for oil and natural gas in the coastal waters, but in return the companies had to disguise their activities. The companies agreed, and the THUMS Islands were born.


The THUMS Islands, named after Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobil and Shell, were constructed from 640,000 tons of boulders and 3.2 million cubic yards of sand. Today they are home to 1,100 active oil and natural gas wells. From Long Beach, they look like resort communities with condos, waterfalls and sculptures. They also are landscaped with about 700 palm trees that are kept alive with an elaborate irrigation system.

The produced oil and natural gas are transported to shore via pipeline to power the homes, businesses and vehicles of countless Americans. In calendar year 2008, 10.9 million barrels of oil were produced at THUMS along with 4.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas. These energy resources flow to shore through a series of subsea pipelines that do not interfere with boats and ships in the harbor.


These close-in islands are an excellent example of how a city and state government can work with oil companies to benefit citizens. Occidental Petroleum, which acquired THUMS in 2000, says this public-private partnership has generated more than $5 billion in revenues for the city, state, and private owners involved in the project. And THUMS has an enviable environmental record.

I'll visit THUMS on Friday. Follow my travels on Twitter and read another blog post about the trip tomorrow.