Jane Van Ryan
Posted September 28, 2009
Architect Joesph Linesch (1924-1996) had a vision for Long Beach, California--to become the Riviera of the West, a nearly fantasy-like harbor rivaling the buildings and landscapes he designed for Disneyland and Epcot Center. Between 1965 and 1968, he created structures and landscaping that make the oil production facilities here look like a high-end condominium complex.
Last Friday, I was part of a group of about 12 people who took a crew boat to White Island, one of the four man-made islands where oil and natural gas have been produced for more than 40 years. Our guides were Bill McFarland and Frank Komin of Occidental Petroleum, the company that owns and operates the island production facilities.
As we approached White Island, Frank pointed toward a tall turquoise and white building on the shoreline partially obscured by fog. "That was the inspiration for the tower that hides the drilling rig," Frank said. The rest of the structures facing Long Beach consist of curved concrete walls and waterfalls that camouflage and reduce noise from production facilities.
We headed to the island's "finger" or port and walked up a ramp to the island's core, where engineers rather than architects, had planned the production operations. The wellheads were below grade in a concrete trench that circled the island's interior, and the drilling rig was on rails so it could skid around the island.
The center of the island contained piping and vessels of various sizes that collect the oil/natural gas/water mixture as it rises from the wells, separate the oil and natural gas from the water, clean the water, and reinject it back into the underground formation. Oil and natural gas are also processed on the island and sent through pipelines to shore for additional processing before being sold.
By partnering with Occidental to produce the energy, the State of California and the City of Long Beach receive a percentage of the earnings. Under the current contract, California receives 50 percent; Long Beach receives 8 percent; Occidental makes about 30-35 percent; and private landowners who own mineral rights beneath their onshore property earn about 8 percent. Since the islands employ state-of-the-art directional drilling technology, Occidental is able to reach under Long Beach to produce oil and natural gas.
Allowing oil companies to produce offshore energy is generating revenues and creating jobs for Long Beach and California. Yet the state and the federal government are developing only about 100,000 barrels a day of the 10.5 billion barrels believed to exist in the Outer Continental Shelf along the state's coast.
Update on September 28, 2009: View the Flickr photo album from my trip to Occidental's White Island.
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