California is known for many things – Hollywood, the beach, vineyards…but oil? Yes, the Central Coast may soon be experiencing an oil boom of epic proportions due to activity in the Monterey Shale formation, a rib-shaped area that runs from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Underneath the ground in this scenic area lies millions of cubic miles of shale that may one day produce billions of barrels of oil.
Although California has some of the toughest environmental regulations in the U.S., is known for strict gasoline standards, and has a strong interest in renewable resources, it is no stranger to fossil fuels. It was once the second largest oil producing state in the nation and still is fourth behind Texas, North Dakota, and Alaska, with an approximate output of over 200 million barrels of oil a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Interest in tapping the Monterey formation has occurred in cycles, the last one during the early 1990s. Extracting the oil in the Monterey play has never been easy, but new technological advancements, such as horizontal drilling and thermal fracking, a process that involves injecting water and various chemicals into the ground at high pressure to free up the oil so that it can be recovered, have renewed interest in the play.
The California counties included in the Monterey Shale play include Kern, Orange, Ventura, Monterey, and Santa Barbara. The formation also extends offshore and onto the outlying islands. The active Monterey Shale play area covers about 1,750 square miles in the San Joaquin and L.A. basins, with the shale ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 feet thick at depths ranging from 8,000 to 14,000 feet.