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Former Huntington Beach Mayor Still Pumping Oil After 40 Years

 

Standard Gasoline Co photo of Huntington Beach Oil processing plant #8, January 1930.


Huntington Beach, Calif.― "Oil City"
 

With more than 15 oil wells slowly pumping oil, and several oil derricks doing the same less than 2 miles from the coast, you may think you're in some distant country, but chances are you are in Huntington Beach, Seal Beach (where the Captain T. Lee and a fleet of boats takes workers to and from the derricks each day), or even Long Beach with its famous oil island that looks like a vacation playground of palms, but it's not. As you fly in and out of Orange County Airport on any given day, you often can look down at the Huntington Beach Pier and the oil platforms that loom even larger in the water.

Offshore oil production isn't a debating point in Surf City, it's part of the landscape, and with gas prices up, then down, then heading back up, offshore exploration is an increasingly attractive option to North Carolina and other states in the U.S. In Huntington Beach, California (not the East Coast Huntington Beach at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,) tourists hear about and often fear the visual scene of huge oil derricks pumping as they plan their vacations to Surf City destinations. When they visit, they do notice the offshore platforms as well as pumps around the city and downtown, but are actually interested or simply ignore them until they see images of oil at a Pier Plaza mural, and learn that oil is intertwined with the beach lifestyle in Huntington Beach. With one former mayor of Huntington Beach operating family oil wells at profit, John Thomas doesn't even debate the "if" of oil production along the California coast, tourism or not. Yet in North Carolina, the visual change creates fear for tourism professionals who oppose offshore exploration.


Huntington Beach (California's) Emma and Ella platforms appear in millions of tourist photos and are in clear sight of sunbathers and surfers. Oil spills have created spikes and impacts in tourism rarely, and a spill years ago was mitigated with clean-up and compensation to tourism entities such as hotels. While resident surfers and citizens were impacted most and were not compensated, that event passed and is almost forgotten.

 

As a journalist on assignment, I have visited offshore platforms near Santa Barbara. It's an eerie experience to tour these platforms and see the folks who live on them. I have never lost my fascination for these structures and the oil that pumps day and night to my hometown. In fact, when I bought my house in Huntington Beach, I had to sign away the oil rights underneath my property.

 

For tourists and local residents seeking a closer look at the life of oil platforms, go to Seal Beach in the afternoon and watch the workers board boats that shuttle contractors and employees back and forth from the oil platforms.