Brief History of Oil Development in the Tunnel Area



Map of almost all of the Tunnel area wells based on DOGGR coordinates. Elsmere wells in upper right hand corner. The "tower" feature shown in two of the historic photos below is marked with a brown triangle on the right middle of the map.



Map of Tunnel Area from W.S.W. Kew's Bulletin 753 of 1924 (Geology and Oil Resources of a Part of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, California)



Another map of Tunnel Area wells from Walling, 1934


Most of the oil production in the Tunnel area has been obtained from the Pico formation and from the upper portion of the Mint Canyon formation. There is also a north-south running fault mapped here. The first wells were drilled in 1900 and the last oil well was drilled in 1979. There was a water injection well drilled in 1981. Most of the early wells changed ownership many times. Many of the Needham wells had the same well number. For example, Needham 1 was used 5 times, but with different drillers.

The first wells in the Tunnel area were drilled by the Zenith Oil Company in 1900. According to the LA Herald of 12-4-1900, they leased the H. Clay Needham homestead of 86 acres. Prutzman (Bulletin 63, 1913) reports that this company had four abandoned and four producing wells in the canyon of Newhall Creek and immediately at the foot of Elsmere Ridge. The first three were drilled in 1900 and two of those had been abandoned by 1903. He then describes wells 1 through 5, even though he said that 8 wells were drilled. Therefore, three wells are not numbered and are not shown in the below table.

The Commercial Oil Company drilled its wells 1 and 2 in 1901 east of the Zenith wells. In 1901, the Eureka Crude Oil Company drilled two wells on the east side of Newhall Creek just south of the Commercial wells.

In 1901, the Pearl Oil Company drilled a well about 100 feet south of Zenith 1 and a second one 300 feet south of Zenith 1. These wells are on an 80-acre tract owned by H. Clay Needham. In 1903, Pearl drilled well number 3 about 600 feet west of Zenith 1. Henry Clay Needham formed this company, was the president and one of the drillers. The company was named after one of his daughters. Here is a stock certificate for the company from the Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures website.

In 1907, E.A. Clampitt acquired the wells of the Pearl, and Zenith Oil Companies and E.A. and D.L. Clampitt acquired the wells of the Eureka Crude and Commercial Oil Companies. They drilled Commercial 3 and 4 in 1907 and did some work on the Commercial 1 and 2 wells.

The Squaw Flat Oil Company well was drilled in 1911 (reported in Bulletin 63 - "Petroleum in California" by Prutzman) on the old Ives Claim. The Squaw Flat Oil Company was incorporated in 1910 (reported by the LA Herald of 8/9/1910). The directors were A.J. Aber, B.M. Howe, and A.W. Hookway, with capital stock of $200,000. Squaw Flat is a meadow 12 miles northeast of Fillmore, California, in the Piru Mountains. When promising oil deposits were found in the meadow, various companies, including the newly formed Squaw Flat Oil Company, drilled exporatory wells. The well in the tunnel area was bought by E.A. Clampitt in 1912. After plugging with cement from 1150 to 700 feet to exclude water, the well produced until 1916 when the rig burned down in a forest fire and was never placed. It was reworked in the 1940's.

The Crawford Syndicated Oil Company drilled three wells in 1922 and 1924. McCoy and Anderson drilled one well in 1927.

The period of development from 1929 - 1932 saw the introduction of the rotary drilling method in place of the cable-tool method. Southern California Drilling Company and York Oil Company drilled ten wells during these years.

The Needham 4 well, though not successfully completed, was drilled by the Southern California Drilling Company into the Mint Canyon formation and the Eocene formation on its way to a depth of 3504 feet. The Pico-Mint Canyon contact was found at 1780 feet and the Mint Canyon-Eocene contact was found at 2747 feet. No indication of oil in commercial quantities was found below 2150 feet.

The early 1950's were a boom-time for the Tunnel area. At least 26 wells were drilled from 1951 - 1954, with twelve in 1953 alone. The Morton-Dolley partnership drilled about 21 of these wells.

Harold C. Morton (1895-1978) was in the oil business by 1928. He is first listed in the Directory of California Oil and Gas Operaters in the California Oil Fields Statement Of Operations published for that year. Chester F. Dolley (1901-1988) was first listed in the directory in 1937. The 1942 directory showed the partnership of Morton & Dolley for the first time. The Los Angeles Bar Bulletin (vol. 35) states that in 1933, Morton and Dolley formed the Atlantic Oil Company. Dolley was still president of that company in 1991. They also both worked in the law firm of Hanna and Morton. Morton joined the firm of Fredericks and Hanna in 1928 and, by 1932, the firm became Hanna and Morton. It became a premier oil and gas law firm, while continuing as a trial and appellate firm. The partnership of Morton & Dolley was still listed in the 1964 directory, the last one published by the DOG.

In 1981, the Newhall Refining Company received permission to drill a well for the sole purpose of injecting refinery waste water into the sands of the Mint Canyon formation (middle Miocene). The well (Newhall 1) was drilled to 3237 feet and was located between Sierra Highway and Beale's cut, on the Sierra Highway side of the ridge between them. You can still see a steep road going up the side of the canyon to the site. Their water injection pressures exceeded the allowable limits and their permit was rescinded in 1982. A month after the permit was rescinded, they were observed discharging waste water in the small dry creek next to Sierra Highway. A sample was taken and analyzed. Tests showed high concentrations of chlorides and dissolved solids. A complaint was filed with the Los Angeles County District Attorney. The final outcome of the complaint is not shown in DOG records, but in 1983, the Newhall Refining Company filed a rework well notice with the DOG and reinstated their permit, under many conditions. They could not get the well to meet all the conditions, so the well was finally plugged and abandoned in 1986.

The best year for the Tunnel area was 1953 when production was 113,190 barrels of oil, the best one year of any field in the Newhall Oil District.



Table of wells drilled in the Tunnel Area

(From Walling, 1934, and DOGGR records)
Last Owner Well # Year 1st Drilled Total depth(ft) Initial Production Remarks
E.A. Clampitt Zenith 1 1900 668 7 bpd The Zenith wells were drilled by Zenith Oil Co and purchased by Clampitt in 1907. Abandoned in 1921
E.A. Clampitt Zenith 2 1900 645 ? Drilled by Zenith Oil Co. Abandoned 1969
Eureka Crude Oil Co 1 1900 800 ? Sand problems. Abandoned in 1921
E.A. Clampitt Enterprise 1 1900? 1050 ? Drilled by Enterprise Oil Co. Few records
E.A. Clampitt Enterprise 2 1900? 700 ? Tools lost in hole. Rig burned down in 1916. Few records.
E.A. Clampitt 2 1901 1065 ? Drilled by Pearl Oil Co (well no. Pearl 1). Purchased by Clampitt in 1916. Abandoned 1920
Sewell & Jones Commercial 1 1901 700 ? Drilled by Commercial Oil Co and purchased by Clampitt in 1907. Still producing in 1934. Plugged late 2011/early 2012.
Sewell & Jones Commercial 2 1901 950 ? Still producing in 1934. Abandoned in 1969
Eureka Crude Oil Co 2 1901? 850 ? Sand problems. Abandoned in 1938
E.A. Clampitt Zenith 3 1902 925 0 Abandoned, unable to shut off water. Converted to water well in 1921.
E.A. Clampitt Zenith 4 ? 760 ? Oil sands found below 665 feet. Abandoned in 1917
E.A. Clampitt Zenith 5 ? 740 ? Converted to monitor well for Newhall Refinery by 1990 by Pauley Petroleum
E.A. Clampitt 3 1902 700 12 bpd Drilled by Pearl Oil Co (Pearl 2). After 4 years of production (last at 4bpd), water broke in. Purchased by Clampitt in 1916 for the purpose of abandonment. Abandoned in 1917.
E.A. Clampitt 4 1903 2100 ? Drilled by Pearl Oil Co (Pearl 3). Purchased by Clampitt in 1916. Abandoned in 1921
H.C. Needham San Miguel 1 1903 1500 0 Drilled by San Miguel Oil & Development Co. Taken over by H.C. Needham and probably made into a water well. Abandoned in 1991.
Sewell & Jones Commercial 3 1907 730 ? Still producing in 1934. Abandoned in 1969
Sewell & Jones Commercial 4 1907 720 ? Still producing in 1934. Abandoned in 1969
E.A. Clampitt Squaw Flat 1 1911 1150 ? Drilled by Squaw Flat Oil Co and purchased by Clampitt in 1912. Rig burned down in 1916 and never replaced. Plugged late 2011/early 2012
San Fernando Gas & Oil Co 1 1919-20 1245 0 Never produced
E.A. Clampitt Zenith 6 1921 710 5 bpd Still producing in 1934. Abandoned 1969
Airline Oil Co Needham-F.P. 1 1922 804 4 bpd Drilled by Crawford Syndicate Oil Co, Name changed to Fremont Pass Oil Co (hence the F.P.) in 1926
Airline Oil Co Needham-F.P. 2 1924 842 12 bpd Drilled by Crawford Syndicate Oil Co. Abandoned in 1974
Airline Oil Co Needham-F.P. 3 1924 1047 ? Drilled by Crawford Syndicate Oil Co. Abandoned in 1974
Southern California Drilling Co Needham-F.P. 4 1927 640 ? Drilled by McCoy & Anderson. Converted to monitor well by Pauley in 1990 for Newhall Refinery
Gate King Properties Needham 1 1929 1952 200 bpd Drilled by Southern California Drilling Co. Producing in 1934
Gate King Properties Needham 2 1929 1505 150 bpd Drilled by Southern California Drilling Co. 30 days after completion producing 150 bpd of oil. Producing in 1934
Gate King Properties York 1 1929-30 1490 250 bpd Drilled by York-Smullin Oil Co. Producing in 1934
G.C.G.W. Inc Needham 3 1930 1683 80 bpd Drilled by Southern California Drilling Co. Producing in 1934
Airline Oil Co Needham 4 1930 4400 ? Drilled by Southern California Drilling Co. Not successfully completed. Abandoned 1944
Gate King Properties York 2 1930 1368 195 bpd Drilled by York-Smullin Oil Co. Producing in 1934
Blackhawk Oil Co York 3 1930 1300 227 bpd Drilled by York-Smullin Oil Co. Producing in 1934. Abandoned in 1991
Blackhawk Oil Co York 5 1930 1279 175 bpd Drilled by York-Smullin Oil Co. Producing in 1934. Abandoned in 1991
Blackhawk Oil Co York 6 1931 1186 175 Drilled by York-Smullin Oil Co. Idle in 1934. Abandoned in 1991
Gate King Properties Needham 2 - 1 1932 1905 50 Drilled by Southern California Drilling Co. Producing in 1934 (10 bpd of oil). Abandoned 2001
Tunnel Oil Co Needham 1 1941 1760 0 Never produced. Abandoned in 1946
Morton & Dolley Clampitt 1 1951 1061 40 Abandoned in 1979
Union Oil Co Needham 1 1951 4028 0 Never produced. Abandoned in 1952
Gate King Properties Needham 4 1951-52 1805 17 Drilled by Union Oil Co
Morton & Dolley Clampitt 2 1952 1405 16 Abandoned in 1979
Morton & Dolley Clampitt 3 1952 965 0 Abandoned in 1961
Morton & Dolley Clampitt Community 1 1952 1959 0 No production. Abandoned in 1952
Gate King Properties West 1 1952 1674 106 Drilled by Morton & Dolley. Abandoned in 2001
Gate King Properties West 2 1952 1400 10 Drilled by Morton & Dolley. Abandoned in 2001
G.C.G.W. Inc Needham 1 1952 1609 124 Drilled by Atlantic Oil Co. Abandoned in 1991
Gate King Properties Needham 1 1952 1574 100 Drilled by Morton & Dolley
Morton & Dolley Needham 5 1952 4031 0 Drilled by Union Oil. Never produced
Blackhawk Oil Co Clampitt 4 1952-53 1245 32 Drilled by Morton & Dolley. Abandoned in 1991
Blackhawk Oil Co Clampitt 5 1953 1600 25 Drilled by Morton & Dolley. Abandoned in 1991
Blackhawk Oil Co Clampitt 6 1953 1360 28 Drilled by Morton & Dolley. Abandoned in 1991
Gate King Properties Needham 2-2 1953 1848 35 Drilled by R.B. Watkins
Gate King Properties Needham 3 1953 1626 40 Drilled by Morton & Dolley
Gate King Properties Needham 6 1953 1595 76 Drilled by Morton & Dolley
Gate King Properties Needham 7 1953 1537 7 Drilled by Morton & Dolley. Abandoned in 2001
Gate King Properties Needham 8 1953 1675 158 Drilled by Morton & Dolley
Morton & Dolley Needham 9 1953 2088 0 Never produced. Abandoned in 1953
Gate King Needham 12 1953 1975 50 Drilled by Morton & Dolley
Morton & Dolley Needham 13 1953 1910 0 Never produced. Abandoned in 1961
Gate King Needham 14 1953 1989 70 Drilled by Morton & Dolley
Morton & Dolley Needham C-1 1953 1656 0 Never produced. Abandoned in 1954
Gate King Needham 15 1954 1597 .5 Drilled by Morton & Dolley. Abandoned in 2001
Morton & Dolley Needham B-1 1954 1656 0 Never produced. Abandoned in 1954
Chevron Le Tournour 1 1979 2000 0 No production. Abandoned in 1982
Newhall Refining Co Newhall 1 1981 3237 0 For injecting waste water from the refinery. Abandoned in 1986 with no success



This picture was taken between 1902 and 1904 showing the Newhall Creek looking north. This is part of the Tunnel area. It was first published in Production and Use of Petroleum in California, California State Mining Bureau, Bulletin No. 32, 1904, by Paul Prutzman. It later showed up in Petroleum in Southern California, California State Mining Bureau, Bulletin 63, 1913, also by Paul Prutzmen. Unfortunately, the California Geological Survey could not find the photo for me. They had a fire in the 1950's that, along with the water to put out the fire, destroyed a lot of important historical documents. However, they were able to scan the plate from Bulletin 32. The smoke is coming from boiler smokestacks. The boilers were powering either the engines, if the well was being drilled, or the pumping "power", if the well was being pumped, of the oil derricks barely visible in the picture. The two high areas left of the "tower" on the right of the ridge line are part of Elsmere Ridge with Elsmere Canyon on the other side. You can barely see a road that runs horizontally beneath them. That road still exists and was built by 1902 (see Eldridge 1902 geologic map on geology page). Beale's Cut was behind the photographer.


About the same view on June 23, 2007. The hills where I am standing have been greatly altered by the Newhall Refinery (now defunct - operated from 1930 - December of 1989) so this is about as close as I could get to where the original picture was taken. State Route 14 (the Antelope Valley Freeway) has also obviously altered the landscape.


This old postcard owned by Alan Pollack shows the same wells from the above picture, but closer up and at a different angle. Follow the word "oil" up and note the tank. That same tank is in the above old photo right at the top of the first rig on the right. There's that unique "tower" geological landmark a little to the left of center in the photo, still obvious today. The road position is not the same as it is today, but the wells visible are probably the two Eureka Crude wells, Commercial 3, Commercial 4 or Zenith 1, with probably Commercial 1 in the background.

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of Alan Pollack.


About the same northeast view as the above photo on 2/13/2010


Another northeast view toward the "tower" at about road level. Three wells are visible in the background.

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.


About the same view as the above photo on 10/4/2010


Close up of above historic photo showing the three wells. I would guess that they are (from right to left) Eureka Crude 1 (drilled in 1900 - just under the falling telephone pole), Eureka Crude 2 (1901?), and Commercial 3 (1907).

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.


Similar view of the "tower", Clampitt Road, and an oil well from an old postcard. Date unknown. The date that the road became Clampitt Road is not known by me, but it would have been after 1907, when E.A. Clampitt began acquiring property in this area. The back of the postcard reads "A machine coming towards Newhall Tunnel from the North".


Almost looks like the same car but going in the opposite direction. It might be.


This is from the San Joaquin Light and Power Magazine, Vol. I No. 7 July 1913. The Midway Gas Company layed a natural gas pipe line (12 3/4 diameter, 30-44 foot lengths of pipe) from Kern county to the city of Los Angeles in 1912-13. It probably went through Beale's cut and not the Newhall Tunnel. The view is probably toward the northeast and this road heads up to the cut, behind the photographer. The wells are to the east of the road and are probably some of the same wells from the above old photos. If I tried to recreate this photo, I would probably be about 50 feet from SR-14 and staring right at it.


1937 - Tunnel area looking northeast. The derrick is probably from Zenith 5 (photo by Herman J. Schultheis)

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of the Herman J. Schultheis Collection /Los Angeles Public Library.


1937 - Tunnel area looking east. The big tank overlaps this photo with the previous photo. The two wells in the distance could either be Commericial 2, Commercial 3, or Commercial 4. They were still operating in that area in 1937. (photo by Herman J. Schultheis)

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of the Herman J. Schultheis Collection /Los Angeles Public Library.


Both photos roughly pasted together. Mr. Schultheis didn't just take the first photo and turn slightly to take the second photo. He changed positions.


Trying to recreate the previous photo is very hard considering all the changes that have been done at the Newhall Refinery site since 1937


1937 - A little further down Sierra Highway looking south to the Zenith 5 derrick that was in the first photo by Herman J. Schultheis. The part of the hill left of the roadcut was flattened out after this photo was taken.

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of the Herman J. Schultheis Collection /Los Angeles Public Library.


This is the Commercial 1 well drilled in 1901 by the Commercial Oil Company and purchased by E.A. Clampitt in 1907. In late 2011/2012, it was abandoned by the DOGGR with the well head being cut off below ground level.


Commercial 1. It looks like it was last used for waste water disposal.


Commercial 1 site now after late 2011/early 2012 abandonment. The already rusting marker says Commercial 1.


Zenith 5 site, drilled around 1902


The wellhead for Zenith 5 would have been here, but the well has been abandoned below ground level, which is quite common.


This photo from the cover of California Highways and Public Works for January of 1940 showing the cut and highway that replaced the Newhall Tunnel. There is an oil derrick in the distance. This view is toward the north and would have shown the south portal of the Newhall Tunnel if it was still there.


Here is a similar photo in May of 2010. The road cuts on both sides of Sierra Highway have been expanded over the years, so it is impossible to get the same camera angle. The derrick in the distance is for Zenith 5.


Closeup of oil derrick from the magazine cover. Based on the fact that the actual location of Zenith 5 is known and this photo is shot in that direction, I believe that this must be Zenith 5. The opening on the right at road level in front of the hill before the oil rig is Clampitt Road. The hill between the rig and Clampitt road was greatly cut down (as you can see in the above modern photo) sometime after this photo was taken to make more room for the refinery.


Zenith 6 site, drilled around 1902


Next to the Zenith 6 site is this piece of concrete filled with what may be casing thread protectors and other hardware


This is the Squaw Flat 1 well drilled by the Squaw Flat Oil Company in 1911. The well and land were purchased by E.A. Clampitt in 1912. When the York Oil Company owned the well in 1945 (they bought it from and later resold it to Sewell & Jones, the Clampitt daughters, who inherited it from their father), they reported to the DOG that they "had to build a road up to the well." This matches the fact that today you have to hike up to the well. Today, only the site exists. The well was cut off below ground level when it was abandoned by the Doggr in late 2011/early 2012. The tank behind it was also removed.


Closer view of Squaw Flat 1 wellhead


Squaw Flat 1 now after late 2011/early 2012 abandonment. The marker says Sewell and Jones 1, but it really should have the Squaw Flat name.


The road up to Newhall Refining Company's Newhall 1 well site from Sierra Highway. Newhall 1 was drilled in 1981 and was supposed to be a water injection well for refinery waste water. They could not get it right so it was abandoned in 1986. There is still a pipe coming down to this site from the ridge between the site and the canyon up to Beale's Cut next to the big tree in the left rear of the site.


Casing head filled with cement near San Miguel well site


The San Fernando Gas and Oil well site from 1919-1920 (based on DOGGR GPS coordinates). The site is somewhere in the horseshoe area, but there is no physical evidence remaining. The rusted metal in the right part of the horseshoe looks like the top part of an old bus. This site is just west of Sierra Highway.