Brief History of Oil Development in Wiley Canyon (with historic well photos)

This topo map shows all the well sites in Wiley Canyon. The red square in the middle is the location of the bench where the trail turns to the west. The red circle is the location of the oil seep that is right next to the trail and leaks across it.

The records show that Henry Clay Wiley filed the first claim in Wiley Canyon on April 21, 1865.

The article below is from the February 2, 1866, issue of the Wilmington Journal. It was reported by Dr. Vincent Gelcich and gives the status of the canyon at that time:

In June of 1866 Stephen F. Peckham visited the canyon (see below and the Peckham 1866 Oil Description of the Other Canyons webpage). Peckham reported that the Wiley Springs Oil Company had been operating both this and the Towsley Canyon claim since August of 1865. Peckham reported that there was a 175-ft deep well producing a very small quantity of oil. There was also a 180-ft long tunnel and three others were just started. He also reported that the two claims had produced 260 barrels of oil since August of 1865.

The Fourth Annual Report of the State Mineralogist reports that in 1868 a Mr. Davis leased Wiley Springs and collected seepage oil which he shipped to the Metropolitan Gas Works in San Francisco. He dug two tunnels into the side of the canyon but these were unsuccessful.

In January of 1879, Charles N. Felton paid $1000 for the 92-acre Wiley claim. He had been obtaining leases since 1877 with the apparent intent of controlling all the California oil industry. On February 19, 1879, he, along with his partners, incorporated the Pacific Coast Oil Company in San Francisco with the intent of developing his growing oil interests. PCO then went after the California Star Oil Works in Pico canyon, which he eventualy obtained (see the Pico Canyon Oil History Page).

In early June of 1879, Charles Mentry started to put up rigs in Wiley Canyon. Drilling was slow and in between 1882 and 1883 only one other well was started. In 1884, the Wiley 4 well pumped 2 barrels per day from 1275 feet, becoming the first well with a record of production.

In 1889 PCO patented the 92-acre Wiley claim, as they had already done, or would do, to the Pico Canyon claims. This made them the land owners with the rights to do anything to the land. In the same year two of their six wells in the canyon yielded about 13 barrels per day (bpd) of oil. It was lighter than the Elsmere Canyon oil, but heavier than the Pico Canyon oil.

Between 1889 and 1893, a pipeline was run from Pico Canyon to Newhall.

In 1909, it was reported (see article below) that a rotary rig was tried in the drilling of Wiley 17. All wells at that time were being drilled by cable tool rigs. How well the rotary performed was not later reported, but the well was unsuccessful. By about 1920, virtually all wells were drilled by the rotary method.

Also in 1909, Standard (the owners of PCO since 1900) drilled Wiley 18 to 1528 feet. It produced 83 bpd during the the first 8 days. It was deepened in 1913 and pumped 89 bpd. In 1910, Wiley 19 had a record initial production of 109 bpd.

From 1910-1912 Wiley 25 was drilled to 3835-feet, the deepest well ever drilled in the canyon. No commercial oil was found and it was abandoned.

In 1934, Walling reported of the 29 wells drilled, 8 were still producing a daily average per well of 1.7 bpd.

In 1940 the wells were shut down. The 9 wells still producing averaged less than 1 bpd per well.

In 1956, Wiley 31 was drilled and abandoned.

The best year for Wiley Canyon was 1933 when production was 5,822 barrels of oil.

Table of the wells drilled in Wiley Canyon

(From Walling, 1934, and DOGGR records)
Well No. Drilled By Year Drilled Original/Max depth(ft) Initial Prod (bpd) Remarks
? Wiley Springs Oil Co 1865-66 130 ? Spring-pole well reported by Peckham
Wiley 1 Pacific Coast Oil Co. ? ? ? Probably drilled by PCO
Wiley 2 Pacific Coast Oil Co. ? ? ? Probably same Location as Wiley 1. Abandoned before 1890. Plugged in 1972.
Wiley 3 Pacific Coast Oil Co. ? ? ? Abandoned before 1890. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 4 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1883-84 1275 2 Probably abandoned in 1884. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 5 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1888 1408 5 Troubled with water and abandoned in 1890. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 6 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1888 435/1258 1 April 1917, 1 bpd. Plugged in 1972.
Wiley 7 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1889 1200 0 Hole junked with tools and abandoned in 1889. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 8 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1890-91 970 0 Crooked hole at 150ft and had to start new hold. At 560ft had 14 week fishing job. During this time Landslide caused oak tree to crash into and destroy derrick. Finally, too much water and hole was abandoned. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 9 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1889 1650 0 Moved rig from Wiley 7 here. Junked in 1890 with lost tools. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 10 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1891-92 860 1.5 Tried to straighten crooked hole with diamond drill, but started new hole at 580ft. Pumped 3 days, averaged 1.5 bpd oil and 15 bpd of water. Abandoned in 1892. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 11 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1898 1325 ? At 355ft rig burned down (5/29/1898). Water below 800 feet. Abandoned 1911. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 12 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1898-99 1030/1735 ? 30 bpd for 2 weeks at 990 feet. Abandoned 1919. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 13 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1899 1395/1395 16 April 1917, 3 bpd. Rig burned down 7/25/1940. Plugged in 1977.
Wiley 14 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1899-1901 1648 ? April 1917, 7 bpd. Plugged in 1972.
Wiley 15 Pacific Coast Oil Co. ? 0 0 Never Drilled
Wiley 16 Pacific Coast Oil Co. 1901-02 1730 ? April 1917, 6 bpd. Abandoned 1921. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 17 Standard Oil Co. 1909 1111 0 No production, abandoned while drilling. Plugged in 1972.
Wiley 18 Standard Oil Co. 1909-10 2207 83 Well flowed while drilling between 1000-1528 ft. Hole redrilled many times after well completion. Plugged in 1972.
Wiley 19 Standard Oil Co. 1910 1786 109 April 1917, 6 bpd. Plugged in 1972.
Wiley 20 Standard Oil Co. 1910-11 2600 ? Flowing water at 2600 ft. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 21 Standard Oil Co. 1910-11 2412 0 Unable to shut off water; junked and abandoned in 1911. Unable to plug in 1991 because Chevron could not locate well even after excavating several feet below the original level.
Wiley 22 Standard Oil Co. 1910-11 390/2280 9 Excessive water below 500 ft. Plugged in 1977.
Wiley 23 Standard Oil Co. 1910-11 2181 0 Excessive water and running sand, abandoned in 1911. Plugged in 1977.
Wiley 24 Standard Oil Co. 1910-11 1500 ? Flowing water at 845-860ft; abandoned while drilling. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 25 Standard Oil Co. 1910-12 3835 ? Excessive water. Abandoned 1914. Plugged in 1991.
Wiley 26 Standard Oil Co. 1916 1702 60 Plugged in 1972
Wiley 27 Standard Oil Co. 1917 1712 21 Plugged in 1972
Wiley 28 Standard Oil Co. 1917 420 4 Plugged in 1977
Wiley 29 Standard Oil Co. 1917 420 2 Rig destroyed by brush fire on 7/25/1940. Plugged in 1977.
Wiley 30 Standard Oil Co. 1917 400 3 Plugged in 1977
Wiley 31 Standard Oil Co. 1956 2015 0 Only well in Wiley Cyn that used a rotary drill from start to finish. Plugged and abandoned in 1956. No production

Here is a section of an undated claim map from the Huntington Library. The exact date is not known, but it had to be from the 1860's.

This sketch map from April 28, 1865, at the Huntington Library shows Wiley Gulch, Touseley Gulch, East Branch, and Arroyo Rivera.

This close up of a section of the Map of Wiley Canyon from June of 1891, also at the Huntington Library shows some houses above Wiley No. 6 oil well

1934 map from Walling

From the LA Times of 2/22/1889 comes this article. The story, however, is false. See the next article.

This is from the LA Times of 1/30/1901 refuting the previous article

This is from the LA Times of April 9, 1909, reporting that a rotary rig would be attempted for drilling Wiley 17. The well was a failure, but how the rotary performed is unknown.

Next to the road is this seep that drains over the road

Closer view of seep. It is slightly bubbling. People have been jamming sticks into it.

In many places, oil is seeping directly into the creek as you can see in this pool of oily water. There is a strong smell of oil as you hike up to the bench.

Based on DOG records, I believe these wells are Wiley 6 (drilled in 1888 - lower right), Wiley 12 (1899 - at the top distance), and Wiley 11 (1898 - in the left foreground). This photo was probably taken between 1900 and 1910.

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
American Petroleum Institute Photograph and Film Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

This is about the same view taken in 2010. We are looking south here and the bench is just out of the photo in the lower right. The trail/road will take a dogleg to the right (west) at the bench.

This is photo 1 of a two photos. This one looks southeast down into Wiley Canyon. It is from "The Turbulent Romance of Oil" by W.C. Jenkins in the National Magazine of Aug - Sept 1910. Although you probably cannot see all the wells in the scan because of the poor quality, there are actually 5 derricks visible. Based on DOG records, the wells are (from left to right) Wiley 11 (1898 - just the top visible), Wiley 13 (1899 -at the top of the hill on the left), Wiley 12 (1899 - diagonally down the slope from 13 on the same hill), Wiley 6 (1888 - at the bottom of the slope), and Wiley 18 (1910 - on top of the slope at the right). This photo (and the next one) was taken in 1910, probably for the magazine article.

This view of the same vista was taken from the trail in 2010, obviously from higher up then the original. The trail was either too low or to high to get the right viewpoint and I didn't want to hike into the brush looking for the right angle.

This is photo 2 of the two photos from the magazine. This one looks southwest into Wiley Canyon. Since I could not get the right angle, I don't have a today photo. There are 4 derricks visible here. Based on DOG records, the wells are (from left to right) Wiley 21 (1910), Wiley 19 (1910 - largest derrick in the middle of the photo), Wiley 14 (1901), and the top of Wiley 16 (1902).

Putting the previous two old photos together (as they were meant to be) we get a panoramic view of Wiley Canyon in 1910.

About the same panorama from higher up and a slighty different angle in 2010. There's been a lot of changes in 100 years.

Photo title: Wiley oil wells, Wiley Canyon, Newhall district, 1885

I haven't been able to figure out where this well was. I thought that it was in the area of the bench, but I can't match the background topology.

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Courtesy of Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library