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Why Does Green California Pump the Dirtiest Oil in the U.S.?

California may be a leader in climate policies, but much of its abundant oil reserves are nearly as carbon-intensive to extract and refine as Alberta tar sands crude. Many experts now say that reform of the state’s methods of producing oil is long overdue.

On New Year’s Day, 1909, a grocer named Julius Fried and his novice drilling crew, the Lakeview Oil Company, spudded a well in the desert valley scrub in the Midway-Sunset oil field, 110 miles north of Los Angeles. For the first 1,655 feet, the well yielded only dust, and then Lakeview ran out of money.

Fried must have gone to his grave wishing his crew had held on just a little longer. On March 14, 1910, the Union Oil Company’s Charlie Woods — nicknamed “Dry Hole Charlie” for his long streak of dusters — struck what he would later describe as an “artery in the earth’s great storehouse of oil.” When his drill bit reached 2,225 feet beneath the surface, Lakeview No. 1 sent up a sudden column…


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