Kern River and Hydraulic Fracturing

In 1899, eight men dug a 70 foot deep well by hand, creating the first oil well in Kern River, Kern County, California. Many wells and hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil followed, and by WWII it was estimated that there were still another 54 million barrels of oil in reserve.

By 1986, technology had developed and the field had been made to produce 740 million barrels, almost 14 times the previously stated reserves. Again, data was crunched and the experts of 1986 said the reservoir was limited to another 900 million barrels of oil. By the year 2000, engineers had pushed its production capacity to 1.76 billion barrels–virtually double the estimates of 14 years prior.

Kern River’s annual production volumes have been decreasing since then and in the middle of this decade it was estimated that just under another 500 million barrels of oil was recoverable.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing may be the next innovation to overcome the limits passed on this reservoir by experts of old. That is, as long as the technology can overcome political barriers.

For more on the Kern River oil field, watch CIP’s Alex Epstein give a tribute on location.