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Trip to Long Beach oil fields

Posted by: Helen Walters on February 03, 2009

sculpture.jpgTED Proper doesn’t kick off until tomorrow, but today allowed people to get their bearings in a new venue (this is the first year the conference is in Long Beach and not in its old home of Monterey). Organizers also laid on a few trips for those arriving this afternoon. So after a false start during which our bus driver admitted he didn’t know where he was going and took us back to the conference center, a merry band and I headed off to check out the Long Beach oil islands.

tower.jpgThese four, entirely man-made islands sit right off the shore and provide the focal point for what used to be known as THUMS (Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobil and Shell’s joint effort to develop and produce oil from underneath Long Beach.) Now owned by Occidental Petroleum, the plant consists of 1500 wells which produce 32,000 barrels of oil along with 950,000 barrels of water, which is promptly injected back into production. Last year, the company made some $800 million in revenues.

What struck me most was how very, very close these islands (each one named after an astronaut who died in the space program — we visited White) are to the mainland; probably only half a mile at most. Subsidence from drilling right underneath the nearby land is now prevented through a sophisticated mechanism involving water pressure. Which means that essentially, Long Beach is sitting on a big, controlled bubble. Owners of even a small amount of property along the shoreline were receiving around $25,000 a month when the oil price was high last year.

Two other things struck me. First: Occidental’s annual electricity bill weighs in at around $75 million. Secondly: the two large sculptural buildings that sit on the shoreside of White island (shown in the image at top) to provide a visual and sound barrier to the noisy, ugly drilling, were designed by the architect behind Tomorrowland at Disneyland in Annaheim. It was really a fascinating outing. Below are some other images I snapped while we were there.

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Note the "oil pigging chemical" sticker.

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Not a very good picture, admittedly (all these were taken with my iPhone) but I loved this retro signage.

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I guess "oily trash" is a natural by-product on an oil field. Not sure what constitutes "clean" trash. And yes, I am the kind of person who goes somewhere and then takes pictures of bins. I'm ok with this.

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What comes next? The BusinessWeek Innovation and Design team of Michael Arndt and Helen Walters chronicle new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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