San Joaquin Basin

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San Joaquin Basin
Petroleum systems in the San Joaquin Basin

The San Joaquin Basin is located in western-central California and covers parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Merced, Madera, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare counties. The majority of the oil fields lie in the southern and western portions of the basin, and are especially plentiful in Kern County.[1][2] The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2003 that the San Joaquin Basin holds 393 million barrels of oil, 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 86 million barrels of natural gas liquids.[3] The San Joaquin Basin has been the main source for petroleum production for the last 145 years in California.


Native Americans used the petroleum collected from natural oil seeps in this basin for about 13,000 years before western settlers arrived. Once European settlers arrived, the basin fueled petroleum-based resource booms from lamp kerosene, to asphalt and oil and natural gas production. Large scale oil production using wooden derricks began in the basin in 1878. It wasn't until the discovery of the Kern River oil field in 1899 that the basin became famous for its large oil resources. The resources found in Kern pushed California to become the number one petroleum state in the nation in 1903.[1]

The San Joaquin Basin was home to one of the most famous "gushers", or surging oil wells that would spew oil hundreds of feet in the air. The Lakeview gusher that shot oil and sand 200 feet into the air at a rate of 125,000 barrels per day. It took seven months to get the gusher under control, despite the work of over 400 men and several hundred thousand dollars.[1]

Demand for oil continued to grow throughout the 20th century, and the United States became the majority oil producer for the Allied forces during World War I, supplying 80 percent of the oil demanded. Production in the San Joaquin Basin slowed during this time, leading to more exploration. Several large oil fields were discovered throughout the 1920s. During this push for exploration California was leading the way with oil field technology development. Production from the basin decreased during the Great Depression. But as the nation entered World World II an emphasis was placed on increasing production and protecting oil and gas development facilities, increasing production in the basin. After WWII technology continued to increase the pace of production and by 1986 annual production just from the Kern River field in the basin had reached 47.8 million barrels.[1]


Since the start of the 21st century production has focused on known fields, as opposed to the exploration of new wells.[1] Since 2000 there have only been two new oil fields discovered.[4] Oil production from the San Joaquin Basin has been steadily decreasing since 1986 when production peaked at 272 million barrels. The graph below shows oil production in the San Joaquin Basin from 2000 through 2012. Production has been steadily decreasing since the start of the 21st century.[5]

Total oil production from the San Joaquin Basin, 2000-2012

See also