LABS Tours Innovative THUMS Island – A Major User of Environmentally Friendly Recycled Wastewater

[nggallery id=4]

By Wendy Wert
LABS Director
Chair, CWEA Training Coordination

On October 15, 2009 the Los Angeles Basin Section (LABS) of California Water Environment Association (CWEA) hosted its annual Industrial Tour.  This year’s event included a tour of the THUMS (Texaco, Humble (now Exxon), Union, Mobil, and Shell) Island White facility located in Long Beach harbor.  LABS attendees joined the more than 1,800 visitors who tour THUMS each year. 

Upon arrival at the Port of Long Beach, participants were shown a safety video and then ferried across the harbor to Island White.  Upon arrival, LABS participants were introduced to the facility by tour guides Diana Lang and Jim Van Camp.  Currently THUMS employs approximately 200 people.

The Wilmington Oil Field is the fourth largest in the Continental United States and was first discovered, partly under Long Beach and its Harbor, during the 1930s. The total area of the Long Beach Unit is 6,500 acres.  Residents of Long Beach first discouraged drilling in the area, then made it illegal in 1956 through City Ordinance C-4265.  The overwhelming popular vote in favor of this ordinance made it clear citizens did not want their scenic, residential City turned into an industrial zone, even if it promised great wealth.

It took until 1962 for engineers to develop and voters to approve a plan for tapping into the billion or more barrels of recoverable oil under the City and Harbor.  By 1965, Texaco, Humble (now Exxon), Union, Mobil, and Shell (THUMS) joined together to submit the successful bid for the right to develop and produce the oil from under the City and Harbor.  To accomplish thy founded a new company in 1965, THUMS Long Beach Company, whose name was derived from the first initial of each of the five oil companies submitting the successful bid. 

Simultaneously, a new City Department, the Department of Oil Properties, was formed to oversee oil development for the City.  This arrangement formed a partnership between the public sector and private interests.  Profits from the sale of oil would be paid directly to the City, the State, and the more than 10,000 Townlot owners.

The first THUMS well was started on July 16, 1965, on Pier J, near the present site of the Queen Mary.  Within three weeks, the well was producing more than 700 barrels of oil per day.  By the end of the year, 19 wells were producing 11,500 barrels per day. But the long-term plan called for most oil production to come further out in the harbor, so construction began on the four oil islands now named in honor of the first astronauts to die in the U.S. space program—Grissom, White, Chaffee, and Freeman.  The cost (in 1965 dollars) of building the oil islands was $8 Million.  The cost of landscaping the oil Islands was $4 Million and the cost of camouflaging oil operations was $10 Million.  The total construction cost of the oil islands was $22 Million.  These four oil islands have a combined total area of 42 acres.  The oil islands are constructed from quarried rock perimeter filled with sand. The depth of water surrounding the oil islands ranges from 20 45 feet  THUMS maintains 5 active drilling locations, which consist of the 4 oil islands and Pier J.  The drilling towers reach a height of 178 feet.  There are 3 Company-owned Drilling Rigs in the Long Beach Unit.
The four islands were converted into efficient oil drilling and production facilities.  Several times an hour, shuttle boats and cargo barges move people and equipment to and from the islands.  THUMS maintains a fleet of 3 crew boats.

To shield the islands’ oil operations from public view, designers carefully disguised the oil drilling rigs as high rise buildings, placed well heads and other support facilities below ground level, and masked other industrial installations on the islands with palm trees, concrete sculptures, waterfalls, and colorful night-lighting.

Oil operations including drilling and pumping are powered by relatively quiet electric energy.  The average depth of the oil wells is 5,000 feet the average horizontal deviation of the wells is 70%.   The location of THUMS’ farthest inland “Reach” for a completed well is Anaheim Street and Alamitos Avenue in Long Beach. The annual consumption of electrical power for operations averages over 400,000,000 kwh (50 megawatts).  This results in an average monthly cost of electricity of  $4.6 Million.

The oil islands are linked to the mainland by miles of underwater oil and gas pipelines, as well as power and communications lines.  Oil began moving ashore to a processing operation on Pier J then onto the Broadway and Mitchell Shipping Station, where it is metered, sampled, and sold for delivery to any one of the refineries in the Los Angeles Basin.

THUMS has thus far drilled about 1300 wells, and continues to develop the underground reservoir.  The total number of active wells is 1,100.  The number of wells producing oil is 700 and the number of wells injecting water is 400. Production now averages about 40,000 barrels a day, and has exceeded total production of 800 million barrels.  One oil barrel equals 42 US gallons.  Thus oil production averages 1.7 million gallons per day (MGD).  Jim Van Camp explained that water usage is correlated to oil production in that as an environmental compliance measure, THUMS replaces every gallon of product removed with a gallon of water.  Initially, this requirement was achieved with imported water purchased from MWD. 

Today, THUMS purchases recycled Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (LACSD) water from West Basin’s Long Beach Water Recycling Plant to fill this requirement.  Initially the product averaged approximately 80% oil and gas corresponding to 20% water.  As a consequence of drilling operations the richness of the product has reduced over time.  For example, currently the product averages from 5% to 10% oil and gas corresponding to 95% to 90% water content.  Therefore, pumping rates must increase in order to achieve the average 40,000 barrels a day.  At 10% oil and gas concentration in the product 400,000 barrels of product must be pumped to produce 40,000 barrels of oil and gas.  This requires 17 MGD of makeup water to maintain the hydraulic balance of the well fields. The oil islands are interconnected by a series of subsea pipelines buried beneath the ocean floor to move produced oil and gas and water to and from the islands    

About a third of the wells (400) drilled in the Long Beach Unit are used for water injection. Forced under pressure into carefully selected portions of the oil formations, this water not only prevents surface subsidence as oil is withdrawn, but it also increases reservoir pressure and helps recover more of the oil and gas reserves locked away underground.

Over the years, this partnership of Government, public and private entities has resulted in more than $4 billion of revenue for the City, State, and private owners in the Long Beach Unit venture.  As economic fortunes changed and the oil business evolved, each of the five original THUMS stockholders sold their shares to ARCO Long Beach, Inc. (ALBI), a subsidiary of Atlantic Richfield Company.  ALBI maintained THUMS as a separate company to conduct the field operations.  This means that THUMS will have its own corporate culture, its own management style, and its own emphasis on the partnership with the City of Long Beach and the State of California.

By the end of the 1990’s Arco’s oil and gas investment and operation focus moved away from California. After divesting their ARCO Western Energy assets, they put THUMS up for sale. In April 2000, THUMS was sold to Occidental Petroleum (Oxy). The acquisition of THUMS fit nicely with Oxy’s California and domestic oil and gas strategy.

THUMS continues today to produce a large volume of oil from the Long Beach Unit of the Wilmington Field, now nearly 900 million barrels in total.  This unprecedented long term success of the Long Beach Unit is made possible because of the dedicated and persistent efforts of the employees, suppliers, contractors as well as many other contributors who have, from the mid sixties right up to today, contributed so much to the success of this alliance between the city, the state and industry.  In 2004 numbers the average annual volume of oil produced was 11.7 million barrels.  The annual volume of gas produced was 3.2 billion cubic feet.  The average oil price was $33.00/Bbl.  The average gas price was $5.63/MCF.  The annual operating revenues were $370 Million.  The annual operating net income was $175 Million.  The total amount paid to unit participants (to date) is $5.2 Billion.

Learn more about THUMS on Oxy’s website.

Leave a Reply