Pumping Oil, Treating Soil

by Paul Tarricone, Asst. Ed.; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE World Headquarters, 345 East 47th Street, New York City, NY.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1991, Vol. 61, Issue 12, Pg. 54-57

Document Type: Feature article


Oil was discovered on hilltop land in Signal Hill, Calif., in 1921, setting off one of the most wild land rushes the state has ever seen. Some 70 years and 20,000 oil wells later, the hilltop is still prime real estate, as engineers and geologists get the site ready for town houses, condominiums and a shopping center. But so far, it hasn't been easy. Contaminated soil, long-forgotten subsurface oil wells, staggering amounts of earthwork (about 1 million cu yd) and active fault lines have made for some grueling site work. What's more, oil operations on the hilltop will continue even when the mixed-use complex is complete; despite decades of pumping, only about one-third of the oil on the hill has been tapped, adding to the engineering challenges. As a result, innovative environmental and geotechnical techniques are being used, including bioremediation to treat the soil and downhole logging to check slope stability. Also aerial photographs are being taken to keep tabs on the earthwork. And during earthwork, abandoned pumps have been uncovered (some of which have not been logged by agencies) and many have to be lowered and plugged with concrete.

Subject Headings: Soil treatment | Wells (oil and gas) | Earthwork | Pumps | Residential buildings | Real estate | Shopping centers | Groundwater pollution

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