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Author of the Month: Robert Francis

Published: December 5, 2016

Black Gold in California: The Story of the California Petroleum Industry

Robert Francis, Emeritus professor (FERP) and former chair, Geological Sciences

Published in 2016 by the California Independent Petroleum Association through HPNbooks, Black Gold in California is the first title from Francis, a member of the university since 1987. Francis received his B.A. from UC San Diego in physics in 1974 and his doctorate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in earth science in 1980. Francis has 34 years of experience in petroleum geology including employment with the Getty Oil Co. and Texaco. He has published 55 articles and abstracts in journals and conference proceedings. Francis has taught courses in introductory geology, mineralogy, petrology, petroleum geology, geophysics and marine geology. The first part of the book has Francis’ narrative on the story of the people and events that have shaped the California oil and gas industry from the drilling of the first well in the mid-19th century to 21st century petroleum technology. Black Gold emphasizes how oil and gas bring jobs and economic stability. The historical narrative is accompanied by more than 125 period photos as well as maps and other illustrations. The lavishly illustrated coffee-table book took Francis a year to write and assemble. “I eventually came up with hundreds of vintage black-and-white photos,” he recalled. “Some are 100 to 150 years old and many have never been published.” Many were found while researching with the Historical Society of Long Beach and the California Oil Museum. “This book is much more than simply a lot of pictures of oil derricks,” he said. “I tried hard to include people who are shown with clarity and detail. Most people didn’t have decent cameras when these photos were taken, so good photos are rare,” he explained. “The expressions on their faces make the photos come alive.” When George Bissell and Edwin Drake made the first successful use of an oil drilling rig near Titusville, Pa., on Aug. 28, 1859, “California’s petroleum industry was already underway,” he said. “Indigenous people used oil to caulk their canoes. In 1854, there was a water well producing enough natural gas to light the Stockton Court House.” While many

Author of the Month-Robert Francis

equate U.S. oil with Texas, California’s oil industry began long before that of Texas. The book details some of the earliest forms of petroleum recovery including tunneling. “Tunnels were drilled into Sulfur Mountain near Santa Paula, Calif., and oil was mined in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1860s,” he said. “They used this heavy, tarry oil to better pave roads. The first commercial oil-producing well drilled in California arrived in 1876. The book goes on to chronicle the great oil booms in the 20th century at Signal Hill, San Joaquin Valley, Huntington Beach, Wilmington and many other places. The story comes right up to the last few years, when modern technologies such as subsurface imaging have been used to find untapped pockets of oil. The second part of the book contains articles with accompanying photos on individual families, companies and other organizations that have shaped California’s petroleum industry.