Mobile Oil Corporation

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Mobile Oil Corporation had an oil drilling lease on Santa Rosa Island from 1971 until 1975. Two decades after Pemberton's unsuccessful oil venture on Santa Rosa Island (1949-1950), Mobile Oil Corporation developed an active interest in further island exploration. To date, a total of seven holes had been drilled on the island, and only Tecolote #1 drilled by Signal-Honolulu-Macco had shown any slim promise. Mobile's interest came hot on the heels of the now famous Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969, which had served to heighten public awareness of environmental issues. As a result, loud concern was voiced that drilling would upset the island's ecological balance or disrupt archaeological sights. Mobile agreed to some of the most stringent environmental controls ever adapted for onshore drilling, and on October 14, 1971 they entered into a lease with Vail & Vickers. Terms of the agreement stated Mobil had to begin drilling no later than July 14, 1973.

“Each location was treated like an offshore drilling platform, and we took the same precautions that are normally required in the North Atlantic, the Pacific offshore and the Gulf of Mexico. The whole operation was sort of a test case. We had to reconfirm that an oil company could successfully drill in an environmentally hypersensitive area.”

During the threat of the Cold War in the 1950s, the U.S. Air Force had built a large facility on the south side of the island at Johnson's Lee. It was manned from 1951 until 1963, and abandoned in 1965. Mobile Oil worked out of the abandoned facility, and barged their supplies to nearby Officer's Beach. By the early 1970s, no additional road building was required.

Al Vail remembered:

“Mobil had good equipment and it was a different ball game. It was a big operation. Most of them were flown out of Santa Barbara Aviation.” Mobil maintained a 25-to-55-man crew on the island, all of whom had to adhere to strict rules. Hunting was forbidden and hiking was restricted. Smoking was limited to designated areas, and alcoholic beverages were banned. The men accepted the conditions in good grace, and apparently they found the operation something of a challenge. Within two years, six wells were drilled by Mobile, all of them dry.

» J. R. Pemberton, Signal-Honolulu-Macco, Standard Oil of California