California’s Top 10 Environmental Disasters: #4 – Lakeview Gusher Number One

Lakeview Gusher #1, column to a gurgling pool. Maricopa, Kern County.

Lakeview Gusher #1, column to a gurgling pool. Maricopa, Kern County.


While our own EnviroNews USA Editor-in-Chief, in an off-the-cuff interview with Erin Brockovich, referred to the little-known and largely forgotten Lakeview Gusher Number One as probably the third or fourth largest oil spill in history, National Geographic gives it a different distinction: They crown it as the largest oil spill of all time.

In 1910, Lakeview Gusher Number One unleashed a torrent of oil that rained down on the countryside for 17 months. Union Oil bought the site from the Lakeview Oil Company to use as storage. The company wasn’t expecting to find a lot of oil but was hoping for natural gas.

What Taft and Kern Counties got instead was an environmental disaster that surpasses the oil disaster in the Gulf War (National Geographic says that the intentional spill in the Gulf was between two and eight million barrels) and was worse than the Deepwater Horizon. Nine million barrels vomited from the earth onto oil workers and the surrounding countryside. The disaster lasted long enough that the gusher became a tourist attraction.

The Lakeview Gusher isn’t the only tragedy to come from the Midway-Sunset Oilfield. In 2011, a hole opened up at the Chevron Midway-Sunset Oilfield and killed a worker. While this tragedy would never make a top-10 list in and of itself, it is important to note that any death that can be linked to the search for profit is a tragedy that everyone should be aware of.

This worker may not matter to you, but you can bet the worker mattered to his family and friends, and that is the real disaster: corporations triumphing over common decency and people.

Go to Salton Sea ranked #3 on our list.