It’s hard to imagine that this thick stinky black mess clogging up the creek and boiling off the sidewalk, towers above all as the worlds most precious resource. Without this deadly soup bubbling up from the ground, we would be traveling by horseback or steam train, and the technology making this online article possible, would be science fiction.
The great asphalting of the world is a blessing and a curse. We suck the power of the earth out and use it to continue the cycle of degradation. However all the wonderful modern conveniences we enjoy, rely on tar in some way or another.
It is not my job or my right to say whether the use of fossil fuels is right or wrong, especially when my entire comfortable existence is built on a mountain of carbon dioxide and methane. However, I will recommend you think about our use of these resources and their effect on the planet.
Here rather, I will show you something I recently discovered. I believed that most of the oil comes from far away places, Russia, the Middle East, or Alaska, yet on closer inspection, I found large scale drilling occurring through Ventura county and immediately offshore.
Drills are set up along the highway and throughout the county. I’m sure there are many more hidden from view. I doubt any gold is left unpanned.
The Ojai oil field was discovered in the 1860’s and since then an explosion of drilling occurred. Over 12,000 wells have been drilled with about 4,000 still active today, not including the offshore drilling.
The reason for this expansive harvest in Ventura and the surrounding counties boils up from the ground in multiple fascinating spots. I first noticed it on the side of the road in Santa Clara County. An exceptionally hot day started melting the hillside, and it began moving and slowly seeping down towards the road.
I then went into the creek near the roadside seep, and found a whole collection of tar on the bankside. There are multiple puddles of tar, overflowing and then refilling with sticky black sludge from inside the earth.
This soup is beautiful in a disturbing way. Tossing a rock in and watching it sink into the abyss is satisfying yet daunting. It continues its ominous beauty as it spills over into the creek itself.
Tar swirls as the water picks it up and drags it downstream. Water and tar repel so the oily sludge stays together and clings to itself as it spools through the creek.
Fish, insects, frogs, and even larger mammals like myself need to beware stepping in the tar. It’s difficult to remove and would put quite the halt to a deer attempting to escape a mountain lion.
However, life goes on and the animals have adapted to the tar in their home. There are still vibrant populations of fish there, even some rare and endangered species. They don’t seem to mind the tar, or are experienced enough to avoid it.
Weather you like it or not our whole world runs on this goop. Seeing it naturally come from the ground in our backyards adds some interesting perspective. Go see what you can discover! But try not to lose a shoe in the guck!
Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.