The McKittrick Tar Pits and the Monterey Shale Formation. It can make your head hurt.

California can’t point to pyramids or ancient palaces, but we do indeed have an amazingly rich prehistory.

Geologists have aged the Sierra Nevada mountain range to be close to 50-million years old.

Laurel Mountain from Convict Lake

Laurel Mountain is just one beautiful example of metamorphic rock, part of the Sherwin range in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Protected by the John Muir Wilderness, this peak reaches a height of 11,818 feet.

I’m absolutely in love with this part of the state. The towering mountain ranges are breathtaking.

I really prefer thinking about the natural wonders spectacularly present above ground. But with the current climate of oil dependency it’s also important to think about what goes on below the surface.

I’ve enjoyed sharing bits of information about the La Brea Tar Pits in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. But did you know there is another similar spot of bubbling oil?

McKittrick Tar Pits, sometimes called McKittrick Oil Seeps and McKittrick Brea Pits, are a series of natural asphalt lakes in Kern County.

There are five natural asphalt lake areas in the world;  two in Venezuela, and the other three in California, the third up the coast from Los Angles in nearby Carpenteria.

The McKittrick Tar Pits  in the southern San Joaquin Valley were probably created during the Pleistocene epoch and are related to deep faults in the earth’s crust.

Like the La Brea Tar Pits, the McKittrick site also trapped and preserved hundreds of prehistoric animals. By 1968 more than 43 different mammals and 58 different birds were identified.

The McKittrick Tar Pits are part of the 1,750 square mile Monterey Shale Formation which contains about two-thirds of the United States’ total estimated shale oil reserves. That translates to about 15.4 billion-BILLION–barrels.

There are cities, like Taft, California, poised and salivating, hoping for mammoth oil production ( no pun intended) and  the hope of economic renewal that would shift the town from marginal existence to abundant employment opportunities with increased security for years to come.

But there are reasonable opposing concerns.

Environmental scientists are proposing that any serious drilling be approached slowly and with great care. There is controversy about the practice of fracking–hydraulic fracturing for oil– which may pose risks in the most seismically active state in the lower 48–Alaska has us beat, but with California’s population, our risks are magnified

I keep reading about these dual interests and concerns, wondering what course of action, or inaction, will be taken.

I use the  google alerts feature to monitor the Web for interesting and relevant news articles about California oil activity.

Today’s email-alert featured an article published in The Bakersfield Californian roundly proposing that a “California Oil Boom” is what’s needed to lift us out of economic sluggishness. The cry from that part of the state seems to be an eagerness to develop these oil reserves and harness a potential 2.8 million new jobs.

Is there a responsible way to move forward while still addressing all safety and environmental concerns?

And whether we do or don’t, is it impossible to expect Californians to quench some of their thirst for energy consumption?

I do worry about conserving the beauty in this state.

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We have a lot of problems to solve and I’m very concerned about the economy, but I still hope we move cautiously.

As much as I’ve been reading and doing my best to piece together a lot of information, I wouldn’t want to take a multiple choice test on this topic right now. So let’s just say that I welcome other thoughts on the subject!

If you didn’t read the first two posts about the La Brea Tar Pits, you may be interested in reading them now.

47 thoughts on “The McKittrick Tar Pits and the Monterey Shale Formation. It can make your head hurt.

  1. The photos were a pleasure to look at, especially the slide show. So drilling could trigger an earthquake? This would concern me. You know so much about California that I think you would make a great tour guide. :)

    • There is a lot of debate about whether or not fracking could trigger seismic activity. The mere suggestion of it frightens me. I don’t like the experimental aspect at all! But we’ll see what decisions are made…I would love to be a tour guide! ha! But I’m not sure most people want to go to the places that interest me most. That could be a problem. LOL!

    • I’m glad to share just a few photos of the Sierra Nevada’s, Rob. They are utterly spectacular. Yosemite National Park is in this general area and I find them breathtaking. The lower range is about 4 hours from our home. Close enough to call to me, and just far enough away we don’t get there very often. *sigh* :-)

  2. I really do hope they don’t drill into the pits – extreme caution needs to be exercised around these pits, especially as you are in such an earthquake hazardous region xx

  3. Great pics of the mountains … besides, I never heard of these tar pits, thus think La Brea were the only ones.

    I find fracking to be a difficult subject for these reasons: 1) my limited knowledge about it, and 2) how numerous articles seem to be more from the perspective of being from the pro or con perspective, which helps cover information for people who want to know so they can decide. Meanwhile, your seismic activity would be an important factor to consider.

    • You and I agree on this, too, Frank. I’m trying to understand “all sides” of the topic and it’s almost impossible. I have my gut instincts and beliefs that tend toward a very conservative approach to drilling, but the more I learn about how much oil it is still going to take to implement an increase in wind and solar farms, the more confused I get. And every article I read usually comes with someone’s bias. I always have a lot of questions and do the best to gain information. I don’t always come up with answers!

      • I equate it to global warming. For instance, if one truly wants to learn about the issue, good luck finding informative, unbiased sources … and if they are found, how would the reader know?

  4. Over the weekend, we watched a fascinating National Geographic piece on Yosemite; how geologists and other “ogists” are scaling its peaks, some very brittle, and propelling up the Sequoias, and on and on to study how climate changes are affecting us. This much I know; our climate is shifting and signaling concerns whether it be at the bottom of tar pits, the utmost tips of ancient trees, or the very rocks that hold us together. Whatever we do, or don’t do, will solve one problem and cause another. Of course, my comments solve nothing. I know, but I like to “talk”.

    I do remember smog so thick daylight seemed a thing of the past and polio and school fires, all to say that I have hope, deep down, dear Debra, but, hope none-the-less, that something will be done.

    You really do your research, my friend, and illicit comments and questions that we should all be concerned with. I find myself exhaling every time I read you, and a better person for it.

    • I’m glad you mention that your comments solve nothing, but you just like to talk! Me, too, Penny! I am really concerned and fascinated with what I’m reading about, and I have NO outlets for discussion of the topic. So the blog! At least I know others can read or not, whereas others in my life might begin to feel they were being held captive if I started talking. LOL! Know your audience!

      I recently learned that the glaciers in those beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains are shrinking dramatically. I really find this dramatically disconcerting, even though we know there are such dramatic changes all over the world. Climate change is such a concern and makes me very sad, because as long as we keep it a political hot potato I just think we’re losing time. I have no answers to anything here, that’s for certain, but I can still express my consternation. Thank you for coming by and talking with me, Penny! I like to talk, too! :-)

    • I hope you have a wonderful time in those beautiful Alabama Hills, Hansi! I’m sure you will. The truth is that almost unbelievably we have only in the last year really started getting to know this part of the state! We have done strict North-South travels for decades because we have family in Northern California. When our children were young we did a little 395 travel, but not nearly enough. Last year when we went through Bishop to Rock Creek I couldn’t believe what we’d been missing. I’m not too good with the snow and harsh winter climate, but now that it’s warming up we’ll be going as often as we can manage. The history of that area is fascinating, too…can you tell I really love it? LOL! Enjoy and definitely relax!

  5. I worry about our ability to destroy everything on this earth. I hadn’t heard about these tar pits, they must be pretty close to where we travel when we go down the mountain on the 58. Bakersfield has the worst air, the fattest people, the highest illiteracy rate, and one more thing that I have forgotten, in the country. I hope they will not add oil spills to that record. Still, I do feel bad for the city, for Kern Co., which has a very high unemployment rate. You are right, enough to make my head hurt too.

    • You’ve expressed exactly why I feel such a concern about the oil drilling, Inger. I have a hard time separating myself from the desire to protect against more exploitation of our natural resources, but if we don’t make lifestyle changes the oil is going to come from somewhere. I really don’t want it to be in California, but my heart hurts for the areas that are so economically depressed. People are desperate for work, and I can’t help but think of that, too. I’m sooo glad I don’t have any actual power to make final decisions. Thank you for sharing, Inger. I think you are probably quite close to the McKittrick Tar Pits when you travel through Bakersfield. I don’t know if there’s much to see, but I’m kind of curious! :-)

  6. I deeply hope that they leave it in the ground, but I fear they will not be able to resist the temptation. What a complex and vexing world we live in.
    Meanwhile, thanks for the lovely photos and the reminder to enjoy these wilderness areas… while we still have them.

    • The whole idea of more oil drilling is extremely complex, and the more I consider it the more I can twist myself into knots trying to understand all angles. On the most basic level I’m just against it until we learn to not always need MORE of everything. I am growing more concerned all the time about climate change, and I just wish, silly girl that I am, that we could take that out of the political realm and really invest in what science has to say. Ah well…I can dream. And yes, let’s continue to enjoy the natural beauty of what still surrounds us. On another topic I probably won’t bring up, have you been hearing about the malnourished sea lion pups that are struggling for survival? They aren’t at all sure why. You have such empathy with some of these wonderful ocean living creatures I just wanted to be sure you kept an ear to the story!

      • Lori, I am just now getting around to reading some of my comments, and see your statement about sea lions being killed for eating salmon…oh dear God! Really! I shouldn’t be shocked at all, but I hadn’t specifically heard this one. I’ll look this up and learn more. I told someone the other day that I was a “lapsed capitalist” and they looked at me like I needed to have my citizenship revoked, but I’ve so had it with business bottom lines being all our legistlatures care about…oh well..I’m preaching to the choir again! LOL!

  7. Debra, I am right there with you in sharing your concerns. The American practice of mortgaging our future for a buck today has got to stop. I feel so helpless about it all.

    At any rate, thank you. You have given me the perfect ammunition to nag MTM about visiting King’s Canyon. It has been on my list for almost a decade, and Slow Happy Living is right: we need to get out and experience these wonderful places while we still have them.

    • California has legal mandates to increase the number of wind and solar farms by 2014, but because there is so little attention paid to conservation methods–the number of huge SUVs and trucks just doesn’t go down no matter how high fuel costs–there is no end to how much oil we are still going to need. I think the effort and high cost of these renewable energy sources aren’t going to make a significant difference. I’m tremendously concerned about global warning and we are already seeing huge effects on melting glaciers (few people know California even has glaciers) and I just see big problems down the way–probably not really in my lifetime, but I think of my grandchildren! I hope someday we’ll see significant changes and more people will think in line with personal responsibility, but there isn’t much evidence, is there? Absolutely get out there and visit King’s Canyon. Wonderful idea! And the more we do that the more we at least make ourselves aware of how much there is to protect. I’ve been reading a lot of John Muir’s writings…can you tell! :-)

  8. That is such magnificent scenery, Debra! Thank you for sharing it.#

    The dilemma about the best and fairest exploitation of natural resources is so difficult to resolve, My considered opinion is that we should be concentrating on energy efficiency in all aspects of our lives, so that we can conserve as much as possible of the world’s resources for future generations. Recent generations have been shamefully profligate of energy (think gas-guzzling vehicles and thermostats turned up rather than putting on more or thicker clothes. How can you tell I feel strongly about this? :-)

    • Perpetua, I really like the way you state that a worthy goal is energy efficiency in ALL aspects of our lives. I do agree! It does bother me that there is rarely a concerted effort towards conservation of our resources. In our state people are building huge homes that require more and more electricity, natural gas, and water, and even when gasoline prices spiked to unprecedented heights earlier this year people still went about their business as usual. I’m somewhat guilty of that myself, but it’s starting to seriously concern me. I’m so glad to have your thoughts. Thank you!

  9. Sincere congratulations on your absolutely stunning photos and the fantastic research Debra. Always a pleasure to read your posts because I learn so much. I didn’t know there were only 5 tar pits in the whole world and that 3 were in California! The fracking story …. sigh…. I didn’t know that Fracking causes earthquakes too. It leaches poisons into the local water, so what is it doing to the local farmland and the people who eat the crops grown on those farms? Are the yeah sayers thinking of what they are leaving for their grandchildren?

    I still have to read your La Brea Tar Pit posts. My apologies for being behind in my reading…

  10. Dear Debra, today I’ve spent time here on your blog, reading the posting and then reading the comments and your responses. It is so clear that your readers, myself included, are concerned about many environmental concerns: fracking, being good stewards, ice caps melting, global warming, clean air–all the terms that we read daily in the paper.

    Your reader Andra Watkins said, “Debra, I am right there with you in sharing your concerns. The American practice of mortgaging our future for a buck today has got to stop. I feel so helpless about it all.” And that’s the thing, most of us feel helpless. Penny expresses hope and I want to be with her on that. But my belief is that hope springs from seeing a rising tide of thoughtful and considered and concerned action. And I haven’t done anything, myself, with regard to these environmental issues except give money to some causes and sign petitions. I’m wondering what we can do as a group. Any thoughts on that? Peace.

  11. You photos, Debra, are always excellent and a joy to look at. As far as energy efficiency is concerned, this is something I feel very strongly about too. Recently you mentioned ‘Maltesers’ in one of your blogs. Well, with all the little Easter eggs we had, there were some fair dinkum Malteser eggs amongst them. I took a picture of them to prove it. You cam probably find it in my post called ‘Black Forest Cake’.

    • Thank you, Nancy. I suppose I’d eventually have read this in the paper, but I had not heard anything about it. To show how much I don’t know, this surprises me. I am not at all “up to speed” on how coal even plays a part in our energy consumption. Now you’re sending me off into a whole new reading frenzy! LOL! Thank you for thinking of me. :-)

  12. I just love the mountain photos Debra. That would be one of my favorite parts of the state too. I just love the mountains. They just have a natural peacefulness to them and a way of making you feel calm. I really should pay more attention to environmental issues. I know Mike does quite a bit (and economics). I’m off to go catch-up on the tar posts now. :)

  13. WIth such beautiful sites surrounding you, Debra, I would be hard-pressed to call any one of them favorite. California is certainly blessed in many ways.
    I do not understand the rush to get to these resources, especially when there is so much disagreement over the possible effects of the mining/drilling/transportation/refining/etc. Leave it alone and it’s like money in the bank for future generations. Why take risks now that will not only deplete them but could affect the landscape for generations to come? I’m not anti-drilling, Debra, nor am I anti-fracking. I would just like to know that both have been fully researched and a decision made that makes sound ecological sense. While I’m at it, I also want to grow wings and fly.

    • I laughed so hard when I came to your cmoment about “I also want to grow wings and fly.” The one I always say is “I want to be a 5’10” blonde!”
      I am continuing to read as much as I can find on the subject of oil exploration in our state, and I can’t say that I’m even close to fully understanding what’s really at stake on either side of the questions. But I’m definitely concerned when the ecologically concerned are talking about the implications to our water supply etc. I know there is hysteria all around, so when it comes right down to it, I hope there will be safeguards and accountability–so far there isn’t–and I’m very glad my opinion isn’t the swing vote! It is a very big topic here right now, although you have to read the paper to know that–if you listen to radio and television, it’s all about the Bieber! :-)

  14. I am loving your posts. I was raised in Bakersfield and have explored the hills and deserts whenever I could. I like your approach concerning developing new petroleum reserves. I have walked across the Sierras on week long treks, inspired by John Muir, spent 5 summers hosting restoration crews in Yosemite and love California Outdoors! I am retired from the oil industry and know very well the public concerns as well as how well “most” major operators ensure the public safety and environmental concerns. California has immense potential to supply most of the consuming thirst the state has for energy. What irks me the most is the “not in my backyard” mentality as they run 15 mph over the speed limits in their large vehicles. It seems to extend to wind energy too….too noisy, unattractive, kills birds but the consumption never lets up. There is middle ground and there are regulations based on science, that adhered to, provide great protection for the public and the environment.

    The President wants to add 1 million electric cars to the highway – where does that electricity come from…less than 3% from “clean resources”, i.e., wind and solar – the fly in the ointment is 50% of the electrons charging to batteries come from coal fired generating plants. Better mileage standards will keep the air cleaner, slowing down on the highways will help and conservation of all energy consumption/resources will help.

    McKitrrick Tar Pits…I worked those fields for over 5 years….Take the Highway 58 drive over into the Carizzo Plains and across the San Andreas Fault zone….awesome drive, huge solar project going in and great scenery as you approach Santa Margarita.

    My last comment – fracking is safe – I have fracked literally hundreds of wells in my career. As long as the rules are followed, it is a safe and productive method for tapping into our nation’s huge reserves.

  15. Marvellous images to illustrate the geological strata of the region. I’m jealous – all we have is London Clay and gravel deposits from the last ice age!

    • The Sierra Nevada Mountains are rather spectacular, Martin. They are close enough to where I live to be such a temptation, yet just far away that we really need a whole weekend to make the drive a good idea. I would love to go more often!

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