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Humboldt County Historical Society

When: Sat., June 6, 1 p.m. 2015
Phone: 445-4342
Price: Free
Ken Aalto, who has spent forty years working on the local geology, will present a PowerPoint history of Petrolia, with maps and pictures. The story begins in the early 1860s, when a rush of investment in California oil prospects by oil industry capitalists spurred the formation of no less than fifty-four oil companies in just over a year. Petrolia, as it was optimistically named, attracted considerable attention. And why wouldn’t it, with oil visibly seeping from the ground? Though the initial wells yielded little and were not an economic success, hopes were not derailed. The visible oil seeps were too enticing. In 1900, six companies began drilling operations in southwestern Humboldt, and capitalists from all over the country flocked to what the Humboldt Standard called “the richest oilfields in the world.” Alas, the widespread seeps continued to be a case of “easy come, easy go” all the way up through the mid-20th century. What the countless optimistic oil prospectors could not have known was that a complex, active plate tectonics was at work in the Petrolia area. Its structure was allowing the hydrocarbons to rise to the surface along a series of uptilted fault lines, instead of accumulating in underground reservoir rock formations. Join geologist and historian Ken Aalto at the Eureka Library on June 6, for this tale of how Petrolia’s shear zone geology, at the noted Mendocino triple junction, kindled and dashed the hopes of oil explorers for a century. For more information please contact the Humboldt County Historical Society at 445-4342, or visit



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