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Lakeview Gusher of 1910, Maricopa, California

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An icon of abundance in American folklore is the oil gusher, when overpressured petroleum bursts through the drillrig. But the Lakeview gusher, greatest of them all, was a calamity. Its ruins sit in the heart of California's oil patch.

A bronze plaque reads: "America's most spectacular gusher 'blew in' here March 14, 1910. Initial flow was 18,000 barrels per day and later reached uncontrolled peak of 100,000 barrels per day, completely destroying the derrick. This Union Oil Company well between Taft and Maricopa produced nine million barrels of oil in 18 months."

Most of the oil soaked into the soil or evaporated. Black mist fell for miles around. Only supreme vigilance kept it from catching fire. The price of crude plunged by nine-tenths. And when the flood ended, the well produced less than 30 barrels a day.

Today a wide oil-soaked sand pavement is topped with desert scrub. Petroleum fumes waft from nearby wells, and haze hides the scene on many days.

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Images 1-11 of 11
From a 1910 postcardThe Gusher in ProgressThe settingScene of the Lakeview GusherRuins of a catastropheGusher Site and MonumentPersistent pavementOil-Soaked Sand
Mute monumentCenter of the WellAnatomy of the bermNorthern RampartHolding back the oily tideRetaining WallRemnant of an oil delugeAsphalt on the Ramparts
A lava analogyAsphalt FlowsCloseup of petrosiltstoneAsphalt Lake BedsHow things have changedView Out the Horseshoe
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