The THUMS Islands were built in 1965 to tap into the East Wilmington Oil Field. The landscaping and sound walls were designed to camouflage the operation and reduce noise, and they are the only decorated oil islands in the United States.
After a 1964 court case that gave the state of California mineral rights to the area, the islands were built at an estimated cost of $22 million in 1965, the islands were operated by THUMS, a consortium named after the parent companies who bid for the island contract: Texaco, Humble (now Exxon), Union Oil, Mobil, and Shell. The rim of the islands are made of 640,000 tons of boulders from Catalina Island, and the islands were then filled with 3.2 million cubic yards of dredged material from the bay. The islands contain significant landscaping, a waterfall, and tall structures concealing the drilling rigs, including one known as The Condo and mistaken for "a ritzy hotel" by those on land. The structures are lit by colored lights at night. The aesthetic mitigation cost $10 million at time of construction, and was overseen by theme park architect Joseph Linesch. They were described by a Los Angeles Times writer as "part Disney, part Jetsons, part Swiss Family Robinson".
In 1975, the state of California and the city of Long Beach sued the THUMS oil companies for artificially depressing oil prices. A federal jury cleared Exxon of all charges, and the other four oil companies settled out of court for "hundreds of millions of dollars".
The islands and operation were purchased by Occidental Petroleum in 2000. In 2014, Occidental Petroleum spun off all California assets into California Resources Corporation (CRC), who still owns and operates THUMS Islands as of 2018.
Since 1967, they have been known as the Astronaut Islands, having been renamed in honor of four American astronauts who lost their lives in the service of NASA. Island Freeman (Theodore C. "Ted" Freeman) is named for the first astronaut to perish in active duty (piloting a T-38 Talon jet trainer). Island Grissom (Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom), Island White (Ed White), and Island Chaffee (Roger B. Chaffee) are named after the Apollo 1 astronauts (launch pad accident).
A peak of 148,495 barrels per day (23,608.8 m3/d) were produced in 1969. 300 million barrels (48,000,000 m3) of oil were pumped from THUMS by 1974, the 500 millionth barrel of crude oil was pumped in 1980. By 1992, the pumping volume was 44,444 barrels (7,066.0 m3) of oil per day through the water injection method of oil recovery, producing low-grade crude oil. The 900 millionth barrel of oil was pumped in April 2002, and the one billionth in 2011. The pumped oil contained 20% water in 1965, and by 1994 it was 92% water.
Island Grissom is the closest to land, containing waterfalls and more sculptured screens than the other islands. The screens and decorations also serve to deter the public from swimming to the islands (trespassers are subject to arrest).
Island Freeman is the largest of the islands, at 12 acres (4.9 ha).
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- Media related to THUMS Islands at Wikimedia Commons
- Occidental Petroleum: About Us: THUMS
- American Petroleum Institute's Energy Tomorrow tour of the islands in 2009: part 1, part 2, FLICKR picture set
- Fuels Paradise: THUMS Islands Help Big Oil Look Good
- Trip to Long Beach oil fields from Businessweek