Thursday, May 28

Throwback Thursday: UCLA could have been home to oil wells

(Daily Bruin archives)

This post was updated Sept. 28 at 2:47 p.m.

UCLA welcomed thousands of families to move-in weekend last week. Students and visitors took in the lush green hills that run alongside Bruin Walk, the dominating, brick-laced architecture of buildings like Royce Hall and Powell Library and the readily visible blue-and-gold pride of Westwood’s largest institution.

Clearly, students have it lucky.

But 39 years ago, UCLA was singing a different tune – something more along the lines of “drill maybe drill.”

On October 11, 1978, the Daily Bruin published a news story about then-Chancellor Charles E. Young expressing reservations about whether to allow private firms to do exploratory drilling for potential oil and gas reserves beneath the campus. Officials said there was a “potential field of oil” in the southeastern part of campus, near the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden and the Center for the Health Sciences.

That’s right: administrators once considered digging up wells on the pristine UCLA campus – moreover on the beloved botanical gardens UCLA just tweeted about this week.

But don’t worry: Young also seemed to dislike the idea of turning the home of the Bruins into an oil refinery.

“I don’t like the idea of wells on this campus,” said Young back in the day.

He added he thought there was less than a 50 percent chance UCLA would house a full-time production drilling program sometime in the then-near future. The Daily Bruin, however, reported Young said there was a better-than-50-percent chance exploratory drilling would take place on campus within two summers from 1978.

According to the news story, the University of California Regents authorized the UC Treasurer’s office to work with Young in September 1978 to prepare an environmental impact study of the drilling expedition, and offer the lands for bid afterwards. The Daily Bruin reported the chancellor was initially opposed to the proposal, but continued working with the UC Treasurer to refine the proposal.

It’s worth pointing out a preliminary estimate by the UC Treasurer’s office had the university earning approximately $3 million per year from oil and gas production on campus. That’s roughly equal to almost $11 million, if we’re accounting for inflation via the government’s Consumer Price Index inflation calculator. To put that into perspective, that’s only about 0.03 percent of the UC’s total budget for the 2017-18 year, and about 11 percent of a typical donation to UCLA from businessman David Geffen.

Evidently, it’s safe to say the benefits of an oil production program on campus still don’t outweigh the costs. Fortunately, we don’t see any oil rigs on campus these days, so the administration must have concluded the same thing back in 1978.

Senior staff columnist

Tadimeti was the Daily Bruin's Opinion editor from 2017-2019 and an assistant Opinion editor in the 2016-2017 school year. He tends to write about issues pertaining to the higher education, state politics and the administration, and blogs occasionally about computer science. Tadimeti was also the executive producer of the "No Offense, But" and "In the Know" Daily Bruin Opinion podcasts.

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