The town is built between two major California oilfields: the Midway-Sunset and the Buena Vista Hills fields. The super-giant Midway-Sunset field has produced approximately 2.8 billion barrels of crude oil, most of it heavy gravity (13-14 degrees API). The Occidental Petroleum-operated Elk Hills field is north of Taft. Enhanced oil recovery operations in the form of steam production and injection have been used on the thick viscous crude oil of the Midway-Sunset field since the mid- to late-1960s. The reservoirs of the Midway-Sunset field are composited layers of mostly unconsolidated sandstones of late Miocene age, shallowly buried. The shallow burial depth and ideal nature of the sandstones make them almost perfectly suited for steam injection. As a result, the amount of oil that can be recovered is greatly increased.
Standard Oil, later the Standard Oil Company of California (modern Chevron), made Taft its corporate operational headquarters. At one time it is reported that as many as 6,000 Taftians were employed with Standard Oil. The hub of this activity was "11-C Camp", so named due to its township location in section 11 and designated "township C" by Standard's mapping department. Within the camp was everything imaginable to run a large oil and gas company: a rail spur from the line running through Taft, steel and timber for derrick construction and maintenance, pipe, valves, numerous offices, an expansive and highly specialized machine shop, a plethora of supply shops, the car and truck fleet, bunkhouses for workers, and dozens of company homes for employees. In its heyday, 11-C camp sported very nice facilities including a large playground, baseball field, tennis courts, a large swimming pool, a cook-house open to the public, beautifully landscaped grounds, and a clubhouse with a television, pool and card tables, and an ice-cream stand. The huge complex gradually closed down over a period of many years. In 1968 Standard Oil of California moved its accounting and finance offices to Concord, California. In the late 1980s the machine shop was closed and auctioned, signaling the end of the 11-C Camp era.
Many other oil companies had operations in the area, including larger companies such as Shell, Texaco, Exxon, Mobil, Gulf, and Arco; and smaller outfits (but with a large local presence) such as Santa Fe Energy, Berry Petroleum, Tannehill, M.H. Whittier, and lately Plains Exploration and Production. In the mid 1990s, according to California's Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), there were 68 operating companies working the Midway-Sunset field alone. While the names of most of these companies have changed or are gone altogether, the production activities have been continuous.
In celebration of its oil heritage, Taft holds its "Oildorado" festival every five years. Oildorado was first started in 1930 (see below) and was held intermittently before then.
In the early days of oil exploration and production, long before the advent of modern blowout preventions, gushers were the norm. Although there were many, the Lakeview Gusher was the grand-daddy of them all, producing 100,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak. In all, the Lakeview No.1 produced about nine million barrels of oil (a very respectable cumulative production for a single well in this area). The well and its State historical marker can be found along the Petroleum Club road, just off SR 33 south of town.
Taft was also the site of a military airfield named Gardner Field which was used to train pilots during World War II. After the base was closed its abandoned airstrip served as a clandestine dragstrip for many years.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons operates a prison on Cadet Road south of town. There is a large, modern high school serving area students. The West Kern Oil Museum, at 1168 Wood Street, has vast holdings including pumps, fire apparatus, trucks, a historic wooden derrick, photos, models, and extensive displays of local history back to Indian times. The town's newspaper, the Midway Driller, Was reputed to be the oldest daily newspaper in California. On or about 2005, the "Daily Midway Driller" became the "Midway Driller" and is now pressed on Tuesdays and Fridays. The town's second weekly newspaper, the Taft Independent, began publication on July 4, 2006. Taft-Kern County Airport (FAA identifier: L17) is located at the east edge of town at FAA-provided coordinates and is a favorite for parachutists in Kern County and the South San Joaquin Valley.
Taft is also known as a huge methamphetamine consumer (i.e. "They're All Fucking Tweaking").
This section contains some outdated information.
As of the census of 2000, there were 6,400 people, 2,233 households, and 1,565 families residing in the city. The population density was 422.6 people per square mile (163.2/km²). There were 2,478 housing units at an average density of 163.6/sq mi (63.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 83.16% White, 1.97% Black or African American, 0.84% Native American, 1.27% Asian, 0.44% Pacific Islander, 10.39% from other races, and 1.94% from two or more races. 15.55% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 2,233 households out of which 33.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.9% were married couples living together, 10.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.9% were non-families. 24.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.62 and the average family size was 3.09.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.6% under the age of 18, 12.1% from 18 to 24, 27.9% from 25 to 44, 21.5% from 45 to 64, and 12.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 108.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 109.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,861, and the median income for a family was $42,468. Males had a median income of $47,000 versus $26,838 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,564. About 13.1% of families and 17.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.5% of those under age 18 and 5.5% of those age 65 or over.
After the war, in 1946, the celebrations began again and the Taft District Chamber of Commerce made them permanent. A contest was held to choose a name for the event and "Oildorado" was chosen, having been submitted by W.A. Poff.
Today, Oildorado is a week long celebration during which many events are held. Oildorado is an ongoing testimony for Taft as a certified "Oil Town" -its origins owing solely to oil production and exploration, a rare distinction among any town in the world. As such, there are several oilfield-type skill contests held during each Oildorado. These include or have included: welding, pipe threading and fitting, rod wrenching, various skill tests with a backhoe, and at least as late as 1965 a regular well-pulling contest with local well servicing rigs and crews. Understandably, due to safety and probably liability issues, the well-pulling contests ceased. Much more could be said of these various contests and their participants through the years, it being quite memorable for those who were there.
Additionally, there is a beauty pageant where an Oildorado Queen is selected, a beard growing contest, talent shows, barbecues, street fairs, parades, and in 2005, motocross races. People usually dress in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat throughout the week.
It is also customary for all men to grow beards during this time. If a man does not grow a beard, he must pay for a permit and wear a bolo tie or lapel pin called a Smooth Puss Badge. If he is caught clean shaven without his badge he may be arrested by the Posse, a group of men dressed in western garb, sporting pistols and rifles filled with blanks. The man will be placed in a jail truck called "The Hoosegow" and driven around town for an hour for all to see. Warrants may also be purchased to have somebody else arrested and placed in The Hoosegow.
The Posse is overseen by the Grand Marshall. The group patrols the streets, schools, and businesses and engages in make-believe shootouts with the Bandits, who customarily wear handkerchiefs on their faces.