August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt (Not Tar) Pits discovered –
The La Brea, “the tar,” pits were discovered during a 1769 Spanish expedition on the West Coast. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” noted the expedition’s Franciscan friar in his diary.
The friar, Juan Crespi, was the first person to use the term “bitumen” in describing these sticky pools in southern California – where crude oil has been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years. Native Americans used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes.
Although popularly called the tar pits, the pools at Rancho La Brea are actually asphalt – not tar, which is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as peat. Asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules – petroleum. Learn more about California oil seeps in Discovering the Le Brea Tar Pits. For a history of the asphalt, see Asphalt Paves the Way.
August 3, 1942 – War brings “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” Pipelines
War Emergency Pipelines Inc. began construction on the “Big Inch” line – the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken in the United States. Conceived to supply wartime fuel demands – and in response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” lines were extolled as “The most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved.”
With a goal of transporting 300,000 barrels of oil per day, the $95 million project called for construction of a 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line (Little Big Inch) as far as New York and Philadelphia – more than 1,200 miles (the Trans-Alaska pipeline system is 800 miles long). Learn more in Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.
August 4, 1913 – Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”
The Crystal Oil Company completed its Wirt Franklin No. 1 well 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The well revealed the giant Healdton field, which became known as the “poor man’s field,” because of its shallow depth and low cost of drilling. The area attracted many independent producers with limited financial backing.
Another major discovery in 1919 revealed the Hewitt field, which extended oil production in a 22 mile swath across Carter County. The Greater Healdton-Hewitt oilfield produced “an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” noted historian Kenny Franks. In 1929, Wirt Franklin became the first president of the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). Erle Halliburton perfected his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.
August 4, 1977 – President Carter creates DOE
President Jimmy Carter signed the Department of Energy Organization Act, which established the twelfth cabinet-level department by consolidating a dozen agencies and energy-related programs of the federal government. The new department combined the Federal Energy Administration and Energy Research and Development Administration; it also became responsible for nuclear weapon programs. James Schlesinger was sworn in as first Secretary of Energy the next day.
August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires “Alley Oop” Comic Strip
Although the comic strip “Alley Oop” first appeared in August 1933, the cartoon caveman began with a 1926 oilfield discovery in the Permian Basin. A small West Texas oil town would later proclaim itself as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin.
Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) first appeared as a company town following the October 1926 discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combined names of the town-site owners, Ira and Ann Yates. As drilling in the Permian Basin boomed, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company there. He developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology that soon led to his popular comic strip. Learn more in Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.
August 7, 1953 – Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act generates Revenue
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act gave the Secretary of the Interior responsibility for the administration of mineral exploration and development of the outer continental shelf. Forty-four Gulf of Mexico wells were operating in 11 oilfields in 1949, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. As the offshore industry evolved in the 1950s, oil production became the second-largest revenue generator for the country, after income taxes.
August 7, 2004 – Death of a Famed “Hellfighter”
Famed oilfield well control expert and firefighter Paul “Red” Adair died at age 89 in Houston. The son of a blacksmith, Adair was born in 1915 in Houston. He served with a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit during World War II.
Firefighter Paul “Red” Adair in 1964. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.[/caption] Adair began his career working for Myron Macy Kinley, who patented a technology for using charges of high explosives to snuff out well fires. Kinley, whose father had been an oil well shooter in California in the early 1900s, also mentored “Boots” Hansen and “Coots” Mathews (Boots & Coots), and other firefighters.
After founding the Red Adair Company in 1959, Adair developed many new techniques for “wild well” control as his company put out more than 2,000 well fires and blowouts worldwide — onshore and offshore. The oilfield firefighter’s skills, dramatized in the 1968 John Wayne film “Hellfighters,” were tested in 1991 when Adair and his company extinguished 117 oil well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army.
August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography breakthrough
Thanks to pioneering research led by John C. Karcher, an Oklahoma geophysicist, the world’s first reflection seismograph geologic section was measured in 1921 in Murray County. “Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society, adding that the technology would be responsible for the discovery of many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields.
Ideal for petroleum exploration, the new geophysical method recorded reflected seismic waves as they traveled through the earth, helping to define oil-bearing formations. “The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for a pilot survey of the technique and equipment, because an entire geologic section from the basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed here,” explains a marker on an I-35.
This first geological section measurement followed limited testing in June 1921 in the outskirts of Oklahoma City and verification tests in July. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.
August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oilfield of Luling, Texas
After drilling six dry holes near Luling, Texas, the United North & South Oil Company completed its Rafael Rios No. 1 well. Company President Edgar B. Davis had been determined to find oil in the Austin chalk formation. His discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide.
By 1924, the Luling field was annually producing 11 million barrels of oil. Some would proclaimed Davis had found the oil after consulting a psychic. The unusual oil patch reading came from the then well-known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.
Davis later sold his Luling leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Psychic Cayce claimed success helping other wildcatters — but left the oil business for good after forming his own company…and drilling dry holes. Learn more by visiting the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum in Luling.
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