February 15, 1982 – Deadly Atlantic Storm sinks Drilling Platform –
With rogue waves reaching as high as 65 feet during an Atlantic cyclone, offshore drilling platform Ocean Ranger sank on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Canada, killing all 84 on board. A Soviet container ship 65 miles to the east was struck by the same weather system and sank with the loss of 32 crew members.
Described at the time as the world’s largest semi-submersible platform, the Ocean Ranger in November 1981 had begun drilling a third well in the Hibernia oilfield for Mobil Oil of Canada. A U.S. Coast Guard report in 1983 helped lead to improved emergency procedures, lifesaving equipment, and manning standards for other Offshore Mobil Drilling Unit (MODU) operations.
February 16, 1935 – Petroleum Producing States form Commission
The Interstate Oil Compact Commission began in Dallas with the writing of the “Interstate Compact to Preserve Oil and Gas.” The new organization would be headquartered in Oklahoma City following approval by the U.S. Congress in August.
Representatives from Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas agreed to begin implementing a series of provisions to “conserve oil and gas by the prevention of physical waste thereof from any cause.” Oklahoma Gov. Ernest W. Marland — who founded Marland Oil Company in 1921 — was elected the first chairman.
“In 1935, six states took advantage of a constitutional right to ‘compact,’ or agree to work together, to resolve common issues,” notes IOGCC, which added the word gas to its name in 1991. “Faced with unregulated petroleum overproduction and the resulting waste, the states endorsed and Congress ratified a compact to take control of the issues.”
February 17, 1902 – Lufkin Industries founded in East Texas
The Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company was founded in Lufkin, Texas, as a repair shop for railroad and sawmill machinery. When the pine region’s timber supplies began to dwindle, the company discovered new opportunities in the burgeoning oilfields following the 1901 discovery at Spindletop Hill.
Inventor Walter C. Trout was working for this East Texas company in 1925 when he came up with a new idea for pumping oil. His design would become an oilfield icon known by many names – nodding donkey, grasshopper, horse-head, thirsty bird, and pump jack, among others.
By the end of 1925, a prototype of Trout’s pumping unit was installed on a Humble Oil and Refining Company well near Hull, Texas. “The well was perfectly balanced, but even with this result, it was such a funny looking, odd thing that it was subject to ridicule and criticism,” Trout explained.
Learn more about the evolution of oilfield production methods in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.
February 17, 1944 – H.L. Hunt discovers First Alabama Oilfield
Alabama’s first oilfield was discovered in Choctaw County when independent producer H.L. Hunt of Dallas, Texas, drilled the No. 1 Jackson well. Hunt’s 1944 wildcat well revealed the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to this discovery, 350 dry holes had been drilled in the state.
Petroleum geologist Ray Sorenson, who has researched early reports of oil and natural gas (see Exploring Earliest Signs of Oil), found an 1858 description of Alabama natural oil seeps six miles from Oakville in Lawrence County. Hunt’s discovery well was drilled in Choctaw County, where he revealed the Gilbertown oilfield at a depth of 3,700 feet.
Although it took 11 years for another oilfield discovery, new technologies and deeper wells in the late 1980s led to the prolific Little Cedar Creek and Brooklyn fields. By the mid-2000s, scientists began new geologic assessments of potential undiscovered petroleum resources of the Black Warrior Basin of Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties and in the shales of St. Clair and neighboring counties.
Learn more in First Alabama Oil Well.
February 19, 1863 – First Pipeline Attempt to link Oilfield to Refinery
A pipeline in Venango County, Pennsylvania, was constructed to link Tarr Farm oil wells along Oil Creek to the Humboldt Refinery at Oil City 2.5 mile away. Inventor J.L. Hutchings of New Jersey used his newly patented rotary pumps to move oil through the two-inch diameter piping. But when Hutchings’ cast-iron pipe proved impractical after its soldered joints leaked, another inventor would complete the world’s first successful oil pipeline. “I really love this bit of history because it kind of shows you how multiple failures lead to success,” explained a pipeline expert in a 2002 interview on the Pipeline Podcast Network.
“The idea of driving fluids with a rotary pump sparked an innovation in the pipeline industry,” noted Claudia Farrell, senior engineer for Burns & McDonnell Company. “Samuel Van Syckel, in 1865 — he was an oil trader and the leader of the Oil Transportation Association — wanted to break the teamsters’ monopoly. He had learned from Hutchings’ failure, and so, he created a two-inch, wrought iron pipeline, but he used threaded joints. And so, it successfully could transport 2,000 barrels a day over a five-mile-long pipeline from the well to the railroad depot.”
Learn more by visiting Oil City in the “Valley that Changed the World” and the nearby Drake Well Museum in Titusville.
February 20, 1959 – First LNG Tanker arrives in England
After a 27-day voyage from Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Methane Pioneer – the world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker – arrived at the world’s first LNG terminal at Canvey Island, England. The first-of-its-kind vessel demonstrated that large quantities of LNG could be transported safely across the ocean.
The 340-foot Methane Pioneer, a converted World War II Liberty freighter, contained five 7,000-barrel aluminum tanks supported by balsa wood and insulated with plywood and urethane. Owned by Comstock Liquid Methane Corporation, the experimental ship refrigerated its cargo to minus 285 degrees Fahrenheit.
The world’s first purpose-built commercial LNG carrier, the Methane Princess, began regular LNG delivery to the same Canvey Island port in June 1964.
February 20, 1993 – Oil Pipe Saxophone Sculpture erected in Houston
Petroleum pipelines became pop artwork when Texas artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade debuted his 63-foot saxophone sculpture at a Houston nightclub.
Wade (1943-2019) transformed two 48-inch steel oilfield pipes into the free-standing sculpture. A Volkswagen, beer kegs, and assorted parts complete his blue creation for the Billy Blues Bar & Grill on Richmond Avenue. After considerable debate, the Houston City Council deemed the oilfield pipeline saxophone to be art rather than signage. The Fort Worth Star Telegram described Wade as a “connoisseur of Southwestern kitsch.”
Learn more in “Smokesax” Art has Pipeline Heart.
February 21, 1887 – Herman Frasch Refining Process brings Riches to Rockefeller
German inventor Herman Frasch applied to patent his process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.” Once an employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey, the chemist was quickly rehired by John D. Rockefeller, who owned oilfields near Lima, Ohio, that produced a thick, sulfurous oil. Rockefeller had accumulated a 40-million-barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.”
Standard Oil Company bought Frasch’s patent for a copper-oxide refining process to “sweeten” the oil. By the early 1890s, the company’s new Whiting oil refinery east of Chicago was producing odorless kerosene from desulfurized oil, making Rockefeller a fortune.
Paid in Standard Oil shares and becoming very wealthy, Frasch moved to Louisiana – where the chemist and mining engineer invented a new method to extract sulphur from underground deposits by injecting superheated water into wells. By 1911, he was known as the “Sulfur King.”
Recommended Reading – Lufkin, from sawdust to oil: A history of Lufkin Industries, Inc. (1982); Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks: A Guide (2000); Petrolia: The Landscape of America’s First Oil Boom (2003); Daddy-O’s Book of Big-Ass Art.; Herman Frasch -The Sulphur King (2013). Your Amazon purchases benefit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.