December 31, 1954 – Ohio Oil Company sets California Drilling Depth Record

petroleum history December magazine headline

A January 1954 trade magazine noted the record depth reached by the Ohio Oil Company’s deep well in Kern County – a dry hole.

As deep drilling technologies continued to advance in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet was reached by the Ohio Oil Company in California.

The well was about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, in the San Joaquin Valley. At more than four miles deep, the well’s down-hole drilling technology was not up to the task and became stuck.

Petroleum Engineer noted the well set a depth record, despite being “halted by a fishing job” and ending up as a dry hole. More than 630 exploratory wells were drilled in California during 1954.

Founded in 1887, the Ohio Oil Company discovered the Permian Basin’s giant Yates field in 1926 and later purchased Transcontinental Oil, acquiring the Marathon product name – and Greek runner trademark. To learn more about deep drilling history, see Anadarko Basin in Depth.

December 31, 1998 – Amoco merges with BP

Amoco completed its merger with British Petroleum in a stock swap valued at about $48 billion, at the time the world’s largest industrial merger and the largest foreign takeover of an American company. Amoco, founded in 1889 as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of Indiana, had changed its name to Amoco in 1985.

BP shareholders owned 60 percent of the newly combined companies, BP Amoco, PLC.  The company in 2001 changed its brand to simply “BP,” and announced all Amoco stations would be closed or renamed to BP service stations. In October 2017, BP announced the reintroduction of the Amoco brand to the United States – 105 years after the first Amoco service station opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

January 2, 1866 – Patent describes Early Rotary Rig

December  petroleum history rig patent drawing

Peter Sweeney’s innovative 1866 “Stone Drill” patent included a roller bit using “rapid rotary motion” similar to modern rotary drilling technologies.

An “Improvement in Rock Drills” patent application for the first time included basic elements of the modern rotary rig. The inventor described his idea as a “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.”

Peter Sweeney of New York City received the 1866 patent, which improved upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart. Sweeney’s patent included a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

The rig’s “drill-rod” was hollow and connected with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.” The petroleum industry soon improved upon Sweeney’s 1866 rotary rig.

January 2, 1882 – Rockefeller organizes the Standard Oil Trust

John D. Rockefeller continued expanding his Standard Oil Company empire by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust, which controlled much of the oil industry though 40 producing, refining and marketing affiliates. The trust controlled all of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tank cars (also see Densmore Oil Tank Cars) until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling broke it up in 1911.

January 2, 1932 – Birth of Union “76” Brand

December petroleum history Union 76 ball

The Union 76 ball debuted in 1962.

The Union Oil Company “76” brand was launched at service stations in western states. The brand’s orange circle with blue type logo was adopted in the 1940s, and the “76” orange orb first appeared at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. A smaller version of the ball proved so popular that millions would be given away as bright attachments to car antennas.

The California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is in the original Union Oil headquarters of the 1890s.

January 2, 1974 – President Nixon sets 55 mph Speed Limit

Although setting speed limits previously had been left to each state, when OPEC cut U.S. oil supplies on October 17, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act to reduce consumption. As a national speed limit of 55 mph became law, the embargo’s higher gas prices boosted sales of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars from Japan. In 1995, President Bill Clinton repealed the federal limit, returning the power to the states. The highest U.S. posted speed limit today is 85 mph on Texas State Highway 130.

January 4, 1948 – Benedum Field discovered Deep in Permian Basin

petroleum history january

Tom Slick Jr. of Oklahoma helped Michael Benedum of Pennsylvania discover a deep Permian Basin field in Texas. Image from February 16, 1948, LIFE magazine.

After years of frustration, exploration of the Permian Basin suddenly intensified again in 1948 after a wildcat well found oil and natural gas in a deep formation. The Slick-Urschel Oil Company drilled the well in partnership with Michael Late Benedum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Benedum had completed hundreds of successful wells since discovering West Virginia oilfields in the 1890s.

The new Permian Basin discovery, the Alford No. 1 well, 50 miles south of Midland, Texas, was completed at 12,011 feet. Another West Texas well two decades earlier, Santa-Rita No. 1, had produced oil from just 440 feet deep.

The Benedum partnership had drilled 10,000 feet in less than five months, but it had taken another seven months to penetrate 384 feet. Help came from Tom Slick Jr., the son of Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, who branched off the well using a “whipstock” and reached the prolific limestone formation. The field (later reclassified as gas) was named in 1950 by the Texas Railroad Commission in honor of Benedum, “who devoted 69 of his 90 years to the oil business.”


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