March 2, 1922 – Osage Nation Oil Lease sells for $1 Million

Under the broad crown of a giant elm next to the Osage Council House in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Skelly Oil and Phillips Petroleum Company jointly bid more than one million dollars for just a 160-acre tract of land.

E.E. Walters auctions Osage leases in shade of Elm tree

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters (in striped shirt) was famous as “auctioneer of the Osage Nation.”

The 1922 auction – Oklahoma’s first million dollar mineral lease – took place in the shade of what became known as the Million Dollar Elm. Prominent independent producers such as Frank Phillips, Harry Sinclair, Bill Skelly, J. Paul Getty and E.W. Marland were frequent bidders for promising leases on the Indian Reservation. The Osage later awarded a medal to their friend Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters, the Million Dollar Auctioneer.

March 3, 1879 – United States Geological Survey established

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) was established when President Rutherford B. Hayes signed legislation that included a brief section creating a new agency in the Department of the Interior. The 1879 legislation resulted from a report by the National Academy of Sciences, which had been asked by Congress to provide a plan for surveying the territories of the United States. The new agency’s mission included “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain,” notes a USGS history. Today based in Reston, Virginia, USGS has the largest earth sciences library in the world.

March 3, 1886 – Natural Gas brings light to Paola, Kansas

residents of Paola Kansas dressed in 19th century outfits

Paola, Kansas, residents annually celebrate their town’s natural gas heritage of the late 1880s.

Paola became the first town in Kansas to use natural gas commercially for illumination. To promote the town’s natural gas discovery – and attract businesses from nearby Kansas City – four gas-fueled arches were erected in the town square. Pipes were laid for other illuminated displays. “Paola was lighted with Gas,” explains the Miami County Historical Museum. “The pipeline was completed from the Westfall farm to the square and a grand illumination was held.”

By the end of 1887, several Kansas flour mills were fueled by natural gas. But with little understanding of conservation, Paola’s gas wells ran dry. Fortunately, more boom times arrive with oil discoveries. Learn more in First Kansas Oil Well.

March 4, 1918 – West Virginia Well is World’s Deepest

rare West Virginia oil well cable tool image

This 1918 West Virginia oil well was the world’s deepest. Photo courtesy West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.

Hope Natural Gas Company completed an oil well at 7,386 feet deep on the Martha Goff farm in Harrison County, West Virginia. The well northeast of Clarksburg was the world’s deepest at the time, notes the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association in A Century of Service, a 2015 book about the association’s founding 50 years earlier. The previous depth record had been 7,345 feet for a well in Germany.

The title for world’s deepest well moved again in 1919 to Marion County, West Virginia. In 1953, the New York State Natural Gas Corporation claimed the world’s deepest cable-tool well at a depth of 11,145 feet near the town of Van Etten. At the end of 2017, the rotary rig depth record was held by a Russian well drilled 40,502 feet deep on Sakhalin Island. Learn more West Virginia petroleum history in Confederates attack Oilfield and visit the oil museum in Parkersburg.

March 4, 1933 – Oklahoma City Oilfield under Martial Law

TIME magazine feature Bill Murray

William “Alfalfa” Murray in 1932.

Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray declared martial law to enforce his proration regulations limiting production in the Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered in December 1928 and one of the largest producing fields in the state.

Two years earlier, Murray had called a meeting of fellow governors from Texas, Kansas and New Mexico to create an Oil States Advisory Committee, “to study the present distressed condition of the petroleum industry.” Elected in 1930, he was called “Alfalfa Bill” because of speeches urging farmers to plant alfalfa to restore nitrogen to the soil. The controversial politician was also known as the “Sage of Tishomingo.” By the end of his administration, Murray had called out the National Guard 47 times and declared martial law more than 30 times. He was succeeded as Oklahoma governor by E.W. Marland in 1935.

March 5, 1895 – First Wyoming Refinery produces Lubricants

petroleum history march

The original Casper oil refinery in Wyoming, circa 1895. Photo courtesy Wyoming Tales and Trails.

Near the Chicago & North Western railroad tracks in Casper, Civil War veteran Philip “Mark” Shannon and his Pennsylvania investors opened Wyoming’s first refinery. It could produce 100 barrels a day of 15 different grades of lubricant, from “light cylinder oil” to heavy grease. Shannon and his associates incorporated as Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Company.

By 1904, Shannon’s company owned 14 wells in the Salt Creek field, about 45 miles from the company’s refinery (two days by wagon). Each well produced up to 40 barrels of oil per day, which was more than the Casper market could accommodate.

Despite Casper’s growing population (1900 census counted 92,531) and improved railroad access, transportation costs meant that Wyoming oil could not successfully compete for the distant eastern markets. Wyoming’s first real petroleum boom would have to wait until 1908, when Salt Creek’s “Big Dutch” well was completed. Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

March 5, 1963 – Patent for a Perpetually Popular Petroleum Product

Hula hoop patent drawing for petroleum product 1963

“Extruded tubing is desirable because it may be economically fabricated in continuous lengths,” Arthur Melin noted in his patent application.

Arthur “Spud” Melin, co-founder of Wham-O, received a patent for the Hula Hoop, a 42-inch toy manufactured with a newly invented petroleum product, the world’s first high-density polyethylene plastic.

While searching for the right material to make Frisbees and Hula Hoops in the 1950s, Melin and partner Richard Kerr chose Marlex, a plastic invented by chemists at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Although Phillips Petroleum had introduced Marlex in 1954, the transition from the laboratory to mass production proved difficult. Customers for the new, hard plastic failed to materialize. Marketing executives were relieved in 1957 when demand for Wham-O’s “Pluto Platter” – today’s Frisbee – began to empty warehouses full of Marlex pellets. When Wham-O first introduced Hula Hoops in 1958, the company sold 25 million in four months. Learn more in Petroleum Product Hoopla.

March 6, 1935 – Search for First Utah Oil proves Deadly

oil history march derrick in Utah oilfield

A 1935 attempt to find oil in Utah proved deadly. Photo courtesy Washington County Historical Society.

More than a decade before Utah’s first successful oil well, residents of St. George had hoped the “shooting” of Arrowhead Petroleum Company’s Escalante No. 1 wildcat well would bring prosperity to their small town a few miles to the north. Unaware of impending danger, between 70 and 100 people gathered to watch as workers prepared to fracture a sand formation 3,200 feet deep.

An explosion occurred at about 9:40 pm while six 10-foot-long torpedoes, “each loaded with nitroglycerin and TNT and hanging from the derrick, were being lowered into the well,” noted the Washington County Historical Society. Ten people lost their lives and dozens were injured by the explosion, which “sent a shaft of fire into the night that was seen as far as 18 miles away.”

The accident, still Utah’s worst petroleum-related disaster, was investigated in The Escalante Well Incident, a personal perspective written in 2007 by Clark N. Nelson Sr., and based upon historical accounts, photograph comparisons, and a search for the former site. The first commercial Utah oil well would be competed in September 1948 near Vernal in the Uinta Basin, 400 miles northeast from St. George.

March 7, 1902 – Oil discovered at Sour Lake, Texas

petroleum history march 7

“The resort town of Sour Lake, 20 miles northwest of Beaumont, was transformed into an oil boom town when a gusher was hit in 1902,” notes the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Adding to giant Texas oilfields, the Sour Lake oilfield was revealed just a few miles from the world-famous Spindletop field discovered about one year earlier. The spa town of Sour Lake soon became a boom town where many oil companies, including Texaco, got their start.

Originally settled in 1835 and called Sour Lake Springs because of its “sulphureus spring water” known for healing, the sulfur wells attracted petroleum exploration companies. As the science of petroleum geology evolved, some geologists predicted a Sour Lake salt dome formation similar to that predicted by Pattillo Higgins, the Prophet of Spindletop.

Sour Lake’s 1902 discovery well was the second attempt of the Great Western Company. The well, drilled “north of the old hotel building,” penetrated 40 feet of oil sands before reaching a total depth of about 700 feet. The well was the first of many to bring riches to Hardin County, whose oilfield yielded almost nine million barrels of oil within a year. The Texas Company made its first major oil find at Sour Lake in 1903 (see Sour Lake produces Texaco).

March 7, 2007 – National Artificial Reef Plan updated

petroleum history march

A typical platform provides almost three acres of feeding habitat for thousands of species. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, approved a comprehensive update of the 1985 National Artificial Reef Plan, popularly known as the Rigs to Reefs program.

Exploiting 20 years of offshore experience, NMFS worked closely with interstate marine fisheries commissions and state artificial reef programs, “to promote and facilitate responsible and effective artificial reef use based on the best scientific information available.”

The revised National Artificial Reef Plan included guidelines for siting, construction, development, and assessment of artificial reefs. Today, more than 500 decommissioned petroleum platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are home to thousands of diverse marine species.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for more information. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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