October 19, 1990 – First Emergency Use of Strategic Petroleum Reserve – 

As world oil prices spiked after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops, the first presidentially mandated emergency use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was authorized by George H. W. Bush, who ordered sale of five million barrels of SPR oil as a test to “demonstrate the readiness of the system under real life conditions,” according to the Department of Energy.

Map of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve sites in 2018.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve’s four oil storage facilities are grouped into three geographical pipeline distribution systems
in Texas and Louisiana. Map courtesy U.S. Department of Energy, Report to Congress, December 2018.

Although SPR oil had been pumped in other tests, emergency competitive sales were previously done in government simulations. DOE offered oil to 11 firms that submitted the highest offers from the 33 companies that had responded to the department’s solicitation. “The amount sold was less than the 5 million barrels offered because of a lack of bids for one of the six types of crude oil the department advertised for sale,” DOE noted.

President Ford established the SPR in 1975 as a protection against severe supply interruptions. By 2020, four underground salt dome sites along the Gulf Coast stored 735 million barrels of oil — the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world.

October 20, 1949 –  Maryland produces Some Natural Gas

The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland was drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County — the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer Beachy well produced about 500 thousand cubic feet of natural gas a day.

Maryland map of first natural gas well, Garrett County.

No oil has been produced in Maryland.

The discovery well prompted a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depleted the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produced natural gas, but overall production from the field was low. No oil has been found in Maryland.

October 21, 1921 – First Natural Gas Well in New Mexico

New Mexico’s natural gas industry began when the newly formed Aztec Oil Syndicate’s State No. 1 well found gas reserves about 15 miles northeast of Farmington in San Juan County.

Map of northern New Mexico oil and gas wells.

New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service began after a 1921 discovery near Aztec. Oil discoveries followed in the southeast.

The drilling crew used a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead was shipped in from Colorado. The well produced 10 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. By Christmas, a pipeline reached two miles into the town of Aztec where citizens enjoyed New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service. In 1922, natural gas could be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month (for a gas heater) and $2.25 (for a gas stove).

Learn more about the state’s petroleum history in New First Mexico Oil Wells.

October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well launches Wyoming Boom

Wyoming’s first oil boom began when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek completed the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper. The Salt Creek area’s oil potential had been known since the 1880s, but a central salt dome received little attention until Italian geologist Cesare Porro recommended drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.

“Big Dutch” No. 1 discovery well gushing oil in Wyoming in 1908.

The “Big Dutch” No. 1 well, above, launched a Wyoming drilling boom in 1908. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

An English corporation, the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drilled the discovery well, which produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet deep. By 1930, about one-fifth of all oil produced in the United States came from the Salt Creek oilfield. Water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004.

Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

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October 23, 1948 – “Smart Pig” advances Pipeline Inspection

Northern Natural Gas Company recorded the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds. The company examined a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – today known as a “smart pig” – traveled up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.

A pipeline inspector examines a "smart Pig."

A pipeline worker inspects a “smart pig.” Photo courtesy Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal.

As early as 1926, U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” suitable for large pipelines. Modern inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.

October 23, 1970 – LNG powers World Land Speed Record

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered the Blue Flame to a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour. A rocket motor combining LNG and hydrogen peroxide fueled the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame, which set the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The unique motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.

Sponsored by the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame design came from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth. After building their record-setting X-1 rocket dragster in 1967 — and getting the attention of AGA executives — the engineers began designing the far more ambitious Blue Flame.

Speedquest Blue Flame vdeo produced by American Oil and Gas Historical Society and engineer Dick Keller.

After interviewing Dick Keller and editing a collection of his home movies in 2013, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society produced a video now viewed more than 47,000 times on YouTube.

Interviewed in 2013 by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society for an AOGHS video made from his home movies, Keller explained that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, the AGA “suits” saw value in educating consumers about natural gas as a fuel. To commemorate in 2020 the 50th anniversary of his natural gas powered rocket car’s achievement, Keller published Speedquest: Inside the Blue Flame.

Keller tells the inside story of the last American team to set the world land speed record (held since 1997 by the British jet car Thrust SSC). And as he has often proclaimed, the Blue Flame, fueled by clean-burning natural gas, remains “the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”

Learn more in Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

October 25, 1929 – Cabinet Member guilty in Teapot Dome Scandal

Albert B. Fall, appointed Secretary of the Interior in 1921 by President Warren G. Harding, was found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office, becoming the first cabinet official in U.S. history to be convicted of a felony. An executive order from President Harding had given Fall full control of the Naval Petroleum Reserves.

Teapot Rock in Wyoming before "spout" collapsed.

Wyoming’s Teapot Dome oilfield was named after Teapot Rock, whose “spout” has long since broken off. Photo courtesy Casper College Western History Center.

Fall was found guilty of secretly leasing the navy’s oil reserve lands to Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil Company and to Edward Doheny, discoverer of the Los Angeles oilfield. The noncompetitive leases were awarded to Doheny’s Pan American Petroleum Company (reserves at Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills, California), and Sinclair’s Mammoth Oil Company (reserve at Teapot Dome, Wyoming). Fall received more than $400,000 from the two oil companies.

In Senate hearings, it emerged that cash was delivered to Fall in a Washington, D.C., hotel.  The Interior Secretary was convicted for taking a bribe, fined $100,000, and sentenced to one year in prison. Sinclair and Doheny were acquitted, but Sinclair spent six-and-a-half months in prison for contempt of court and the U.S. Senate.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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