First Oklahoma Oil Well

Indian Territory onlookers gathered in Bartlesville for the 1897 “shooting” of the Nellie Johnstone No.1 oil well.

 

Soon after the Civil War, America’s search for oil to refine into kerosene for lamps prompted entrepreneurs, speculators, and the new petroleum industry’s “wildcatters” to seek their fortunes on the great plains of the Indian Territory.

The rolling hills and plains west of Arkansas were part of land reserved for Native Americans by the U.S. Congress and home to an indigenous people as well as the “Five Civilized Tribes” — Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, and Chickasaw, that had been forced to relocate from southeastern states.

A pink granite rock marks the spot of first Oklahoma oil well.

A pink granite rock marks the spot where a large crowd gathered at Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well to witness history being made in 1897. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Each of the Five Civilized Tribes established national territorial boundaries, constitutional governments, and advanced judicial and public school systems. The Indian Territory included present-day Oklahoma north and east of the Red River, as well as Kansas and Nebraska.

Fifty-one years before Oklahoma statehood, in 1856 the Indian Territory had become home to the Five Civilized Tribes — as well as the Osage, Pawnee, Seneca, Shawnee, Delaware, and other American Indians. A non-tribal member coming into the Indian Territory to work was required to take out a license or permit; one who married into a tribe was adopted and able to share in tribal property. (more…)

First Arkansas Oil Wells

Oil discoveries at El Dorado and Smackover brought 1920s drilling booms.

Wildcat wells created two Arkansas oil and natural gas boom towns, boosted the career of a young wildcatter named Haroldson Hunt while launching the state’s petroleum industry.

The first Arkansas well that yielded “sufficient quantities of oil” was the Hunter No. 1 of April 16, 1920, in Ouachita County, according to the Arkansas Geological Survey. Natural gas was discovered a few days later by Constantine Oil and Refining Company north of the present-day El Dorado field in Union County. 

The January 1921 well in the same field that marked the true beginning of commercial oil production in Arkansas.

Arkansas oil and gas

Surrounded by 20 acres of woodlands, the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, seven miles north of El Dorado – in equally historic Smackover – exhibits the state’s petroleum history.

When the Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well struck oil in 1921, it catapulted the population of nearby El Dorado, Arkansas, from 4,000 to 25,000. The discovery, 15 miles north of the Louisiana border, was the state’s first commercial oil well.

“Twenty-two trains a day were soon running in and out of El Dorado,” noted the Arkansas Gazette. An excited state legislature announced plans for a special railway excursion for lawmakers to visit the oil well in Union County. Meanwhile, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt arrived from Texas with $50. He joined the crowd of lease traders and speculators at the Garrett Hotel – where fortunes were being made and lost.

H.L. Hunt, who had borrowed the $50, got his start as an independent oil and natural gas producer in El Dorado. Many people said it was his expertise at the poker table that earned him enough to purchase a one-half acre parcel lease. He drilled his Hunt-Pickering No. 1 well, which at first produced some oil, but ultimately was not profitable.

Hunt persevered and in four years had acquired substantial El Dorado and Smackover oilfield holdings. By 1925, he  was a successful 36-year-old oilman with wife Lyda and three young children living comfortably in a fine three-story El Dorado home. He will add to his oil patch successes a decade later in East Texas (see East Texas Oilfield Discovery).

Giant Oilfield at El Dorado

Located on a hill a little over a mile southwest of El Dorado, the derrick was plainly visible from the town, according to historians A.R. and R.B. Buckalew. They write that three “gassers” had been completed in the general vicinity, but did not produce oil in commercial quantities. There was no market for natural gas at the time, the authors explained in their 1974 book, The Discovery of Oil in South Arkansas, 1920-1924.

Arkansas oil and gas

The Garrett Hotel, where H.L. Hunt checked in with 50 borrowed dollars – and launched his career as a successful independent producer.

Yet Dr. Samuel T. Busey was convinced “there was oil down there somewhere.”

The authors added, “among those who gambled their savings with Busey at this time were Wong Hing, also called Charles Louis, a Chinese laundry man, and Ike Felsenthal, whose family had created a community in southeast Union County in earlier years.”

With no oil production nearby, investing in the “wildcat” well was a leap of faith. Chal Daniels, who was overseeing drilling operations for Busey, contributed the hefty sum of $1,000. On January 10, 1921, the well had been drilled to 2,233 feet and reached the Nacatoch Sand. A small crowd of onlookers and the drilling crew after moving a safe distance away watched and listened.

“The spectators, among them Dr. Busey, watched with an air of expectancy,” noted the historians. “Drilling had ceased and bailing operations had begun to try to bring in the well. At about 4:30 p.m., as the bailer was being lifted from its sixth trip into the deep hole, a rumble from deep in the well was heard.”

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The rumbling grew in intensity, “shaking the derrick and the very ground on which it stood as if an earthquake were passing,” the authors report. “Suddenly, with a deafening roar, ‘a thick black column’ of gas and oil and water shot out of the well,” they added.

The gusher blows through the derrick and “bursts into a black mushroom” cloud against the January sky. The Busey No. 1 well produced 15,000,000 to 35,000,000 cubic feet of gas and from 3,000 to 10,000 barrels of oil and water a day.

Petroleum brings Prosperity

Thanks to the El Dorado discovery, the first Arkansas petroleum boom was on. By 1922, there were 900 producing wells in the state.

Arkansas oil and gas

Civic leaders raised funds to preserve El Dorado’s historic downtown – and add an Oil Heritage Park at 101 East Main Street.

“Three months after the Busey well came in, work was under way on an amusement park located three blocks from the town that would include a swimming pool, picnic grounds, rides and concessions,” notes the Union County Sheriff’s Office. “Culture was not forgotten as an old cotton shed in the center of town near the railroad tracks was converted to an auditorium.”

The 68-square-mile field will lead U.S. oil output in 1925 – with production reaching 70 million barrels. “It was a scene never again to be equaled in El Dorado’s history, nor would the town and its people ever be the same again,” the authors conclude. “Union County’s dream of oil had come true.”

In 2002, El Dorado gathered 40 local artists to paint 55 oil drums donated by the local Murphy Oil Company. Preserving the town’s historic assets, including boom-era buildings, remains a major goal of the local group, Main Street El Dorado, which was the “2009 Great American Main Street Award Winner” of the National Trust Main Street Center.

Second Oil Boom: The Smackover Discovery

Prior to the January 1921 El Dorado discovery, the region’s economy relied almost exclusively on the cotton and the timber industries “that thrived in the vast virgin forests of southern Arkansas.”

Logo for City of Smackover, Arkansas.

Petroleum wealth helped Smackover, Arkansas, incorporate in 1922.

Incorporated in 1922, Smackover, Arkansas, had been a small agricultural and sawmill community. Today, the town celebrates its petroleum heritage with the annual “Oil Town Festival” in June.

Six months after the Busey-Armgstrong No. 1, another giant oilfield discovery 12 miles north will bring national attention – and lead to the incorporation of Smackover. A small agricultural and sawmill community with a population of 131, Smackover had been settled by French fur trappers in 1844. They called the area “Sumac-Couvert”, meaning covered with sumac or shumate bushes.

According to historian Don Lambert, by 1908 Sidney Umsted operated a large sawmill and logging venture two miles north of town. He believed that oil lay beneath the surface. “On July 1, 1922, Umsted’s wildcat well (Richardson No. 1) produced a gusher from a depth of 2,066 feet,” Lambert reports. “Within six months, 1,000 wells had been drilled, with a success rate of ninety-two percent. The little town had increased from a mere ninety to 25,000 and its uncommon name would quickly attain national attention.”

Oil drenched roughnecks photographed at 1922 Arkansas oil well.

Roughnecks photographed following the July 1, 1922, discovery of the Smackover (Richardson) field in Union County. Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives.

The oil-producing area of the Smackover field covered more than 25,000 acres. By 1925, it had become the largest-producing oil site in the world. The field will produce 583 million barrels of oil by 2001.

Visit the Arkansas Natural Resources Museum in Smackover — the heart of the Smackover field. The museum includes a five-acre Oilfield Park with operating examples of oil producing technologies used in south Arkansas oilfields from the 1920s to today.

Arkansas Fayetteville Shale Map.

Abundant natural gas in the Fayetteville shale formation brought more drilling to Arkansas.

About one-third of the 75 Arkansas counties produce oil and or natural gas. By 2010, more than 40,800 wells had been drilled since 1921’s Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well in Union County.

Thanks to advances in drilling technologies combined with hydraulic fracturing, the Fayetteville Shale (a 50-mile-wide formation across central Arkansas), added vast natural gas reserves — and launched a new petroleum boom for the state. Unlike traditional fields containing hydrocarbons in porous formations, shale holds natural gas in a fine-grained rock or “tight sands.” Until the 1990s, drilling in most shale formations was not considered profitable for production.

Surrounded by 20 acres of lush woodlands, an oil museum collects and exhibits southern Arkansas petroleum – and brine – industrial history. It also documents a fascinating social history that accompanied the state’s oil boom of the 1920s.

Opened in 1986,  Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources educates visitors in the heart of the historic Smackover oilfield. Exhibits explain how the Busey No. 1 well near El Dorado “blew-in with a gusty fury” in January 1921. The museum can be found one mile south of the once oil-rich town of Smackover.

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Recommended Reading:  Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901-1946 (1982);  The Three Families of H. L. Hunt (1989);  Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery (2008) . Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Arkansas Oil Wells.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/arkansas-oil-and-gas-boom-towns. Last Updated: January 3, 2021. Original Published Date: April 21, 2013.

First North Dakota Oil Well

Drilling began in September 1950 on the Iverson family farm. The first blizzard arrived in January.

 

Roughnecks at the remote “wildcat” well in Clarence Iverson’s wheat field northeast of Williston endured a North Dakota winter before finding oil on April 4, 1951. The discovery well launched the first drilling boom of the state’s Williston Basin.

At about one in the morning on April 4, after four months of hard drilling and with snow piled high from recent blizzards,  the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well produced oil. Amerada Petroleum’s 1951 discovery – the first commercial oil well in North Dakota – will help reveal a prolific petroleum basin stretching from North and South Dakota, Montana, and into Canada.

Granite monument to oil discovery in North DakotaAfter decades of dry holes drilled from one corner of the state to the other, in 1951 new technologies and determination – true grit – brought North Dakota’s first oil discovery. Photo courtesy BakenBlog.com.

Although this wildcat drilling attempt had been regarded with great skepticism, within two months of the strike 30 million acres were under lease. A 2008 article in the Bismarck Tribune, quoted Sid Anderson, the former state geologist, who was a college student at the University of North Dakota when oil was discovered.

First North Dakota oil well where Cliff Iverson stands by his well's monument

Cliff Iverson stands by a monument on the family farm in Tioga, North Dakota, in August 2008. The monument marks the April 4, 1951, oil discovery on his late father’s farm.

“It was brand new, then, and pretty exciting times,” said Anderson. The amber-colored oil in the area was of such high quality, Anderson recalled, that “you could have run a diesel with it straight from the well.”

“This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II,” James Key declared in Word and Picture Story of Williston and Area. The Williston Basin would  produce more than five billion barrels of oil by 2008.

By 1952, Standard Oil of Indiana was building a 30,000 barrel per day refinery, he notes. Forty-two oilfield service and supply companies had opened offices in Williston. In June, Service Pipeline Company announced it would build a pipeline to the Standard refinery.

First North Dakota oil well map shows geology basins

U.S. Bureau of Land Management map illustrates Bakken Shale Formation and the Williston Basin.

Key added that although the Williston Basin is named after the city of Williston, it was first exposed in 1912 by Dr. W. T. Thom, Jr. , “a sophomore studying geology when he happened into a creek bed in the area of the Cannonball River. It was his discovery of coral that led him to believe that the area was once inundated by an ancient sea.”

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On June 17, 2014, North Dakota oil production surpassed one million barrels per day thanks to development of the Bakken shale formation in the western part of the state. State officials reported North Dakota produced 1,001,149 barrels of oil a day from a record 10,658 wells. Industry journalists, proclaiming the milestone a sign America was freeing itself from foreign oil, referred to the state as “Saudi Dakota.”

North Dakota Dry Holes

The earliest permit issued for oil exploration in North Dakota came from the state geologist in 1923. By the late 1930s, petroleum companies were working with a growing North Dakota Geological Survey to improve the science behind exploration, which often featured difficult formations, including granite, thwarting drilling technologies of the day.

 First North Dakota oil well refinery in Williston Basin

The 1951 well that launched North Dakota’s first oil boom was drilled by Amerada Petroleum, now Hess Petroleum, which today operates a gas processing plant not far from the discovery well northeast of Williston.

According to historian Clarence Herz, despite repeated failures, companies continued to come to North Dakota and spend large amounts of money on leases and drilling. “There were no indications from any of the wells they drilled that they were even close to production, but that did not deter them,” said Herz, adding that the expensive lessons even resulted in positive developments.

“A more skilled labor force and continuous technological innovation that included the use of explosives, acid and newly invented scientific instruments meant an acceleration of the drilling process as wells were not only being drilled faster, but deeper and at a much higher cost,” Herz explained.

One such invention came from two Frenchman, Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger,” he added. “Schlumberger was fast becoming a household name in the oil industry for the development of an electrical resistivity well log created by the French brothers in 1927.

Although it failed to find oil in the 1930s, the California Oil Company used technological and scientific breakthroughs like rotary drilling and seismometers to reach a depth previously unheard of in the state. A well spudded in October 1937 had to be abandoned in August 1938 when the drill pipe twisted off in the hole almost two miles deep.

Attempts to “fish” the pipe failed.

California Oil Company’s failure did not stop exploration in other areas of the state, Herz said, citing a report noting that most major oil companies sent men to North Dakota to investigate and in many instances to buy leases. It took the Carter Oil Company three months with modern equipment to drill nearly 5,000 feet – and end up with a dry hole in 1940. Two years later the company still had not found any oil.

Herz noted that after World War II, “From one corner of the state to the other companies leap-frogged one another in anticipation of being the first to identify an oil producing zone.” Continental Oil Company in cooperation with the Pure Oil Company moved into North Dakota in the spring of 1949 after having leased about 1.5 million acres.

In September 1950, Magnolia Petroleum Company became the latest company to drill a North Dakota dry hole. The well reached a depth of 5,556 feet, found granite, and was plugged and abandoned. Soon, however, others would come to work on North Dakota drilling rigs.

The Discovery Well

Throughout the entire discovery period dry holes were not looked at as failures, but as learning experiences as valuable geologic and technical knowledge was gained from each attempt.

first  North Dakota oil well map of giant Williston Basin

In 1950, geologist Thomas W. Leach convinced Amerada Petroleum of Tulsa that oil could be found in North Dakota’s Nesson Anticline.

An independent oilman and investor, Thomas W. Leach was a former chief geologist for an Oklahoma oil company who was convinced oil could be found. In the late 1930s he had convinced Standard Oil Company of California to drill a 10,281-foot well there.

The site Leach suggested did not find any oil – costing Standard Oil almost a million dollars.

After World War II, where he served as a Captain of U.S. Army Artillery, Leach returned to North Dakota and continued leasing land. The geologist eventually convinced Amerada Petroleum of Tulsa that success could be found in the Nesson Anticline about 50 miles northeast of Williston.

A site was selected on Clarence Iverson’s family farm near Tioga and drilling began on September 3, 1950, Herz reported. There was little to report until January 1951, “except the depth of the bit, the conditioning of the mud, and the occasional tripping pipe.”

Following a January 29 blizzard that shut down the well, drilling continued until total depth – 11,744 feet – was reached on February 4, 1951. No oil was found. It was decided to try “shooting” the well.

 first North Dakota oil well plaque for Roberts torpedo (fracking)

A Pennsylvania historical marker commemorates the “Roberts Torpedo.”

“The practice of perforating a well, or using explosives to perforate the rock, is not new,” says Herz. Colonel Edward A. L. Roberts first used his “Roberts Torpedo” in 1865. The practice was successful and soon the dry holes of Pennsylvania were turned into producers by blasting wells with nitroglycerin torpedoes. Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

On March 1, the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well was “shot” from 11,706 feet to 11,729 feet using a Lane-Wells Company “Koneshot,” but still no oil was found. According to Herz, perforation became a standard practice whereby multiple charges attached to a gun were lowered into the wells casing. Once into place the charges were fired, perforating the well at small intervals, hopefully releasing the oil from the rock.

“The Koneshot was a type of perforating gun that used a shaped charge. It was another innovation,” Herz explained, adding that it “contained shaped charges in a spiral placement in a steel housing at a three-inch centerline distance from each other.” The design was an improvement over some of the early perforators. Learn more history about perforating with shaped charges in Downhole Bazooka.

Work on the Iverson well was again halted the week of March 5 by another blizzard. The well would remain idle for several weeks until the snow choked roads could be cleared for passage. With the well plugged back to a depth of 11,669 feet, the work stopped to make repairs and prepare for another perforation.

 first North Dakota oil well newspaper photo of drilling rig.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota preserves the Williston newspaper’s photo of the Clarence Iverson No. 1 drilling rig surrounded by snow.

The well was again perforated, this time from 11,630 feet to 11,640 feet with four holes per foot. At 12:55 a.m. on the April 4, 1951, the Clarence Iverson No. 1 began producing about 240 barrels of oil a day. The state of North Dakota finally had its first discovery well.

According to a 2008 Associated Press article, at first Clarence Iverson wasn’t pleased when seismologists exploded dynamite in his wheat fields looking for oil. His son Cliff, who was 20 when oil was found on the family farm, remembers his father smiling when oil surfaced.

“He worried a lot about his water wells,” Cliff said of his father. The farm became one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Upper Midwest after oil was discovered there. “They came from as far as Minnesota and all over North Dakota and Montana,” he added. “People knew it was history in the making, and it changed a lot of people’s lives.”

The Clarence Iverson No. 1 well alone produced 585,000 barrels oil for 28 years. Clarence Iverson died in 1986, a wealthy man “who never got used to all that money.”

The Bakken Shale

The earliest producing wells of the Bakken shale formation were drilled in the early 1950s on Henry O. Bakken’s farm less than five miles from the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well.

Occupying about 200,000 square miles within the Williston Basin, the oil shale of the Bakken formation may be the largest domestic oil resource since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, according to many experts. But petroleum industry efforts to extract shale oil using conventional vertical wells historically have proven difficult.

“The Clarence Iverson well produced from the Silurian, Duperow and Madison formations, but not the Bakken, according to Kathy Neset, a geologist who moved to Tioga from New Jersey in 1979. “There are several oil-producing formations at different depths within the larger Williston Basin.”

The Bakken formation frustrated a lot of geologists for years, “because they knew the oil was there but they didn’t have the technology to extract the oil,” Neset adds in a 2012 article, Famous Bakken Formation Named For North Dakota Homesteaders. The Bakken formation first produced in 1953 from a well named after Henry Bakken, the landowner. Like the Williston discovery well, it was also drilled by Amerada Petroleum. This first shale well was on the Nesson Anticline, now known as a “sweet spot” of the Bakken, home to natural fractures in the rock, according to the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc.

Although North Dakota has been an oil producing state since 1951, only during the past decade has the Bakken oil boom made it the fourth largest oil producing state in the country and one of the largest onshore plays in the United States. “The Bakken is a shale oil play. It is conventional, light-sweet crude oil, trapped 10,000 feet below the surface within shale rock,” the foundation explains. The Bakken shale play consists of three layers – an upper layer of shale rock, a middle layer of sandstone/dolomite, and a lower layer of shale rock. The middle sandstone layer is what is commonly drilled and fracked.

“Production was mainly from a few vertical wells – until the 1980s when horizontal technology became available,” adds a 2008 article in the Oil Drum. “Only recently after the intensive application of horizontal wells combined with hydraulic fracturing technology did production really take off.”

 North Dakota Williston Basin geologic map of Bakken shale

The Bakken shale play consists of three layers, according to the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc. The middle sandstone layer is what is commonly drilled and fractured.

U.S. Geological Survey has estimated 3.0 billion barrels to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in America’s portion of the Bakken formation, elevating it to a “world-class” accumulation. The Geological Survey’s 2008 assessment of the Bakken shale’s potential is a 25-fold increase in the amount of “technically recoverable” oil compared to the agency’s 1995 estimate of just 151 million barrels of oil.

According to state statistics, oil production from the Bakken in North Dakota has steadily increased from about 28 million barrels in 2008, to 50 million barrels in 2009 to approximately 86 million barrels in 2010.

“The Bakken formation is producing an ever-increasing amount of oil for domestic consumption while providing increasing royalty revenues to American Indian tribes and individual Indian mineral owners in North Dakota and Montana,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salaza concluded 2011.

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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. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First North Dakota Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/north-dakota-williston-basin. Last Updated: March 29, 2021. Original Published Date: March 31, 2014.

 

Pump Jack Capital of Texas

Reports of oil gusher at Electra in 1911 were first believed an April Fool’s Day joke.

 

The April 1, 1911, geyser of oil at the Clayco No. 1 well near Electra, Texas, would bring a drilling boom, prosperity, and later the title of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.”

Electra was a small farm town barely four years old when the black gold excitement began in early 1911. It became oil fever when another oil gusher erupted at Ranger in neighboring Eastland County in 1917. When a third drilling boom began at Burkburnett in 1918, even Hollywood noticed.

An amazing series of oilfield discoveries brought petroleum prosperity to North Texas and launched hundreds of oil companies. The surge in oil production would fuel America’s Model T Fords, help bring victory in World War I, convince Conrad Hilton to buy his first hotel, and inspire the Academy Award-winning movie “Boomtown.” 

pump jack capital of texas scenes of oil boom architecture

An April 1, 1911, oil discovery brought prosperity to Electra, Texas, helping to build the community’s theater in 1920 and high school in 1923. A commemorative afghan is shown off by lovely ladies of Electra in 2005: Chamber of Commerce members Shirley Craighead, Georgia Eakin and Jeanette Miller. Color photos by Bruce Wells.

As early as 1913, new Mid-Continent oilfields like Electra were producing almost half of all the oil in Texas. Refineries began to appear in Wichita Falls in 1915 when Wichita County alone reported 1,025 producing wells.

(more…)

World-Famous “Wild Mary Sudik”

“Clever equipment” brought a 1930 headline-making Oklahoma City gusher under control.

 

The 1930 geyser of “black gold” was ideal for Hollywood newsreels as the worst of the Great Depression loomed. NBC Radio rushed to cover efforts to control the “Wild Mary Sudik” blow-out and gusher. Within a week the struggle to contain the Oklahoma City oilfield well made headlines worldwide.

Wild Mary Sudik oil gusher seen in 1 1930 panorama photo

“Wild Mary Sudik” newsreels soon appeared in theaters around the country. When the well was brought under control, crews recovered 200,000 barrels of oil from pits and ponds.

The Mary Sudik No. 1 well had erupted after striking a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath the Sudik farm. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control.

The well produced an astonishing 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day – too much for the drilling technologies of the day. Efforts to tame “Wild Mary” became a public sensation. The attempts were regularly featured in newsreels and on radio, according to Oklahoma Journeys, an audio program of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

“At about 6:30 the morning of March 26, 1930, the crew of roughnecks drilling a well on the property of Vincent Sudik paused in their work,” the program begins about the well drilled near present day I-240 and Bryant Street in Oklahoma City. “The tired drillers had been waiting for daylight to continue their work,” the audio tape notes.

Newspaper headline about "steel muzzle" used to cap oil gusher.

Experts control the well with “a clever ball-shaped contrivance” that lowers a two-ton “overshot” cap.

The crew was unfamiliar with the formation’s hazards, explains narrator Michael Dean, who says that after drilling to 6,471 feet, they overlooked signs of a dangerous pressure increase in the well. “The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” he reports. “They didn’t know the Wilcox Sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that sand under so much pressure found a release.”

The drilling crew was caught off guard when oil and natural gas suddenly “came roaring out of the hole,” Dean adds. “Pipe stems were thrown hundreds of feet into the air like so many tooth picks. First there was gas then the flow turned green gold and then black. Oil shot hundreds of feet into the air, and for the next eleven days, the Mary Sudik ran wild.”

“Wild Mary Sudik” Daily Updates

On April 6, Floyd Gibbons of NBC Radio – who broadcast regularly about the well – reported that after two unsuccessful attempts, the well was closed with a two-ton “overshot” cap.

An Associated Press article described the “clever equipment” required to control the well without sparking a fire – a “double die was screwed into four inches of casing threads…a clever ball-shaped contrivance, called a fantail, was used to affix the double die to the casing.”

The fantail was placed over the well, “and the ‘Wild Mary’s’ pressure, playing through jets in the contrivance, aided in lowering the cap through the blast,” the article explained. “With the petroleum geyser halted, operators in the field drew sighs of relief,” it concluded. “A stray spark from two clanking pieces of steel and the territory might have become a raging inferno.”

With the well was brought under control and the danger of fire eliminated, drilling continues at a frantic pace elsewhere in Oklahoma City.  But the extremely high-pressure of the Wilcox sands formation continued to challenge drillers and the industry technologies.

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A Wild Mary Sudik article in the Southwest Missourian newspaper reported:

Oklahoma City, April 7 — A gas well, estimated to be producing at a rate of 75,000,000 cubic feet a day, blew in at the edge of the city today, creating a new fire threat less than 24 hours after the wild No. 1 Mary Sudik gusher, several miles to the south, had been brought under control.

Recognizing the risks of drilling into the Wilcox sand, Oklahoma City passed additional ordinances for safety and well spacing in the city.

The first ram-type blowout preventer had been patented by James Abercrombie in 1926, but many high-pressure oilfields would take time to tame. In December 1933, he patented a greatly improved version that set a new standard for safe drilling during the Oklahoma City oilfield boom.

Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park in Oklahoma City oilfield

The Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City includes the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Visitors today can see the valve that split in half and view newsreel film of the Wild Mary Sudik in the oil and gas and natural resources on exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center. There also is the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park with drilling and production equipment at the center, located on N.E. 23rd Street just east of the state capitol building.

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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. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “World-Famous Wild Mary Sudik.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/world-famous-wild-mary-sudik. Last Updated: March 20, 2021. Original Published Date: March 24, 2013.

 

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