Anadarko Basin in Depth

Giant rigs drilled to record depths in Oklahoma during the 1970s.

 

The Anadarko Basin extends across more than 50,000 square miles of West-Central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. It includes some of the most prolific – and deepest – natural gas reserves in the United States.

Beginning in the late 1950s, when technological advances allowed it, Anadarko Basin wells in Oklahoma began to be drilled more than two miles deep in search of highly pressurized natural gas zones. By the 1960s, a few companies began risking millions of dollars and pushing rotary rig drilling technology to reach beyond the 13,000-foot level in what geologists called “the deep gas play.” (more…)

Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern

The 1870 patent for a two-wicked safety lamp to prevent “destructive conflagrations” on derricks.

 

Oil patch lore says the yellow dog lantern was so named because its two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Others believed the lamp projected a strange and eerie dog’s head shadow on the derrick floor.

Rare is the community oil and natural gas museum that doesn’t have a “yellow dog” in its collection. The two-wicked lamp is an oilfield icon. Some say the unusual spout design originated with whaling ships – but neither the Nantucket nor New Bedford whaling museums could find any such evidence.

 

yellow dog two wick lantern from 1877 US patent drawing

Jonathan Dillen’s lantern was “especially adapted for use in the oil regions…where the explosion of a lamp is attended with great danger by causing destructive conflagration and consequent loss of life and property.”

Many railroad museums have collections of cast iron smudge pots, but nothing quite like the heavy, odd shaped, crude-oil burning lanterns once prevalent on petroleum fields from Pennsylvania to California.

Although many companies manufactured the iron or steel lamps, the yellow dog’s origins remain in the dark. Some historical references claim the lanterns were so named because their two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Other oil patch lore says the lamps cast a dog’s head shadow on the derrick floor.

Inventor Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, was first to patent what became the “yellow dog” of the U.S. petroleum industry’s early years. The U.S. patent was awarded on May 3, 1870. Dillen’s lamp joined other safety innovations as drilling technologies evolved.

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Rocky Beginnings of Petroleum Geology

 

When oil burst onto western Pennsylvania’s marketplace as a major commercial opportunity following an 1859 well drilled by Edwin L. Drake, the art and science of petroleum geology was born.

The mining industry had long provided employment for geologists and the oil boom presented a new kind of mineral wealth for America and a new challenge for geologists. But Pennsylvania’s first oilmen soon found that hiring geologists didn’t significantly improve their chances of success in an already risky business.

Geologist Henry D. Rogers portrait.

Henry D. Rogers, (1808 – 1866) was one of the first professional U.S. geologists.

Decades before the Civil War, the pursuit and mining of coal prompted many geological surveys, studies, and assessments of potential mineral resources. Railroads stretching westward needed good quality coal supplies and routes always considered the availability of nearby sources.

Searching for high-quality bituminous coal, geologists had often reported oil seeps and the associated landforms, but mostly as a curiosity and in relation to their proximity to coal beds. In Kentucky, Ohio, and the western part of what is now West Virginia, the salt business also gave geologists important insights into formations called “structural traps.”

Drilling commercial brine wells and salt manufacturing was a lucrative industry. Geologists’ surveys found that strata of sedimentary rock fractured, faulted, and folded, sometimes producing salt domes and valuable brine deposits. Geologists also noted that oil and natural gas was occasionally trapped in porous deposits sandwiched between impermeable rock layers. Such contamination fouled commercial brine wells and was an unwelcome intrusion, but cottage industry entrepreneurs skimmed it off and sold it for patent medicine, lubrication, and other novel purposes.

Illustration of oil and gas traps in petroleum geology.

In Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, geologists studied landforms associated with salt brine and coal “structural traps.” These anticlinal traps held oil and natural gas because the earth had been bent, deformed or fractured. Unsuccessfully applying structural trap theories to Pennsylvania’s differing geology undermined early petroleum geologists’ credibility.

A pioneering Ohio physician and natural scientist named Samuel Hildreth examined and recorded details of the salt business in southeastern Ohio, noting structural traps as a geologic feature associated with brine, coal, and oil. In 1836, he published his extensive “Observations on the Bituminous Coal Deposit for the Valley of the Ohio, and the Accompanying Rock Strata.” It was America’s first petroleum geology primer.

Hildreth was a strong advocate for Ohio’s first geological survey and later served as the state geologist. His observations of the structural trapping of petroleum were later affirmed by Pennsylvania’s state geologist, Henry D. Rogers, who erroneously declared that Pennsylvania’s oilfields were likewise based on structural trapping of petroleum in anticline formations.

Pennsylvania’s oilfields were in fact found predominantly in another kind of formation altogether, the “sandstone stratigraphic trap,” but Rogers’ prestigious endorsement, circulated widely in an 1863 Harper’s Magazine article, convinced geologists to the contrary. The frenzied search for oil prompted the first petroleum geologists to impose Hildreth and Rogers’ structural trapping theory on Pennsylvania’s differing geology. It didn’t work and their failures in Pennsylvania hindered the acceptance of petroleum geologists for decades.

Although structural trapping remains a dominant characteristic for many of America’s most prolific oil and natural gas fields, ironically it wasn’t so in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek region, where the petroleum industry was born. As noted by author and geologist Ray Sorenson, “theories of trapping did not work in the absence of anticlines.”

petroleum geology

The dominant oil bearing feature in Pennsylvania’s oil region is a sedimentary geologic formation known as a “stratigraphic trap” and differs significantly from a structural trap. It is formed in place by erosion, usually in porous sandstone enclosed in shale. The impermeable shale keeps the oil and gas from escaping.

It took until the turn of the century before successful geologically driven discoveries in the Mid-Continent and Gulf regions encouraged exploration companies to use petroleum geologists.

Although the science of geology had revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas in 1915, many companies still had little confidence in geologists.

James C. Donnell, president of the Ohio Oil Company (later Marathon Oil) proclaimed, “The day The Ohio has to rely on geologists, I’ll get into another line of work.” But after the company’s first geologist, C.J. “Charlie” Hares found 19 oil and natural gas fields, Donnell changed his mind and declared Hares to be “the greatest geologist in the world.”

petroleum geologyIncreasing understanding and acceptance of petroleum geology as a valued tool in exploration led to the 1917 formation of the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists, precursor to today’s American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Since then, AAPG has fostered scientific research, advanced the science of geology, promoted technology, and inspired professional conduct amongst its more than 30,000 members.

Petroleum geology has come a long way since taking its first steps and stumbles in the Ohio River Valley and Pennsylvania’s early oilfields. Geologists today grapple with enormous amounts of data and technological innovations in pursuit of petroleum.

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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.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Rocky Beginnings of Petroleum Geology.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://www.aoghs.org/technology/petroleum-geologys-rocky-beginnings. Last Updated: October 5, 2019. Original Published Date: February 14, 2016.

Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car

Industry executives recognized public relations potential of LNG in 1968, after watching X-1, a rocket dragster.

 

The quest for speed perhaps began when Mrs. Karl Benz secretly took her husband’s car on the first road trip in 1882. Steam and electric vehicles would soon compete with the “cantankerous combustion” of gasoline engines.

As engine technologies evolved, high-octane but dangerous enhancers like tetraethyl gas were adopted for aviation. On the ground, as competition intensified for a land speed record, kerosene-based rocket fuel powered blistering, new milestones. In the fall of 1970, a sleek blue feat of engineering set the world land speed record — fueled with natural gas. 

Sleek front view of LNG-powered Blue Flame rocket car

The Blue Flame made a spectacular debut at the Bonneville Salt Flats on October 23, 1970, setting a new world land speed record of 630.388 mph.

The Blue Flame,  powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen peroxide, reached 630.388 miles per hour on October 23, 1970 — and had the potential of going even faster. As the petroleum industry called natural gas “the fuel of the future,” the rocket car’s record would remain unbroken more than a decade. (more…)

Offshore Rocket Launcher

Converted drilling platform launches rockets from the equator.

 

Many offshore oil and natural gas platforms have found use after retirement. Hundreds of former platforms today serve as aquatic habitats in the Gulf of Mexico (see Rigs to Reefs). Two historic jack-up drilling rigs have been converted into museums and energy education centers in Texas and Louisiana. And one retired, self-propelled petroleum platform has launched satellites into orbit.

Offshore Rocket Launcher rocket blasts off from modified oil rig.

Russian-built rockets launched satellites from the Ocean Odyssey, a modified semi-submersible drilling platform. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

Ten percent (about 450) of decommissioned production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been converted to permanent reefs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A retired jack-up drilling rig in Galveston Bay, Texas, the Ocean Star, opened as a petroleum museum in 1997 after drilling more than 200 wells. Another offshore museum, Mr. Charlie of Morgan City, Louisiana, was the first submersible drilling rig in 1953.

The Ocean Odyssey, a self-propelled, semi-submersible drilling platform designed to endure 110 foot North Atlantic waves, became a floating equatorial launch pad. In March 1999, a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket – fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen – placed a demonstration satellite into geostationary orbit from the Ocean Odyssey’s remote Pacific Ocean launch site (Latitude 0° North, Longitude 154° West).

offshore rocket launcher began as this drilling rig

Constructed in Japan in 1982, the Ocean Odyssey was designed to endure 110 foot North Atlantic waves before it became a floating equatorial launch pad. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

Sea Launch, a Boeing-led consortium of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway, began commercial launches on October 9, 1999, using a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket with a DirecTV satellite payload. By 2014 the Ocean Odyssey had made 36 such launches for XM Satellite Radio, Echo Star and communication companies.

Originally to have been named Ocean Ranger II, the $110 million platform was under construction in Yokosuka, Japan, on February 15, 1982, when its namesake and predecessor tragically capsized in a North Atlantic storm off Newfoundland, killing all 84 men aboard. Renamed Ocean Odyssey, the new offshore drilling platform went to work that same year.

Between April 1983 and September 1985 the platform drilled off the coasts of Alaska and California before a two-year hiatus. In early 1988, the Ocean Odyssey was contracted to Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) for North Sea explorations. All was well until September 1988 when a blow-out and fire ended the rig’s career in oilfields.

offshore rocket launcher Sea Launch oil platform

Led by a Boeing, the Sea Launch consortium of international companies used Russian Zenit-3SL rockets to carry communications satellites into geosynchronous orbits. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

After spending the several years as a rusting hulk in the docks of Dundee, Scotland, advancing aerospace technologies came to the rescue of the self-propelled platform, 436 feet long and about 220 feet wide.

The advantages of space launches from the equator – and the availability of the Ocean Odyssey – prompted Boeing to convert the rig into a launch platform. According to experts, the speed of earth’s rotation is greatest at the equator, providing a minor extra launch “boost.”

By April 1995, Boeing (with 40 percent ownership) led a four-country joint partnership, Sea Launch LLC. The venture included: Russia (25 percent), Norway (20 percent), and Ukraine (15 percent).

offshore rocket launcher Sea Launch converted oil rig

Ocean Odyssey’s last launch on May 26, 2014, came as civil war broke out in Ukraine. Bankruptcy and years of litigation followed. Photo courtesy Steve Jurvetson.

Thanks to Ocean Odyssey, a new industry was “launched.”The consortium established its U.S. home port in Long Beach, California, near satellite, aerospace and maritime supply companies. Before the end of 1995, Hughes Space and Communications had contracted for 10 launches.

Ocean Star oil museum in Galveston Bay.

Another platform, the Ocean Star, opened as a museum in 1997 in Galveston Bay. Photo by Bruce Wells

However, economic and legal troubles emerged. After almost 40 launches (with three failures), operating costs and a declining world economy led to Sea Launch’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganization in 2009. Russia emerged with 95 percent ownership.

Then began litigation, claims and counter-claims within the Sea Launch consortium. Ocean Odyssey’s last launch in May 2014 came as civil war broke out in Ukraine.

According to financial reports, the company’s debt when it filed for bankruptcy was estimated at $1 billion, with assets of $100 million to $500 million. The cost per launch was more than $80 million. Boeing sued to recoup $356 million of a reported $978 million loss in loans, trade debt and partner liabilities. At the end of 2014, the Ocean Odyssey and its command ship, Sea Launch Commander, remained at port in Long Beach.

Learn about America’s Offshore Petroleum History and visit the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center in Galveston and Mr. Charlie in Morgan City.

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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.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Offshore Rocket Launcher.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/offshore-rocket-launcher. Last Updated: October 5, 2020. Original Published Date: January 2, 2015.

 

Downhole Bazooka

WWII anti-tank weapon improves technology for perforating well casings.

Swiss inventor Henry Mohaupt used his experience from creating a World War II anti-tank weapon to develop a new technology for improving production of oil and natural gas wells. He used conically hollowed-out explosive charges to focus each detonation’s energy.

Word War II bazooka and shaped charge patent image

In 1951, Henry Mohaupt applied for a U.S. patent for his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun,” based on anti-tank technology he had patented a decade earlier – a conically hollowed out explosive fired from bazookas.

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