This Week in Petroleum History, October 19 to October 25

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.

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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.

This Week in Petroleum History, October 12 to October 18

October 13, 1954 – First Arizona Oil Well – 

Arizona became the 30th petroleum producing state when Shell Oil Company completed its East Boundary Butte No. 2 well one mile south of the Utah border on Apache County’s Navajo Indian Reservation. The well indicated natural gas production of 3,150 thousand cubic feet per day, but just a few barrels of oil per day from a depth of 4,540 feet. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, October 5 to October 11

October 5, 1915 – Science of Petroleum Geology reveals Oilfield – 

Using the careful study of geology for finding oil led to discovery of a major Mid-Continent field. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas.

“Pioneers named El Dorado, Kansas, in 1857 for the beauty of the site and the promise of future riches but not until 58 years later was black rather than mythical yellow gold discovered when the Stapleton No. 1 oil well came in on October 5, 1915,” explains Kansas geologist Lawrence Skelton.

Pump Jack and plaque of

The Stapleton No. 1 well discovered the El Dorado, Kansas, oilfield, which became one of the largest producing fields in the world. By 1919, Butler County had more than 1,800 producing oil wells. Photos by Bruce Wells.

The Stapleton No. 1 well produced 95 barrels of oil a day from 600 feet before being deepened to 2,500 feet to produce 110 barrels of oil a day from the Wilcox sands. Other wells soon joined the Kansas oil boom east of Wichita. Natural gas discoveries a year earlier in nearby Augusta had prompted El Dorado civic leaders to seek their own geological study. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, September 28 to October 4

September 28, 1945 – Truman claims America’s Outer Continental Shelf – 

President Harry Truman extended U.S. jurisdiction over the natural resources of the outer continental shelf, placing them under the control of the Secretary of the Interior. In August 1953, Truman’s edict would become the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which affirmed exclusive jurisdiction over U.S. continental shelf and a federal leasing program, “to encourage discovery and development of oil.”

September 30, 2006 – Bronze Roughnecks dedicated at Signal Hill, California

A “Tribute to the Roughnecks” statue by Cindy Jackson was dedicated near the Alamitos No. 1 well, which in 1921 revealed California’s prolific Long Beach oilfield 20 miles south of Los Angeles.

"Tribute to the Roughnecks" statue by Cindy Jackson.

Signal Hill once had so many derricks people called it Porcupine Hill. The city of Long Beach is visible in the distance from the “Tribute to the Roughnecks” statue by Cindy Jackson.

The bronze statue commemorates the Signal Hill Oil Boom. A plaque notes the monument serves, “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here, a success which has, by aiding in the growth and expansion of the petroleum industry, contributed so much to the welfare of mankind.”

October 1, 1908 – Ford Motor Company produces First Model T

The first production Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line at the company’s plant in Detroit. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford would build about 15 million Model Ts, each fueled by inexpensive gasoline. The popularity of Ford’s initially all-black automobile proved fortuitous for the U.S. petroleum industry, which had endured falling demand for kerosene lamp fuel as consumers switched to electric lighting.

White tires on a the Model T Ford.

Ford Model T tires were white until 1910, when the petroleum product carbon black was added to improve durability.

New major oilfield discoveries, especially the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, met growing demand for what had been a refining byproduct: gasoline. Also see Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

(more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, September 21 to September 27

September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well –

Just nine months after the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, another historic oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana. W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to wells drilled at Spindletop Hill – completed a well that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day well on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings.

Scott Heywood first Louisiana oil well historical marker from1951.

Mrs. Scott Heywood unveiled a marker as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee in 1951. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Drilled in a rice field, the Jules Clements No. 1 well found oil at a depth of 1,700 feet. “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” noted the Jennings Daily News. The discovery led to the state’s first commercial oil production by opening the prolific Jennings field, which Haywood further developed by building pipelines and storage tanks. As the field reached peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906, new oilfield discoveries arrived in northern Louisiana. Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Well.

September 23, 1918 – Giant Wood River Refinery goes Online

Roxana Petroleum Company’s new Wood River (Illinois) facility began refining crude oil. It processed more than two million barrels of oil from Oklahoma oilfields in its first year of operation.

 Wood River Refinery History Museum is in front of the Phillips 66 Refinery.

The Wood River Refinery History Museum is in front of the Phillips 66 Refinery southeast of Roxana, Illinois.

Roxana Petroleum Company was the 1912 creation of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which founded the American Gasoline Company in Seattle to distribute gas on the West Coast. Roxana Petroleum was established in Oklahoma to produce the state’s high quality oil to be refined at the Wood River plant. Today, the 2,200-acre facility 15 miles northeast of St. Louis is the largest refinery owned by Phillips 66. Learn more by visiting the Wood River Refinery History Museum.

September 23, 1933 – Standard Oil of California Geologists visit Saudi Arabia

Invited by Saudi Arabian King Abdel Aziz, geologists from Standard Oil Company of California arrived at the Port of Jubail in the Persian Gulf. Searching the desert for petroleum and “kindred bituminous matter,” they discovered a giant oilfield. This early partnership between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil became known as the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), later joined by Texaco and other major U.S. companies.

September 23, 1947 – New Patent for “Hortonspheres”

The Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I) received a patent for improvements to a spherical storage vessel invented by the company’s founder in the 1920s. Designed to store natural gas, butane, propane and other volatile petroleum products, the efficient sphere was among the most important storage innovations to come to the U.S. petroleum industry.

Hortonsphere patent drawing by Horace E. Horton.

Hortonspheres were invented by Chicago bridge builder Horace E. Horton.

First erected in 1923, CB&I named the “Hortonspheres” after engineer Horace E. Horton, who had started the company in 1889 to build bridges across the Mississippi River. The company built its first elevated water tank in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1892. “The elevated steel plate tank was the first built with a full hemispherical bottom, one of the company’s first technical innovations,” notes a CB&I historian. In 1923 at Port Arthur, Texas, the company built “the world’s first field-erected spherical pressure vessel.” Learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres.

September 24, 1951 – Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology

Call it a “downhole bazooka.” In 1951, war veteran Henry Mohaupt applied to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun.” He brought a key World War II anti-tank technology to the petroleum industry. Mohaupt had been in charge of a secret U.S. Army program to develop an anti-tank weapon. His idea of using a conically hollowed out explosive charge to direct and focus detonation energy ultimately produced a rocket grenade used in the bazooka.

Henry Mohaupt "Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun" patent drawing,

Henry Mohaupt’s “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun” brought to the oil patch his World War II anti-tank “bazooka” technology patented one decade earlier.

After the war, the potential of these downhole rocket grenades to facilitate flow from oil-bearing strata was recognized by the Well Explosives Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The company employed Mohaupt to develop new technologies for safely perforating cement casing and pipe. Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

September 25, 1922 – First New Mexico Oil Well

Midwest Refining Company launched the New Mexico petroleum industry by completing the state’s first commercial oil well on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Drilled near Shiprock, the Hogback No. 1 well produced 375 barrels of oil per day. Following the discovery, Midwest successfully completed 11 more wells to establish the Hogback oilfield as a major producer of the San Juan Basin. Two years later, a pipeline was built to Farmington and the field’s oil shipped by rail to Salt Lake City, Utah, for refining.

Map of New Mexico's San Juan oil and gas basin.

Midwest Refining Company discovered the Hogback oilfield in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.

Production from the prolific Hogback oilfield encouraged further exploration in New Mexico, which led to discoveries in 1928 that brought prosperity to Lea County and the town of Hobbs. Learn more about this exploration and production history in First New Mexico Oil Wells. 

September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well

Although Charles Mentry’s California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells that showed promise, his first gusher arrived with the Pico No. 4 well in September 1876. Drilling with a cable-tool rig powered by steam in an area known for its oil seeps, the well revealed the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. It would be declared California’s first commercial oil well.

Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society outdoor exhibit of California’s first refinery

Thanks to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, California’s first refinery has been preserved, perhaps the oldest in the world. Photo courtesy Konrad Summers.

The Star Oil Works well, which initially produced 25 barrels per day from 370 feet, led to construction of the state’s first oil pipeline and first commercially successful oil refinery for making kerosene, axle grease and other lubricants. Stills set on brick foundations had a refining capacity of 150 barrels of oil a day. Chevron, once the Standard Oil Company of California, can trace its beginning to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil discovery and the California Star Oil Works Company.

September 26, 1933 – King Ranch Lease sets Record

Despite the reservations of Humble Oil and Refining Company’s president, geologist Wallace Pratt convinced the company to lease the million-acre King Ranch in Texas for almost $128,000 per year (plus a one-eighth royalty on any discovered oil). The September 1933 petroleum lease deal was the largest oil lease contract ever negotiated in the United States. Humble Oil and Refining, a Houston company founded in 1917, had drilled the King Ranch’s early “dusters.”

TIME magazine cover in 1957 of King Ranch and oil lease.

A 1933 King Ranch oil lease set a record.

Subsequent leases from nearby ranches gave Humble Oil & Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. By 1947, Humble would be operating 390 producing oil wells on the King Ranch lease. ExxonMobil has regularly extended the Humble oil and natural gas lease agreement in effect since 1933. Learn more in Oil Reigns at King Ranch.

September 26, 1943 – First Florida Oil Well

The Humble Oil Company completed Florida’s first commercially successful oil well on September 26, 1943 – the Sunniland No. 1 – near a watering stop on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The company spent $1 million drilling to a depth of about 11,600 feet to complete the discovery well, located 12 miles south of Immokalee, near Big Cypress Preserve and the city of Naples.

Historical marker of first Florida oil well.

Humble Oil accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state, added $10,000 – and donated the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women.

Florida’s petroleum had eluded hundreds of wildcatters since 1901. By 1939, almost 80 dry holes had been drilled. Florida legislators – desperate for their state to become an oil producer and benefit from the tax revenue – offered a $50,000 bounty for the first oil discovery. Revealing the Sunniland oilfield brought more drilling, and by 1954 the field was producing 500,000 barrels of oil per year from 11 wells.

Texas-based Humble Oil accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state legislature, added $10,000 – and donated the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women. Humble later became ExxonMobil. Learn more in First Florida Oil Well.

September 26, 1962 – Popular TV Show begins with Shallow Oil Discovery

CBS aired the first episode of the Beverly Hillbillies, “The Clampetts Strike Oil,” where the O.K. Oil Company of Tulsa informed poor mountaineer Jed Clampett that he owned an oil-rich swamp. Paid $25 million, the Clampett family reluctantly moved to Beverly Hills. The show ranked no. 1 in the Nelson ratings for two years and in the top 20 of most-watched TV programs for eight of its nine seasons.

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September 27, 1915 – Deadly Explosion in Ardmore, Oklahoma

At 2:20 p.m., a railroad car carrying casinghead gasoline exploded in Ardmore, Oklahoma, killing 43 people and injuring many others. The car, which had arrived the day before, was waiting to be taken to a nearby refinery. Casinghead gasoline (also called natural gasoline) at the time was integral to the state’s petroleum development, with 40 processing plants in operation.

Destroyed by 1915 casing gas explosion, image of downtown Ardmore, Oklahoma.

A casing gas explosion destroyed most of downtown Ardmore, Oklahoma, in 1915. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the disaster began when rising afternoon temperatures activated a valve to release the car’s gas pressure. “The Ardmore Refining Company then sent a representative, who removed the dome from the top of the car, filling the air with gas and vapors.”

Triggered by an unidentified source, the explosion destroyed much of downtown Ardmore. The Atchinson, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway was found responsible for the explosion and paid 1,700 claims totaling $1.25 million, the society reports, adding that “oil companies changed and improved the extraction and transportation methods for natural gasoline.”

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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.

This Week in Petroleum History, September 14 to September 20

September 14, 1871 – President Grant visits Pennsylvania Oil Region –

During a tour of northwestern Pennsylvania, President Ulysses S. Grant visited Titusville, Petroleum Center, and Oil City to learn more about the nation’s growing petroleum industry. Consumer demand for kerosene for lamps had led to drilling the first commercial U.S. oil well at Titusville in 1859. The 18th U.S. president would help improve Washington City’s streets, directing in 1876 that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad asphalt (Learn more in Asphalt Paves the Way).

September 14, 1929 – West Texas Well sets Record

A West Texas well struck oil at a depth of 1,070 feet and produced an astounding 204,672 barrels of oil a day — the nation’s most productive single well up until that time. The Yates 30-A initially produced 8,528 barrels of oil per hour, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. The Pecos County well was drilled just a few hundred yards from the 1926 discovery well of the giant Yates field, the Ira G. Yates 1-A. (more…)