Making Tulsa the Oil Capital
On a chilly fall morning in 1905 – two years before Oklahoma becomes a state – oil is discovered on the Glenn farm south of Tulsa.
Soon, there are hundreds of wells producing so much oil that the land is called the “‘Glenn Pool,” now the Tulsa suburb Glenpool.
This November 22 discovery well will help make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”
With daily production soon exceeding 120,000 barrels, Glenn Pool exceeds Tulsa County’s earlier “Red Fork Gusher” – and the giant Spindletop discovery near Beaumont, Texas, four years earlier.
“Robert Galbreath and Frank Chesley had been alternating shifts on the floor of a cable-tool drilling rig in the Creek Indian Reservation,” notes Norman Hyne, professor of petroleum geology at the University of Tulsa.
“They had paid for the lease and the rig – five dollars a day including driller – with their own money,” he says. “The well was on the banks of a creek located four miles south of an unimpressive, small town on the Frisco Railroad and the Arkansas River by the name of Tulsa.”
The two men drilled deeper after first penetrating the Red Fork Sands formation with only a small show of natural gas. Then, at a depth of about 1,450 feet, Ida Glenn No. 1 well came in as a 75-barrel-a-day producer of high-quality oil – known as light, sweet crude.
The well is named for the Creek Indian woman from whom the oilmen had leased 160 acres at three-cents an acre plus a one-eighth interest in any production. Galbreath drills a second well within 300 feet of his first well and then another. All are producers.
The wells reveal the 12-square-mile Glenn Pool. A massive drilling boom begins – and drilling is cheap because producing wells are shallow, writes Tulsa author Ruth Sheldon Knowles in her 1959 book about wildcatters, The Greatest Gamblers.
By the time of statehood in 1907, Glenn Pool has made Oklahoma the nation’s biggest oil producer.
“It was Oklahoma’s first major oil field and the richest field the world had yet seen,” adds Hyne in an April 2005 article for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
“Unlike the thick, sour oil from Spindletop, the famed 1901 Texas discovery that had already played out, this oil was light and sweet – just right to refine into gasoline and kerosene,” he says. “The reservoir was shallow, less than 1,500 feet deep, well within the range of the cable tool drilling rigs of that day.”
Hyne says that within two years of the discovery, pipelines are built from the Texaco and Gulf refineries on the Gulf Coast and down from the Standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, to access the high-quality crude. Numerous other refineries were built in the Glenn Pool area.
Oklahoma Natural Gas Company is founded and in 1907 builds a pipeline from the Glenn Pool to provide gas to Oklahoma City.
The giant oil field produces 325.5 million barrels of oil by 1986, and royalties of almost one million dollars a year are paid to Creek Indians who hold 160-acre allotments in the field.
A number of prominent oil figures, including Harry Ford Sinclair, who later will found the Sinclair Oil and Refining Company, and J. Paul Getty, receive their initial start during the Glenn Pool boom, notes the Oklahoma Historical Society.
“It is said that more money was made on the Glenn Pool oil field than the California gold rush and Colorado silver rush combined,” concludes Hyne, who created a Glenn Pool Oil Field Educational Center website after the well’s 2005 centennial.
The field is now under water-flood (enhanced recovery) and producing primarily from small, marginal wells, Hyne adds.
In April 2008, a monument was unveiled in Glenpool’s Black Gold Park by the Glenn Pool Oil Field Commission. A 28-foot-tall “derrick” illuminates at night and includes granite etchings that tell the 1905 story of oilmen Robert Galbreath, Frank Chesley and Charles Colcord.
The commission also sponsored publication of Almost Forgotten — The Amazing Story of Glenn Pool: Oklahoma’s First World-Class Oil Field, distributed to high schools by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board.
In addition, a documentary educates young people about the 1905 discovery. “Black gold from this field helped fuel the nation, and brought thousands of people and a new prosperity to Oklahoma,” it explains.
“The Glenn Pool Story,” broadcast by the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, includes archival photos and rare film clips “to tell the compelling story of the Glenn Pool’s impact on America and how, a century later, the petroleum industry still benefits Oklahoma.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society is a 501 (c)-3 nonprofit program dedicated to preserving the history of U.S. oil and natural gas exploration by providing advocacy for organizations that work to preserve that history through exhibition, material preservation – and especially educational programming.
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