Oil and Natural Gas History, Education Resources, Museum News, Exhibits and Events


Since 1955, the Chief Roughneck award has recognized one individual whose accomplishments and character represent the highest ideals of the oil and natural gas industry.
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joe roughnck

Texas artist Torg Thompson created printed and bronze versions of “Joe Roughneck” in the 1950s.

Joe Roughneck and his rugged mug has symbolized the best of the U.S. oil patch since 1955. His sculpture has been dedicated in parks, saluted by Texas governors, and featured in newspaper and magazine articles.

A bronze Joe Roughneck presented annually as the petroleum industry’s “Chief Roughneck Award” honors a person whose achievements and character represent the highest ideals of the industry.

Thus far, Joe’s bronze bust has been presented to 57 Chief Roughnecks. Charles Davidson, chairman and CEO of Noble Energy, received the  2012 award during a November meeting of petroleum producers.

Sponsored by U. S. Steel Tubular Products (formerly Lone Star Steel Company), a subsidiary of United States Steel Corporation, the yearly event is a well known and popular event among the petroleum industry’s independent producers. Read the rest of this entry »


October 20, 1861 – Tarr Farm Well adds to Pennsylvania Oil Boom

petroleum history october

Oil production and transportation technologies rapidly evolved to meet growing demand. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

Three months after the Civil War’s first battle at Bull Run Creek in Virginia, oil exploration intensifies in northwestern Pennsylvania. William Phillips, a former Pittsburgh area salt well driller, strikes oil on the Tarr farm at Oil Creek.

Phillips’ well taps into a highly pressurized formation (the Venango Third Sand) at just 480 feet deep. It produces an astonishing 4,000 barrels a day of a greenish “light sweet oil.”

With only trace amounts of sulfur and nitrogen, the oil’s superior qualities are ideal for refining into lubricants. It will become known worldwide as Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil.

As new “oilmen” like Phillips develop production skills and technologies, pits are dug and wooden tanks assembled to accommodate the Tarr farm’s oil. For a time, excessive production drives U.S. oil prices down to 50 cents a barrel. The Phillips well produces until 1871 and yields almost one million barrels of oil, a record that stands for 27 years. Read more Pennsylvania oil history in First American Oil Well.

October 20, 1949 –  Rare Natural Gas Well in Maryland

petroleum history october

No oil has yet been found in Maryland.

The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland is drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County – the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer N. Beachy well produces almost 500 Mcf of natural gas a day.

The wildcat discovery prompts a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depletes the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produce natural gas, but overall production from the field is minimal.

By 1962 the site becomes part of a storage area for the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation. No oil has yet been found in Maryland

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

petroleum history october

New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service began soon after a 1921 discovery near Aztec. Major oil discoveries will follow in the southeast.

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

The well produces 10 million cubic feet of natural gas daily and the crew uses a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead can be shipped in from Colorado.

By Christmas, a pipeline reaches two miles into the town of Aztec where citizens celebrate New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service. By 1922, natural gas can be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month for a heater and $2.25 for a stove.

Read more about the state’s petroleum history in New Mexico Oil Discovery

October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well brings Wyoming Oil Boom

petroeum history october

Although oil had been found earlier near tar seeps, the first major oil discovery at Wyoming’s Salt Creek came in 1908. The “Big Dutch” No. 1 well initially produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet. Photo from USGS Bulletin No. 670, 1918.

Wyoming’s first oil boom begins when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek brings in the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper.

Although the Salt Creek area’s oil potential has been known since the 1880s, the central Salt Creek dome receives little attention until Italian geologist Dr. Cesare Porro recommends drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.

Drillers J.E. Stock and his father, working for an English corporation known as the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drill a well to 1,050 feet where it produces 600 barrels a day.

More than 4,000 wells have since been drilled in the Salt Creek oilfield, producing from depths as shallow as 22 feet (in 1911)  to 4,500 feet. The Wyoming field has ten producing zones. To increase production, water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004. In 2007 alone, the field still produced almost three million barrels of oil. Read more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

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

petroleum history october

Photo of a “smart pig” used for testing pipelines courtesy of Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal.

Northern Natural Gas Company records the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds.

The company examines a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – now known as a “smart pig” – travels up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.

As early as 1926, the 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” described as “particularly suitable for radio-graphing annular welds in relatively large diameter cylindrical structures.”

Today’s inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.

October 23, 1970 – Natural Gas fuels World Land Speed Record

petroleum history october

The Blue Flame will set a land speed record that will not be broken until 1997. Today, there are more than 120,000 vehicles on the road powered by natural gas.

Natural gas makes a spectacular rocket fuel debut in 1970 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah as the Blue Flame sets a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour – a record that will stand for 27 years.

A rocket motor combining liquefied natural gas and hydrogen peroxide powers the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame. The motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.

Sponsored by the American Gas Association and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame springs from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth. According to Keller, after building a 1967 record-setting rocket dragster, the X-1, they began the far more ambitious Blue Flame project in 1968.

petroleum history october

The 38-foot Blue Flame’s natural gas-powered rocket motor could produce up to 58,000 horsepower.

Keller notes that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, American Gas Association executives saw the value of educating consumers. “The Blue Flame was really ‘green’ – it was fueled by clean-burning natural gas and hydrogen peroxide,” he explains. “It was the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”

Read Blue Flame – Natural Gas Rocket Car.


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