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October 20, 1861 – Oil Boom expands in Northwestern Pennsylvania

petroleum history october 20

Oil patch technologies evolved from those used for drilling brine wells.

Just after midnight, William Phillips – a salt well driller from the Pittsburgh area – brings in his second well on the Tarr farm of Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. It produces 4,000 barrels of oil a day from just 480 feet.

This early well taps into the Venango Third Sand’s highly pressurized oil, which flows into Oil Creek several days before being controlled. As new “oilmen” like Phillips develop production skills and technologies, pits are dug and wooden tanks assembled to accommodate the oil.

For a time, overproduction drives U.S. oil prices to 50 cents a barrel. The Phillips No. 2 well produces until 1871 and yields almost one million barrels of oil, a record that stands for 27 years.

October 20, 1949 –  Rare Natural Gas Well in Maryland

petroleum history october 20

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 20

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 – Petroleum Boom arrives West of Casper, Wyoming

petroleum history october 20

The Salt Creek oilfield produced about 650 million barrels of oil over the last 100 years – and even more remains in the ground, according to experts. Using advanced technologies, companies inject carbon dioxide into wells to keep oil flowing.

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 is known to be productive, 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 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 Well.

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

petroleum history october 20

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 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 20

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 more ambitious Blue Flame project in 1968.

petroleum history october 20

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.

October 26, 1970 – Joe Roughneck Statue

petroleum history october 20

A “Joe Roughneck” memorial dedicated in 1970 in Boonsville, Texas, by Gov. Preston Smith.

In Boonsville, Texas, Governor Preston Smith dedicates a “Joe Roughneck” statue on the 20th anniversary of the Boonsville natural gas field’s discovery.

The field’s first well, Lone Star Gas Company’s B. P. Vaught No. 1, produced 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas in its first 20 years. By 2001 the field has produced 3.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from 3,500 wells in the field.

Although Joe Roughneck began life as a character in Lone Star Steel advertising, it was soon adopted by the industry at large. A bronze Joe Roughneck bust has been awarded since 1955 during an annual Chief Roughneck Award ceremony of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

The traditional Joe Roughneck bust – originally created by noted Texas artist Torg Thompson – continues to be presented to each Chief Roughneck recipient.

In addition to the Boonsville monument, Joe’s rugged face today sits atop three different oilfield monuments in the state:  Joinerville (1957), Conroe (1957) and Kilgore (1986). Read Meet Joe Roughneck.

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joe roughnck

Texas artist Torg Thompson created “Joe Roughneck” for an advertisement.

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 »


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.
Read the rest of this entry »