March 24, 1989 – Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
After nearly a dozen years of daily tanker passages through Prince William Sound, Alaska, the 987-foot-long Exxon Valdez runs aground on Bligh Reef.
Eight of the super-tanker’s 11 oil cargo tanks are punctured. An estimated 260,000 barrels of oil are spilled, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline.
“The vessel came to rest facing roughly southwest, perched across its middle on a pinnacle of Bligh Reef,” notes a report by the Alaska Oil Spill Commission.
“Computations aboard the Exxon Valdez showed that 5.8 million gallons had gushed out of the tanker in the first three and a quarter hours,” the report explains.
Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely transited Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times during the previous 12 years. Weather conditions – 33 degrees with a light rain – and the remote location will add to the disaster, adds the Oil Commission. The spill occurs at 12:04 a.m. local time.
Exxon will launch a massive cleanup effort that includes more than 11,000 Alaskan residents and Exxon and contractor personnel. Read more in Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.
March 26, 1930 – “Wild Mary Sudik” makes Worldwide Headlines
What will become one of Oklahoma’s most famous wells strikes a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath Oklahoma City – and oil erupts skyward. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s Mary Sudik No. 1 well will flow for 11 days before being brought under control.
The well, which produces 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, becomes a worldwide sensation known as “Wild Mary Sudik.”
The giant discovery is featured in newsreels and on radio, according to an audio program of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. The program’s narrator notes that after drilling to 6,471 feet, the roughnecks overlook a dangerous pressure increase in the well.
“The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” he explains. “They didn’t know the Wilcox sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that sand under so much pressure found a release.”
On April 6, Floyd Gibbons of NBC Radio – who broadcast regular reports about the well – announces that after two unsuccessful attempts, the well is closed with a two-ton “overshot” cap.
With the well was brought under control, drilling continued in Oklahoma City. But the prolific, high-pressure of the Wilcox sands formation continues to challenge drillers and the technologies of the day. Read more in World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.“
March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist invents Kerosene
Canadian chemist Abraham Gesner patents a process to distill bituminous shale and cannel coal into kerosene.
“I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he proclaims in his patent. Because his new lighting fluid was extracted from coal, consumers called it “coal oil” as often as they called it kerosene.
When it is found that kerosene can also be distilled from crude oil, it becomes America’s principle source of illumination until commercial electricity arrives.
March 27, 1975 – Work begins on Alaskan Pipeline
Construction begins on the largest private construction project in American history – the 789-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline system.
Oil from the Prudhoe Bay field will begin flowing to the ice-free port of Valdez at four miles an hour through the 48-inch-wide pipe in June 1977.
Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) are built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes.
The design also allows for pipeline movement caused by an earthquake.
Specially designed vertical supports were placed in drilled holes or driven into the ground, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.
Anchor structures, 700 to 1,800 feet apart, hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two each, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.”
By 2009, the pipeline – which cost $8 billion to construct, including terminal and pump stations – will have carried almost 16 billion barrels of oil. Read about other historic pipelines in WW II Big Inch and Little Big Inch Pipelines.
March 28, 1886 – Indiana Natural Gas Boom Begins
A natural gas boom comes to Portland, Indiana, when the Eureka Gas and Oil Company finds gas at 700 feet. For a time, the state becomes the world’s leading natural gas producer.
By April 1887, five miles of pipe supplies natural gas to offices, residences – and 50 large torches or “flambeaux” for street lighting.
The “Trenton Field” as it would become known, spread over 17 Indiana counties and 5,120 square miles. It was the largest natural gas field known in the world. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas.
Indiana is among the earliest states to legislate conservation when in 1891 it passes an act forbidding the burning of natural gas in the wasteful flambeaux lights.
Read more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.
March 28, 1905 – Caddo-Pine Oil Discovery
The Offenhauser No. 1 discovery well for the giant Caddo-Pine Island oilfield in Louisiana comes in at a depth of 1,556 feet – after drilling through a productive natural gas zone.
Although the well yields only five barrels a day and is soon plugged and abandoned, more wells follow and the northern Louisiana oilfield is soon prolific.
To prevent the loss of natural gas through venting, Louisiana passes its first conservation law in 1906. By 1918, annual production from the Caddo-Pine Island oilfield reaches 11 million barrels.
Learn more by visiting the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City.
March 29, 1819 – Birthday of Father of the Petroleum Industry
Today is the birthday of Edwin Laurentine Drake (1819-1880), who will become the “father of the petroleum industry” when he drills America’s first commercial oil well in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania.
Born in Greenville, New York, Drake will overcome many financial and technical obstacles to make his historic discovery.
Drake also will pioneer new drilling technologies, including using iron casing to isolate his well bore from nearby Oil Creek. Seeking oil for the Seneca Oil Company for refining into a new product (kerosene) his shallow well creates an industry.
“In order to overcome the hurdles before him, he invented a ‘drive pipe’ or ‘conductor,’ an invention he unfortunately did not patent,” reports Pennsylvania State University’s Urja Davé in her 2008 Edwin Drake and the Oil Well Drill Pipe.
The article quotes a story in The Daily Picayune (New Orleans), which reported that “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”
On Saturday afternoon on August 27, 1859, at a depth of 69.5 feet, the drill bit had dropped into a crevice, notes one Drake expert. Late the following afternoon the oilman’s driller, “Uncle Billy” Smith, visited the site “and noticed a very dark liquid floating on top of the water in the hole.”
“Drake’s Folly,” as it was known to the local population, was not such a folly after all. So began the modern petroleum industry.
“Drake is known as the ‘father of the petroleum industry’ because the technology he devised revolutionized how crude oil was produced and launched the large-scale petroleum industry,” explains William Brice, Ph.D., author of the 2009 book Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.
“Even though the use of petroleum dates back to the first human civilizations, the events of that Saturday afternoon along the banks of Oil Creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania, provided the spark that propelled the petroleum industry toward the future,” explains Brice.
Drake will die in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on November 9, 1880. He is buried in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where a monument – including a bronze statue “The Driller” by Charles Henry Niehaus – is dedicated on October 4, 1901.
The original tools that Drake used can be found at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville. Visitors can see a replica of the oilman’s derrick and 1859 engine house. Also available is a DVD of the museum’s three orientation films: “Born in Freedom: The Story of Colonel Drake” – produced by the American Petroleum Institute in 1954 and starring Vincent Price, “Oil! The Power of Pennsylvania Petroleum” and “Pithole USA.” Read more in Birth of the U.S. Petroleum Industry.
March 29, 1938 – Magnolia Oilfield Discovery in Arkansas
“Kerlyn Wildcat Strike In Southern Arkansas is Sensation of the Oil Country,” notes an Arkansas newspaper headline as the Barnett No. 1 well opens the 100-million-barrel Magnolia oilfield.
Drilling had been suspended by the Kerlyn Oil Company (predecessor to the Kerr-McGee company) because of a recession and lack of backers, but company vice president and geologist Dean McGee persevered. He was rewarded with the giant Arkansas discovery at 7,646 feet.
Visit the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover.
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