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

 

In 1905, Kansas University professor Hamilton P. Cady, above, discovered significant amounts of helium in a natural gas sample from a Dexter, Kansas. well. He and D. F. McFarland found that the gas - previously believed to be rare on earth - could be extracted from natural gas.

In 1905, Kansas University professor Hamilton P. Cady, above, discovered significant amounts of helium in a natural gas sample from a Dexter, Kansas, well. He and D. F. McFarland found that the gas – previously believed to be rare on earth – could be extracted from natural gas.

A marker near Dexter, Kansas, notes that a nearby gas well led to a scientific discovery that “lighted the way to a multi-million dollar industry.”

A Dexter, Kansas, marker notes a nearby gas well led to a scientific discovery that “lighted the way to a multi-million dollar industry.”

A stock certificate from The Gas, Oil and Developing Company is noteworthy to collectors – but not for producing great wealth for its investors.

For this exploration company, which disappeared more than a century ago, more interesting is its connection to “The Gas That Wouldn’t Burn.”

In May 1903, The Gas, Oil and Developing Company drilled an exploratory well on William Greenwell’s farm near Dexter, Kansas, about 45 miles southeast of Wichita.

At a depth of just 560 feet, the company’s drill bit struck a formation that produced “a howling gasser” that flowed an estimated nine million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Read the rest of this entry »

 

“Michigan Oil & Gas History,” a 2005 Clarke Historical Library exhibit at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant.

In 1860, Michigan State Geologist Alexander Winchell reported that oil and natural gas deposits lay under Michigan’s surface.

First commercial production was at Port Huron, where twenty-two wells were drilled, beginning in 1886.
Total output was small. Michigan’s first oil boom was at Saginaw, where production began about 1925.

About three hundred wells were drilled here by 1927, when Muskegon’s “Discovery Well” drew oil men from all over the country to that field.

The Mt. Pleasant field, opened in 1928, helped make Michigan one of the leading oil producers of the eastern United States. Mount Pleasant became known as the “Oil Capital of Michigan.”

Efforts of the industry itself resulted in excellent state laws regulating petroleum output. Well depths ranged from one thousand to six thousand feet.

New wells are constantly opened as exploration continues. – 1961 Michigan historical marker.

Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library, designed the petroleum history exhibit that creatively used documents and photographs to capture the attention of students.

Central Michigan University Oil Exhibit

In the summer of 2005, a special petroleum exhibit opened at Central Michigan University’s (CMU) Clarke Historical Library, Mount Pleasant.

“They work hard, take risks, prosper, and by and large benefit everybody,” noted Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library, about oil and natural gas producers. “What I didn’t understand about the industry is that these people all know each other.”

The library told their story with an “Oil and Natural Gas in Michigan” exhibit.

The state’s abundant oil production comes as a surprise to many, said Boles, who put the exhibit together with the cooperation of the Michigan Oil & Gas Association and the Michigan Oil & Gas Producers Educational Foundation.

Jack Westbrook, retired managing editor of Michigan Oil & Gas News magazine, marshaled the resources and worked tirelessly to ensure success, Boles said. “In a very real sense, there would be no exhibit if it were not for Jack.”

The exhibit was designed to designed to pique a visitor’s curiosity – and be transportable. The region’s students learned that Mount Pleasant, home to CMU, had its own oil boom in 1928 and today is known as the historical center of Michigan’s oil industry.

They were surprised to learn that more than 57,000 oil and gas wells had been drilled in their state since 1925 – and that Michigan ranks 17th in nationwide oil production and 11th in natural gas.

More surprises awaited those students who looked more closely, Boles said.

“We’re about usage,” he explained. “Our profit is people coming in, using our resources, and hopefully learning something. We want our exhibits to prompt them to dig deeper.”

For example, students learn that after decades of dry holes or small oil discoveries, the Houseknecht No. 1 discovery well on January 7, 1957, revealed Michigan’s largest oil field, 29-miles-long.

Ferne Houseknecht had convinced her uncle, Clifford Perry, to take time between his other farm projects to drill the historic well. Read more in “Michigan’s ‘Golden Gulch’ of Oil.”

For the exhibit, Boles used just six walls and eleven cabinets to tell this and other stories, so careful planning was essential. He said that from the project’s outset, pursuit of community support, resources, and partners was essential.

Proudly showing off his homemade miniature cable tool rig in 1932, Earl “Red” Perry Jr., age 12, is the nephew of Cliff Perry – who will discover Michigan’s largest oil field on January 7, 1957.

The exhibit began with storyboarding and the interactive process of writing and rewriting proposed text. Large photo formats with understandable text dominated the walls, while display cases featured unique artifacts and documents.

Visitors discovered a rich oil history and learned of the complex environmental issues Michigan has successfully addressed.

The 1970s “Pigeon River State Forest” ecological controversy was presented – along with its innovative solution. In 1976, Michigan became the first state in the nation to earmark state revenue generated through mineral, including oil and gas, activity for acquisition and improvement of environmentally sensitive or public recreation lands.

According to Jack Westbrook, all 83 Michigan counties have benefited from the fund’s $635 million collected from oil and gas revenues – and other states followed Michigan’s example.

His book, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund 1976-2011: A 35 year Michigan investment heritage in Michigan’s public recreation future, is available at Amazon. See “Books & Artists.”

Visit the Clarke Historical Library.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.

 

Rarely, a community sees its pulse quicken with a get-rich quick best, feels the boom fever strike, suffers the chill of disillusion when the “El Dorado” fades out and then recovers.

But this is what happened at the McKeesport gas field, scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash. – Pittsburgh Press, July 15, 1934

Following America’s first commercial oil discovery in Northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859, natural gas development began in Western Pennsylvania in the late 1870s.

Two brothers discovered a massive natural gas field and brought a new energy resource to Pittsburgh factories. Read more about the once famous Haymaker well in “Natural Gas is King in 1880s Pittsburgh.”

For investors, history seemed to be repeating itself two decades later. McKeesport Gas Company was one of about 300 petroleum companies that sprang up within six months of an August 30, 1919, discover – a runaway natural gas well near McKeesport.

The “Snake Hollow Gusher” between the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, blew in at more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Drilled by S. J. Brendel and David Foster, the discovery well prompted a frenzy that saw $35 million dollars invested during the boom’s seven-month lifespan.

McKeesport Gas Company incorporated on December 5, 1919, and two-weeks later enticed investors with advertisements in the Pittsburgh Press and the Gazette Times newspapers. “Over 500 Acres of Leases in the Heart of the McKeesport Gas Fields,” proclaimed one ad, offering stock at $1.25 a share.

“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” notes a local reporter. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses in anticipation of fortunes to be made.”

However, of the estimated $35 million sunk into the nine square mile area of the boom, only about $3 million came out. By the beginning of 1921, natural gas production was falling in about 180 producing wells – and more than 440 wells were dry holes.

The McKeesport gas field was reported as, “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.”

The Library of Congress photography collection includes “McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” with several McKeesport Gas Company wells at the far left.  The company likely drilled a few of the boom’s hundreds of dry holes and with funds exhausted, disappeared into petroleum history.

Fifteen years later, McKeesport Mayor George H. Lysle explained to a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter how the town survived the “seven-month wonder” natural gas boom:

“Other boom towns,” he said, “were built merely on the strength of the wealth that was to pour from their wells or mines. But McKeesport and vicinity was established before the boom came. When it was over, people still had their jobs in the mills and stores, the permanent population remained, and the natural resources of the district, except for gas, were still as great as ever. We were still a great industrial community.”

Today, greater knowledge of geology and advanced production technologies are promising far surer results than the Snake Hollow Gusher. The region’s latest gas boom – the Marcellus Shale – extends across western Pennsylvania into other Appalachian Basin states.

McKeesport Gas Company stock certificates have collectible value.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.

 

Detailed illustrations tell the story of the industry’s remarkable heritage in Oil and Natural Gas — an excellent book from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Discovering the story of petroleum – and the many ways it shapes the world – is the theme of this illustrated guide to the industry’s past, present and future. Read the rest of this entry »