July 6, 1988 – North Sea Piper Alpha Tragedy

An explosion and fire on Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea results in the deaths of 167 out of 224 personnel. It remains the petroleum industry’s most deadly offshore disaster.

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California-based Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha platform began operations in 1976.

At the time of the explosion, Piper Alpha – originally designed for oil production – was receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. According to safety consultant Gary Karasek, “the initial explosion was caused by a misunderstanding of the readiness of a gas condensate pump that had been removed from service for maintenance of it’s pressure safety valve.”

New offshore platform designs and operation engineering, evacuation technologies and safety procedures emerged following an official inquiry. “It was a ground-breaking effort, with numerous detailed findings and 106 recommendations, which were readily accepted by industry.”

July 8, 1937 – Mile-Long Gulf of Mexico Drilling Pier

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The future Exxon, Humble Oil Company was founded in 1911 in Humble, Texas.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War approves an ambitious plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil.

War Secretary Harry Woodring approves an application to drill near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company. The 60-acre lease is about eight miles east of High Island in Galveston County. Humble Oil builds the one-mile pier and erects three drilling rigs to search for oil above what geologist describe as a shallow salt dome.

All three wells are dry holes. A hurricane will destroy the pier in 1938. Visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center on Galveston Island.

July 9, 1815 – Early Natural Gas Discovery

Natural gas is discovered accidentally by Capt. James Wilson during the digging of a salt brine well within the present city limits of Charleston, West Virginia (Virginia in 1815).

The site is near where George Washington noted “burning springs” along the Kanawha River in his 1775 diary. Washington was awarded tracts of the land in Wirt County, which in the 1860s would experience one of America’s earliest oil booms.

Visit the Oil & Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The first commercial discovery of natural gas will be in 1821 in Fredonia, New York.

July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz

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The father of L. Frank Baum, Benjamin Ward Baum, found great success in the early Pennsylvania oilfields – allowing young “Frankie” to launch an axle oil business before becoming a children’s book author.

The future world-famous author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz starts a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. The store offers lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”

L. Frank Baum – whose father has found great success in early Pennsylvania oilfields – serves as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which is still in operation. Reporting on the opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper notes that Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons.

The grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”

Baum’s connection to the petroleum industry began decades earlier when his father closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the oilfields. Although Baum will sell the axle oil business in 1900, one Oz historian – after researching company records at its current location in Rome, New York – proclaims the Tin Man can trace his roots to Baum’s Castorine. Read more in Oil in the Land of Oz.

July 11, 2008 – World Oil Prices hit Historic High

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Many types of crude oil are produced around the world, notes the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “Variations in quality and location result in price differentials, but because oil markets are integrated globally, prices tend to move together.”

U.S. “light sweet crude” rises to $147.27 a barrel, before dropping back to $145.08. Prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange peaked at $145.29 a barrel eight days earlier.

As supply fears subside (despite speculation and concern about Iran and new demand from China and India competing for world oil supplies) oil prices fall to $36.51 a barrel on January 16, 2009.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), America’s dependence on foreign petroleum has declined since peaking in 2005.

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July 12, 1934 – The Start of “Clark Super 100”

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Incorporated in 1934, Emory T. Clark’s company will operate almost 1,500 gas stations by 1970.

petroleum history july 6Two years after paying $14 cash for a closed, one-pump gas station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Emory T. Clark incorporates what will become the Clark Oil & Refining Corporation.

Clark begins building a network of filling stations focused on premium gasoline only – delivering “Super 100 Premium Gasoline.”

Clark’s marketing strategy is to omit many of the common services such as maintenance, engine repair, and tire changing. Sales reach $21.1 million in 1949, notes the Harvard Business School Baker Library.

In 1953 Clark operates 158 service stations in the Midwest under the brand name “Clark Super 100. In September 1967 Clark purchases a 31,000 barrel per day refinery at Wood River, Illinois.

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Retired Shell employees established the Wood River Refinery History Museum in 1986.

By 1970, his company operates almost 1,500 gas stations and two refineries with combined capacity of almost 100,000 barrels a day.

In 1981, the Clark family will sell their company holdings – which began with  Emory T. Clark’s $14 purchase – to Missouri-based Apex Oil for $483 million.

The modern Wood River Manufacturing Complex remains a leading refinery serving the Midwest market, notes the Wood River Refinery History Museum in Roxana, Illinois, where exhibits trace the refinery’s history from its beginning in 1917.

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