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Hollywood newsreels and NBC Radio rushed to feature the March 1930 “Wild Mary Sudik” gusher. Within weeks they made the Oklahoma oil field famous worldwide.

wild mary sudik

“Wild Mary Sudik” newsreels soon appeared in theaters around the country. When the well was brought under control, crews recovered 200,000 barrels of oil from pits and ponds.

The Mary Sudik No. 1 well blew out after striking a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath the state capital.

The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control on April 6, 1930.

The well, which produced a stunning 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, became a public sensation.

The giant discovery was featured in newsreels and on radio, according to “Oklahoma Journeys,” an audio program of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

“At about 6:30 the morning of March 26, 1930, the crew of roughnecks drilling a well on the property of Vincent Sudik paused in their work,” the program begins about the well, which is near I-240 and Bryant Street in present day Oklahoma City.

“The tired drillers had been waiting for daylight to continue their work,” the audio tape notes.

wild mary sudik

Experts control the well with “a clever ball-shaped contrivance” that lowers a two-ton “overshot” cap.

The program’s narrator Michael Dean notes that after drilling to 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.”

The drilling crew was caught off guard when oil and natural gas suddenly “came roaring out of the hole,” Dean adds.

“Pipe stems were thrown hundreds of feet into the air like so many tooth picks. First there was gas then the flow turned green gold and then black,” he reports. “Oil shot hundreds of feet into the air, and for the next eleven days, the Mary Sudik ran wild.”

“Wild Mary Sudik” Daily Updates

On April 6, Floyd Gibbons of NBC Radio – who broadcast regular reports about the well – reports that after two unsuccessful attempts, the well is closed with a two-ton “overshot” cap.

An Associated Press article describes the “clever equipment” required to control the well without sparking a fire – a “double die was screwed into four inches of casing threads…a clever ball-shaped contrivance, called a fantail, was used to affix the double die to the casing.”

The fantail was placed over the well, “and the ‘Wild Mary’s’ pressure, playing through jets in the contrivance, aided in lowering the cap through the blast,” the article explains.

“With the petroleum geyser halted, operators in the field drew sighs of relief,” it concludes. “A stray spark from two clanking pieces of steel and the territory might have become a raging inferno.”

With the well was brought under control and the danger of fire eliminated, drilling continues at a frantic pace elsewhere in Oklahoma City.

However, the prolific, high-pressure of the Wilcox sands formation continued to challenge drillers and the technologies of the day.

A Wild Mary Sudik article in the Southwest Missourian newspaper reported:

Oklahoma City, April 7 – A gas well, estimated to be producing at a rate of 75,000,000 cubic feet a day, blew in at the edge of the city today, creating a new fire threat less than 24 hours after the wild No. 1 Mary Sudik gusher, several miles to the south, had been brought under control.

Recognizing the risks of drilling into the Wilcox sand, Oklahoma City passes additional ordinances for safety and well spacing in the city.

Although the first ram-type blowout preventer had been patented by James Abercrombie in 1926, many high-pressure Texas and Oklahoma oil fields would take time to tame.

wild mary sudik

The Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City includes the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park.

In December 1933, Abercrombie patented an improved blowout preventer (patent No. 1,834,922), that set a new standard for safe drilling during the Oklahoma City oil field boom. Read more in Ending Oil Gushers – BOP.

Visitors today  can see the valve that split in half and view newsreel film of the Wild Mary Sudik in the oil and gas and natural resources on exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center.

There also is the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park with drilling and production equipment at the center, located on N.E. 23rd Street just east of the state capitol.

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

 

oil well drilling technology

The Chinese drilled with bamboo spring poles as early as 450 A.D.

Oil well drilling technology has evolved from the ancient spring pole to percussion cable-tools to the modern rotary rigs that can drill miles into the earth.

“A good cable-tool man is just about the most highly skilled worker you’ll find,” historian note.

“Besides having a feel for the job, knowing what’s going on thousands of feet under the ground just from the movement of the cable, he’s got to be something of a carpenter, a steam-fitter, an electrician, and a damned good mechanic.”

– From a 1939 interview in “Voices from the Oilfield” by Paul Lambert and Kenny Franks.

“A cable tool driller knows more knots and splices than any six sailors you can find,” Lambert and Franks added during the interview. Cable-tool rigs, powered by a steam engine and boiler, included the bullwheel and drilling cable – often high-quality manila rope.

oil well drilling technology

Standard cable-tool derricks stood 82 feet tall and were powered by a steam boiler and engine using a “walking beam” to alternately raise and lower drilling tools – which frequently had to be sharpened in a forge. Image from The Oil-Well Driller, 1905.

Drilling or “making hole” began long before oil or natural gas were anything more than flammable curiosities found seeping from the ground.

For centuries, digging by hand or shovel was the best technologies that existed to pry into the earth’s secrets. Oil seeps provided a balm for injuries. Natural gas seeps – when ignited – created folklore and places called “burning springs.” Read the rest of this entry »