The U.S. Navy’s change from coal to oil-fired boilers at sea is another important chapter in American petroleum history.
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The U.S. Navy’s change from coal to oil-fired boilers at sea is another important chapter in American petroleum history.
James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron in 1922 filed a patent for the hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer. Their invention was a vital technology for ending dangerous oil gushers.
“The object of our invention is to provide a device designed to be secured to the top of the casing while the drilling is being done and which will be adapted to be closed tightly about the drill stem when necessary,” they noted in their application, which was approved in January 1926. It revolutionized the petroleum industry. Read the rest of this entry »
The quest for a world land speed record perhaps began when Mrs. Karl Benz secretly took the first car for a road trip in 1882. Steam and electric vehicles at first competed with the cantankerous combustion of gasoline engines. High-octane, tetraethyl gas and kerosene-based jet fuels later dominated the records. But in 1970, a sleek blue feat of engineering set the world record of 630 mph. The Blue Flame was powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Because modern drivers seek environmentally friendly but low-cost transportation fuels, the new abundance of U.S. natural gas supplies promises innovation. Thousands of cars and trucks are now powered by this “fuel of the future.”
Throughout the 20th century, land speed records were set with vehicles powered by steam, electricity, and all manner of petroleum distillates. National pride was often at stake as British, American, French, Belgian, German, and Italian teams fielded competing machines. The first record was set by a Frenchman in 1898. Count Gaston De Chasseloup-Laubat, driving an electric-powered car, achieved 39.24 mph. Read the rest of this entry »
America’s first auto show opened in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in November 1900. Gasoline proved to be the least popular source of engine power.
Charles Duryea claimed the first American patent for a gasoline automobile in 1895. One year later, Henry Ford sold his first “quadri-cycle,” creating the auto industry. Meanwhile, New York City public workers were removing 450,000 tons of horse manure from the streets every year.
Brothers Charles and Frank Duryea test drove their gasoline powered automobile – built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop – on April 19, 1892.
Considered the first automobile regularly made for sale in the United States, a total of 13 of the model was manufactured by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Other manufacturers quickly followed the Duryea example.
Although their company would last only three years, according to the Henry Ford Museum, “brothers Charles and Frank Duryea became the first Americans to attempt to build and sell automobiles at a profit.”
It was reported two months after the company’s first sale in 1896 that a New York City motorist driving a Duryea hit a bicyclist. This was recorded as the nation’s first automobile traffic accident.
A growing number of the new “infernal machines” soon shared unpaved U.S. roads with startled horses.
Of the 4,200 new automobiles sold in the United States at the turn of the century, gasoline powered less than 1,000. On November 3, 1900, America’s first national automobile show opened in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Read the rest of this entry »
Offshore Ohio wells are drilled on a lake in the 1890s, perhaps the industry’s first. Mercer County says oil wells pumped far out in Grand Lake St. Marys.
America’s “first offshore drilling” is generally acknowledged to be over Louisiana’s Caddo Lake in 1911 – although historians in Mercer and Auglaize counties in Ohio say otherwise.
Mercer County documents record oil wells pumping far out in the waters of Grand Lake St. Marys 20 years before drillers ventured into the waters of Caddo Lake.
Work on the Ohio reservoir that would become known as Grand Lake St. Marys – about 60 miles north of Dayton – began in 1837 to support construction of the Miami and Erie Canal near the towns of Celina and St. Marys. To maintain the canal’s water levels, the reservoir was excavated over nine years by more than 1,700 men earning 30 cents a day. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
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 »
Building a community oil museum is not for the faint of heart.
“Money and volunteers, volunteers and money,” are the biggest challenges, according to John Larrabee, board president for the Illinois Oil Field Museum and Resource Center on the outskirts of his hometown of Oblong, Illinois.
“The first thing you have to have is a goal and the determination to keep at it, no matter what. Don’t give up, whatever happens,” Larrabee explained in a 2004 interview with historical society Contributing Editor Kris Wells.
It helps to know something about the oil business, said the third generation Illinois Basin oilman. “The museum began way back in 1961 with a fellow named Enos Bloom, Larrabee noted. “In those days, the city of Oblong provided and maintained a building that housed donated artifacts.” Read the rest of this entry »
A 1933 disaster at a giant oilfield near Conroe, Texas, brought together the inventor of a revolutionary portable drilling rig and the father of directional drilling.
Although the Conroe well’s producing sands proved to be dangerously gas-charged, shallow and unstable, the giant oilfield – the third largest in the United States at the time – soon had 60 successful wells producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil a day.
The region north of Houston boomed as the Great Depression worsened.
Disaster came in January 1933 when one of the wells blew out and erupted into flame. The runaway well cratered – completely swallowing nearby drilling rigs. Read the rest of this entry »
A Crude History of Mabel’s Eyelashes
When a young New York chemist distills paraffin from booming Pennsylvania oilfields into petroleum jelly – Vaseline – his invention will lead to a popular mascara and Maybelline cosmetics.
Few associate 1860s oil wells with women’s smiling faces, but they are fashionably related.
This is the story of how goop that accumulated around the sucker rods of America’s earliest oil wells made its way to the eyelashes of American women.
In 1865, a 22-year-old chemist left the prolific oil fields of Titusville, Pennsylvania, to return to his Brooklyn, New York, laboratory and experiment with a waxy substance that clogged well heads.
Even before America’s first commercial oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, young Chesebrough had dabbled in the “coal oil” business. His expertise was distilling cannel coal into kerosene – an illuminant in high demand among consumers.
Chesebrough knew of the process for refining oil into kerosene, so when Edwin L. Drake’s historic oil discovery launched the U.S. petroleum industry, he was one of many who rushed to the Titusville oilfields to make his fortune.
Scientific American reported, “Now commenced a scene of excitement beyond description. The Drake well was immediately thronged with visitors arriving from the surrounding country, and within two or three weeks thousands began to pour in from the neighboring States.” Read the rest of this entry »
Petroleum companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf are required to provide detailed sonar data in areas that have archaeological potential.
Several federal agencies today review about 1,700 oil and natural gas company surveys every year. The surveys have revealed more than 100 historic shipwrecks. In 2001, scientists at the Minerals Management Service noted that “a German submarine definitely got our attention.”
During World War II, U-boats prowled the Gulf of Mexico to disrupt the vital flow of oil carried by tankers departing ports in Louisiana and Texas.
In just one year, the Kriegsmarine sank 56 Allied ships, including 17 tankers, while losing only one submarine – the Unterseeboot 166.
German submarine predations so threatened the war effort that American government and industry responded with the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken, building the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” from East Texas to Illinois, and as far as New York. See WW II Big Inch and Little Big Inch Pipelines.
But for the U-166, the war was over. Its final resting place remained a mystery for almost 60 years.
The last victim of the U-166 was the passenger freighter Robert E. Lee, sunk by a single torpedo on July 30, 1942, while on its way to New Orleans. Her Naval escort ship, PC-566, rushed in to drop ten depth charges. The U-166 was believed to have escaped. It did not.
In 1986, a Shell Offshore vessel using a deep-tow system of the day recorded two close wrecks about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast in 5,000 feet of water.
Thought to be the Robert E. Lee and cargo freighter Alcoa Puritan, it was May 2001 before an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) using side scan sonar revealed the U-166. The lost World War II submarine was separated from Robert E. Lee by less than a mile on the sea floor.
The AUV, which required no cable connection to its mother ship, found the Alcoa Puritan 14 miles away. Learn more about the petroleum industry’s offshore robotics in Swimming Socket Wrenches.
The historic submarine’s discovery resulted from the requirement for an archaeological survey of the seafloor prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline by BP and Shell Oil. Six other World War II vessels have been discovered in the course of Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas surveys.
As a result of the U-166’s discovery, BP and Shell altered their proposed pipeline to preserve the site and government archaeologists notified the U.S. Navy Historical Center of the discovery, notes a 2001 MMS newsletter.
“They, in turn, notified the German Embassy and military attaché,” the MMS article explains. “Since the remains of the U-166’s 52 crewmen are still on board, the German government has declared the site to be a war grave and has requested that it remain undisturbed.”
Gulf of Mexico oil tanker losses led to a petroleum industry achievement: construction of the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” pipelines that connected Texas oilfields to eastern refineries.
Editor’s Note – Since 2011, the Minerals Management Service has become the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
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Offshore petroleum platforms act as artificial reefs, creating ideal marine habitats. Since 1979, the Rigs to Reefs program has formed the world’s largest.
Gulf of Mexico federal offshore oil production accounts for 23 percent of total U.S. oil production, notes the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Federal offshore natural gas production in the Gulf accounts for seven percent
Over 40 percent of total U.S. petroleum refining capacity is located along the Gulf coast, as well as 30 percent of total U.S. natural gas processing plant capacity.
More than 4,500 petroleum platforms operate daily in offshore waters. Thanks to a program begun two decades ago, offshore production benefits both the economy and the environment.
Rigs to Reefs is a program in which offshore structures that are no longer producing remain in the marine environment. They form the largest artificial reef complex in the world.
The industry-government partnership is a Gulf of Mexico success story, notes an article in Ocean Science, the Minerals Management Service quarterly magazine.
Rigs to Reefs is a program in which offshore structures that are no longer producing remain in the marine environment. Today, they form the world’s largest artificial reef complex.
Although Rigs to Reefs developed as an official policy in the mid-1980s, the concept was first explored in 1979. The National Artificial Reef Plan paved the way for government-endorsed artificial reef projects.
The first planned conversion took place in 1979 with the re-location of an Exxon experimental subsea structure from offshore Louisiana to an artificial reef site off Apalachicola, Florida.
In 1984, the National Fishing Enhancement Act established national artificial reef standards.
MMS then developed policies encouraging the reuse of obsolete offshore petroleum structures – requiring compliance with standards of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the criteria in the National Artificial Reef Plan of 1985, which allowed states to plan, construct, and manage artificial reefs. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »