This Week in Petroleum History, December 12 to December 18
December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears
“The available supply of gasoline, as is well known, is quite limited, and it behooves the farseeing men of the motor car industry to look for likely substitutes,” declared a 1905 article in the Horseless Age.
The popular monthly journal, first published in 1895, described the earliest motor technologies, including the use of compressed air propulsion systems, electric cars, steam and diesel power – as well as hybrids.
About the same time as the first American auto show in 1900, engineer Ferdinand Porsche introduced his “Mixte” in Europe. This gas-electric hybrid used a four-cylinder gasoline engine to generate electricity. The engine powered two three-horsepower electric motors mounted on the front wheel hubs. It could achieve a top speed of 50 mph.
December 13, 1931 – Oilfield discovered in Conroe, Texas
After many dry holes, independent oilman George Strake Sr. completed the South Texas Development Company No. 1 well eight miles southeast of Conroe, Texas, where he had leased 8,500 acres. By the end of 1932 the field was producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil a day.
Disaster struck at the Conroe oilfield in 1933, when several wells collapsed into a burning crater of oil. The crisis came to an end thanks to relief wells drilled by George Failing and his newly patented truck-mounted drilling rig. Learn about him and other oilfield technologies in Technology and the Conroe Crater.
December 14, 1981 – Dowsing does not Help in Minnesota Oil Search
Seeking oil investors, a promoter proclaimed that dowsing (using copper wires) had located petroleum deposits in Nobles County, Minnesota, near the town of Ellsworth, according to a report from the Minneapolis Tribune.
The Tribune story noted that a Murray County group had engaged a “Texas oilman and evangelist to lead a prayerful search for oil.” Despite the lack of geological evidence, a few local investors paid $175,000 to drill an exploratory well. It found no indication of oil or natural gas after drilling 1,500 feet deep. The Minnesota Geological Survey had earlier reported (1980) that of the state’s 17 wells drilled “in suitable geologic settings,” none had found commercial quantities of oil. By 1984, the survey concluded, “the geologic conditions for significant deposits of oil and gas do not exist in Minnesota.”
December 17, 1884 – Fighting Oilfield Fires with Cannons
“Oil fires, like battles, are fought by artillery” was the reporter’s catchy phrase in a New England magazine article in 1884.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology published “A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country” – a firsthand account of the problem of lightning strikes in America’s oilfields.
MIT not only reported on the fiery results of a lightning strike, but also the practice of using Civil War cannons to fight such conflagrations.
Especially in the Great Plains, where new oil discoveries had begun following the Civil War, lightening strikes were igniting oil tanks. It was a technological challenge for the rapidly expanding petroleum industry. Improvising in the oilfields, operators learned that shooting cannon balls into the base of burning tanks allowed oil to drain safely into a holding pit until the fire died out.
The MIT article explained that “it is usually desirable to let (oil) out of the tank to burn on the ground in thin layers; so small cannon throwing a three inch solid shot are kept at various stations throughout the region for this purpose.” Learn more in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires.
December 17, 1903 – Natural gas fuels Wright Workshop
A homemade engine burning 50-octane gasoline for boat engines powered Wilbur and Orville Wright’s historic 59-second flight into aviation history at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
The brothers’ “mechanician” Charlie Taylor had fabricated a 150-pound, 13-horsepower engine in their Dayton, Ohio, workshop. “We didn’t make any drawings,” Taylor later recalled.
The Wright brothers used Ohio natural gas to power their workshop. A “one lunger” (single cylinder) three-horsepower natural gas engine drove the overhead shaft and belts that turned a lathe, drill press – and a rudimentary wind tunnel.
Natural gas had reached the brothers’ printing business from Mercer County, about 50 miles northwest. Learn about advances in high-octane aviation fuel in Flight of the Woolaroc.
December 17, 1910 – Oil and Helium found in Texas
Although traces of oil had been found since 1904 in Clay county, Texas, a 1910 gusher revealed an oilfield to be named after one of America’s earliest petroleum boom towns, Petrolia, Pennsylvania.
The Dorthulia Dunn No. 1 erupted southeast of Wichita Falls, producing 700 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 1,600 feet. The field’s annual oil production peaked at about half a million barrels of oil in 1914. Production declined as discoveries at Electra and Burkburnett overtook Petrolia. Drilling continued, however, and the field proved to hold a large reserve of natural gas containing .1 percent helium.
“In 1915 the United States Army built the first helium extraction plant in the country at Petrolia, and for several years the field was the sole source of helium for the country,” notes historian David Minor in “Petrolia Oilfield.”
December 18, 1929 – Latest California Oil Boom begins in Venice
The Ohio Oil Company (today’s Marathon Oil Corp.) completed a wildcat well in Venice, California, east of the Grand Canal on the Marina Peninsula, two blocks from the ocean. The discovery well initially produced 3,000 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 6,200 feet.
Ohio Oil, which received a zoning variance permitting exploration within the city limits, soon launched another California drilling frenzy just a few years after the world-famous Signal Hill oil boom.
In the 1960s, artist JoAnn Cowans painted scenes of the derricks in Venice, Marina del Rey and other oilfields before they were removed. Today living in Fullerton, Cowans published a limited-edition book of her work in 2009, Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans.
Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.