This Week in Petroleum History, February 6 to February 12
February 7, 1817 – Manufactured Gas lights Street Lamps
America’s first public street lamp fueled by gas illuminated a street in Baltimore, Maryland, and the city’s Gas Light Company became the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company – distilling tar and wood to manufacture its illuminating gas.
A monument to this street lamp today stands at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street (once Market and Lemon streets). Dedicated in 1997, the lamp is a replica of its original design of February 1817.
Noted Baltimore artist and inventor Rembrandt Peale had first illuminated a room in his Holliday Street museum a year earlier, burning the artificial gas and dazzling local businessmen and socialites gathered there with a “ring beset with gems of light.”
“During a candlelit period in American history the forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors,” notes a historian at the utility Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E).
The gamble worked, and several financiers aligned with Peale, forming The Gas Light Company of Baltimore. Learn more in Manufactured Gas for Lamps.
February 9, 2013 – NASA drills on Mars
Images transmitted from NASA’s robotic rover Curiosity confirm it drilled a well on the martian surface, marking “history’s first ever drilling and sampling into a pristine alien rock on the surface of another planet in our solar system,” according to an article at Universe Today.
After being launched in November 2011, while exploring the Red Planet’s Yellowknife Bay Basin, Curiosity paused to drill a hole about .63 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep.
Using a rotary-percussion drill bit at the end of its seven-foot robotic arm, the rover’s first off-world well drilled into “a red slab of fine-grained sedimentary rock with hydrated mineral veins of calcium sulfate.”
Images from Curiosity making hole the day before show the one-ton robot’s drill site, which included a test hole and the successful well. Curiosity collected powdered rock samples through a tube that extended over most of the drill bit.
Curiosity adjusted its drilling technique to recover mineral samples. The six-wheeled rover spudded later wells using “low-percussion” to make sure the rock did not shatter during drilling. Curiosity’s design will serve as the basis for a Mars rover planned for 2020. Learn more about terrestrial drilling history in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.
February 10, 1910 – California Oilfield Discovery
The Buena Vista oilfield was discovered in Kern County, California, in 1910 by Honolulu Oil Corporation.
The well was originally known as “Honolulu’s great gasser” until it was drilled deeper into oil-producing sands. Oil production averaged between 3,000 barrels of oil and 4,000 barrels of oil per day. Steam injection operations would help produce the prolific “heavy” (high viscosity) California oil.
In 1912, as the U.S. Navy began converting its warship boilers from coal to oil, the Buena Vista field became Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 2 (see Petroleum & Sea Power). Many of the biggest U.S. oilfields have been found in California, mostly in Kern County. Learn more about the state’s petroleum history in First California Oil Well.
February 10, 1917 – Geologists form Association
Although growing demand for oil was worldwide, the science for finding it was obscure when the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) organized as the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
About 90 geologists met in 1917 at Henry Kendall College, now Tulsa University, and formed an association “to which only reputable and recognized petroleum geologists are admitted.”
The association, which adopted its present name in 1918, also began publishing a bimonthly scientific journal. AAPG’s peer-reviewed Bulletin included papers written by leading geologists of the day.
By 1920, an oil industry trade magazine noted the association had grown in membership and “combats the fakers.” It praised AAPG’s professionalism while warning of “the large number of unscrupulous and inadequately prepared men who are attempting to do geological work.”
February 10, 1956 – H.C. Price Company Tower opens
Harold C. Price Sr., founder of the H.C. Price Company, a builder of oil and natural gas pipelines, dedicated his new headquarters building in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. It was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Founded in 1921, H.C. Price Company specialized in field welding of oil storage tanks and was responsible for many innovations in electric welding of pipelines. The company played a key role in constructing the “Big Inch” pipeline during WWII and built a major section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
Wright designed more than 400 buildings, including the Guggenheim art museum in New York City; the 19-story Bartlesville office tower was his only skyscraper.
Today, the Price Tower Arts Center at Sixth Street and Dewey Avenue includes an inn and restaurant. The “Prairie Skyscraper” was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
February 12, 1954 – First Nevada Oil Well
After decades of dry holes (the first drilled 1,890 feet deep near Reno in 1907) Nevada became an oil producing state in 1954. Shell Oil Company’s second test of its Eagle Springs No. 1 well found oil in Railroad Valley, Nye County; this well became the state’s first commercial oil producer.
The routine test became the discovery well for the Railroad Valley field – Nevada’s first major oilfield, which produced oil from an interval between 6,450 and 6,730 feet deep. Although the Eagle Springs oilfield eventually would produce 3.8 million barrels of oil, other Nevada oilfields proved difficult to find.
The state’s second discovery resulting in commercial production finally arrived more than two decades later in 1976 when Northwest Exploration Company completed the Trap Spring No. 1 well five miles west of the Eagle Springs field. Learn more in First Nevada Oil Well.
February 12, 1987 – Texaco Fine upheld
A Texas court upheld a 1985 decision against Texaco for having initiated an illegal takeover of Getty Oil after Pennzoil had made a legally binding bid for the company. By the end of the year the companies settled their historic $10.3 billion legal battle for $3 billion after Pennzoil agreed to drop its demand for interest.
The agreement settled a tumultuous three-year fight over the rights to Getty Oil. According to the Los Angeles Times, the pact was vital for a reorganization plan that dictated how Texaco emerged from bankruptcy proceedings, a haven it had sought to stop Pennzoil from enforcing the largest court judgement ever awarded.
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