This Week in Petroleum History, January 16 to January 22
January 16, 2012 – New Radio Show explores Energy Education
An Oklahoma radio station began broadcasting Exploring Energy, a weekday morning program dedicated to energy education. The show, hosted by Shawn Wilson and Nathan Brewer, examines issues “from oil and gas, to wind, solar, coal, nuclear and geothermal.” Guests have included T. Boone Pickens and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. In April 2014, a Remember When Wednesday special segment began featuring stories from the American Oil & Gas Historical Society.
January 18, 1919 – Texas Church rejects drilling in Cemetery
Although World War I had ended two months earlier, oil production for the war effort continued to soar in North Texas. Reporting on the growing number of booming oilfields in Eastland County (see Roaring Ranger wins WWI), the New York Times briefly noted that speculators had offered $100 million for rights to drill on the Merriman Baptist Church cemetery grounds – but they could not persuade the congregation to disturb interred church members.
Posted on a barbed-wire fence surrounding the cemetery amidst producing oil wells in the distance, a sign proclaimed, “Respect the Dead,” and the membership did. Today, the old cemetery and a new church are on FM 246, about three miles south of Ranger.
January 19, 1922 – Geological Survey predicts U.S. running Out of Oil
The U.S. Geological Survey predicted America’s oil supplies would run out in 20 years. It was not the first or last false alarm. Warnings of shortages had been made for most of the 20th century, according to geologist David Deming of the University of Oklahoma.
Deming cites a 1950 report, A Case History of Oil-Shortage Scares, documenting six claims prior to 1950 alone. Among them were: The Model T Scare of 1916; the Gasless Sunday Scare of 1918; the John Bull (United Kingdom) Scare of 1920-1923; the Ickes (Interior Secretary Harold Ickes) Petroleum Reserves Scare of 1943-1944; and the Cold War Scare of 1946-1948.
Oil shortage predictions began as early as 1879 – when Pennsylvania’s state geologist predicted only enough oil remained to keep kerosene lamps burning for four years.
January 19, 1965 – Inventor patents Offshore “Underwater Manipulator”
Howard Shatto Jr. received a 1965 U.S. patent for his “underwater manipulator with suction support device.” Shatto’s concept led to the modern remotely operated vehicle (ROV) now used most widely by the offshore petroleum industry. Shatto helped make Shell Oil Company an early leader in offshore oilfield development technologies.
This underwater robot technology can trace its roots to the late 1950s, when Hughes Aircraft developed a Manipulator Operated Robot – MOBOT – for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Working on land, the robot performed in environments too radioactive for humans. Beginning in 1960, Shell Oil began transforming the landlocked MOBOT into a marine robot – “basically a swimming socket wrench,” according to one engineer.
In his 1965 patent – one of many he will receive – Shatto explained how his robot could help install underwater production equipment at a depth greater than divers could safely work. Howard Shatto also became an innovator in dynamic positioning. Learn more in ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench.
January 20, 1886 – Great Karg Well erupts Natural Gas at Findlay, Ohio
The spectacular natural gas well – the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio – erupted natural gas with an initial flow of 12 million cubic feet a day. The well’s gas pressure was so great that it could not be controlled by the technology of the time. The gas ignited and its flame became an Ohio tourist attraction that burned for four months.
Although Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay two years earlier by Findlay Natural Gas Company, the Karg well launched the state’s first major natural gas boom and brought many new industries. Glass companies especially are “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” notes a commemorative marker at the Richardson Glass Works in Findlay. “They included eight window, two bottle, two chimney lamp, one light bulb, one novelty, and five tableware glass factories.”
By 1887, Findlay became known as the “City of Light,” adds another marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company. In 1962, Ohio Oil Company changed its name to today’s Marathon Oil. Read about other early natural gas discoveries in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.
The Hancock Historical Museum of Findlay includes natural gas exhibits from the region and is less than two miles from the site of the famous well.
January 21, 1865 – Civil War Veteran demonstrates Oil Well Torpedo
Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts (1829-1881) conducted his first experiment to increase oil production by using an explosive charge deep in the well. Roberts twice detonated eight pounds of black powder 465 feet deep in the bore of the “Ladies Well” on Watson’s Flats south of Titusville, Pennsylvania.
The “shooting” of the well increased daily production from a few barrels to more than 40 barrels. In 1866, the Titusville Morning Herald reported: Our attention has been called to a series of experiments that have been made in the wells of various localities by Col. Roberts, with his newly patented torpedo.
The results have in many cases been astonishing. The torpedo, which is an iron case, containing an amount of powder varying from 15 pounds to 20 pounds, is lowered into the well, down to the spot, as near as can be ascertained, where it is necessary to explode it.
In April 1865, Roberts received the first of his many patents for his “exploding torpedo.” By 1870, this torpedo technology – using nitroglycerin – became a common practice in oilfields. Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.
January 22, 1861 – Pennsylvania Refinery produces Kerosene
The first multiple-still refinery was brought on-stream in the Pennsylvania oil region, one mile south of Titusville along Oil Creek. The refinery used stills to produce two grades (white and the less the expensive yellow) of a new petroleum-based illuminating oil. Each barrel of crude oil yielded about 20 gallons of kerosene.
William Barnsdall, who drilled the first successful well (read about the first dry hole) to follow Edwin Drake’s August 1859 discovery, and partners James Parker and W.H. Abbott spent about $15,000 to build six basic stills for refining the kerosene. Much of the equipment was purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny to Oil City, then up Oil Creek to the new refinery.
Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce Wells.