This Week in Petroleum History – January 21 to January 27
January 21, 1865 - Civil War Veteran tests an Oil Well “Torpedo”
Civil War veteran Col. Edward A. L. Roberts (1829-1881) conducts his first experiment to increase oil production by using an explosive charge deep in the well.
Roberts twice detonates 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 increases daily production from a few barrels to more than 40 barrels. In 1866, the Titusville Morning Herald will report:
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. It is then exploded by means of a cap on the torpedo, connected with the top of the shell by a wire.
Modern well fracturing – or “fracking” – will evolve from Col. Roberts’ success. He will received the first of his many patents for an “exploding torpedo” on April 25, 1865. By 1870, his torpedo technology became commonplace. Read more about his revolutionary invention in “Shooters – A “Fracking” History.”
January 23, 1895 – Standard Oil seals Fate of Oil Exchanges
The Standard Oil Company purchasing agency in Oil City, Pennsylvania, notifies independent producers it will only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” – and not “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.”
Oil City’s exchange had incorporated in 1874. Just three years later it was the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind New York and San Francisco.
Since these certificates could be bought and sold, trading flourished in oil exchanges at Titusville, Petroleum Center, and Oil City. Standard Oil’s action will bring an end to a popular “paper oil” market of brokers and buyers.
With Standard Oil buying 90 percent of production and setting its own price independent of oil certificates, the company’s edict will end oil exchanges, which close one by one. Read more in “End of Oil Exchanges.”
Learn more about the role of pipelines, oil exchanges and certificate speculators in “Scouts – Oil Patch Detectives.”
January 23, 1991 – Gulf War Oil Spill
A massive oil spill begins in the Persian Gulf when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces open pipeline valves at oil terminals in Kuwait. An estimated 11 million barrels of oil cover an area reaching as far as 101 miles by 42 miles.
The oil spill, the largest in world history, is five inches thick in some areas. Iraq soldiers also sabotage Kuwait’s main supertanker loading pier – and in February set about 600 wells ablaze.
It will take seven months to put out the well fires.
January 24, 1895 – Pure Oil Company founded by Independent Producers
The Pure Oil Company is formed by Pennsylvania oil region independent producers, refiners and pipeline operators.
With its headquarters in Pittsburgh, the company is organized to counter Standard Oil Company’s dominance. It is the second vertically integrated oil company – after Standard – in the region, according to historian Neil McElwee.
Beginning in March 1896, Pure Oil markets illuminating oil by tank wagon in Philadelphia and New York – successfully competing with Standard Oil.
“The organizers of the firm were politically savvy and connected. They used a committee of the Congress, the Industrial Commission, to advance their competitive position,” McElwee explains in an article for Oil150.
Headquartered in Columbus, the growing Ohio Cities Gas Company buys Pure Oil and in 1920 the Ohio firm adopts the original Pennsylvania name. In 1926 Pure Oil moves its headquarters into a new Chicago skyscraper (once considered the tallest building outside of New York). Union Oil of California will purchase Pure Oil in 1965.
January 26, 1931 – Third Well reveals Giant East Texas Oil Field
The wildcat well that will ultimately reveal the massive East Texas field strikes oil.
In Gregg County, John Farrell, W. A. Moncrief, and Eddie Showers bring in the Lathrop No. 1 with a flow of 320 barrels of oil per hour from a depth of 3,587 feet.
This well is many miles from other recent East Texas major discoveries – 25 miles north of Rusk County’s Daisy Bradford No. 3 and 15-miles north of the Lou Della Crim No. 1 near Kilgore.
At first, the great distance between the discoveries convinces geologists, petroleum engineers (and experts at the large oil companies) that the wildcat wells are small, separate oil fields.
However, to the delight of other independent producers and many small, struggling farmers, the Lathrop discovery reveals that the three wells are part of a massive oil-producing field – the largest ever.
Further development reveals the 130,000-acre East Texas oil field stretching 42 miles long and four to eight miles wide.
At the end of 1933 there are 11,875 producing wells owned by 1,715 different operators, all drawing on the Woodbine Sand Formation. Overproduction drives the price of oil from $1.25 per barrel to as low as 25¢ per barrel.
The region’s unique history is exhibited at the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore.
Learn more at “H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oil Field.”
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