This Week in Petroleum History – January 20 to January 26
January 20, 1886 – “Great Karg” Natural Gas Well of Findlay, Ohio
The spectacular natural gas well – the Great Karg Well of Findlay, Ohio – comes in with an initial flow of 12 million cubic feet per day.
The well’s pressure is so great that it cannot be controlled by the technology of the time. The gas will ignite and the flame becomes an Ohio tourist attraction that burns for four months.
Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay two years earlier by the Findlay Natural Gas Company, formed by Dr. Charles Oesterle.
However, the Karg well, then the largest in the world, launches the state’s first major natural gas boom – and brings many new industries.
Glass companies especially are “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” notes an historical 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 will become known as the “City of Light,” adds another nearby historical marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company – established the same year by five independent oil producers.
After becoming an international exploration and production company, in 1962 Ohio Oil Company will change its name to today’s Marathon Oil Company.
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. The museum also houses permanent exhibits relating to Findlay Glass Company.
January 21, 1865 - Civil War Veteran demonstrates his 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.
The downhole canister is exploded by means of a percussion cap on the torpedo, connected with the top of the shell by a wire.
Attached to the wire on the surface, the heavy shell, which will become known as a “go devil,” is dropped down the well where it impacts the cap and detonates the torpedo.
Modern well fracturing – or “fracking” – will evolve from Col. Roberts’ success. He will receive the first of his many patents for an “exploding torpedo” on April 25, 1865. By 1870, his torpedo technology – increasingly using nitroglycerin - becomes 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 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.
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 Discovery Well reveals Largest Oilfield in Lower-48 States
The wildcat well that will ultimately reveal the massive East Texas field strikes oil.
In Gregg County, W. A. “Monty” Moncrief, John Farrell, and Eddie Showers bring in the Lathrop No. 1 well. It produces 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 oilfields.
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 oilfield stretching 42 miles long and four to eight miles wide. The region’s unique history is exhibited at the East Texas Oil Museum.
Founding director Joe White notes that the Kilgore museum, which opened at Kilgore College in 1980, “houses the authentic recreation of oil discovery and production in the early 1930s in the largest oilfield inside U.S. boundaries.”
In Fort Worth, headquartered in the Moncrief Building, Moncrief Oil/Montex Drilling Company is the family exploration business first established by W.A. “Monty” Moncrief in 1929. Today it is led by sons W. A. “Tex” Moncrief, Jr. and C. B. “Charlie” Moncrief.
W.A. “Monty” Moncrief
After more than half a century of discoveries in American oilfields, William Alvin “Monty” Moncrief died on May 21, 1986. His legacy extends beyond his good fortune in East Texas.
Hospitals in communities near his discoveries, including the giant oilfield in Jay, Florida, revealed in 1970, and another in Bunkie, Louisiana, benefited from his drilling acumen.
Moncrief and his wife established the William A. and Elizabeth B. Moncrief Foundation and the Moncrief Radiation Center in Fort Worth, as well as the Moncrief Annex of the All Saints hospital. Buildings were erected in their honor at Texas Christian University, All Saints School, and Fort Worth Country Day School.
Born in Sulphur Springs, Texas, on August 25, 1895, Moncrief grew up in Checotah, Oklahoma, where his family moved when he was five.
According to Moncrief Oil/Montex history, Checotah was the town where Moncrief attended high school, taking typing and shorthand – and excelling to the point that he became a court reporter in Eufaula, Oklahoma.
“Determined to get an education, he saved $150 which was enough money to enroll at the University of Oklahoma at Norman,” the company history continues. “To continue covering expenses, he worked in the registrar’s office. He became ‘Monty’ Moncrief when he was initiated into the Sigma Chi fraternity.”
World War I interrupted Moncrief’s college education and like many others, he volunteered. He joined the U.S. Cavalry and was sent to officer training camp in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he met, and six months later married, Mary Elizabeth Bright on May 28, 1918.
Although sent to France, Moncrief saw no combat. The Armistice was signed before his battalion got to the front. After the war, Moncrief returned to Oklahoma where he found a job with Marland Oil Company, first in its accounting department and later in its land office.
When Marland opened offices in Fort Worth in the late 1920s, Moncrief was promoted to vice president for the new division. He struck out on his own as an independent in 1929. He soon teamed up with John Ferrell and took leases where they ultimately drilled the F. K. Lathrop No. 1 well, which turned out to be the northernmost extension of the giant East Texas field.
Learn more at “H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.”
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.