This Week in Petroleum History – July 11 to July 17
July 11, 2008 – World Oil Price sets Historic High
The price of oil reaches a record high of $147.27 a barrel, before dropping back to $145.08. Prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange had peaked at $145.29 a barrel eight days earlier.
As supply fears subside (despite speculation, concern about Iran, and demand from China and India competing for world oil supplies) oil prices fall to $36.51 a barrel on January 16, 2009. A 2016 survey of academic literature finds that “most major oil price fluctuations dating back to 1973 (the OPEC embargo) are largely explained by shifts in the demand for crude oil,” notes The Journal of Economic Perspectives.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), projects a rise in U.S. oil production and other liquid fuels between 2017 and 2040. America’s dependence on foreign oil has declined since peaking in 2005.
July 11, 2013 – Drop of Pitch drips After 69 Years
Physicists at Trinity College Dublin photograph a falling drip of pitch – “one of the most anticipated drips in science,” according to the journal Nature. It is considered one of the longest-running laboratory investigations in the world.
Set up in 1944, the pitch-drop experiment demonstrates the high viscosity (low fluidity) of pitch — a natural hydrocarbon also known as bitumen or asphalt that appears to be solid at room temperature, but is flowing extremely slowly.
“The Trinity College team has estimated the viscosity of the pitch by monitoring the evolution of this one drop, and puts it in the region of two million times more viscous than honey, or 20 billion times the viscosity of water, ” the Nature article notes.
July 12, 1934 – The Start of “Clark Super 100”
Two years after paying $14 cash for a closed, one-pump gas station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Emory Clark incorporates what will become the Clark Oil & Refining Corporation.
Clark begins building a network of simplified and distinctive filling stations that focus on selling premium gasoline only – delivering “Super 100 Premium Gasoline.”
Clark’s marketing strategy is to omit many of the common services such as maintenance, engine repair, and tire changing. Sales reach $21.1 million in 1949, notes the Harvard Business School Baker Library.
By 1953 the company operates 158 service stations in the Midwest under the brand name “Clark Super 100. In September 1967 Clark purchases a large refinery at Wood River, Illinois, that can refine up to 31,000 barrels of oil a day .
By 1970, the company operates almost 1,500 gas stations and two refineries with combined capacity of almost 100,000 barrels a day.
In 1981, the Clark family will sell their company holdings – which began with Emory T. Clark’s $14 purchase – to Missouri-based Apex Oil for $483 million.
The modern Wood River refinery, about 15 miles north of St. Louis, today is capable of refining 360,000 barrels of oil a day, notes the Wood River Refinery History Museum in Roxana, Illinois, where exhibits trace the refinery’s history beginning in 1917.
July 14, 1863 – Diamond “Tool for Boring Rock”
French tunnel engineer Rodolphe Leschot in 1863 patents his “Tool for Boring Rock” – a ring of industrial-grade diamonds fixed on the end of a tubular drill rod and designed to cut a cylindrical core. Water pumped through the drill rod washes away cuttings and cools the bit.
Leschot’s system proves successful in drilling blast holes for tunneling Mount Cenis on the France-Italy border. By 1865, the use of diamond bits in oil well drilling is being examined in the petroleum regions of western Pennsylvania.
“It is not known if there is any connection between the 1865 experimental diamond core drilling in the Pennsylvania oil region and the Leschot blast hole drilling in France in 1863,” oil historian Samuel T. Pees of Meadville, Pennsylvania, noted in 2004.
Learn more about the oil region at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.
July 14, 1891 – Rockefeller expands Oil Tank Car Empire
John D. Rockefeller incorporates Union Tank Line Company in New Jersey in 1891. He transfers his fleet of several thousand oil tank cars to the Standard Oil Trust.
Rockefeller systematically acquires control of all but 200 of America’s 3,200 existing oil tank cars. By 1904, his rolling fleet of tank cars has grown to 10,000.
Union Tank Line Company ships only Standard Oil products until 1911, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision mandates dissolution of his trust.
The newly independent company changes its name to Union Tank Car Company – although its official rolling stock “reporting mark” retains Standard Oil’s UTL or UTLX. The company today manages a nationwide fleet of 80,000 cars.
Read more about the early days of transporting petroleum in Densmore Oil Tank Car.
July 16, 1926 – Greater Seminole Area Boom
Three years after a successful oil well near Bowlegs, Oklahoma, a gusher south of Seminole reveals the true potential of Seminole County. The Fixico No. 1. well penetrates the prolific Wilcox Sands formation at 4,073 feet.
The well, drilled by the R.F. Garland and Independent Oil Company, is among more than 50 Greater Seminole Area oil reservoirs discovered; six are giants that produce more than one million barrels of oil each.
By 1935 Oklahoma will become the largest supplier of oil in the world. Read more in Greater Seminole Oil Boom.
July 16, 1969 – Kerosene fuels Saturn V
A 19th century petroleum product makes America’s 1969 moon landing possible. Kerosene powers the first-stage rocket engines of the Saturn V when it launches the Apollo 11 mission on July 16. Four days later, astronaut Neil Armstrong will announce, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
During launch, five engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burn “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust.
Saturn’s rocket fuel is a highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1) that can trace its roots to the 1840s and “coal oil” for lamps. Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner began refining the fuel from coal in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax).
Refined from crude oil, kerosene’s ease of storage and stable properties will attract rocket scientists. RP-1 today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas and SpaceX rockets. Read more in Kerosene Rocket Fuel.
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 to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.