This Week in Petroleum History – July 18 to July 24
July 19, 1957 – Oil discovered in Alaska Territory
The Alaska Territory’s first commercial oilfield is discovered in 1957 – two years before Alaska statehood.
Richfield Oil Company completes the discovery well Swanson River Unit No. 1 in the Cook Inlet Basin. The well yields 900 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 11,215 feet.
Richfield has leased more than 71,000 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now part of the 1.92 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
More Alaska discoveries follow and by June 1962 about 50 wells are producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil per day. Atlantic Richfield Company is better known today as ARCO. Read more about petroleum exploration in the 49th state in First Alaska Oil Well.
July 20, 1920 – Permian Basin revealed
The Permian Basin makes headlines in 1920 when a West Texas well finds oil about 2,750 feet deep. The W.H. Abrams No. 1 well is named for Texas & Pacific Railway official William Abrams, who owns the land and leases mineral rights to the Texas Company (later Texaco).
After “shooting” the well with nitroglycerine, a tall column of oil announces the discovery now known as West Columbia field. It is part of the Permian Basin, which proves to be 250 miles wide and 300 miles long with production ranging from depths from a few hundred feet to five miles.
“As a crowd of 2,000 people looked on, a great eruption of oil, gas, water and smoke shot from the mouth of the well almost to the top of the derrick,” notes an historical marker in Westbrook, Texas.
“Locally, land that sold for 10 cents an acre in 1840 and $5 an acre in 1888 now brought $96,000 an acre for mineral rights, irrespective of surface values…the flow of oil money led to better schools, roads and general social conditions.”
Another West Texas discovery well in 1923 near Big Lake will bring an even greater drilling boom- and help establish the University of Texas (see Santa Rita taps Permian Basin). Today, about 60 major fields are located in the Permian Basin, which in 2013, accounted for 18 percent of total U.S. crude oil production. Also see New Mexico Oil Discovery.
July 21, 1935 – “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy strikes Oil
Glenn H. McCarthy strikes oil 50 miles east of Houston in 1935, extending the already prolific Anahuac field three miles. His well produces almost 600 barrels of oil a day. It is the first of many for a man who will become a leading independent producer – and builder of Houston’s famed Shamrock Hotel (its Emerald Room will rival Las Vegas with headliners like Frank Sinatra).
By 1945, McCarthy will have discovered 11 Texas oilfields while extending several others. He becomes known as “King of the Wildcatters” and “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy by 1950, when his estimated worth reaches $200 million ($2 billion today) and is featured in TIME magazine.
In addition to his McCarthy Oil and Gas Company, McCarthy eventually will own a gas company, a chemical company, a radio station, 14 newspapers, a magazine, two banks, and the Shell Building in Houston.
In 1946 McCarthy invests $21 million to build the Shamrock Hotel in Houston. He spends more than $1 million on the hotel’s 1949 opening day gala, dubbed “Houston’s biggest party.” Read more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.
July 22, 1933 – Phillips Petroleum sponsors Record Solo Flight
Before 50,000 cheering New York City onlookers, aviator Wiley Post lands his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae” in 1933. The former oil patch roughneck is the first man to fly solo around the world.
Post had worked in oilfields near Walters, Oklahoma, when he got his first plane ride with a barnstormer in 1919. Taking a break from oilfield work in the 1920s, Post joined Burrell Tibbs Flying Circus as a parachute jumper and was taught to fly by one of the circus pilots.
“In 1926 he returned to the oilfields, where he was injured the first day on the job, losing the sight in his left eye,” notes one biographer. Post’s trademark eye-patch resulted from working at a site near Seminole. When a metal splinter damaged his eye, he used $1,700 in compensation to buy his first airplane – and launch his aviation career.
Post developed a close relationship with Frank Phillips of the Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville. Phillips began sponsoring Post’s high-altitude experimental flights.
In fact, Phillips Petroleum Company produced aviation fuels before it produced automotive fuels. In the late 1920s Phillips also had sponsored another historic plane – the “Woolaroc” – in a dangerous air race across the Pacific. See Flight of the Woolaroc.
July 23, 1951 – Secretaries organize Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs
The Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs (ADDC) of North America is established in 1951 to promote petroleum industry education in the United States and Canada.
The articles of association are signed by presidents of clubs founded earlier in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston and Jackson, Mississippi. The combined membership of the four charter clubs is more than 800 women, mostly oil and gas company secretaries.
The association will promote “the education and professional development of individuals employed in or affiliated with the petroleum, energy and allied industries and to educate the general public about these industries,” notes the ADDC website, which adds that membership “has ebbed and flowed with the tides of the energy and allied industries.”
Today about 2,500 members affiliated with the energy and allied industries comprise the 56 clubs in the United States and Canada. The first ADDC newsletter was published in 1952 after a member won a contest for its name: The Oil and Gal Journal, which was changed to The Desk and Derrick Journal in 1987. Delegates at the 1988 convention opened membership to men. Read more in Desk and Derrick Educators.
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.