This Week in Petroleum History – July 25 to July 31
July 25, 1543 – First Report of Oil in New World
The first documented report of oil in the New World is made in 1543 west of the Sabine River in Texas when a storm forces ashore two boats of Spanish explorer Don Luis de Moscoso.
Moscoso had succeeded expedition leader Hernando de Soto, who died of fever after leading the first Europeans across the Mississippi River. Moscoso built seven brigs, sailed down the Mississippi and at the Gulf of Mexico, decided to sail west along the coast. A storm drove two of their brigs ashore and the others followed.
According to an account published in 1557, “the vessels came together in a creek where lay the two brigantines that preceded them, finding a scum the sea cast up, called copee, which is like pitch and used instead on shipping where that is not to be had, they paved the bottoms of their vessels with it.” Moscoso’s oil seep remained active as late as 1903. Learn more about natural oil seeps in Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.”
July 27, 1918 – First Concrete Oil Tanker launched
America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, the Socony, is launched at its shipyard on Flushing Bay, New York, in 1918.
The reinforced concrete barge is 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam. Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the ship draws nine feet with a cargo of 370 tons.
“Bulk oil is carried in six center and two wing compartments, which have been oil-proofed by a special process,” explains the journal Cement and Engineering News. “Eight-inch cast iron pipe lines lead to each compartment and the oil pump is located on a concrete pump room aft.”
July 28, 1924 – Oil Scouts organize
The National Oil Scouts Association of America (today the International Oil Scouts Association) files its charter in Austin, Texas. With a large number of landmen by 1940, it is renamed “National Oil Scouts and Landman’s Association” until landmen form their own association in 1955, today’s American Association of Professional Landmen.
Oil scouts have gathered field intelligence on drilling operations since the birth of the U.S. petroleum industry in 1859. They record details about the location, lease, depth of well, formations encountered, logs and other data, which may yield a competitive advantage.
James Tennent, author of The Oil Scouts – Reminiscences of the Night Riders of the Hemlocks, proclaimed in 1915 that scouts “saved the general trade thousands and millions by holding market manipulators in check.” Learn more in Scouts – Oil Patch Detectives.
July 28, 1977 – Prudhoe Bay Oil reaches Port of Valdez
The first barrel of oil from the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield arrives at the Port of Valdez after a 38-day, 800-mile journey through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. By 2010, the 48-inch-wide pipeline will have carried about 16 billion barrels of oil. Learn more about this engineering feat in Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.
July 29, 1918 – “World’s Wonder Oilfield” discovered in Burkburnett, Texas
A wildcat well strikes oil on S.L. Fowler’s farm near a small North Texas community on the Red River. By June 1919 there are more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.”
The North Texas exploration frenzy will make Burkburnett famous – two decades before “Boom Town,” the popular 1940 movie it will inspire.
The well is completed at the northeastern edge of Burkburnett, a small town founded in 1907 and originally called Nesterville. President Theodore Roosevelt renamed it after hunting wolf along the Red River with wealthy rancher Samuel Burk Burnett.
Once called “Fowler’s Folly” by some, the 1918 well brings an oil boom to Wichita County. Burkburnett’s population grows from 1,000 to 8,000. A line of derricks two-miles long greets visitors. Burkburnett – plus earlier discoveries in Electra in 1911 and Ranger in 1917 – make North Texas a leader in petroleum production, helping end oil shortages during World War I, and allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.”
At the time of the 1918 Burkburnett discovery well, Clark Gable is a 17-year-old roustabout working in oilfields near Bigheart, Oklahoma. In 1940 he will star in MGM’s popular movie “Boom Town,” which has been adapted from a 1939 article in Cosmopolitan magazine, “A Lady Comes to Burkburnett.” Learn more in “Boom Town” Burkburnett. Also see Sunshine State Oil & Refining Company.
July 29, 1957 – Eisenhower limits Oil Imports
As America’s reliance on foreign oil continues to grow – discouraging domestic production – President Dwight D. Eisenhower establishes a Voluntary Oil Import Program with import quotas by region. The intent is to ensure domestic petroleum supplies are available in case of national emergency.
Using a presidential proclamation two years later, Eisenhower replaces the voluntary program with a Mandatory Oil Import Program. By 1962 foreign oil imports are limited to 12.2 percent of U.S. production. The program continues until suspended by President Richard Nixon in 1973 as domestic oil production reaches new highs – and the Arab oil embargo begins.
August 1, 1872 – First Pennsylvania Natural Gas Pipeline
The first recorded large-scale delivery of natural gas by pipeline begins when gas is delivered to Titusville, Pennsylvania. A two-inch, wrought-iron pipeline carries the gas from a well five miles to the northeast.
The well’s high production – four million cubic feet of natural gas a day – is the largest in the growing petroleum region.
The mayor of Titusville and the Keystone Gas & Water Company constructed the pipeline to deliver “the most powerful and voluminous gas well on record” to more than 250 residential and commercial customers in Titusville.
Once an underestimated byproduct of the new petroleum industry, practical commercial use of natural gas will be introduced by George Westinghouse for the Pittsburgh steel and glass industries, notes David Waples in his 2005 book, The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia.
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