This Week July 17 to July 22
July 17, 1973 – Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act
After three years of years of contentious congressional debate, legal challenges from environmental groups and Alaska native claims, Vice President Spiro Agnew breaks the deadlocked 49-49 vote in the U.S. Senate. His deciding vote passes the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act.
Construction will begin in March 1975 on the 789-mile pipeline system, the largest private construction project in American history. Oil from the Prudhoe Bay oilfield will begin flowing to the port of Valdez in June 1977. Budgeted at $900 million, the pipeline ultimately costs about $8 billion to construct. Oil production tax revenues will earn Alaska $50 billion by 2002.
July 19, 1915 – Gasoline powers Washing Machines and Grass Cutters
Howard F. Snyder applies to patent his internal combustion-powered washing machine, assigning rights to the Maytag Company of Newton, Iowa. His invention is targeted “to the ordinary farmer” who does not have access to electricity.
Snyder’s washing machine uses a one-cylinder, air cooled, two-cycle engine that can run on gasoline, kerosene or alcohol. It provides “an assembled machine and power plant so constructed and arranged as to be compact, simple and economical.”
Four years after Snyder’s innovation, Edwin George of Detroit removes the Maytag engine from his wife’s washing machine, mates it with a reel-type lawn mower, and launches a new company, “Moto-Mower,” selling America’s first commercially successful power mower.
July 19, 1957 – Major Oil discovery in Alaska Territory
The Alaska Territory’s first commercial oilfield is discovered — two years before Alaska statehood. The Richfield Oil Company brings in its Swanson River Unit No. 1 well, which yields 900 barrels per day from a depth of 11,150 feet to 11,215 feet.
Richfield has leased 71,680 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now the 1.92 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. More Alaska discoveries will follow and by June 1962 about 50 wells are producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil per day. Today’s Atlantic Richfield Company is better known as ARCO.
“The U.S. Congress viewed that discovery as the foundation for a secure economic base in Alaska, and statehood was granted two years later,” explains the Alaska Resources Council.
A decade later, the discovery of the giant Prudhoe Bay oilfield on Alaska’s North Slope will make Alaska a world-class oil and natural gas producer — a status reaffirmed in 1969 with the discovery of the nearby Kuparuk field, the second largest in North America after Prudhoe Bay. Four of the ten largest oilfields to date are on the North Slope.
July 20, 1920 – Permian Basin Discovery Well
The Permian Basin is discovered by a West Texas wildcat well. The first commercial well comes in at a depth of 2,745 feet. The W. H. Abrams No. 1 well is named for Texas & Pacific Railway official William H. Abrams, who owns the land and leases mineral rights to the Texas Company (later Texaco).
At 7:45 p.m. – after a shot of nitroglycerine – a jet of oil and natural gas announces the discovery now known as West Columbia field. “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 I-20 roadside marker at Westbrook, Texas.
“Three pipelines were laid at once to draw the oil to earthen tanks, filled by powerful steam pumps with over 20,000 barrels daily,” notes a 1977 historical marker one mile north of the community of West Columbia. “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.”
Fifty-six major fields are located in the Permian Basin, the fourth largest oil producing area in the United States, adds the I-20 marker. “W. H. Abrams No. 1 was designated on May 1, 1968, as Westbrook southeast unit No. 701, formed to increase oil recovery from the Westbrook oil field by water flooding. This enhanced oil recovery technique has produced 67 million barrels of the more than 100 million barrels of oil recovered from this field.
Today, many experts say the Permian Basin produces more than 15 percent of America’s oil and contains an estimated 22 percent of proven U.S. oil reserves. Visit the Petroleum Museum in Midland.
July 20, 1969 – Kerosene fuels Moon Mission
Four days after the Saturn V rocket launches Apollo 11 toward the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong announces, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
A 19th century petroleum product — kerosene — made the moon landing possible.
During launch, five powerful 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 which, while conforming to stringent performance specifications, is essentially “coal oil” at its heart.
Canadian physician and geologist Abraham Gesner first refined the revolutionary fuel for lamps in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax).
The Apollo 11 landing crowns liquid rocket fuel research in America dating back to Robert H. Goddard and his 1914 “Rocket Apparatus.” On March 16, 1926, Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket from his aunt’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. His rocket, now at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., was powered by liquid oxygen — and gasoline.
Although gasoline will be replaced with other propellants, including the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen used in the space shuttle’s external tank, “rocket grade” kerosene continues to fuel spaceflight.
Cheaper, easily stored at room temperature, and far less of an explosive hazard, the 19th century petroleum product today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas and Delta II launch vehicles.
Last launched in 1972, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever built.
July 22, 1933 – Phillips sponsors Famous Flight
Before 50,000 cheering New York City onlookers, famed aviator Wiley Post lands his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae” and becomes the first man to fly solo around the world.
Post’s trademark eye-patch resulted from his days working as an oilfield roustabout near Seminole, Oklahoma. When a metal splinter damaged his eye in 1926, Post used the $1,700 workman’s compensation check to buy his first airplane and launch his aviation career.
Post developed a close relationship with Frank Phillips of the Phillips Petroleum Company — which produced aviation fuels before it produced automotive fuels — and sponsored Post’s high-altitude test flights. His pressure suit and helmet are on display in the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville.
Post died – along with fellow Oklahoman Will Rogers – when his Lockheed airplane’s engine failed during takeoff on August 15,1935, at Point Barrow, Alaska.
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.