This Week in Petroleum History – July 4 to July 10
July 4, 1906 – Louisiana conserves Natural Gas
Joining the growing number of U.S. states with producing oil and natural gas wells, Louisiana enacts conservation measures to prevent waste. The Louisiana State Legislature passes an act “to protect the natural gas fields of this state.”
The conservation law imposes penalties for “failure to cap out of control wells, doing injury to pipe lines, or wastefully burning natural gas from any well into the air.”
The measure is a result of lessons learned from Indiana and other early natural gas producing states. See Indiana Natural Gas Boom.
July 6, 1988 – North Sea Tragedy
An explosion and fire on Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea results in the deaths of 167 out of 224 personnel. It remains the petroleum industry’s most deadly offshore disaster.
At the time of the explosion, Piper Alpha – originally designed for oil production – was receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. According to safety consultant Gary Karasek, “the initial explosion was caused by a misunderstanding of the readiness of a gas condensate pump that had been removed from service for maintenance of it’s pressure safety valve.”
New offshore platform designs and operation engineering, evacuation technologies and safety procedures emerged following an official inquiry. “It was a ground-breaking effort, with numerous detailed findings and 106 recommendations, which were readily accepted by industry.”
July 7, 1947 – Sid Richardson starts Foundation
Independent producer Sid W. Richardson establishes a multimillion dollar foundation to benefit Texas hospitals and schools. One of the wealthiest men in the nation at the time (estimated worth of up to $800 million), Richardson had made oil discoveries as early as 1919 before struggling for more than a decade.
“In 1933, however, with a small investment and a friend with drilling know-how, he turned his oil business into a booming enterprise,” explains the Sid Richardson Foundation. A partner in Richardson and Bass, Oil Producers, he also served as president of Sid Richardson Gasoline Company in Kermit, Texas, Sid Richardson Carbon Company in Odessa, and Sid W. Richardson Inc., in Fort Worth.
“Mr. Sid” as he was called, “numbered among his friends Presidents to shoeshine boys,” notes the foundation. He also became an avid collector of paintings by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell that today are on permanent exhibit in Fort Worth in the Sid Richardson Museum, which is supported by the foundation.
July 8, 1937 – Ambitious Oil Pier approved
President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War approves an ambitious plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil.
War Secretary Harry Woodring approves an application to drill near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company (later Texaco thanks to a discovery at Sour Lake). The 60 acre lease is about eight miles east of High Island in Galveston County.
Humble Oil builds the experimental one-mile pier and erects three drilling rigs to search for oil; all three wells are dry holes. A hurricane will destroy the pier in 1938. Visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center on Galveston Island.
July 9, 1815 – Early Natural Gas Discovery
Natural gas is discovered accidentally by Capt. James Wilson during the digging of a salt brine well within the present city limits of Charleston, West Virginia (Virginia in 1815). Earlier, a young George Washington had noted “burning springs” along the Kanawha River in his 1775 diary. Washington, who had surveyed western Virginia, was awarded tracts of the land in Wirt County, which in the 1860s would experience one of America’s earliest oil booms. Visit the Oil & Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz
The future world-famous author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz starts a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. The store offers lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”
L. Frank Baum – whose father has found great success in early Pennsylvania oilfields – serves as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which is still in operation. Reporting on the opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper notes that Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons. The axle grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”
Baum’s connection to the petroleum industry began decades earlier when his father closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the oilfields. Although Baum will sell the axle oil business in 1900, one Oz historian – after researching company records at its current location in Rome, New York – proclaims the Tin Man can trace his roots to Baum’s Castorine. Read more in Oil in the Land of Oz.
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.