This Week in Petroleum History, June 20 – 26
June 20, 1977 – Oil flows in Trans-Alaska Pipeline
After three years of construction, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline begins carrying oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez at Prince William Sound.
The oil arrives 38 days later, culminating the world’s largest privately funded construction project at the time. The 48-inch-diameter pipeline costs $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations. Its annual flow will account for about 20 percent of U.S. oil production. Tax revenues will earn Alaska $50 billion by 2002.
Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) are built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes. Anchor structures hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.”
The design also allows for pipeline movement caused by an earthquake. By 2009, the pipeline system will have carried almost 16 billion barrels of oil from the Prudhoe Bay field, which was discovered in 1968 by Atlantic Richfield and Exxon 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Read more in Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.
June 21, 1893 – Submersible Pump Inventor born
Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the electric submersible pump for oil wells, is born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, Russia. He will first develop an electrical centrifugal submersible pump in 1916.
However, after emigrating to America in 1923, Arutunoff cannot find financial support for his down-hole oil production technology.
In 1928, with the help of his friend Frank Phillips, president of Phillips Petroleum, Arutunoff moves to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and establishes a manufacturing company. His REDA Pump Company manufactures pump and motor devices – and employs hundreds during the Great Depression.
A 1936 Tulsa World newspaper describes his invention as “an electric motor with the proportions of a slim fencepost which stands on its head at the bottom of a well and kicks oil to the surface with its feet.”
The name REDA, which stands for Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff, was the cable address of the company he originally formed in Germany. REDA submersible pumping systems today are part of Schlumberger. Read more about Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff in Inventing the Submersible Pump.
June 23, 1921 – Signal Hill Discovery brings California Oil Boom
A discovery at Signal Hill, California – one of the world’s most famous oil strikes – launches another southern California drilling boom.
When the Alamitos No. 1 well erupts “black gold” on June 23, 1921, it announces discovery of one of California’s many prolific oilfields. The natural gas pressure is so great that a gusher rises 114 feet. The well produces almost 600 barrels a day when it is completed two days later.
Soon known as “Porcupine Hill,” the town’s oilfield 20 miles south of Los Angeles is producing almost 260,000 barrels of oil every day by 1923. Combined with the historic 1892 Los Angeles Oilfield discovery and the May 24, 1920, oilfield at Huntington Beach, southern California produces about one-fourth of the world’s oil.
Today, Signal Hill’s Discovery Well Park hosts a community center with historic photos and descriptions. A monument dedicated in 1952 serves “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here.” Learn more in Signal Hill Oil Boom.
June 23, 1947 – Continental Shelf
The U.S. Supreme Court rules on June 23, 1947, that California cannot claim rights to the continental shelf beyond three miles.
California and other coastal states litigation resulted from President Harry Truman’s 1945 Continental Shelf Proclamation, which placed control with the federal government.
The Supreme Court ruling affirms federal jurisdiction “with respect to the natural resources of the subsoil and seabed of the continental shelf.” Similar rulings affecting Louisiana and Texas are made in 1950.
June 24, 1937 – Trace of Oil found in Minnesota
Oil is discovered in Minnesota in June 1937. The wildcat well (Fee No. 1) in Traverse County produces three barrels a day from 864 feet.
The discovery prompts leasing, but no commercial quantities of oil are found. This reaffirms an 1889 report by state geologist Newton Winchell, who concluded that the geologic conditions for deposits of oil and natural gas do not exist in Minnesota.
Although Minnesota today ranks fourth in the nation in ethanol production capacity, its oil production peaked in the summer of 1937.
June 25, 1889 – First Oil Tanker catches Fire
The first oil tanker specifically constructed for that purpose, burns at its wharf in Ventura, California.
The Hardison & Stewart Oil Company, forerunner of Union Oil Company, commissioned the uniquely designed steam schooner W.L. Hardison.
The vessel offered an alternative to paying for railroad tank cars charging one dollar per barrel to reach markets in San Francisco.
With oil-fired steam boilers and supplemental sail, the wooden-hulled W.L. Hardison had been capable of shipping 6,500 barrels of oil below decks in specially constructed steel tanks.
The vessel’s steel tanks are later recovered and used at the company’s Santa Paula refinery. The Ventura
Pier remains a working wharf until 1936, when it becomes recreational. Today’s refurbished structure is 1,958 feet long – one of the longest in California.
The Museum of Ventura County houses over 150,000 resources pertaining to the history of Ventura County and outlying regions. Also visit the California Oil Museum in nearby Santa Paula – the museum’s main building is the original 1890 Union Oil Company headquarters.
June 25, 1901 – Red Fork Discovery will Boost Tulsa
The future state of Oklahoma witnesses a second historic oil discovery in 1901. Four years earlier The Nellie Johnstone No, 1 well near Bartlesville was the first oil well in Indian Territory.
Still six years before statehood, two drillers from Pennsylvania make another discovery in the Creek Indian Nation on June 25.
Drillers John Wick and Jesse Heydrick drill their Sue A. Bland No. 1 well well near the village of Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. Bland, a Creek citizen, is the wife of the homestead owner. Although the well produces just 10 barrels of oil a day from 547 feet, it helps begin Tulsa’s journey to becoming “Oil Capital of the World.” Read more in Red Fork Gusher.
Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekly morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., E.T. On last Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls into the show. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.