This Week in Petroleum History, March 20 to March 26
March 20, 1919 – American Petroleum Institute founded
Tracing its roots to World War I – when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together to fuel the war effort – the American Petroleum Institute (API) was founded in New York City. In 1921, API established a scale to measure a petroleum liquid’s density relative to water, today called API gravity.
March 20, 1973 – Ghost Town listed in Historic Registry
The former oil boom town of Pithole, Pennsylvania, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The 1865 discovery of the Pithole Creek oilfield launched a drilling boom for the young U.S. petroleum industry, which had begun in nearby Titusville in 1859. Pithole oil production would lead to construction of the nation’s first oil pipeline. From beginning to end, the once famous boom town lasted about 500 days. Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.
March 23, 1858 – Seneca Oil Company founded
Investors from New Haven, Connecticut, organized the Seneca Oil Company with former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake a shareholder. They had purchased leases of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, America’s first oil company founded with partner George Bissell in 1854.
Bissell, who exploited the idea of using oil to produce kerosene, was excluded despite having studied oil seeps south of Titusville. “The New Haven men then put the final piece of their plan into place with the formation of a new company,” notes William Brice in Myth Legend Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.
Seneca Oil and Drake completed the First American Oil Well in 1859 – thanks to knowledge gained from George Bissell’s Oil Seeps. Both Drake and Bissell would later be called the father of the U.S. petroleum industry.
March 24, 1989 – Supertanker Exxon Valdez runs Aground in Price William Sound
The Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The accident, which came after nearly 12 years of routine oil tanker passages through Prince William Sound, resulted in a massive oil spill.
Eight of the supertanker’s 11 oil cargo tanks were punctured. An estimated 260,000 barrels of oil spilled, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline. With the captain not present on the bridge, an error in navigation by the third mate had grounded the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload.
Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely passed through Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times. A massive cleanup began for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The infamous vessel was sold for scrap in 2012.
March 26, 2012 – Buddy joins East Texas Oil Museum
The life-size animatronic rural electric lineman Buddy was officially welcomed to the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas.
After weeks of operational testing, the robot greeted museum visitors with anecdotal monologues as they enter “Boomtown, USA,” 1930s exhibits of the East Texas oilfield discovery.
“It has drawn rave reviews by museum visitors from many states and numerous foreign countries,” noted museum founder Joe White, who retired in 2014.
One museum visitor describes Buddy as looking like Tommy Lee Jones dressed like Indiana Jones.
March 26, 1930 – “Wild Mary Sudik”
What will become one of Oklahoma’s most famous wells struck a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath Oklahoma City – and oil erupted skyward. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s Mary Sudik No. 1 well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control.
The well, which produced 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, became a worldwide sensation known as “Wild Mary Sudik.”
The giant Oklahoma City oilfield discovery was featured in movie newsreels and on radio broadcasts. It is later learned that after drilling almost 6,500 feet, roughnecks had overlooked a dangerous pressure increase in the well.
“The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” noted one oil patch historian. “They didn’t know the Wilcox sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that sand under so much pressure found a release.”
Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.