This Week in Petroleum History, May 16 – 22
May 16, 1934 – Stripper Well Association founded
The National Stripper Well Association is organized in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Stripper wells – marginally producing wells – make up about 80 percent of all U.S. wells and almost 20 percent of oil and natural gas production.
Stripper wells typically produce less than 15 barrels of oil a day or less than 90 thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of natural gas a day. According to the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission, in 2013 the United States had an estimated 771,000 marginal wells in production – about 410,000 oil and 361,000 natural gas wells.
May 16, 1961 – Gas Museum opens
In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opens in 1961 above a giant natural gas producing area that extends 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.
The small museum in Hugoton educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America – the Hugoton field. A natural gas well drilled in 1945 is still producing at the museum. See Kansas Natural Gas Museum.
May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well shocks Pennsylvania Oil Prices
A small Pennsylvania township discovers oil in 1882. When word spreads about the well’s true daily production, oil prices collapse in an industry less than 25 years old.
The 646 “Mystery Well” flows at a rate of 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Once a closely guarded secret, news of the Jamestown Oil Company’s discovery sends shock waves through early oil market centers. More than 4.5 million barrels of oil are sold in one day at Pennsylvania’s three oil exchanges.
“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explains local historian Walt Atwood. For more than 130 years since the town has annually celebrated its Cherry Grove Mystery Well.
May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield brings Boom to Northwestern Ohio
The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio begins. Benjamin Faurot – drilling for natural gas – strikes oil instead. His discovery reveals the Lima oilfield, soon to be the largest in the world.
“Benjamin Faurot struck oil after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation a depth of 1,252 feet,” notes the Allen County Museum Historical Society. He quickly organizes the Trenton Rock Oil Company.
By 1866, the Lima field is the nation’s leading producer of oil. By the following year it’s considered to be the largest in the world. Among those attracted to Lima is a progressive employer and future mayor of Toledo. Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones helps found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon). Read more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio and Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.
May 19, 1942 – George E. Failing patents Portable Drilling Rig
A pioneer in oilfield technologies, George Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, receives a patent for his design of a drilling rig on a truck bed.
“l designate the rear portion of a drilling rig such as used in drilling shallow wells, the taking of cores, drilling of shot-holes, and performing similar oil field operations,” Failing notes in his patent for a design he first built in 1931.
“This invention relates to drilling rigs, particularly to those employing a drill feeding mechanism for controlling pressure on the drill bit, and has for its principal object to provide a simple and readily operable connection between the feeding mechanism and the Kelly rod of the drilling string,” Failing explains.
“In 1931 he mounted an existing rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck, adding a power take-off assembly to transfer power from the truck engine to the drill,” notes Kathy Dickson of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Failing demonstrates his technology at a 1933 well disaster in Conroe, Texas, where he works with H. John Eastman, today considered the father of directional drilling in the United States.
Failing’s rig can drill ten slanted, 50-foot holes in a single day, while a traditional steam-powered rotary rig takes about a week to set up and drill to a similar depth – see Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”
Before World War II began, Failing also designed a drill “small enough to fit on a C-47 transport plane,” adds historian Dickson. “A Jeep engine could supply power to the drill.”
Failing’s portable rig design will benefit millions of people in developing countries by drilling water wells. Today the Enid-based GEFCO (George E. Failing Company) still manufactures portable drilling rigs. The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid displays a Failing rig.
May 20, 1930 – Doodlebuggers establish Society of Geophysicists
The Society of Economic Geophysicists adopts a constitution and bylaws in Houston, Texas, on May 20, 1930. The organization will quickly become a leader in the science of petroleum exploration, today with 33,000 members.
In 1937 the society adopts the name by which it is known today, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, which fosters “the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”
SEG’s journal Geophysics appears in 1936 with articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic.
The journal even warns young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations.
“Yesterday’s Doodlebuggers waded through knee-deep mud, battled the elements, and faced the hazards of the field,” explains SEG, noting that today’s geoscientists keep up with rapidly changing technologies.
“The Doodlebugger” – a 10-foot, 600 pound bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia – is unveiled in SEG headquarters in 2002. O’Melia has experience in creating heroic oil patch figures. He sculpted a bronze “Oil Patch Warrior” dedicated in 1991 in Sherwood Forest. See Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.
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