This Week April 16 to April 22
April 16, 1855 – Rock Oil promises “Very Valuable Products”
A report from Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman Jr. says Pennsylvania “rock oil” can be distilled into a high-quality illuminating oil.
The New Haven, Connecticut, professor’s “Report on Rock Oil or Petroleum” is an analysis of samples from Cherrytree Township, Venango County. According to Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, Silliman’s report banishes any doubt about the potential new uses for “rock oil” and is a turning point in establishing the modern petroleum industry.
The reputation of Silliman, himself the son of a great American chemist, will help attract investors to George Bissell and Jonathan Eveleth’s fledgling Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, which incorporated on December 30, 1854. Four years later, Edwin L. Drake will reward investors with the first U.S. commercial oil well near Titusville.
April 18, 1939 – “Device for Perforating Casing”
“A device for perforating casing after it has been installed in a well” is designed by Ira J. McCullough of Los Angeles, who receives two patents for his multiple bullet-shot casing perforator and mechanical firing system.
The innovation, a technology that simultaneously fires charges at several depths, will greatly improve well production.
“It is the object of my invention to provide a device for perforating a well after the casing has been installed in the well in which there is plurality of projectiles,” he explains.
McCullough’s device (patent no. 2155322) also includes a “disconnectable means” that – once the charges are lowered into the borehole – can render percussion inoperative as “a safeguard against accidental or inadvertent operation.”
Learn more in “Downhole Bazooka.”
April 19, 1892 – First U.S. Gasoline Powered Auto
American inventors Charles and Frank Duryea test drive a gasoline powered automobile built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop.
Considered the first automobile regularly made for sale in the United States, the model will be produced – a total of 13 – by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Other manufacturers quickly follow the Duryea example.
In March 1896, the Duryea brothers will offer the first commercial automobile – the Duryea motor wagon. It is reported two months later that in New York City a motorist driving a Duryea hits a bicyclist. This is recorded as the nation’s first automobile traffic accident.
By the time of America’s first national automobile show in November 1900 at Madison Square Garden, of the 4,200 automobiles sold in the United States, gasoline powers less than 1,000. The most popular vehicles are powered by electricity, steam and gasoline…in that order.
See “Cantankerous Combustion.”
April 20, 1875 – New Technology links Well Pumping
Pumping multiple wells with a single steam engine boosts efficiency in early oilfields when Albert E. Nickerson and Levi C. Streeter of Venango County, Pennsylvania, patent their “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells.”
The new technology uses a system of linked and balanced walking beams to pump the oil wells.
The use of wooden or iron rods instead of rope and pulleys will make their system the forerunner of rod-line (or jerk line) systems that will operate well into the 20th century and remain icons of early oilfield production.
Read more in“All Pumped Up.”
April 20, 1893 – Discovery of the Los Angeles Oilfield brings Economic Boom
The giant Los Angeles oilfield is discovered when a struggling prospector, Edward L. Doheny, and his mining partner Charles A. Canfield drill into the tar seeps between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue.
The discovery well — near present-day Dodger Stadium — sets off California’s first oil boom by producing about 45 barrels a day. Within two years, 80 wells are producing oil and by 1897 more than 500 wells are pumping.
More than nine billion barrels of oil have been produced in the Los Angeles area. There are still more than 30,000 active wells pumping around 230 million barrels of oil a year, making Los Angeles County the second most productive oil county in California (Kern County is number one).
“The history of Los Angeles is intertwined with the use and production of gasoline and oil. Everyone thinks of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city, but the city’s relationship with petroleum products is far more significant than just consumption,” notes an article from the Center for Land Use Interpretation, which organized a 2009 field trip to Los Angeles well sites.
April 20, 2010 – Deepwater Horizon Accident creates Major Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico
At about 10 p.m., an explosion occurs aboard the Gulf of Mexico drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which is completing a well in almost 6,000 feet of water about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Of the 126 men and women on board, 11 are killed and 17 injured. Destroyed by the explosion and fire, the deepwater semi-submersible rig sinks.
Uncontrolled oil production from the destroyed BP well causes a massive oil spill until capped in mid-July. Among others, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (known as the Minerals Management Service until June 2010) and the U.S. Coast Guard will investigate.
A detailed report on the accident is issued in January 2011 by National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
On April 22, 1920 – Natural Gas Well in South Arkansas
The first natural gas well in south Arkansas is completed two and a half miles southeast of El Dorado. Drilled to a depth of 2,247 feet, the well produces between 40 million to 60 million cubic feet of gas a day – and “a spray of oil produced from the Nacatoch sands,” according to The Discovery of Oil in South Arkansas, 1920-1924.
Six days earlier, Hunter Oil of Shreveport, Louisiana, had completed the first oil well in Arkansas near Stephens – but the well did not produce commercial quantities. It will be the January 10, 1921, Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well discovery well that launches the state’s petroleum industry.
Visit the Arkansas Natural Resources Museum in Smackover. The museum includes a five-acre Oilfield Park with operating examples of oil producing technologies used in south Arkansas oilfields from the 1920s to today. Also read “H.L. Hunt and the East Texas oil field.”
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.