This Week in Petroleum History July 15 – July 21
July 16, 1926 – Start of the Greater Seminole Area Oil Boom
A discovery well near Seminole, Oklahoma, reveals the potential of an oil producing formation, the Wilcox sand – and launches a drilling boom that will make Oklahoma one of today’s leading producing states.
The Fixico No. 1 well penetrates the prolific Wilcox sands at 4,073 feet. By 1935, the oilfield around Seminole will become the largest supplier of oil in the world.
More than 60 petroleum reservoirs are found in 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma – and six are giants that produce more than million barrels of oil each.
The greater Seminole area – several 1920s Oklahoma oilfields – will swing the United States’ oil reserves from scarcity to surplus. The Fixico well is among five Seminole-area oil reservoirs discovered by 1927.
Prosperity transforms life in many central Oklahoma communities, according to historian and author Louise Welsh.
Prior to the oil boom period, the area had been one of the poorest economic areas in Oklahoma.
“It was quite natural that, under such stress, the prospect of finding oil should occasion both excitement and hope, since the prospect of leasing his land might provide the necessary funds with which the hard-pressed farmer could pay off his mortgage,” Welsh says.
At its height, the Seminole City oilfield alone will account for 2.6 percent of the world’s oil production. Read more in “Greater Seminole Oil Boom.”
July 16, 1969 – Kerosene fuels Saturn V for Apollo 11 Moon Mission
Four days after the Saturn V rocket launches Apollo 11 toward the moon on July 16, astronaut Neil Armstrong will announce, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
A 19th century petroleum product – kerosene – has made the 1969 moon landing possible.
During launch, five powerful engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burn “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust.
Saturn’s rocket fuel is a highly refined kerosene which, while conforming to stringent performance specifications, is essentially “coal oil” at its heart.
Canadian physician and geologist Abraham Gesner first refined the revolutionary fuel for lamps in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax).
The Apollo 11 landing crowns liquid rocket fuel research in America dating back to Robert H. Goddard and his 1914 “Rocket Apparatus.”
On March 16, 1926, Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket from his aunt’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. His rocket was powered by liquid oxygen and gasoline.
Although gasoline will be replaced with other propellants, including the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen used in the space shuttle’s external tank, “rocket grade” kerosene continues to fuel spaceflight.
Cheaper, easily stored at room temperature, and far less of an explosive hazard, the 19th century petroleum product today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas and Delta II launch vehicles.
Last launched in 1972, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever built.
July 17, 1973 – Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act
After three years of years of contentious congressional debate, legal challenges from environmental groups and Alaska native claims, Vice President Spiro Agnew breaks the deadlocked 49-49 vote in the U.S. Senate.
Agnew’s deciding vote passes the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act.
Construction will begin in March 1975 on the 789-mile pipeline system, the largest private construction project in American history. Oil from the Prudhoe Bay oilfield will begin flowing to the port of Valdez in June 1977.
Budgeted at $900 million, the pipeline ultimately costs about $8 billion to construct. Oil production tax revenues will earn Alaska $50 billion by 2002.
July 19, 1915 – Petroleum powers Maytag Washing Machines and Lawn Mowers
Howard Snyder applies to patent his internal combustion-powered washing machine, assigning rights to the Maytag Company.
Snyder’s machine for “the ordinary farmer” who does not have access to electricity – uses a one-cylinder, two-cycle engine that runs on gasoline, kerosene or alcohol.
Four years after Snyder’s innovation, Edwin George of Detroit removes the Maytag engine from his wife’s washing machine and mates it with a reel-type lawn mower.
George’s invention launches a new company, “Moto-Mower,” which sells America’s first commercially successful power mower.
July 19, 1957 – Major Oil discovery in Alaska Territory
The Alaska Territory’s first commercial oilfield is discovered – two years before Alaska statehood.
The Richfield Oil Company brings in its Swanson River Unit No. 1 well, which yields 900 barrels per day from a depth of 11,150 feet to 11,215 feet.
Richfield has leased 71,680 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now the 1.92 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
More Alaska discoveries will follow and by June 1962 about 50 wells are producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil per day. Atlantic Richfield Company is better known today as ARCO.
“The U.S. Congress viewed that discovery as the foundation for a secure economic base in Alaska, and statehood was granted two years later,” explains the Alaska Resources Council.
A decade later, the discovery of the giant Prudhoe Bay oilfield on Alaska’s North Slope will make Alaska a world-class oil and natural gas producer – a status reaffirmed in 1969 with the discovery of the nearby Kuparuk field, the second largest in North America after Prudhoe Bay. Four of the ten largest U.S. oilfields are on the North Slope.
“Oil production currently accounts for approximately 93 percent of Alaska’s unrestricted general fund revenues, or $8.86 billion in fiscal year 2012,” notes the Council.
July 20, 1920 – Permian Basin Discovery Well
The mighty Permian Basin is discovered by a West Texas wildcat well at a depth of 2,745 feet.
The W. H. Abrams No. 1 well is named for Texas & Pacific Railway official William H. Abrams, who owns the land and leases mineral rights to the Texas Company (later Texaco).
At 7:45 p.m. – after a shot of nitroglycerine – a jet of oil and natural gas announces the discovery now known as West Columbia field. “As a crowd of 2,000 people looked on, a great eruption of oil, gas, water, and smoke shot from the mouth of the well almost to the top of the derrick,” notes an roadside marker in Westbrook, Texas.
“Three pipelines were laid at once to draw the oil to earthen tanks, filled by powerful steam pumps with over 20,000 barrels daily,” notes a 1977 historical marker one mile north of the community of West Columbia. “Locally, land that sold for 10 cents an acre in 1840 and $5 an acre in 1888 now brought $96,000 an acre for mineral rights, irrespective of surface values…the flow of oil money led to better schools, roads and general social conditions.”
Today, about 60 major fields are located in the Permian Basin, the fourth largest oil producing area in the United States. Enhanced recovery techniques have produced 67 million barrels of the more than 100 million barrels of oil recovered from the Westbrook field alone. Visit the Petroleum Museum in Midland.
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