This Week March 19 to March 25
March 20, 1919 – American Petroleum Institute founded
Tracing its roots to World War I – when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together for the war effort – the American Petroleum Institute (API) is founded in New York City.
By 1920, API is issuing weekly statistics, beginning with crude oil production. API also develops and publishes industry-wide standards in 1924. As the only trade association representing key segments of the oil and natural gas industry, from exploration to refining and sales, API reports will expand to include oil product stocks, refinery runs and other data.
API moves its headquarters to Washington, D.C., in 1929. It today maintains standards and recommended practices to promote the use of safe equipment and proven engineering practices – and has produced more than 600 technical standards covering all aspects of the oil and natural gas industry.
March 20, 1973 – Pennsylvania Boom Town listed in Historic Registry
The former oil boom town of Pithole, Pennsylvania, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Discovered in January 1865, the Pithole Creek field creates a massive – although short lived – oil boom town for the young petroleum industry, which began in nearby Titusville in 1859. Pithole’s first well produced a 250-barrel-a-day gusher. As the news spread through Venango County, “everyone came to the Pithole area to try their luck,” notes one historian.
Many more successful wells are drilled, and Pithole City springs up around them. By May of 1865, the town is home to 15,000 people, 57 hotels, many homes, shops, and a daily newspaper. It has the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania – handling 5,500 pieces of mail a day.
“Many factors fueled the Pithole oil boom,” explains an article at Scripophily.
“The end of the Civil War found the country flooded with paper currency whose holders were anxious to invest and make more money. Thousands of soldiers had been discharged from the army,” notes the article. Many veterans wanted jobs, others wanted to make a fortune quickly after having spent long months on army pay.
“The speculative bubble of 1864 and 1865 was at its peak,” the article concludes. “Hundreds of newly-organized companies were ready to lease or buy land wherever there was even a promise of oil. Fired by these circumstances, the Pithole Creek became spectacular.”
Today, a visitors’ center added in 1975 is maintained by the Drake Well Museum. The center contains exhibits, including a scale model of the city at its peak and a small theater. Volunteers “mow the streets” on the hillside so that tourists can stroll where the petroleum boom town once flourished.
Among the oil region’s early – and most infamous – investors was John Wilkes Booth. Learn more in the “Dramatic Oil Company.”
March 24, 1989 – Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
“No one anticipated any unusual problems as the Exxon Valdez left the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal at 9:12 p.m., Alaska Standard Time, on March 23,1989,” begins a 1990 account by the Alaska Oil Spill Commission.
After nearly a dozen years of daily tanker passages through Prince William Sound, Alaska, the 987-foot-long Exxon Valdez will run aground on Bligh Reef, spilling about 257,000 barrels of oil and affecting hundreds of miles of coastline.
When the supertanker hits the reef, “the system designed to carry two million barrels of North Slope oil to West Coast and Gulf Coast markets daily had worked perhaps too well,” explains the commission’s Details about the Accident report. “At least partly because of the success of the Valdez tanker trade, a general complacency had come to permeate the operation and oversight of the entire system.”
The complacency is shattered when the Exxon Valdez runs hard aground shortly after midnight.
“The vessel came to rest facing roughly southwest, perched across its middle on a pinnacle of Bligh Reef,” notes the report. “Eight of 11 cargo tanks were punctured. Computations aboard the Exxon Valdez showed that 5.8 million gallons had gushed out of the tanker in the first three and a quarter hours.”
Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely transited Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times during the previous 12 years. Weather conditions – 33 degrees with a light rain – and the remote location will add to the disaster, the report explains. At the time, spill response capabilities to deal with the spreading oil will be found to be “unexpectedly slow and woefully inadequate.”
“The worldwide capabilities of Exxon Corporation would mobilize huge quantities of equipment and personnel to respond to the spill – but not in the crucial first few hours and days when containment and cleanup efforts are at a premium,” declares the report. “The U.S. Coast Guard would demonstrate its prowess at ship salvage, protecting crews and lightering operations, but prove utterly incapable of oil spill containment and response.”
Exxon began a cleanup effort that included more than 11,000 Alaskan residents and thousands of Exxon and contractor personnel, according to ExxonMobil. In 1992 the U.S. Coast Guard declared the clean up complete – and scientists today say the ecosystem in Prince William Sound is healthy.
Experts continue to review the effects of the Exxon Valdez disastrous grounding on Bligh Reef. Since the supertanker’s accident, ExxonMobil has spent more than $4.3 billion in compensatory and cleanup payments, settlements and fines. Field and laboratory studies still examine the spill, which also resulted in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.