This Week March 26 to April 1
March 26, 1930 – “Wild Mary Sudik” makes Headlines
What will become one of Oklahoma’s most famous wells strikes a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath Oklahoma City. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s Mary Sudik No. 1 well erupts and flows skyward for 11 days before being brought under control.
The well, which produces 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, becomes a worldwide sensation.
The giant discovery is called “Wild Mary Sudik” and is featured in newsreels and on radio, according to Oklahoma Journeys, an audio program of the Oklahoma History Center.
“At about 6:30 the morning of March 26, 1930, the crew of roughnecks drilling a well on the property of Vincent Sudik paused in their work,” the program begins. “The tired drillers had been waiting for daylight to continue their work. The location was at about I-240 and Bryant in present day Oklahoma City. It was just a few miles south of the location of the Oklahoma City Discovery Well Number One that in December of 1928 opened the Oklahoma City field, the largest oilfield in the state.”
The program’s narrator Michael Dean notes that after drilling to drilling to 6,471 feet, ”the exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud…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.”
“The crew was caught off guard when a mixture of oil and gas came roaring out of the hole. Pipe stems were thrown hundreds of feet into the air like so many tooth picks. First there was gas then the flow turned green gold and then black. Oil shot hundreds of feet into the air, and for the next eleven days, the Mary Sudik ran wild.”
On April 6, Floyd Gibbons of NBC Radio – who broadcast regular reports about the well – reports that after two unsuccessful attempts, the well is closed with a two-ton “overshot” cap.
Associated Press articles describe the “clever equipment” required to control the well without sparking a fire – a “double die was screwed into four inches of casing threads…a clever ball-shaped contrivance, called a fantail, was used to affix the double die to the casing. The fantail was placed over the well, and the “Wild Mary’s” pressure, playing through jets in the contrivance, aided in lowering the cap through the blast.”
Recognizing the risks of drilling into the Wilcox sand, Oklahoma City passes additional ordinances for safety and well spacing in the city.
Visitors today can see the valve that split in half and view newsreel film of the Wild Mary Sudik in the oil and gas and natural resources exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center. There is also the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park with drilling and production equipment at the center, located on N.E. 23rd Street just east of the state capitol.
March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist invents Kerosene
Canadian chemist Abraham Gesner patents a process to distill bituminous shale and cannel coal into kerosene.
“I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he proclaims in his patent. When it is found that kerosene can also be distilled from crude oil, it becomes America’s principle source of illumination until commercial electricity arrives.
March 27, 1975 – Work begins on Alaskan Pipeline
Construction begins on the largest private construction project in American history — the 789-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline system.
Oil from the Prudhoe Bay field will begin flowing to the ice-free port of Valdez at four miles an hour through the 48-inch-wide pipe in June 1977.
Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) are built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes. The design also allows for pipeline movement caused by an earthquake.
Specially designed vertical supports were placed in drilled holes or driven into the ground, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Anchor structures, 700 to 1,800 feet apart, hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two each, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.”
By 2009, the pipeline – which cost $8 billion to construct, including terminal and pump stations – will have carried almost 16 billion barrels of oil.
March 28, 1886 – Indiana Natural Gas Boom Begins
A natural gas boom comes to Portland, Indiana, when the Eureka Gas and Oil Company finds gas at 700 feet. For a time, the state becomes the world’s leading natural gas producer.
By April 1887, five miles of pipe supplies natural gas to offices, residences — and 50 large torches or “flambeaux” for street lighting.
The “Trenton Field” as it would become known, spread over 17 Indiana counties and 5,120 square miles. It was the largest natural gas field known in the world. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas.
Indiana is among the earliest states to legislate conservation when in 1891 it passes an act forbidding the burning of natural gas in the wasteful lights.
March 28, 1905 – Caddo-Pine Oil Discovery
The Offenhauser No. 1 discovery well for the giant Caddo-Pine Island oilfield in Louisiana comes in at a depth of 1,556 feet — after drilling through a productive natural gas zone. Although the well yields only five barrels a day and is soon plugged and abandoned, more wells follow and the northern Louisiana oilfield is soon prolific.
To prevent the loss of natural gas through venting, Louisiana passes its first conservation law in 1906. By 1918, annual production from the Caddo-Pine Island oilfield reaches 11 million barrels. Learn more by visiting the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City.
March 29, 1819 – Birthday of the Father of the Petroleum Industry
Today is the birthday of Edwin Laurentine Drake (1819-1880), who will become the “father of the petroleum industry” when he drills America’s first commercial oil well in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania.
Drake will overcome many financial and technical obstacles to make his historic discovery. He also will pioneer new drilling technologies, including using iron casing to isolate his well bore from nearby Oil Creek. Seeking oil for the Seneca Oil Company for refining into a new product (kerosene) his shallow well creates an industry.
“In order to overcome the hurdles before him, he invented a ‘drive pipe’ or ‘conductor,’ an invention he unfortunately did not patent,” explains Pennsylvania State University’s Urja Davé in the 2008 “Edwin Drake and the Oil Well Drill Pipe.”
Her article quotes a story in The Daily Picayune newspaper (New Orleans), which reported that “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”
On Saturday afternoon on August 27, at a depth of 69.5 feet, the drill bit had dropped into a crevice, notes one Drake expert. Late the following afternoon the oilman’s driller, “Uncle Billy” Smith, visited the site “and noticed a very dark liquid floating on top of the water in the hole.”
It turned out to be oil. ”August 27, 1859, is one of those dates on which the world changed,” explains William Brice, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. “Drake’s Folly,” as it was known to the local population, was not such a folly after all, for Drake had shown that large quantities of oil could be found by drilling into the earth. And so began the modern petroleum industry.
“Drake is known as the ‘father of the petroleum industry’ because the technology he devised revolutionized how crude oil was produced and launched the large-scale petroleum industry,” adds Brice, author of the 2009 book Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.
“Even though the use of petroleum dates back to the first human civilizations, the events of that Saturday afternoon along the banks of Oil Creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania, provided the spark that propelled the petroleum industry toward the future,” explains Brice, who edits an annual peer-reviewed journal for the Petroleum History Institute.
Drake will die in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on November 9, 1880. He is buried in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where a monument – including a bronze statue “The Driller” by Charles Henry Niehaus – is dedicated on October 4, 1901.
The original tools that Drake used can be found at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville. Visitors can see a replica of the oilman’s derrick and 1859 engine house — where oil from the famous well today flows into a “never filling” barrel.
Also available is a DVD of the museum’s three orientation films: · “Born in Freedom: The Story of Colonel Drake” — produced by the American Petroleum Institute in 1954 and starring Vincent Price. “Oil! The Power of Pennsylvania Petroleum” and “Pithole USA.”
Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin L. Drake and the Early Oil Industry can be purchased online at the Pennsylvania Oil Region Alliance website, which includes dozens of books about petroleum heritage, including The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia, published in 2005 by David Waples.
March 29, 1938 – Arkansas discovery
“Kerlyn Wildcat Strike In Southern Arkansas is Sensation of the Oil Country,” notes an Arkansas newspaper headline as the Barnett No. 1 well opens the 100-million-barrel Magnolia oilfield.
Drilling had been suspended by the Kerlyn Oil Company (predecessor to the Kerr-McGee company) because of a recession and lack of backers, but company vice president and geologist Dean McGee persevered. He was rewarded with the giant Arkansas discovery at 7,646 feet.
Visit the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover.
April 1, 1911 – First “Pump Jack Capital of Texas” discovery
Just south of the Red River border with Oklahoma, near Electra, Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well launches an oil boom that lasts for decades.
A gusher on cattleman William T. Waggoner’s lease settles into production of about 650 barrels per day from 1,628 feet. Hundreds of producing wells follow, reaching the oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913. The Wichita County town is named after Waggoner’s daughter. Texas legislators designated Electra as the “Pump Jack Capital” of Texas in 2001.
In 2011, the Electra Clayco No. 1 centennial celebration included a parade – and a keynote address by Alex Mills, president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, during a re-dedication ceremony of the well’s historic marker. Among the highlights were a pictorial display of petroleum history inside Electra’s Grand Theatre, a walking tour of antique oil equipment, a special Chuck Wagon Gang Lunch and chili cook-off.
April 1, 1986 – Oil Prices hit Modern Low
World oil prices fall below $10 a barrel. Causes include excessive OPEC production, worldwide recession (increasing supplies with declining demand) and a U.S. petroleum industry heavily regulated by production or price controls.
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