This Week in Petroleum History, December 19 to December 25
December 20, 1913 – “Prince of Petroleum” opens Tulsa Refinery
A refinery built by Joshua Cosden – soon to be known in Oklahoma as the “Prince of Petroleum” – went on stream in Tulsa. With a capacity of 30,000 barrels a day, the refinery was among the largest in the country in 1913. It continues operating today.
The refinery was Cosden’s second. It added to his success in forming companies that acquired and transported oil. In March 1924, he would pay $2 million for a single 160-acre lease at a famous Osage lease auction.
Although Cosden made another $15 million in the oilfields of West Texas, he would lose almost everything during the Great Depression. He died at age 59 in 1940. His Tulsa refinery continues today as a part of Dallas-based HollyFrontier Corporation.
December 20, 1951 – Oil discovered in Washington State
A short-lived oil discovery in Washington foretold the state’s production future. The Hawksworth Gas and Oil Development Company Tom Hawksworth-State No. 4 well was completed near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County. It produced just 35 barrels a day.
The well, which also produced 300,000 cubic feet of natural gas from a depth of 3,700 feet, was abandoned as non-commercial.
In 1967, Sunshine Mining Company reopened the Hawksworth well and deepened it to 4,532 feet. But with only minor shows of oil and natural gas, the well was shut in again.
Although 600 Washington wells would be drilled in 24 counties by 2010, only one produced commercial quantities of oil. It was completed by Sunshine Mining in 1959 about 600 yards north of the failed Hawksworth site. That Sunshine well, Washington’s only commercial producer, was closed in 1961.
When it comes to drilling for oil, Washington state is far down on the list of where companies wish to explore, notes a geologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “We would probably be last, or next to last,” explains the expert. “The geology is too broken up and it does not have the kind of sedimentary basins they have off the coast of California.” Learn more about West Coast geology in California Oil Seeps.
December 21, 1842 – Birth of an Oil Town “Aero View” Artist
Panoramic maps artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1842. Following the fortunes of America’s early petroleum industry, he would produce hundreds of unique maps of the earliest oilfield towns of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas.
Fowler was one of the most prolific of the bird’s-eye view artists who crisscrossed the country during the latter three decades of the nineteenth century, notes the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. The views were drawn without help from a balloon.
“He produced at least 17 views of different Texas cities in 1890 and 1891, but that output is dwarfed by his production of almost 250 views of Pennsylvania between 1872 and 1922,” explains the museum.
Fowler featured many of Pennsylvania’s earliest oilfield towns, including Titusville and Oil City – along with the booming community of Sistersville in the new state of West Virginia. He traveled through Oklahoma and Texas in 1890 and 1891 similarly documenting such cities as Bartlesville, Tulsa and Wichita Falls. Learn more in Oil Town “Aero Views.”
December 22, 1875 – Grant seeks Asphalt for Pennsylvania Avenue
President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 convinced Congress to repave Pennsylvania Avenue’s badly deteriorated plank boards with asphalt. Grant delivered to Congress a “Report of the Commissioners Created by the Act Authorizing the Repavement of Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The project would cover 54,000 square yards. “Brooms, lutes, squeegees and tampers were used in what was a highly labor-intensive process.”
With work completed in the spring of 1877, the asphalt – obtained from a naturally occurring bitumen lake found on the island of Trinidad – would last more than 10 years.
In 1907, the road to the Capitol was be repaved again with new and far superior asphalt made from U.S. petroleum. By 2005, the Federal Highway Administration reported that more than 2.6 million miles of America’s roads are paved. Learn more in Asphalt Paves the Way.
December 22, 1903 – Carl Baker patents Improved Cable-Tool Bit
Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker of Coalinga, California, patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.
“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” notes a Baker-Hughes historian. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”
Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” adds a local historian. He helped establish several small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.
After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through the well.
By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga in a building that today houses the R.C. Baker Museum.
“Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed and incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” concludes the Baker Museum. Baker Tools will become Baker International in 1976 and Baker Hughes after a 1987 merger with Hughes Tool.
December 22, 1975 – Birth of Strategic Petroleum Reserve
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) was established when President Gerald Ford signed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. The 695-million-barrel U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve today is the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world.
In addition to creating SPR, the legislation mandated increasing automobile fuel efficiency through a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard mileage goal of 27.5 miles per gallon by 1985.
When the newly created Department of Energy assumed SPR management in 1977, it was believed the large reserves would deter future oil embargoes. SPR today includes five naturally occurring salt domes near the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas.
Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.