This Week April 30 to May 6
April 30, 1955 – “Landmen” form Trade Association
The American Association of Petroleum Landmen is organized in Fort Worth, Texas.
Landmen research records to determine ownership, locate mineral and land owners and negotiate oil and natural gas leases, deals, trades and contracts as well as ensuring compliance with governmental regulations.
The association has grown into an organization with about 12,000 members and 43 affiliated associations in the United States and Canada.
May 1, 1860 – Brothers Launch West Virginia Oil Industry
In the early 1800s, salt-makers in what is now West Virginia sometimes found oil or natural gas during their drilling. Using that frontier experience to search for oil in Wirt County, Virginia, the Rathbone brothers’ spring-pole oil well near a stream called Burning Springs Run reaches 303 feet – and begins producing 100 barrels of oil a day.
By the end of 1860, more than 600 oil leases are registered in the county courthouse. After Federal forces occupy most of western Virginia during the Civil War, residents in 39 counties, including Wirt, vote to separate from Virginia and join the Union. In 1863 West Virginia becomes a new, oil-producing state.
On May 9, Confederate Gen. William “Grumble” Jones and 1,300 troopers attack Burning Springs, destroying equipment and thousands of barrels of oil. Visit the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg.
May 1, 1916 – Harry Sinclair starts a Company
With $50 million in assets, Harry F. Sinclair borrows another $20 million and forms Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation from a collection of depressed properties, five small refineries and many untested leases, all acquired at bargain prices. In its first 14 months, his New York company produces six million barrels of oil and 252 million gallons of petroleum products for a net income of almost $9 million.
Sinclair will become one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry. Its famous Brontosaurus trademark makes its debut at the Chicago 1934 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. Three decades later, ten million visitors marvel at an improved 70-foot Dino in Sinclair’s “Dinoland” exhibit at the New York World’s Fair. Read Dinosaur Fever — Sinclair’s Icon.
May 1, 1931 – Commission regulates East Texas Production
The first proration order from the Texas Railroad Commission for the giant East Texas oilfield becomes effective. When the Daisy Bradford No. 3 discovery well first opened the field a year earlier, massive production quickly drove prices down.
Hundreds of wells produced almost one-million barrels per day — and the price of oil dropped to as low as 10 cents a barrel before the commission’s order limited production to preserve the field and stabilize prices. The “Black Giant” oilfield has yielded more than five billion barrels – and is still producing. Visit the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore.
May 1, 2001 – Plaza honors Oklahoma Petroleum Pioneers
The Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza – a special outdoor educational exhibit area – is dedicated at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.
“The history of the state of Oklahoma is inextricably linked with the remarkable history of the oil industry,” noted then Conoco Chairman Archie W. Dunham. “The individuals identified here are true Oklahoma oil pioneers in that their endeavors were most significant in the development of the oil and gas industry in this very young state.”
Tom Slick, Oklahoma’s “King of the Wildcatters” is among those honored in the plaza. Slick, a self-taught geologist, discovered the giant Cushing oilfield in 1912.
May 2, 1797 – Birthday of Inventor of Kerosene
Born today is Abraham Gesner (1797-1864), the Canadian chemist and geologist who pioneers the extraction of kerosene by the distillation of asphalt rock. Beginning in 1846, he conducts experiments for distilling “coal oil.”
Gesner coins the name kerosene in 1853. He patents his “Improvement in Kerosene Burning-Fluids” on June 27, 1854 — realizing the usefulness of kerosene as a cleaner-burning fuel in lamps to replace whale oil, notes one biographer. Gesner also will invent a wood preservative, an asphalt highway paving process, compressed coal dust briquettes, and a machine for insulating electric wire.
May 4, 1869 – Thomas Rowland patents the First Offshore Drilling Rig
The first U.S. patent for an offshore oil drilling rig is issued to Thomas Fitch Rowland (1831-1907), owner of Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.”
Many believe this early patent (No. 89,794) is the beginning of the offshore oil and natural gas industry.
Rowland’s patent for a fixed, working platform for drilling offshore to a depth of almost 50 feet — just ten years after Edwin Drake made the nation’s first commercial oil discovery in Titusville, Pennsylvania — pioneers modern offshore drilling technology. Although his rig is designed to operate in shallow water, the anchored, four-legged tower resembles modern offshore rigs.
“My invention consists — First, in novel construction of drill frame, or stand, or, as it may be termed, working-platform, by providing or forming it with telescopic legs made up of tubes and plungers, and connected with suitable hydraulic attachments or devices for forcing water into the legs for the proper support of the platform at different elevations, according to the depth of the water, and to adjust the legs or their plungers to a firm bearing on the rock to be drilled.”
Rowland and his Continental Iron Works also will become a leader in petroleum storage tank design and construction. The Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize is instituted by the American Society of Civil Engineers at its annual meeting of 1882.
The earliest true offshore wells — completely out of sight from land — will not be drilled until 1947 in the Gulf of Mexico, as technologies advance after Rowland’s patent. As early as 1891, the first submerged oil wells are drilled from platforms built on piles in Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio, notes historian Judith L. Sneed in “The First Over Water Drilling: The Lost History Of Ohio’s Grand Reservoir Oil Boom.” Read more in “Ohio Offshore Wells.”
The first submerged oil wells in salt water are drilled in 1896 from piers in a part of the Summerland oilfield that extends under the Santa Barbara Channel in California. Wells also are drilled from platforms on Caddo Lake, Louisiana, in 1911. Read more at “Offshore Oil History” — and visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum in Galveston, Texas, to explore a retired jack-up drilling rig.
Editor’s Note — In addition to his offshore rig patent, Thomas Rowland also is part of U.S. naval history. During the Civil War, he is hired by John Ericsson, who has received a Union Navy contract to build an “iron-clad battery.” In October 1861, Rowland’s Continental Iron Works begins construction of the USS Monitor.
Experts predict the vessel will “turn turtle” when launched, but “I had made my calculations, and was perfectly certain that the device would operate according to my expectations,” Rowland says in an1890 New York Times article.
May 5, 1889 – Construction begins on World’s Largest Refinery
Seventeen miles east of downtown Chicago, Standard Oil Company begins construction on a 235-acre refinery complex. It will be the world’s largest.
The Whiting, Indiana, refinery processes sulfurous “sour crude” from the Lima, Ohio, oilfields — producing high-quality kerosene to meet the skyrocketing demand for use in home lamps. Gasoline is a minor by-product. The Duryea brothers will build a gasoline-powered horseless carriage two years after the Whiting Refinery ships its first finished petroleum product: 125 railroad tank cars of kerosene in November 1890.
The city of Whiting incorporated in 1903. In 1923, Standard Oil Company provided land and funding for its Memorial Community Center, which became the hub of city life with its social and athletic facilities. The Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society, organized in 1976, helps preserve this history.
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