• This Week in Petroleum History, March 2 to March 8


    March 2, 1922 – Oklahoma Oil Lease sells for $1 Million

    march 2 oil history

    Oklahoma’s first million-dollar oil lease was sold in the shade of an elm tree in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in 1922.

    Under the shade of the “Million Dollar Elm” in front of the Osage Council House in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Skelly Oil and Phillips Petroleum Company jointly bid more than one million dollars for just a 160-acre tract of land.

    The 1922 auction is Oklahoma’s first million dollar oil lease. Leading independent producers Frank Phillips, Harry Sinclair, Bill Skelly, Jean Paul Getty and E.W. Marland are frequent bidders to lease this promising territory on the Osage Indian Reservation.

    Learn more about the major discoveries of northeastern Oklahoma at museums in Ponca City, including the Marland Estate and the Conoco Museum. Also visit the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville.

    March 2, 1944 – WWII Pipeline delivers Gasoline

    The first gasoline transported by the “Little Big Inch” pipeline arrives at Linden Station, New Jersey, from refineries near Houston and Beaumont, Texas. A second pipeline, the “Big Inch,” will bring crude oil. The vital World War II effort results from a “War Emergency Pipelines” project to carry both oil and refined petroleum products from the Gulf Coast region to East Coast refining and distribution centers. Read more in Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.

    March 3, 1879 – United States Geological Survey established

    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is established when President Rutherford B. Hayes signs legislation that includes a brief section creating a new agency in the Department of the Interior.

    The 1879 legislation results from a report by the National Academy of Sciences, which had been asked by Congress to provide a plan for surveying the territories of the United States. The new agency’s mission includes “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain,” notes a USGS history.

    Today based in Reston, Virginia, with a proposed budget of $1.2 billion for 2016, USGS employs about 10,000 scientists, technicians and support staff. It has the largest earth sciences library in the world.

    March 3, 1886 – Natural Gas brings light to Paola, Kansas

    march 2 oil history

    When a pipeline reaches town square in 1886, “flambeaux” lights are used to attract new businesses. Paola annually celebrates its gas heritage.

    Paola becomes the first town in Kansas to use natural gas commercially for illumination.

    To promote the town’s natural gas discovery – and attract businesses from nearby Kansas City – four gas-fueled arches are erected in the town square. Pipes are laid for other illuminated displays.

    “Paola was lighted with Gas,” explains the Miami County Historical Museum. “The pipeline was completed from the Westfall farm to the square and a grand illumination was held.”

    By the end of 1887, several Kansas flour mills are fueled by natural gas. Miami County leaders proclaim:

    “Natural gas is superior to anything for convenience and cheapness, and we have it in immense volume, sufficient to supply all the manufactories that can crowd into the county. We earnestly invite inspection and comparison.”

    However, with little understanding of conservation and natural gas production techniques, Paola’s gas wells run dry. As visions of new manufacturing industries fade away, another boom soon arrives with oil discoveries in Miami County. Read more Kansas petroleum history in Kansas Well reveals Mid-Continent.

    March 4, 1918 – West Virginia Well sets World Depth Record

    march 2 oil history

    Drilled with cable-tools, the world’s deepest well in 1918 reached 7,386 feet deep near Clarksburg, West Virginia.

    On the Martha Goff farm in Harrison County, West Virginia, the Hope Natural Gas Company drills to 7,386 feet and brings the world’s deepest well record to America.

    Until the 1918 well outside Clarksburg, the deepest well had been drilled to 7,345 feet near Czuehon, Germany.

    Learn more West Virginia petroleum history at museums in Morgan Town and Parkersburg.

    March 4, 1933 – Oklahoma City Oilfield under Martial Law

    march 2 oil history

    Oklahoma Governor “Alfalfa Bill” Murray is featured on the February 29, 1932, cover of TIME.

    Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray declares martial law to enforce his proration regulations limiting production in the Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered in December 1928 and one of the largest producing fields in the state.

    Two years earlier, Murray had called a meeting of fellow governors from Texas, Kansas and New Mexico to create an Oil States Advisory Committee, “to study the present distressed condition of the petroleum industry.”

    Elected in 1930, he is called “Alfalfa Bill” because of speeches urging farmers to plant alfalfa to restore nitrogen to the soil. The controversial politician is also known as the “Sage of Tishomingo.”

    By the end of his administration, Murray will have called out the National Guard 47 times and declared martial law more than 30 times. His successor, famed oilman E.W. Marland, will establish the Interstate Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Oklahoma City in 1935.

    March 5, 1963 – Polyethylene Invention leads to Patent of Popular “Hoop Toy”

     march 2 oil history

    Demand for Marlex, a Phillips Petroleum plastic, came from an unexpected source, the Hula Hoop, “the great obsession of 1958 – the undisputed granddaddy of American fads.” Circa 1960 Associated Press photo.

    march 2 oil history

    “Extruded tubing is desirable because it may be economically fabricated in continuous lengths,” Arthur Melin noted in his patent for using high-density plastic for his “hoop toy.”

    march 2 oil history

    Until Wham-O, Phillips executives could not find buyers for the company’s new high-density polyethylene.

    Arthur “Spud” Melin receives a patent for his “Hoop Toy.”

    A hit since going on sale in 1958, his toy – the Hula Hoop – joins the Frisbee as a popular product made thanks to a revolutionary new plastic developed an Oklahoma petroleum company.

    “I have invented a toy which is economical to fabricate and affords physical benefits to users,” he explains in his 1963 patent application. “The use of plastic gives both economy and strength.”

    To make Hula Hoops and Frisbees, Melin and his Wham-O Company partner Richard Kerr choose Marlex, a new plastic developed by two chemists at Phillips Petroleum Company (now ConocoPhillips). Paul Hogan and Robert Banks – who had been researching gasoline additives – invented the world’s first high-density polyethylene at the company’s Bartlesville lab in 1951.

    As Hogan recalls, he was standing outside the laboratory when Banks came out saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got something new coming in our kettle that we’ve never seen before.”

    Although Phillips begins promoting Marlex in 1954, manufacturers show little interest in the plastic. The transition from research lab to mass production proves more difficult than executives anticipated. Marlex customers fail to materialize – until Wham-O.

    Thanks to the Hula Hoop fad,  plastic companies in Titusville, Pennsylvania – birthplace of the U.S. petroleum industry – will work overtime to meet demand.

    Today, Oil Creek Plastics Inc. still extrudes the “Hoop Toy.” High-density polyethylene plastics are now the core of a multibillion-dollar, global industry. Read more in Petroleum Product Hoopla.

    March 7, 1902 – Another Texas Gusher, Sour Lake Springs 

    A little more than a year after the great discovery at nearby Spindletop in January 1901, the Texas community of Sour Lake becomes a boom town in its own right.

    Originally known as Sour Lake Springs – because of its sulfurous spring water known for its healing – the sulfur will lead many to predict oil may be trapped similar to the geology of the Spindletop field, which produces from a salt dome.

    The Great Western Oil Company first completes a test well in November 1901 that encounters “hot salt water impregnated with sulfur between 800 and 850 feet…and four oil sands about 10 feet thick at a depth of approximately 1,040 feet,” notes historian Charles Albert Warner.

    On March 7, 1902, a well penetrates 40 feet of oil sand, “gusher production at a depth of approximately 683 feet.” Other discoveries follow, including a January 1903 well by the newly formed Texas Company, which will become Texaco. Read more in Sour Lake produces Texaco.

    March 7, 1926 – Discovery reveals Greater Seminole OilField

    march 2 oil history

    The Greater Seminole area includes seven of Oklahoma’s 20 giant oilfields: Earlsboro, St. Louis, Seminole, Bowlegs, Little River, Allen and Seminole City. The Oil Museum in Seminole has a diorama maintained by volunteers that features many of the circa 1930 boom towns.

    The Seminole City oilfield, which will lead to a series of discoveries revealing the Greater Seminole area, is first revealed in 1926 by the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company.

    The discovery is quickly followed by a successful well drilled by the Amerada Petroleum Company. Then the biggest discovery, the Fixico No. 1 well, strikes oil in the Wilcox Sand formation in July, producing 1,500 barrels of oil a day – and starting the Greater Seminole oil boom.

    By 1935, sixty petroleum reservoirs are discovered in 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma. Six of the reservoirs are “giants,” producing more than one-million barrels of oil each. Visit the Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole. Read more history in First Oklahoma Oil Well.


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