October 17 to October 23, 2016

October 17, 1890 – Union Oil of California founded

Wallace Hardison, Lyman Stewart and Thomas Bard established the Union Oil Company of California in Santa Paula in 1890. Soon known as Unocal, the company moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1901. The original headquarters in Santa Paula, a California Historical Landmark, houses the California Oil Museum. An effort is underway to preserve Wallace Hardison’s masion, built in 1884. Unocal merged its upstream business with Chevron in 2005. 

October 17, 1917 – “Roaring Ranger” Oil Discovery 

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Eastland County, Texas, discoveries include oil wells near Cisco, where Conrad Hilton will witness the crowds of roughnecks – and buy his first hotel.

Ninety-nine years ago, a wildcat well between Abilene and Dallas brought a Texas oil boom that fueled Allied victory in World War I. The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well erupted oil about two miles south of the small farming community of Ranger. Petroleum companies had searched Eastland County with limited success since 1904.

Texas and Pacific Coal Company’s William Knox Gordon completed the discovery well at 3,432 feet deep. It initially produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day of quality, high gravity oil. Within 20 months the exploration company’s stock value jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share.

“Roaring Ranger” launched a drilling boom that extended to nearby towns. More gushers followed, some producing up to 10,000 barrels of oil every day. Ranger’s population grew from 1,000 to 30,000 – mostly men.

The petroleum proved essential in World War I. When the Armistice was signed in November 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”

After the war, a young veteran – Conrad Hilton – visited Eastland County intending to buy a Texas bank. When his bank deal fell through, Hilton (at the Cisco train station ready to leave), noticed across the street a small motel with a long line of roughnecks waiting for a room. Hilton decided to buy his first hotel. Learn more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

October 17, 1973 – OPEC declares Oil Embargo

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implements what it calls “oil diplomacy” – prohibiting any nation that had supported Israel in its “Yom Kippur War” from buying any of the oil it sells.

The OPEC embargo brought an end to years of cheap gasoline, caused the New York Stock Exchange to drop by almost $100 billion, and created one of the worst recessions in U.S. history.

America’s low domestic reserves required annually importing almost 30 percent of the petroleum it needed. Dependence on foreign supplies peaked in 2005. In 2014, thanks to new technologies, the United States became the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

October 18, 2008 – Derrick dedicated in Discovery 1 Park

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Discovery 1 Park in Bartlesville includes a replica derrick on the original site of Oklahoma’s first oil well.

Discovery One Park in Bartlesville  – site of a renovated Nellie Johnstone No. 1, Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well – was dedicated with a reenactment of the dramatic moment that changed Oklahoma history.

Events included local roughneck reenactors bringing in the 84-foot derrick’s oil well with a water gusher. A similar cable-tool drilling rig thrilled spectators in 1897, when Jenny Cass, stepdaughter of Bartlesville founder George W. Keeler, was given the honor of “shooting” the oil well.

October 20, 1949 –  Rare Natural Gas Well in Maryland

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No oil has yet been found in Maryland.

The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland was drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County – the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer N. Beachy well produced almost 500 Mcf of natural gas a day.

The wildcat discovery prompted a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depletes the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produced natural gas, but overall production from the field was low. No oil has yet been found in Maryland

October 21, 1921 – First Natural Gas Well in New Mexico

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New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service began soon after a 1921 discovery near Aztec. Major oil discoveries will follow in the southeast.

New Mexico’s natural gas industry was launched with the newly formed Aztec Oil Syndicate’s State No. 1 well about 15 miles northeast of Farmington in San Juan County.

The well produced 10 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. The crew used a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead was shipped in from Colorado.

By Christmas, a pipeline reached two miles into the town of Aztec where citizens enjoyed New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service. By 1922, natural gas could be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month (for a gas heater) and $2.25 (for a gas stove).

Read more about the state’s petroleum history in New Mexico Oil Discovery

October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well launches Wyoming Boom

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The “Big Dutch” No. 1 well, above, initially produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet in 1908. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

Wyoming’s first oil boom began when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek compkleted the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper.

Although the Salt Creek area’s oil potential had been known since the 1880s, the central Salt Creek dome received little attention until an Italian geologist recommended drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.

Drillers J.E. Stock, working for an English corporation known as the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drilled a well to 1,050 feet, where it produced 600 barrels a day.

More than 4,000 wells have since been drilled in the Salt Creek oilfield, producing from depths as shallow as 22 feet (in 1911). To increase production, water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004. Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

October 23, 1948 – “Smart Pig” advances Pipeline Inspection

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Photo of a “smart pig” used for testing pipelines courtesy of Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal.

Northern Natural Gas Company recorded the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds.

The company examined a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – now known as a “smart pig” – travels up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.

As early as 1926, U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” suitable for large pipelines. Today’s inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.

October 23, 1970 – Natural Gas fuels World Land Speed Record

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The Blue Flame will set a land speed record that will not be broken until 1997. Today, there are more than 120,000 vehicles on the road powered by natural gas.

Natural gas made a spectacular rocket fuel debut in 1970 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah as the Blue Flame set a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour – a record that will stand for 27 years.

A rocket motor combining liquefied natural gas and hydrogen peroxide powered the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame. The motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.

Sponsored by the American Gas Association and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame design came from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth. After building a 1967 record-setting rocket dragster, the X-1, they began the far more ambitious Blue Flame natural gas rocket car in 1968.

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The 38-foot Blue Flame’s natural gas-powered rocket motor could produce up to 58,000 horsepower.

Keller notes that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, American Gas Association executives saw the value of educating consumers. “The Blue Flame was really ‘green’ – it was fueled by clean-burning natural gas and hydrogen peroxide,” he explains. “It was the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”


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.