• This Week in Petroleum History, April 21 – April 27


    On April 22, 1920 – Natural Gas Well leads to Arkansas Oil Discoveries

    Learning about the petroleum industry inspired a watercolor oilfield art show by fifth-graders in Bradley, Arkansas.

    The southwestern Arkansas petroleum industry has inspired fifth-grade watercolor exhibits.

    The first natural gas well in southern Arkansas is completed on April 22, 1920, two and a half miles southeast of El Dorado.

    Drilled to 2,247 feet, the discovery well produces up to 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day – and shows signs of oil from the Nacatoch sands. A few days earlier, another well did not produce commercial quantities of oil.

    The first Arkansas oil well will erupt in 1921 when the  Busey-Armstrong No. 1 launches the state’s petroleum industry. The smackover oilfield will be found in 1922.

    By 1925, a young oilman named Haroldson Lafayette “H.L.” Hunt has acquired substantial holdings in the El Dorado and Smackover fields. In 1930 he will discover the largest oilfield in the United States less than 175 miles away in Kilgore, Texas.

    Read more in H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.

    Today, the Arkansas Natural Resources Museum in Smackover includes indoor and outdoor exhibits explaining petroleum exploration and production.

    Established in May 1986 as the Arkansas Oil and Brine Museum, the museum educates young people about southwestern Arkansas production. Watercolor paintings displayed in the Bradley High School auditorium include works of talented fourth and fifth-graders.

    The museum, part of an Arkansas state park, maintains a five-acre Oil Park with operating examples of oilfield technologies from the 1920s to today.

    According to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Washington, D.C., 27 of the 75 counties in Arkansas now have producing oil or natural gas wells, .

    By January 2011, more than 40, 840 wells have been drilled in the state since 1921 – with 15,073 “dry holes,” IPAA notes in its annual Oil and Gas Producing Industry in Your State.

    Read more Arkansas petroleum history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boomtowns.

    April 24, 1911 – Magnolia Petroleum Company founded in Texas

    Magnolia Petroleum, now part of the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, adopted the Pegasus trademark in 1931 and added it to its headquarters - the Magnolia Petroleum building, completed in 1922 as the first Dallas skyscraper.

    Magnolia Petroleum, after joining the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, adopted the Pegasus trademark in 1931 and added it to its headquarters – the Magnolia Petroleum building, completed in 1922 as the first Dallas skyscraper. Photo courtesy Dallas Public Library.

    Magnolia Petroleum will adopt a “Flying Pegasus” logo in the 1930s.

    The Magnolia Petroleum Company is founded on April 24, 1911, as an unincorporated joint-stock association – a consolidation of several companies, the first of which began by operating a small refinery in Corsicana, Texas, in 1898.

    The Standard Oil Company of New York will begin acquiring Magnolia in 1925, notes the Texas State Historical Association. In 1931, when Standard Oil of New York and the Vacuum Oil Company merge to form Socony-Vacuum Oil Company. Magnolia becomes a leading affiliate of the new nationwide company.

    Headquartered in its iconic Dallas skyscraper by the early 1930s, Magnolia operates in 20 states and employ 12,500 people. The company will adopt the Socony-Vacuum Oil (the future Mobil) red Pegasus logo, which begins rotating atop the Magnolia Building in 1934.

    Read more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.

    April 25, 1865 – Civil War Veteran patents Explosive Technology

    Established in 1865, The Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company would have a lengthy a monopoly on all types of torpedoes used in the petroleum industry. The company stock certificate is worth almost $300 to collectors.

    Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City on April 25, 1865, receives the first of his many patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells.”

    This revolutionary invention uses controlled downhole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.”

    Roberts also will receive a patent for what becomes known as the “Roberts Torpedo” – an early “fracking” technology for petroleum production.

    Roberts torpedoes are filled with gunpowder, lowered into wells, and ignited by a weight dropped along a suspension wire to percussion caps.

    In later models, nitroglycerin replaces gunpowder. Before the well torpedo’s invention, many early wells in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia have produced only small amounts of oil for a short time.

    The invention – patent no. 47,458 – is among the major technological achievements of the U.S. petroleum industry. With its exclusive patent licenses, the Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company charges up to $200 per torpedo “shoot” and a one-fifteenth royalty of the increased flow of oil.

    Seeking to avoid the Roberts Company fee, some oilmen secretly hire unlicensed practitioners who operate at night with their own devices – and the term “moonlighter” enters the American lexicon.

    The first commercial “Frack” takes place in 1949 east of Duncan, Oklahoma. By 1988, the technology will have been applied nearly one million times.

    For enhancing modern petroleum production, Halliburton and Stanolind companies will complete the first commercial hydraulic frack in March 1949 a few miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma. Oil and natural gas production today rely on the technology.

    “Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique,” says a Halliburton service company spokesman.

    Learn more about Col. Roberts – including leading a charge at the Battle of Fredericksburg – and production technologies in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

    April 26, 1947 – Petroleum Industry promotes Oil on Radio

    Founded in 1919 in New York City, the American Petroleum Institute will move its headquarters to Washington, D.C., a decade later.

    For the first time since its establishment in 1919, the American Petroleum Institute launches a national advertising campaign on April 26, 1947.

    “The theme of the drive is that the petroleum industry is a modern and progressive one, and is now turning out the best products in its history,” notes Billboard magazine.

    “Radio this week struck real pay dirt as a ‘Gusher’ will come mainly from expansion of current air time on spot local or regional levels by the thousands of petroleum and related corporations.”

    API, representing the largest U.S. petroleum companies, issues “recommended practices to promote the use of safe equipment and proven engineering.”

    “This Week in Petroleum History” is now featured on Wednesday mornings during a live weekday radio program, Exploring Energy, which also can be heard online. See Radio Show features Oil History.