March 16, 2022 – Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 3, No. 3
Oil & Gas History News
The historical society’s March newsletter features some hard lessons in exploration and production history, major oilfield discoveries, advances in refining processes, and petroleum polymers that changed the world. The USS Texas, today a museum in La Porte, illustrates how oil replaced coal-fired boilers at sea in the early 20th century. Thank you for subscribing — and sharing — these petroleum history summaries and links!
This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update
Links to summaries from four weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers.
March 14, 1910 – Lakeview No. 1 Well erupts in California
The Union Oil Company Lakeview No. 1 well erupted a geyser of oil at dawn in Kern County, California. With limited technologies for managing deep, highly pressured formations of the Midway-Sunset field, drillers could not control the well. As new well-control methods evolved, California had experienced other accidental spills, including the Shamrock gusher in 1896 and the 1909 Midway gusher…MORE
March 7, 1902 – Oil discovered at Sour Lake, Texas
Adding to giant Texas oilfields, the Sour Lake field was discovered about 20 miles west of the world-famous Spindletop field of January 1901. The spa town of Sour Lake became a boom town where several major oil companies, including Texaco, got their start. Originally settled in 1835 and called Sour Lake Springs, the town’s healing “sulphureus spring water” fed a nearby lake…MORE
February 28, 1935 – DuPont Chemist invents Nylon
A former Harvard chemistry professor working in a DuPont research laboratory discovered the world’s first synthetic fiber, the petroleum product nylon. After experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, Wallace Carothers created a long molecule chain — a stretching plastic. The inventor had earlier discovered neoprene (commonly used in wetsuits), advancing understanding of polymers…MORE
February 21, 1887 – Refining Process brings Riches to Rockefeller
Mining engineer and chemist Herman Frasch applied to patent his process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.” The former employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey was quickly rehired by John D. Rockefeller, who owned oilfields near Lima, Ohio, that produced a thick, sulfurous oil. Rockefeller had accumulated a 40-million barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.”…MORE
Fleets of coal-powered warships required strategically placed worldwide coaling stations, which influenced America’s foreign policies. Commissioned in 1914, the USS Texas was the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers. It burned up to 10 tons of coal every hour, producing dense smoke and tons of ash. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy.
Petroleum and Sea Power
Congress began evaluating oil as a replacement for coal to fire the Navy’s boilers as early as 1866. The experts decided to keep using coal. By 1916, the Navy had commissioned its first two capital ships with oil-fired boilers, the USS Nevada and the USS Oklahoma. To resupply them, “oilers” were designed to transfer fuel while at anchor, although underway replenishment was possible. Before converting to oil-fired boilers in 1925, the USS Texas — the “Mighty T” — carried 2,000 tons of coal with a crew of “coal passers.” The post-World War I worldwide change from coal to oil power at sea became another chapter of petroleum history.
Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power.
First Commercial Hydraulic Fracturing
A team of scientists and petroleum engineers from Halliburton and Stanolind companies on March 17, 1949, performed the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing on an oil well 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma. Two years earlier, they had tested fracturing formations with a pressurized liquid at a natural gas well near Hugoton, Kansas, proving the method’s efficacy for increasing production. Stanolind developed the technology with an exclusive license issued to Halliburton Company.
Learn more in Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History.
“Diamond Glenn” opens Shamrock Hotel
On St. Patrick’s Day of 1949, flamboyant Texas independent producer Glenn H. McCarthy hosted the grand opening of his $21 million, 1,100-room Shamrock Hotel on the outskirts of Houston. McCarthy, who had discovered 11 oilfields by 1945 and appeared on the cover of TIME in 1950, reportedly spent $1 million for his hotel’s opening day gala. He arranged for a 16-car Santa Fe Super Chief train to bring friends from Hollywood.
Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.
Wham-O and Petroleum Product Hoopla
In 1954, two research scientists at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, invented a high-density polyethylene. Phillips marketing executives named the new petroleum product “Marlex,” but transition from lab to market proved difficult as they searched for buyers. Then the Wham-O toy company found the durable plastic ideal for making hoops and flying platters.
Learn more in Petroleum Product Hoopla.
Research Request Update
A professional engineer from El Dorado, Arkansas, responded to last month’s request from an MIT professor seeking information about Wilber L. Nelson, author of the 1936 textbook Petroleum Refinery Engineering. Nelson, who taught at the University of Tulsa, also wrote a technology column for the Oil and Gas Journal. The reply has been posted in the comments on the Petroleum History Forum.
Two years after the beginning of Covid, community oil and gas museums are beginning to reopen. Please plan a visit — or school field trip — to support these dedicated energy educators. Volunteer docents are often retired petroleum geologists. Today more than ever, petroleum history is relevant. Thanks again for visiting our website and subscribing. We depend on supporting members.
— Bruce Wells
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