Making Tulsa “Oil Capital of the World”
The Glen Pool discovery of “light and sweet” oil on the Creek Indian Reservation in 1905 would soon make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”
On a chilly fall morning in 1905 – two years before Oklahoma becomes a state – oil was discovered on the Glenn family farm south of Tulsa. There soon were hundreds of wells producing so much oil that the land was called the Glen Pool (or Glenn Pool), now the Tulsa suburb Glenpool.
This November 22 oilfield discovery launched a drilling boom that made headlines worldwide. With daily production soon exceeding 120,000 barrels, Glenn Pool exceeded Tulsa County’s earlier giant, the Red Fork Gusher, and even the mighty Spindletop Hill discovery near Beaumont, Texas, four years earlier.
“Robert Galbreath and Frank Chesley had been alternating shifts on the floor of a cable-tool drilling rig in the Creek Indian Reservation,” notes Norman Hyne, professor of petroleum geology at the University of Tulsa.
“They had paid for the lease and the rig – five dollars a day including driller – with their own money,” he says. “The well was on the banks of a creek located four miles south of an unimpressive, small town on the Frisco Railroad and the Arkansas River by the name of Tulsa.”
The two men drilled deeper after first penetrating the Red Fork Sands formation with only a small show of natural gas. Then, at a depth of about 1,450 feet, Ida Glenn No. 1 well came in as a 75-barrel-a-day producer of high-quality oil – known as “light, sweet crude.”
The well was named for the Creek Indian woman from whom the oilmen had leased 160 acres at three-cents an acre plus a one-eighth interest in any production. Galbreath drilled a second well within 300 feet of his first well and then another. All were producers.
The wells revealed the 12-square-mile Glenn Pool, and a massive drilling boom began. Even with slow-drilling cable-tools, drilling was cheap because the productive sands were shallow, according to Tulsa author Ruth Sheldon Knowles in her 1959 book about wildcatters, The Greatest Gamblers.
By the time of statehood in 1907, Glenn Pool has made Oklahoma the nation’s biggest oil producer.
“It was Oklahoma’s first major oil field and the richest field the world had yet seen,” explains Hyne in an April 2005 article for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
“Unlike the thick, sour oil from Spindletop, the famed 1901 Texas discovery that had already played out, this oil was light and sweet – just right to refine into gasoline and kerosene,” he says. “The reservoir was shallow, less than 1,500 feet deep, well within the range of the cable tool drilling rigs of that day.”
Hynereprots that within two years of the discovery, pipelines are built from the Texaco and Gulf refineries on the Gulf Coast and down from the Standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, to access the high-quality crude. Numerous other refineries were built in the Glenn Pool area.
Oklahoma Natural Gas Company in 1907 builds a pipeline from the Glenn Pool to provide gas to Oklahoma City.
The giant oilfield produced 325.5 million barrels of oil by 1986, and royalties of almost one million dollars a year were paid to Creek Indians who held 160-acre allotments in the field.
A number of prominent petroleum industry figures, including Harry Ford Sinclair, founder of the Sinclair Oil and Refining Company, and J. Paul Getty, received their initial start during the Glenn Pool boom, notes the Oklahoma Historical Society.
“It is said that more money was made on the Glenn Pool oil field than the California gold rush and Colorado silver rush combined,” concludes Hyne, who created a Glenn Pool Oil Field Educational Center website after the well’s 2005 centennial. The field is now under water-flood (enhanced recovery) and producing primarily from small, marginal wells.
In April 2008, a monument was unveiled in Glenpool’s Black Gold Park by the Glenn Pool Oil Field Commission. A 28-foot-tall “derrick” illuminates at night and includes granite etchings that tell the 1905 story of oilmen Robert Galbreath, Frank Chesley and Charles Colcord.
The commission also sponsored publication of Almost Forgotten — The Amazing Story of Glenn Pool: Oklahoma’s First World-Class Oil Field, distributed to high schools by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board.
In addition, a documentary educates young people about the 1905 discovery. “Black gold from this field helped fuel the nation, and brought thousands of people and a new prosperity to Oklahoma,” it explains.
“The Glenn Pool Story,” broadcast by the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, includes archival photos and rare film clips “to tell the compelling story of the Glenn Pool’s impact on America and how, a century later, the petroleum industry still benefits Oklahoma.
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