The first true oil production in South Dakota came in 1954 in northwestern corner of the state. Harding County wells produced oil from the massive Williston Basin.
A year later, discoveries came from other formations to the south in Custer County. The Black Hills of the Powder River Basin brought new waves of exploration companies.
“Although the first oil producing well wasn’t drilled until 1953, there is a long history of oil exploration in the state, as evidenced by this wooden derrick rig drilling in the Barker Dome area of Custer County in 1929 (above),” notes the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Custer County oil was discovered in a well drilled in 1955, “just over the hill to the south of this rig,” the agency adds.
Black Hills Petroleum Company
Decades earlier, there were almost daily newspaper accounts of exploration attempts in Custer County. Among companies featured was a company reportedly incorporated for $1 million.
The Black Hills Petroleum Company’s drilling efforts in the county garnered public attention – and investors – between 1929 and 1931.
Although the Department of Environment and Natural Resources today has the exploration company’s documents, researchers will have to drill deep to locate record numbers, including 4003305220, 4003305011.
Although Black Hills Petroleum found some minor success in South Dakota fields, the value of the oil production did not live up to hype. Newspapers of the era often printed exaggerated claims and oil stock advertisements from exploration company officers.
“First Flow Commercial Oil in State,” declared a December 20, 1929, headline in the Hot Springs Star, adding that the well was brought in by “Black Hills Pete’s (Petroleum) Company, generating great excitement in the Barker Dome area.”
The anticipated success and commercial oil production did not arrive. Black Hills Petroleum Company disappeared from the financial records (its oil stick certificates may have some value to collectors). The state’s petroleum prosperity would not come until the 1954 and 1955 major oil discoveries.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, although Harding County today has produced by far the most oil (43.3 million barrels), other counties such as Fall River (4.6 million), Custer (310 thousand), and Dewey (133 thousand) have all contributed to the states total of 48.3 million barrels.
Learn about neighboring North Dakota’s petroleum industry in First North Dakota Oil Well.
The many stories of many exploration companies trying to join petroleum booms (and avoid busts) can be found in an updated series of research at Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?