April 4, 1951 – First North Dakota Oil Well taps Williston Basin

petroleum history april 4

On April 4, 1951, a wildcat well drilled in a North Dakota wheat field revealed the 134,000-square-mile Williston Basin.

After eight months of difficult drilling and severe snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovered oil in North Dakota – revealing the Williston Basin two miles beneath the farm of Clarence Iverson near Tioga.

About 30 million acres were under lease within two months of the discovery as petroleum companies rushed to the region. The giant basin would prove to extend into Montana, South Dakota and Canada.

According to historian James Key, in March 1951 the well had reached 10,500 feet deep before a blizzard ended operations. After resuming drilling on April 4, the well was perforated from 11,630 feet to 11,640 feet (using shaped charges, four holes per foot). Later that evening, “a new industry was born in North Dakota,” Key says. “This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II.”

The U.S. Geological Survey in 2008 estimated undiscovered resources within the Williston Basin’s Bakken Formation alone could be as high as 3.65 billion barrels of oil and 1.85 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. A 2013 USGS estimate doubled those figures.

April 5, 1976 – Strategic Oil Reserves

President Gerald R. Ford signed the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976, which allowed commercial development of the nation’s three Naval Petroleum Reserves.

In 1992, the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 1 in the Elk Hills field of California produced its one billionth barrel of oil. Managed by the Department of Energy until privatized in 1998, Elk Hills generated more than $17 billion in profits for the U.S. Treasury.

April 7, 1902 – Texas Company founded during Spindletop Boom

petroleum history april 4

Founded in 1902 as the Texas Company, Texaco would become the first oil company to market in all states. Above, an exhibit at the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma.

Of hundreds of companies founded during the Spindletop drilling boom, the Texas Company was one of the few that rose to the top of the petroleum industry.

On April 7, 1902, Joseph “Buckskin Joe” Cullinan and Arnold Schlaet formed the company in Beaumont to transport and refine oil from the booming oilfield. They build a kerosene refinery in Port Arthur.

A January 1903 discovery – the Fee No. 3 well at nearby Sour Lake Springs – would soon flow at 5,000 barrels a day, launching the company’s success in exploration and production operations.

The telegraph address of the Texas Company’s New York office was “Texaco” – a name soon applied to its products. In 1909 the company registered its first trademark, a red star with a green capital letter “T” superimposed on it. By 1928 the company had more than 4,000 gasoline stations in 48 states. The Texas Company officially renamed itself Texaco Inc. in 1959. Learn more in Sour Lake produces Texaco.

April 7, 1966 – Cold War Accident boosts Offshore Technology

petroleum history aprilA robotic technology soon adopted by the offshore petroleum industry was first used to retrieve an atomic bomb. America’s first cable-controlled underwater research vehicle (CURV) attached cables to recover the weapon lost in the Mediterranean Sea. The bomb, which had been lost when a B-52 crashed off the coast of Spain in January, was safely hoisted from a depth of 2,850 feet.

“It was located and fished up by the most fabulous array of underwater machines ever assembled,” proclaimed Popular Science magazineDuring the Cold War, the Navy developed deep-sea technologies that the offshore petroleum industry would adopt and continue to advance. Learn more in Swimming Socket Wrenches.

Ohio Cities Gas Company became Pure Oil in 1917.

April 9, 1914 – Ohio Cities Gas Company

In Columbus, Ohio, Beman Dawes and Fletcher Heath formed the Ohio Cities Gas Company on April 9, 1914. Three years later the company acquired Pennsylvania-based Pure Oil Company and adopted the Pure name.

Pure Oil had been founded in 1895 in Pittsburgh to counter Standard Oil Company’s market dominance. It was just the second vertically integrated oil company after Standard. The company, headquartered in a Chicago skyscraper it completed in 1926, would become one of the 100 largest industrial corporations in the United States by 1965, when it was purchased by Union Oil Company of California, now a division of Chevron.


Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.