August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires “Alley Oop” Comic Strip

Alley Oop oil roots
A 1995 stamp commemorated “Alley Oop” by Victor Hamlin, who worked in the Yates oilfield.

Although the comic strip “Alley Oop” first appeared in August 1933, the cartoon caveman began with a 1926 oilfield discovery in the Permian Basin. A small West Texas oil town would later proclaim itself as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin.

Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) first appeared as a company town following the October 1926 discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combined names of the town-site owners, Ira and Ann Yates. As drilling in the Permian Basin boomed, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company there. He developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology that soon led to his popular comic strip. Learn more in Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.

August 7, 1953 – Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act generates Federal Revenue

week in Petroleum history offshore rig
The U.S. government claimed title to 2.5 million acres of submerged Texas land in 1953. Photo courtesy BOEM.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) gave the Secretary of the Interior responsibility for the administration of mineral exploration and development of the outer continental shelf. OCSLA resulted from the Submerged Lands Act of May 22, 1953, which had established the federal government’s ownership of submerged lands at three miles from a state’s coastline.

Both laws originated from disputes about tidelands, first in California and later in Texas, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). In Gulf of Mexico, the United States claimed title to 2.5 million acres of submerged Texas land, “between low tide and the state’s Gulfward boundary, almost 10 miles from shore” that had been considered part of the Republic of Texas a decade earlier.

Eleven fields and 44 wells were operating in the Gulf of Mexico in 1949, according to BOEM’s Lands Act History. “As the industry continued to evolve through the 1950s, oil production became the second-largest revenue generator for the country, after income taxes.” Gulf of Mexico states with federal oil and gas production offshore received 37.5 percent in revenue sharing in 2018.

August 7, 2004 – Death of a Hellfighter

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Firefighter Paul “Red” Adair in 1964. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

Famed oilfield well control expert and firefighter Paul “Red” Adair died at age 89 in Houston. The son of a blacksmith, Adair was born in 1915 in Houston. He served with a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit during World War II.

Adair began his career working for Myron Macy Kinley, who patented a technology for using charges of high explosives to snuff out well fires. Kinley, whose father had been an oil well shooter in California in the early 1900s, also mentored “Boots” Hansen and “Coots” Mathews (Boots & Coots), and other firefighters.

Adair, who founded the Red Adair Company in 1959, developed many new techniques for “wild well” control. Over the years his company put out more than 2,000 dangerous well fires and blowouts – onshore and offshore, all over the world. The oilfield firefighter’s skills, dramatized in the 1968 John Wayne film “Hellfighters,” were tested in 1991 when Adair and his company extinguished 117 oil well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army.

August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography breakthrough

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A sign and granite marker on I-35 near Ardmore, Oklahoma, commemorates the historic August 9, 1921, test of seismic technology.
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Thanks to pioneering research led by John C. Karcher, an Oklahoma geophysicist, the world’s first reflection seismograph geologic section was measured in 1921 in Murray County.

“Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society, adding that the technology would be responsible for the discovery of many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields.

Ideal for petroleum exploration, the new geophysical method recorded reflected seismic waves as they traveled through the earth, helping to define oil-bearing formations. “The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for a pilot survey of the technique and equipment, because an entire geologic section from the basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed here,” explains a marker on an I-35.

This first geological section measurement followed limited testing in June 1921 in the outskirts of Oklahoma City and verification tests in July. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oilfield of Luling, Texas

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In central Texas, the Luling Oil Museum is a restored 1885 mercantile store near an oilfield a renowned psychic supposedly helped locate in 1922.

After drilling six dry holes near Luling, Texas, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company completed its Rafael Rios No. 1 well. Company President Edgar B. Davis had been determined to be the first to locate oil in the Edwards lime and the Austin chalk formations.

The discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. Within two years, the Luling field had almost 400 wells annually producing 11 million barrels of oil. Locals proclaimed Davis had found the oil after consulting  a psychic. The unusual oil patch reading came from the then well-known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.

Davis later sold his Luling leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Psychic Cayce claimed success helping other wildcatters – but left the oil business for good after forming his own company…and drilling dry holes. Luling today hosts an annual “Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off” and has “the best ribs in the country,” according to Reader’s Digest. Learn more in Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.

August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Bit

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Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1909 patent for “roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock.”

“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented the dual-cone roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to faster and deeper rotary drilling.

Historians note that several men were trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it is Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who made it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 patent, they established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit.

“Instead of scraping the rock, as does the fishtail bit, the Hughes bit, with its two conical cutters, took a different engineering approach,” noted the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 2009.

“By chipping, crushing, and powdering hardrock formations, the Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit could reach vast amounts of oil in reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface,” ASME explained. “This new drilling technology would revolutionize the industry.”

Hughes engineers would invent the modern tri-cone bit in 1933. Frank and George Christensen developed the earliest diamond bit in 1941. The tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s. Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology. 

August 11, 1891 – Polecat Well brings prosperity to Sistersville. West Virginia

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2001 Sistersville Oil & Gas Festival Queen Kristen Morrison. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The first oil well of the great Sistersville oilfield was drilled at the small West Virginian town on the Ohio River, a few miles north of Parkersburg.

“The bringing in of the Pole Cat well, which pumped water for a year before it pumped oil, brought in a sudden influx of oil men, drillers, leasers, speculators, followers, floaters, wildcatters, and hangers-on,” a local historian has noted.

“This quickly boomed Sistersville from a rural village of 300 people to a rip-roaring, snorting, metropolis of 15,000 people almost overnight.” A popular oil and gas festival has been annually celebrated since 1968; it includes antique oilfield engines, cable-tool rig models, contests, a parade, and the crowning of the oil and gas queen.


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 and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


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