This Week in Petroleum History, August 6 – 12
August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires “Alley Oop” Comic Strip
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, 2004 – Death of a Hellfighter
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 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
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 at scenic turnout between mile markers 49 and 50.
“This survey followed limited testing in June 1921 in the outskirts of Oklahoma City,” the society reports. Verification testing was conducted in the Arbuckles in July 1921, and the results led to the first geological section measurement on August 9, 1921. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.
August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oilfield of Luling, Texas
After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, Texas, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company completed the Rafael Rios No. 1 well. The 1922 discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. Within two years, the field had almost 400 producing wells annually yielding 11 million barrels of oil.
Thanks to the determination of President Edgar B. Davis, the company was the first tap oil production in the Edwards lime and the Austin chalk formations. Locals proclaimed he found the oil after consulting a psychic. The unusual oil patch “reading” came from the then well-known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.
Davis would later sell his 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
“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,” notes the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which on August 10, 2009, designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
“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 adds. “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 12, 1888 – First Road Trip
Thirty-nine-year-old Bertha Benz made history when she became the first person to make a long-distance trip by automobile. The trip also included, “the first road repairs, the first automotive marketing stunt, the first case of a wife borrowing her husband’s car without asking, and the first violation of intercity highway laws in a motor vehicle,” noted Wired magazine in 2010.
Bertha drove away in the “Patent Motorwagen” (after leaving a note to her husband) and took their two young sons to visit her mother in Pforzheim. Their route from Mannheim was about 56 miles. The drive, which took about 15 hours, helped popularize Karl Benz’s latest invention.
By the end of the century, Mercedes-Benz was the largest car company in the world. The first road trip can today be retraced by following signs of the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 as the first female automotive pioneer. Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip.
August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oil and Gas Producers unite
Eastern Kentucky independent producers joined the Western Kentucky Oil Men’s Association in Frankfort, where articles of incorporation were amended to create a state-wide organization – today’s Kentucky Oil and Gas Association.
A 1919 oil discovery near Pellville in Hancock County had touched off an oil boom in western Kentucky. Some historians also credit the state with the first U.S. commercial oil well; in 1829, oil had been found while boring for salt brine with a spring-pole a farm near Burkesville. Learn more in Kentucky’s Great American Well .
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