July 29, 1918 – Boom Town comes to Burkburnett, Texas

july petroleum history

Burkburnett, Texas, oilfield, circa 1919, “viewed from the northwest side, opposite Fowler farm, original discovery well.” Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Less than a year after the “Roaring Ranger” discovered an oilfield to the south, the Fowler No. 1 well at Burkburnett, Texas, revealed another giant field at a depth of 1,734 feet. Within three weeks 56 rigs were drilling near the Fowler Farm Oil Company site along the Red River in North Texas. Six months later, the cotton farming community’s population had grown from 1,000 people to 8,000 people — with a line of derricks two-miles long greeting new arrivals. As more Burkburnett discoveries made national headlines as the “world’s wonder oil pool,” teenager Clark Gable was working as a roustabout in Oklahoma. In 1941, he would star in Hollywood’s version of events in the popular movie “Boom Town.”

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July 29, 1957 – Eisenhower begins Program to Limit Oil Imports

As America’s reliance on foreign oil continued to grow – discouraging domestic production – President Dwight D. Eisenhower established a Voluntary Oil Import Program with import quotas by region. The intent was to ensure adequate domestic petroleum was available in case of national emergency. Using a presidential proclamation two years later, Eisenhower replaced the voluntary program with a mandatory program. By 1962 oil imports were limited to 12.2 percent of U.S. production. The program continued until suspended by President Richard Nixon in 1973 as domestic oil production reached new highs – and the Arab oil embargo began.

July 30, 1942 – U-Boat sunk in Gulf of Mexico, not identified until 2001

july petroleum history

A natural gas pipeline survey revealed the U-166 about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast in 2011.

A Navy patrol boat attacked a German U-boat in the Gulf of Mexico just after the submarine had torpedoed and sunk a U.S. freighter. Despite being depth charged, U-166 was believed to have escaped – until a natural gas pipeline survey revealed it decades later.

The U-166’s identity was not learned until advanced geophysical survey technologies arrived in 2001, explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The discovery resulted from an archaeological survey prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline by the British company BP and Shell Offshore Inc.

An autonomous underwater vehicle using side scan sonar revealed the U-166 separated from its last victim, the Robert E. Lee, by less than a mile. As a result of the discovery, BP and Shell altered their proposed pipeline to preserve the site.

Six other World War II vessels have been discovered in the course of Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas surveys. The industry remains a principle user of advanced underwater technologies for seafloor mapping. Learn more in Petroleum Survey discovers U-Boat.

August 1, 1872 – First Modern Natural Gas Pipeline

The first recorded large-scale delivery of natural gas by pipeline began when gas was delivered to Titusville, Pennsylvania. A two-inch, wrought-iron pipeline carried the gas five miles from a well. The well’s production of four million cubic feet of natural gas a day was the largest in the growing petroleum region. Keystone Gas & Water Company constructed the pipeline to deliver “the most powerful and voluminous  gas well on record” to more than 250 residential and commercial customers in Titusville, where Edwin Drake had drilled America’s first oil well in 1859.

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August 2, 1956 – First U.S. Interstate Highway

petroleum history july 27

Missouri launched the U.S. interstate system after “inking a deal for work on U.S. Route 66.” Today, I-44 stretches across south central Missouri and is a major corridor linking the Midwest and the West Coast.

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Missouri became the first state to award a contract with interstate construction funding authorized two months earlier by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The Missouri highway commission signed the contract for work on the already historic Route 66.

The Highway-Aid Act provided 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways.” It made it possible for states to afford construction of the network of national limited-access highways eventually reaching more than 40,000 miles.

Missouri had agreed to begin work on part of Route 66 – now Interstate 44. “There is no question that the creation of the interstate highway system has been the most significant development in the history of  transportation in the United States,” proclaimed the state’s leaders. Learn more in America on the Move.

August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt Pits discovered

petroleum history august 3

Outside the Page Museum of Los Angeles, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured at the Rancho La Brea in Hancock Park. Although called the “tar pits,” the pools are actually asphalt.

July petroleum history

“Tar pits” form when crude oil seeps to the surface through fissures in the earth’s crust and part of the oil evaporates.

The La Brea – “the tar” – pits were discovered during a 1769 Spanish expedition on the West Coast. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” noted the expedition’s Franciscan friar in his diary.

The friar, Juan Crespi, was the first person to use the term “bitumen” in describing these sticky pools in southern California – where crude oil has been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years. Native Americans used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes.

Although commonly called the “tar pits,” the pools at Rancho La Brea are actually asphalt – not tar, which is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as peat. Asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules – petroleum. Learn more about California oil seeps in Discovering the Le Brea Tar Pits. For a history of the asphalt, see Asphalt Paves the Way.

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August 3, 1942 – War brings “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” Pipelines

petroleum history august

The longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken led to construction of a 24-inch pipeline from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line as far as New York City.

War Emergency Pipelines Inc. began construction on the “Big Inch” line – the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken in the  United States.

Conceived to supply wartime fuel demands – and in response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of  Mexico, the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” lines were extolled as “The most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved.”

With a goal of transporting 300,000 barrels of oil per day, the $95 million project called for construction of a 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from  East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line (Little Big Inch) as far as New York and Philadelphia – more than 1,200 miles (the Trans-Alaska pipeline system is 800 miles long). Learn more in Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.

August 4, 1913 – Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”

petroleum history august

The Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin’s Pierce-Arrow. The museum hosts annual oil history events.

The Crystal Oil Company completed its Wirt Franklin No. 1 well 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The well revealed the giant Healdton field, which became known as the “poor man’s field,” because of its shallow depth and low cost of drilling. The area attracted many independent producers with limited financial backing.

Another major discovery in 1919 revealed the Hewitt field, which extended oil production in a 22 mile swath across Carter County. The Greater Healdton-Hewitt oilfield produced “an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” noted historian Kenny Franks.

In 1929, Wirt Franklin became the first president of  the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). Among others who benefited from the “poor man’s field” were Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner, and Charles Haskell. Erle Halliburton perfected his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

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