December 17, 1884 – Fighting Oilfield Fires with Cannons
“Oil fires, like battles, are fought by artillery” was the reporter’s catchy phrase in a New England magazine article in 1884.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology magazine published “A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country,” a firsthand account of the problem of lightning strikes in America’s oilfields.
MIT not only reported on the fiery results of a lightning strike, but also the practice of using Civil War cannons to fight such conflagrations. Operators learned that shooting cannon balls into the base of burning tanks allowed oil to drain safely into a holding pit until the fire died out. The MIT article noted cannons were “kept at various stations throughout the region for this purpose.” Learn more in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires.
December 18, 1929 – California Oil Boom in Venice
The Ohio Oil Company completed a wildcat well in Venice, California, east of the Grand Canal on the Marina Peninsula, two blocks from the ocean. The discovery well initially produced 3,000 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 6,200 feet.
Ohio Oil (today’s Marathon Oil) had received a zoning variance permitting exploration within the city limits. The well launched another California drilling boom just a few years after the world-famous discovery at Signal Hill.
In the 1960s, California artist JoAnn Cowans painted scenes of the historic steel derricks in Venice and Marina del Rey before they were removed. She published a book of her artwork in 2009, Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans.
December 18, 1934 – Hunt Oil Company founded in Texas
Hunt Oil Company, today one of the largest privately held U.S. companies, incorporated in Delaware and opened its first office in Tyler, Texas. Four years earlier, H.L. Hunt had acquired the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well from C. Marion “Dad” Joiner at Kilgore.
“H.L. Hunt bought the lease out ‘lock, stock and barrel,’ financing the deal with a first-of-its-kind agreement to make payments from future ‘down-the-hole’ production,” notes a company history. “The Bradford No. 3 turned out to be the discovery well of the great East Texas oilfield, which, at the time, was the greatest oilfield in the world.”
Hunt Oil moved its headquarters to Dallas in 1937, and developed the first oil well in Alabama in 1944. The company entered offshore exploration in 1958 with leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
December 20, 1913 – “Prince of Petroleum” opens Tulsa Refinery
A refinery built by Joshua Cosden – soon to be known in Oklahoma as the “Prince of Petroleum” – went on stream in Tulsa. With a capacity of 30,000 barrels oil oil a day, the refinery was among the largest in the country in 1913. A successful independent producer, in March 1924 Cosden would pay $2 million for a single 160-acre lease at a famous Osage lease auction. He later earned $15 million in West Texas oilfields – but lost almost everything during the Great Depression. He died at age 59 in 1940. His Tulsa refinery continues operating today as a part of Dallas-based HollyFrontier Corporation.
December 20, 1951 – Oil discovered in Washington State
A short-lived oil discovery in Washington foretold the state’s production future. The Hawksworth Gas and Oil Development Company Tom Hawksworth-State No. 4 well was completed near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County. It produced just 35 barrels of oil a day.
The well, which also produced 300,000 cubic feet of natural gas from a depth of 3,700 feet, was abandoned as non-commercial. In 1967, Sunshine Mining Company reopened the Hawksworth well and deepened it to 4,532 feet. But with only minor shows of oil and natural gas, the well was shut in again.
Although 600 Washington wells would be drilled in 24 counties by 2010, only one produced commercial quantities of oil. It was completed by Sunshine Mining in 1959 about 600 yards north of the failed Hawksworth site. That Sunshine well, Washington’s only commercial producer, was closed in 1961.
Washington has not been a good state for petroleum exploration, noted a geologist at the Washington Department of Natural Resources in 1997. “The geology is too broken up and it does not have the kind of sedimentary basins they have off the coast of California.” Learn more about West Coast geology in California Oil Seeps.
December 21, 1842 – Birth of an Oil Town “Bird’s-Eye View” Artist
Panoramic maps artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1842. Following the fortunes of America’s early petroleum industry, he would produce hundreds of unique maps of the earliest oilfield towns of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas.
Fowler was one of the most prolific of the bird’s-eye view artists who crisscrossed the country during the latter three decades of the nineteenth century, notes the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. The views were drawn without help from a balloon.
Fowler featured many of Pennsylvania’s earliest oilfield towns, including Titusville and Oil City – along with the booming community of Sistersville in the new state of West Virginia. He traveled through Oklahoma and Texas in 1890 and 1891 similarly documenting such cities as Bartlesville, Tulsa and Wichita Falls. Learn more in Oil Town “Aero Views.”
December 22, 1875 – Grant seeks Asphalt for Pennsylvania Avenue
President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 convinced Congress to repave Pennsylvania Avenue’s badly deteriorated plank boards with asphalt. Grant delivered to Congress a “Report of the Commissioners Created by the Act Authorizing the Repavement of Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The project would cover 54,000 square yards. “Brooms, lutes, squeegees and tampers were used in what was a highly labor-intensive process.”
With work completed in the spring of 1877, the asphalt – obtained from a naturally occurring bitumen lake found on the island of Trinidad – would last more than 10 years.
In 1907, the road to the Capitol was repaved again with new and far superior asphalt made from U.S. petroleum. By 2005, the Federal Highway Administration reported that more than 2.6 million miles of America’s roads are paved. Learn more in Asphalt Paves the Way.
December 22, 1903 – Carl Baker patents Cable-Tool Bit
Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker of Coalinga, California, patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.
“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” notes a Baker-Hughes historian. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”
Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” adds a local historian. He helped establish several small oil companies, a bank and the local power company. After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through the well.
By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga in a building that today houses the R.C. Baker Museum. Although Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, “he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems.” Learn more in Carl Baker and Howard Hughes.
December 22, 1975 – Strategic Petroleum Reserve established
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was established when President Gerald Ford signed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. With a capacity of 713.5 million barrels of oil in 2018, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world. SPR storage sites include five salt domes near the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas. In addition to SPR, the Department of Energy maintains a northeast home heating oil reserve of one million barrels of diesel and heating oil for homes and businesses in a region heavily dependent the fuels, and a one million barrel supply of gasoline for northeastern U.S. consumers.
Recommended Reading: Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans (2009); The Three Families of H. L. Hunt: The True Story of the Three Wives, Fifteen Children, Countless Millions, and Troubled Legacy of the Richest Man in America (1989); Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004); Bird’s Eye Views: Historic Lithographs of North American Cities (1998).
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