This Week in Petroleum History, February 11 to February 17
February 12, 1954 – First Nevada Oil Well
After decades of dry holes (the first drilled near Reno in 1907), Nevada became a petroleum-producing state. Shell Oil Company’s second test of its Eagle Springs No. 1 well in Railroad Valley, Nye County, produced commercial amounts of oil. The routine test revealed the Railroad Valley field – Nevada’s first major oilfield, which produced oil from an interval between 6,450 and 6,730 feet deep.
Although the Eagle Springs field would produce 3.8 million barrels of oil, finding other Nevada oilfields proved difficult. The state’s second discovery resulting in commercial production came more than two decades later in 1976 when Northwest Exploration Company completed the Trap Spring No. 1 well five miles west of the Eagle Springs field. Learn more in First Nevada Oil Well.
February 12, 1987 – Texaco Fine upheld
A Texas court upheld a 1985 decision against Texaco for having initiated an illegal takeover of Getty Oil after Pennzoil had made a legally binding bid for the company. By the end of the year, the companies settled their historic $10.3 billion legal battle for $3 billion after Pennzoil agreed to drop its demand for interest. According to the Los Angeles Times, the pact was vital for a reorganization plan that dictated how Texaco emerged from bankruptcy proceedings, a haven it had sought to stop Pennzoil from enforcing the largest court judgement ever awarded.
February 13, 1924 – Forest Oil adopts Yellow Dog
An independent oil exploration company originally founded in 1916 consolidated with four other independent oil companies to form the Forest Oil Corporation – an early developer of secondary recovery technologies. For its logo, the new company included a two-wicked “Yellow Dog” oilfield lantern used on derricks. Many believed the lantern’s name came from the two burning wicks resembling a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Originally based in Bradford, Pennsylvania – home to the nation’s “first billion dollar oilfield” – Forest Oil developed innovative water-injection methods to keep the Bradford oilfield productive.
February 15, 1982 – Atlantic Storm sinks Ocean Ranger
With rogue waves reaching as high as 65 feet during an Atlantic cyclone, the offshore drilling platform Ocean Ranger sank on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Canada, killing all 84 on board. About 65 miles east, a Soviet container ship was struck by the same weather system and sank with the loss of 32 crew members. Described at the time as the world’s largest semi-submersible platform, the Ocean Ranger in November 1981 had begun drilling a third well in the Hibernia oilfield for Mobil Oil of Canada.
February 16, 1935 – Oil States form Compact Commission
The Interstate Oil Compact Commission began in Dallas with the writing of the “Interstate Compact to Preserve Oil and Gas.” The new organization would be headquartered in Oklahoma City following approval by the U.S. Congress in August.
Representatives from Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas agreed to begin implementing a series of provisions to “conserve oil and gas by the prevention of physical waste thereof from any cause.” Oklahoma Gov. Ernest W. Marland – who founded Marland Oil Company in 1921 – was elected the first chairman.
“In 1935, six states took advantage of a constitutional right to ‘compact,’ or agree to work together, to resolve common issues,” notes IOGCC, which added the word gas to its name in 1991. “Faced with unregulated petroleum overproduction and the resulting waste, the states endorsed and Congress ratified a compact to take control of the issues.”
February 17, 1902 – Lufkin Industries founded in East Texas
The Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company was founded in Lufkin, Texas, as a repair shop for railroad and sawmill machinery. When the pine region’s timber supplies began to dwindle, the company discovered new opportunities in the burgeoning oilfields following the historic discovery at Spindletop Hill.
Inventor Walter C. Trout was working for this East Texas company in 1925 when he came up with a new idea for pumping oil. His design would become an oilfield icon known by many names – nodding donkey, grasshopper, horse-head, thirsty bird, and pump jack, among others. By the end of 1925, a prototype of Trout’s pumping unit was installed on a Humble Oil and Refining Company well near Hull, Texas. “The well was perfectly balanced, but even with this result, it was such a funny looking, odd thing that it was subject to ridicule and criticism,” Trout explained.
Thanks to Walter Trout’s invention – the now familiar counterbalanced pumping unit – Lufkin Industries would sell more than 200,000 pump jacks of all sizes. General Electric acquired Lufkin for $3.3 billion in 2013. GE closed and dismantled the foundry in 2015. Learn about early oilfield production in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.
February 17, 1944 – First Alabama Oil Well
Alabama’s first oilfield was discovered in Choctaw County when Texas oilman H.L. Hunt drilled the No. 1 Jackson well. Hunt’s 1944 wildcat well revealed the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to this discovery, 350 dry holes had been drilled in the state.
Geologist and historian Ray Sorenson has found a detailed 1858 report of natural oil seeps six miles from Oakville in Lawrence County. Sorenson, who has compiled a history of all reports about petroleum prior to the Drake well of 1859, cites Michael Tuomey, who wrote about the geology of Alabama a year earlier. Learn more in First Alabama Oil Well.
Hunt drilled in Choctaw County and discovered the Gilbertown oilfield in the Eutaw Sand at a depth of 3,700 feet. The field produced 15 million barrels of oil. But the search for another oilfield led to another 11 years of dry holes.
Today, thanks to new technologies, geologists see opportunities in the deep Black Warrior Basin of Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties and in the shales of St. Clair and neighboring counties.
Recommended Reading: Roadside Geology of Nevada (2017); The Taking of Getty Oil: Pennzoil, Texaco, and the Takeover Battle That Made History (2017); Images of America: Around Bradford (1997); Lufkin, from sawdust to oil: A history of Lufkin Industries, Inc. (1982); Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks: A Guide (2000).
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