This Week in Petroleum History, February 26 to March 4
February 27, 1962 – Long Beach Voters approve Offshore Drilling
Voters at Long Beach, California, approved “controlled exploration and exploitation of the oil and gas reserves” underlying the harbor south of Los Angeles. The city’s charter had prohibited such drilling since a 1956 referendum, but advances in technology offered new and environmentally sensitive opportunities to exploit an additional 6,500 acres of the Wilmington oilfield.
Four artificial islands were soon constructed at a cost of $22 million by a consortium of companies called THUMS: Texaco (now Chevron), Humble (now ExxonMobil), Union Oil (now Chevron), Mobil (now ExxonMobil) and Shell Oil. The islands in 1967 were named Grissom, White, Chaffee, and Freemen in honor of lost Nasa astronauts. Occidental Petroleum purchased THUMS in 2000.
The California Resources Corporation operates the offshore portion on the islands of the Wilmington field, the fourth-largest U.S. oilfield, notes the Los Angeles Association of Professional Landmen, whose members toured the facilities in late 2017.
“Most interestingly, the islands were designed to blend in with the surrounding coastal environment, which happened to be the same designers who worked on Disneyland’s Tomorrowland,” explains LAAPL Education Chair Blake W.E. Barton of Signal Hill Petroleum.
From shore, the four “Astronaut Islands” appear to be occupied by upscale condos and landscaped vegetation, courtesy of Disneyland architect Joseph Linesch, whose aesthetic integration of the production structures was described by the Los Angeles Times as, “part Disney, part Jetsons, part Swiss Family Robinson.” Learn more in THUMS – California’s Hidden Oil Islands.
February 28, 1935 – DuPont Chemist Wallace Carothers invents Nylon
A former Harvard professor working in a DuPont research laboratory discovered the world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – a petroleum product. After experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, professor Wallace Carothers created a long molecule chain, a stretching plastic. The inventor had earlier discovered neoprene (commonly used in wet-suits), advancing understanding of polymers.
Just 32 years old, Carothers produced the fibers when he formed a polymer chain using a process to join individual molecules. Each molecule consisted of 100 or more repeating units of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, strung in a chain. DuPont company patented nylon in 1935, but it was not revealed until 1938.
Initially known as “Fiber 66” the new polyamide was one product from DuPont’s 12-years and $27 million in research. A variety of market names were considered for this “artificial silk,” including Norun, Nilon, Nuron, and Nepon, before Nylon was chosen. The first commercial use was for toothbrush bristles, which went on sale the same year. After World War II, nylon hosiery for women would make the Delaware chemical company a fortune. Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.
February 28, 1982 – Getty Museum becomes Richest in World
Following years of legal battle by his relatives, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles became the most richly endowed museum in the world after receiving a $1.2 billion bequest left to it by oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, who died in 1976.
After working in his father’s oilfields in Oklahoma, Getty founded his first oil company in Tulsa and drilled the Nancy Taylor No. 1 well near Haskell, where oil and natural gas production began in 1910. The J. Paul Getty Museum opened in 1954 in his ranch house and later the mansion inspired by the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum in Malibu (today, Pacific Palisades).
“Mr. Getty’s philanthropy enabled the construction of the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades and the Getty Center in Brentwood, the expansion of the collections of the museum, and the creation of the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Research Institute, and the Getty Foundation,” notes the J. Paul Getty Trust, now a charitable foundation worth $10.5 billion.
March 1, 1921 – Halliburton patents Cementing Technology
Erle P. Halliburton patented his new oilfield technology – a “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells.” He had moved to the Healdton oilfield in Oklahoma after working in the booming Burkburnett oilfields of Texas. He established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan, Oklahoma, in 1919.
“It is well known to those skilled in the art of oil well drilling that one of the greatest obstacles to successful development of oil bearing sands has been the encountering of liquid mud water and the like during and after the process of drilling the wells,” Halliburton noted in his 1921 patent.
The new well cementing process isolated the various down-hole zones, guarded against collapse of the casing and permitted control of the well throughout its producing life. It also protected the environment.
Halliburton’s patent application noted that typical oil production, hampered by water intrusion that required time and expense for pumping out, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”
March 2, 1922 – Osage Nation Oil Lease sells for $1 Million
Under the broad crown of a giant elm next to the Osage Council House in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Skelly Oil and Phillips Petroleum Company jointly bid more than one million dollars for just a 160-acre tract of land.
The 1922 auction is Oklahoma’s first million dollar mineral lease. Beneath the shade of the Million Dollar Elm, leading independent producers such as Frank Phillips, Harry Sinclair, Bill Skelly, Jean Paul Getty and E.W. Marland were frequent bidders to lease this promising territory on the Osage Indian Reservation.
March 3, 1879 – United States Geological Survey established
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) was established when President Rutherford B. Hayes signed legislation that included a brief section creating a new agency in the Department of the Interior.
The 1879 legislation resulted from a report by the National Academy of Sciences, which had been asked by Congress to provide a plan for surveying the territories of the United States. The new agency’s mission included “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain,” notes a USGS history.
Today based in Reston, Virginia, with a budget of more than $1 billion, USGS employs about 10,000 scientists, technicians and staff. It also has the largest earth sciences library in the world.
March 3, 1886 – Natural Gas brings light to Paola, Kansas
Paola became the first town in Kansas to use natural gas commercially for illumination. To promote the town’s natural gas discovery – and attract businesses from nearby Kansas City – four gas-fueled arches were erected in the town square. Pipes were laid for other illuminated displays. “Paola was lighted with Gas,” explains the Miami County Historical Museum. “The pipeline was completed from the Westfall farm to the square and a grand illumination was held.”
By the end of 1887, several Kansas flour mills were fueled by natural gas. But with little understanding of conservation, Paola’s gas wells ran dry. Fortunately, more boom times arrive with oil discoveries. Learn more in Kansas Well reveals Mid-Continent.
March 4, 1918 – West Virginia Well is World’s Deepest
Hope Natural Gas Company completed an oil well at 7,386 feet deep on the Martha Goff farm in Harrison County, West Virginia. The well northeast of Clarksburg was the world’s deepest at the time, notes the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association in A Century of Service, a 2015 book about the association’s founding 50 years earlier. The previous depth record had been 7,345 feet for a well in Germany.
The title for world’s deepest well moved again in 1919 to Marion County, West Virginia. In 1953, the New York State Natural Gas Corporation claimed the world’s deepest cable-tool well at a depth of 11,145 feet near the town of Van Etten. At the end of 2017, the rotary rig depth record was held by a Russian well drilled 40,502 feet deep on Sakhalin Island. Learn more West Virginia petroleum history in Confederates attack Oilfield and visit the oil museum in Parkersburg.
March 4, 1933 – Oklahoma City Oilfield under Martial Law
Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray declared martial law to enforce his proration regulations limiting production in the Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered in December 1928 and one of the largest producing fields in the state.
Two years earlier, Murray had called a meeting of fellow governors from Texas, Kansas and New Mexico to create an Oil States Advisory Committee, “to study the present distressed condition of the petroleum industry.”
Elected in 1930, he was called “Alfalfa Bill” because of speeches urging farmers to plant alfalfa to restore nitrogen to the soil. The controversial politician was also known as the “Sage of Tishomingo.”
By the end of his administration, Murray called out the National Guard 47 times and declared martial law more than 30 times. His was succeeded as Oklahoma governor by oilman E.W. Marland in 1935.
Recommended Reading: Enough for One Lifetime: Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon (1996); As I See It: The Autobiography of J. Paul Getty (1976); Erle P. Halliburton, Genius with Cement (1959); The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (1985); John Wesley Powell: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist (2006); History of Paola, Kansas (1956); Where it all began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); Alfalfa Bill Murray (1968). ___________________________________________________________________________________
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