This Week in Petroleum History, January 14 to January 20
January 14, 1928 – “Dr. Seuss” draws Ads for Standard Oil
New York City’s Judge magazine included its first cartoon drawn by Theodore Seuss Geisel – who would develop his skills as “Dr. Seuss” while working for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.
In the 1928 cartoon that launched his career in drawing, Geisel drew a peculiar dragon trying to dodge Flit, a popular bug spray of the day.
“Quick, Henry, the Flit!” soon became a common catchphrase nationwide. Flit was one of Standard Oil of New Jersey’s many consumer products derived from petroleum.
Throughout the Great Depression hundreds of Geisel’s fanciful critters populated Standard Oil advertisements, providing him much-need income. Ad campaigns included cartoon creatures for Esso gasolines, lubricating oils, and Essomarine Oil and Greases. He later acknowledged that this experience, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.” Learn more in Seuss I am, an Oilman.
January 14, 1954 – Oil discovered in South Dakota
A Shell Oil Company wildcat well in Harding County, South Dakota, began producing oil from about 9,300 feet deep, revealing South Dakota’s first oilfield. This single well drilled in what proved to be the Buffalo field produced more than 341,000 barrels of oil for the next five decades.
Although South Dakota had a long history of petroleum exploration (natural gas production began in 1899), drilling in Harding and Custer counties had resulted in dry holes, according to Gerald McGillivray of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
By 2010, Harding County’s cumulative production was 44.4 million barrels of oil, almost 89 percent of the state’s total production, McGillivray noted in South Dakota Oil & Gas Development, Past, Present and Future. Harding County still produces the bulk of the state’s oil. Although the Bakken shale of North Dakota does not extend into South Dakota, exploration companies have noted a number of oil-producing formations, such as the Tyler and Three Forks, that do extend into the state. Also see First North Dakota Oil Well.
January 18, 1919 – Texas Church rejects drilling in Cemetery
Although World War I was over, oil production continued in North Texas. Reporting on the growing number of booming oilfields in Eastland County (see Roaring Ranger wins WWI), the New York Times noted that speculators had offered $1 million for rights to drill on the Merriman Baptist Church cemetery grounds, but they could not persuade the congregation to disturb interred church members. Posted on a barbed-wire fence surrounding the cemetery amidst oil wells in the distance, a sign proclaimed, “Respect the Dead,” and the membership did. Today, the old cemetery – and a new church – are about three miles south of Ranger.
January 19, 1922 – Geological Survey predicts U.S. running Out of Oil
The U.S. Geological Survey predicted America’s oil supplies would run out in 20 years. It was not the first or last false alarm. Warnings of shortages had been made for most of the 20th century, according to geologist David Deming of the University of Oklahoma.
A 1950 report, A Case History of Oil-Shortage Scares, documented six claims prior to 1950 alone. Among them were: The Model T Scare of 1916; the Gasless Sunday Scare of 1918; the John Bull (United Kingdom) Scare of 1920-1923; the Ickes (Interior Secretary Harold Ickes) Petroleum Reserves Scare of 1943-1944; and the Cold War Scare of 1946-1948.
Oil shortage predictions began as early as 1879 – when Pennsylvania’s state geologist predicted only enough oil remained to keep kerosene lamps burning for four years.
January 19, 1965 – Inventor patents Offshore “Underwater Manipulator”
Howard Shatto Jr. received a 1965 U.S. patent for his “underwater manipulator with suction support device.” His concept led to the modern remotely operated vehicle (ROV) now used most widely by the offshore petroleum industry. Shatto helped make Shell Oil Company an early leader in offshore oilfield development technologies.
This underwater robot technology can trace its roots to the late 1950s, when Hughes Aircraft developed a Manipulator Operated Robot – MOBOT – for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Working on land, the robot performed in environments too radioactive for humans. Beginning in 1960, Shell Oil began transforming the landlocked MOBOT into a marine robot – “basically a swimming socket wrench,” according to one engineer.
In his 1965 patent – one of many he will receive – Shatto explained how his robot could help install underwater production equipment at a depth greater than divers could safely work. Howard Shatto also became an innovator in dynamic positioning. Learn more in ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench.
January 20, 1886 – Great Karg Well erupts Natural Gas at Findlay, Ohio
The spectacular natural gas well – the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio – erupted natural gas with an initial flow of 12 million cubic feet a day. The well’s gas pressure was so great that it could not be controlled by the technology of the time. The natural gas ignited and the flame became an Ohio tourist attraction that burned for four months.
Although Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay two years earlier by Findlay Natural Gas Company, the Karg well launched the state’s first major natural gas boom and brought many new industries. Glass companies especially are “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” notes a commemorative marker at the Richardson Glass Works in Findlay. “They included eight window, two bottle, two chimney lamp, one light bulb, one novelty, and five tableware glass factories.”
By 1887, Findlay became known as the “City of Light,” adds another marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company. In 1962, Ohio Oil Company changed its name to today’s Marathon Oil. Read about other early natural gas discoveries in Indiana Natural Gas Boom. The Hancock Historical Museum of Findlay includes natural gas exhibits from the region and is less than two miles from the site of the famous well.
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