This Week in Petroleum History, January 22 to January 28
January 22, 1861 – Pennsylvania Refinery produces Kerosene
The first U.S. multiple-still refinery was brought on-stream in Pennsylvania, one mile south of Titusville along Oil Creek. William Barnsdall, who drilled the first successful well to follow Edwin Drake’s historic 1859 oil discovery, and partners James Parker and W.H. Abbott spent about $15,000 to build six basic stills for refining a new fuel for lamps: kerosene. Much of the equipment was purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny River to Oil City. The refinery produced two grades of kerosene, white and the less the expensive yellow.
January 23, 1895 – Standard Oil closes Oil Exchanges
The Standard Oil Company purchasing agency in Oil City, Pennsylvania, notified independent oil producers it would only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” – and not “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.”
Oil City’s exchange had become the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind New York and San Francisco. But with the Standard Oil Company buying 90 percent of production and setting its own price for certificates, all other oil exchanges soon closed. Learn more in End of Oil Exchanges.
January 23, 1957 – Wham-O launches a New Petroleum Product
One of the earliest mass-produced products made from plastic, the “Frisbee” was introduced in 1957 by Wham-O Manufacturing Company of California. The toy originated in 1948 when a company called Partners in Plastic sold its “Flyin’ Saucers” for 25 cents each. In 1955, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin’s Wham-O bought the rights.
The Wham-O founders discovered that Phillips Petroleum had invented a high-density polyethylene (called Marlex). They used the new plastic to meet phenomenal demand for manufacturing Frisbees – and Hula Hoops beginning in 1958. See Petroleum Product Hoopla.
January 23, 1991 – Gulf War Oil Spill
The world’s largest oil spill began in the Persian Gulf when Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi forces opened pipeline valves at oil terminals in Kuwait.
An estimated 11 million barrels of oil soon covered an area reaching as far as 101 miles by 42 miles. The oil spill, which remains the largest in history, was five inches thick in some areas.
Iraqi soldiers sabotaged Kuwait’s main supertanker loading pier, dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf. By February, about 600 Kuwaiti wells had been set ablaze. It would take months to put out the fires. The last burning well was extinguished in early April 1991.
January 24, 1895 – Pure Oil Company founded by Independent Producers
Pure Oil Company was formed by Pennsylvania independent producers, refiners and pipeline operators. It soon became a major Chicago-based petroleum company.
Originally headquartered in Pittsburgh, the company was formed to counter Standard Oil Company’s market dominance. It was just the second vertically integrated oil company after Standard Oil.
Beginning in March 1896, Pure Oil marketed illuminating oil by tank wagon in Philadelphia and New York – successfully competing with Standard Oil’s monopoly. The Ohio Cities Gas Company of Columbus acquired Pure Oil and in 1920 adopted the former Pennsylvania company’s name.
January 25, 1930 – North Texas Independents form Association
After meeting a week earlier at the Wichita Club in Wichita Falls to protest “the recent drastic price cut in crude oil, inaugurated by some of the major purchasing companies,” a group of 50 independent producers organized the North Texas Oil and Gas Association. The association’s agenda included fighting oilfield theft and supporting a tariff on oil imports. In late 1998, when oil prices fell below $12 a barrel, the association merged with the West Central Texas Oil and Gas Association to form the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.
January 26, 1931 – Giant Oilfield Revealed
As the Great Depression worsened and East Texas farmers struggled to survive, an oil discovery several miles from two earlier producing wells confirmed the size of the largest oilfield in the lower-48 states at the time. W.A. “Monty” Moncrief of Fort Worth, Texas, and two partners completed the Lathrop No. 1 well, which produced 7,680 barrels of oil a day from 3,587 feet deep. The well was 25 miles north of Rusk County’s already famous October 1930 Daisy Bradford No. 3 well drilled by Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner. It was 15 miles north of the Lou Della Crim No. 1 well completed near Kilgore three days after Christmas 1930.
January 28, 1969 – California Oil Spill
After drilling 3,500 below the Pacific Ocean floor, a Union Oil Company drilling platform six miles off Santa Barbara suffered a blowout. The accident spilled up to 100,000 barrels of oil into the ocean with some reaching southern California’s beaches, including Summerland – where the U.S. offshore petroleum history began in 1896 with wells drilled from piers.
“Riggers began to retrieve the pipe in order to replace a drill bit when the mud used to maintain pressure became dangerously low. A natural gas blowout occurred,” explains a report by the University of California, Santa Barbara. The well, which was controlled after 12 days, turned public opinion against offshore exploration and helped lead to establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970.
Scientists note that natural California oil seeps leak up to 25 tons of oil every day – and have done so for thousands of years. Offshore wells have reduced natural seepage by relieving pressure. The Santa Barbara Channel remains among the largest seeps in the world; scientists agree that seepage in the channel has been “significantly reduced by oil production.”
January 28, 1991 – Giant Rig becomes Tourist Attraction.
Among the biggest drilling rigs in the world, Parker Drilling Rig No. 114, was erected in a vacant lot in downtown Elk City, Oklahoma, after the chamber of commerce realized that the reassembled rig, visible from both Interstate 40 and historic Route 66, would draw tourists into town, notes NewsOK.
The Parker rig had once drilled wells for testing nuclear bombs. In 1969, Parker Drilling signed a contract with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to drill a series of holes up to 120 inches in diameter and 6,500 feet deep in Alaska and Nevada for the tests. The company later modified the Atomic Energy Commission rig to drill conventional wells, several of which set records by reaching beyond four miles deep into the Anadarko Basin.
The 17-story Parker No. 114 today stands in downtown Elk City next to the former Casa Grande Hotel at the intersection of 3rd Street and Route 66. Casa Grande, which opened in 1928 to lodge the highway’s travelers, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. It also was once home to a natural history museum that included petroleum exhibits.
Recommended Reading: Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History of the Beginnings of the Industry in Pennsylvania (2000); Against the Fires of Hell: The Environmental Disaster of the Gulf War (1992); The Black Giant: A History of the East Texas Oil Field and Oil Industry Skulduggery & Trivia (2003); Slick Policy: Environmental and Science Policy in the Aftermath of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill (2018). ___________________________________________________________________________________
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