This Week in Petroleum History, December 31 to January 7
December 31, 1954 – Dry Hole sets California Drilling Depth Record
As deep drilling technologies continued to advance in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet was reached by the Ohio Oil Company in California.
The well was about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, in the San Joaquin Valley. At more than four miles deep, the well’s down-hole drilling technology was not up to the task and became stuck.
Petroleum Engineer magazine noted the well set a depth record, despite being “halted by a fishing job” and ending up as a dry hole. More than 630 exploratory wells were drilled in California during 1954.
Founded in 1887, the Ohio Oil Company discovered the Permian Basin’s giant Yates field in 1926 and later purchased Transcontinental Oil, acquiring the Marathon product name – and Greek runner trademark (see Marathon of Ohio Oil). To learn more about deep drilling history, see Anadarko Basin in Depth.
December 31, 1998 – Amoco merges with BP
Amoco completed its merger with British Petroleum in a stock swap valued at about $48 billion, at the time the world’s largest industrial merger and the largest foreign takeover of an American company. Amoco, founded in 1889 as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of Indiana, had changed its name to Amoco in 1985.
BP shareholders owned 60 percent of the newly combined companies, BP Amoco PLC. The company in 2001 changed its brand to simply “BP,” and announced all Amoco stations would be closed or renamed to BP service stations. In October 2017, BP announced the reintroduction of the Amoco brand to the United States – 105 years after the first Amoco service station opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
January 2, 1866 – Patent describes Early Rotary Rig
An “Improvement in Rock Drills” patent application for the first time included basic elements of the modern rotary rig. The inventor described his idea as a “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.”
Peter Sweeney of New York City received the 1866 patent, which improved upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart. Sweeney’s patent included a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”
The rig’s “drill-rod” was hollow and connected with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.” The petroleum industry soon improved upon Sweeney’s 1866 rotary rig.
January 2, 1882 – Rockefeller organizes the Standard Oil Trust
John D. Rockefeller continued expanding his Standard Oil Company empire by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust, which controlled much of the oil industry though 40 producing, refining and marketing affiliates. The trust controlled all of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tank cars (also see Densmore Oil Tank Cars) until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling broke it up in 1911.
January 2, 1932 – Union “76” Brand
The Union Oil Company “76” brand was launched at gas service stations in western states. The orange circle with blue type logo was adopted in the 1940s, and the “76” orange orb appeared at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. The orb proved so popular that millions of smaller versions were given away for car antennas. Today, the California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is in the original Union Oil headquarters of the 1890s.
January 4, 1948 – Wildcatters make Deep Permian Discovery
After years of frustration, exploration of the Permian Basin suddenly intensified in 1948 after an exploratory well found oil about 50 miles southeast of Midland, Texas.
The Slick-Urschel Oil Company drilled the well to about 12,000 feet deep in partnership with Michael Benedum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More than two decades earlier, another West Texas well, Santa-Rita No. 1, had produced oil from about 440 feet deep.
Although Benedum had drilled 10,000 feet in less than five months, it had taken seven months to penetrate another 384 feet of hard rock. Help came from Tom Slick Jr., the son of Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, who branched off the well using a “whipstock” and reached the prolific limestone formation.
January 7, 1905 – Humble Oilfield Discovery rivals Spindletop
C.E. Barrett discovered the Humble oilfield in Harris County, Texas, with his Beatty No. 2 well, which quickly brought another drilling frenzy to Texas four years after Spindletop launched the modern petroleum industry. The Beatty well produced 8,500 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 1,012 feet.
The town of Humble grew from 700 to 20,000 in a few months as production from the field – the largest in Texas in 1905 – reached almost 16 million barrels of oil. The field would lead to the founding of the Humble Oil and Refining Company in 1911 by a group that included Ross Sterling, a future governor of Texas.
“Production from several strata here exceeded the total for fabulous Spindletop by 1946,” notes a 1972 historical marker. “Known as the greatest salt dome field, Humble still produces and the town for which it was named continues to thrive.”
January 7, 1957 – Michigan Dairy Farmer finds Giant Oilfield
After two years of drilling, a wildcat well on Ferne Houseknecht’s Michigan dairy farm discovered the state’s largest oilfield. The 3,576-foot-deep well produced from the Black River formation of the Trenton zone.
The Houseknecht No. 1 discovery well at “Rattlesnake Gulch” revealed a producing region 29 miles long and more than one mile wide. It prompted a drilling boom that led to production of more than 150 million barrels of oil and 250 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
“The story of the discovery well of Michigan’s only ‘giant’ oil field, using the worldwide definition of having produced more than 100 million barrels of oil from a single contiguous reservoir is the stuff of dreams, and of oilfield legends,” explains Michigan historian Jack Westbrook. Learn more in Michigan’s “Golden Gulch” of Oil.
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