This Week in Petroleum History, July 17 – 23
July 19, 1957 – Oil discovered in Alaska Territory
Although some oil production had occurred earlier in the territory, Alaska’s first commercial oilfield was discovered two years before statehood.
Richfield Oil completed the discovery well Swanson River Unit No. 1 in the Cook Inlet Basin. The well yielded 900 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 11,215 feet.
Richfield had leased more than 71,000 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now part of the 1.92 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
More Alaska discoveries followed. By June 1962 about 50 wells were producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil a day. Atlantic Richfield evolved into today’s ARCO. Learn about the earliest exploration wells in the 49th state in First Alaska Oil Well.
July 20, 1920 – Permian Basin revealed
The Permian Basin made headlines in 1920 when a West Texas well found oil about 2,750 feet deep. The W.H. Abrams No. 1 well was named for Texas & Pacific Railway official William Abrams, who owned the land and had leased mineral rights to the Texas Company (later Texaco).
After “shooting” the well with nitroglycerine, a column of oil announced discovery of the West Columbia field. It was part of the prolific Permian Basin, 250 miles wide and 300 miles long with production ranging from depths of a few hundred feet to five miles.
“As a crowd of 2,000 people looked on, a great eruption of oil, gas, water and smoke shot from the mouth of the well almost to the top of the derrick,” notes a Texas State Historical Marker in Westbrook.
“Locally, land that sold for 10 cents an acre in 1840 and $5 an acre in 1888 now brought $96,000 an acre for mineral rights, irrespective of surface values…the flow of oil money led to better schools, roads and general social conditions.”
Another West Texas discovery well in 1923 near Big Lake brought an even greater drilling boom that helped establish the University of Texas (see Santa Rita taps Permian Basin).
According to the Energy Information Administration, oil production from just five Permian Basin counties in November 2016 averaged 882,000 barrels of oil a day, accounting for more than 40 percent of the basin oil production of 2.1 million barrels a day that month. Also see New Mexico Oil Discovery.
July 21, 1935 – “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy strikes Oil
Glenn H. McCarthy struck oil 50 miles east of Houston in 1935, extending the already prolific Anahuac field. The well was the first of many for the Texas independent producer who would build Houston’s famed Shamrock Hotel a decade later (the hotel’s “Emerald Room” attracted Hollywood celebrities, including Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra).
By 1945, McCarthy had discovered 11 Texas oilfields. He became known as another “King of the Wildcatters” and “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy by 1950, when his estimated worth reached $200 million ($2 billion today).
In addition to his McCarthy Oil and Gas Company, McCarthy eventually would own a gas company, a chemical company, a radio station, 14 newspapers, a magazine, two banks, and the Shell Building in Houston.
In 1946 McCarthy invested $21 million to build the Shamrock Hotel on the edge of Houston. He spent $1 million on the hotel’s 1949 opening-day gala, which newspapers later dubbed, “Houston’s biggest party.” Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.
July 22, 1933 – Phillips Petroleum sponsors Record Solo Flight
Before 50,000 cheering New York City onlookers, Wiley Post made aviation history when he landed his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae.” The former Oklahoma roughneck was the first person to fly solo around the world.
Post had worked in oilfields near Walters, Oklahoma, when he took his first airplane ride with a barnstormer in 1919. Taking a break from oil patch work in the 1920s, Post joined “Burrell Tibbs Flying Circus” as a parachute jumper. The circus pilot later gave him flying lessons.
In 1926, Post returned to work in the oilfields, “where he was injured the first day on the job, losing the sight in his left eye,” notes a biographer. Post’s injury happened while working at a site near Seminole. When a metal splinter damaged his eye, he used $1,700 in compensation to buy his first airplane – and launch his aviation career.
Post developed a close relationship with Frank Phillips of the Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville. Phillips sponsored Post’s high-altitude experimental flights. Phillips Petroleum, which produced aviation fuel before it produced gas for automobiles, in the 1920s had sponsored another historic plane – the “Woolaroc” – in a deadly air race across the Pacific. See Flight of the Woolaroc.
July 23, 1951 – Secretaries organize Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs
The Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs of North America was established in 1951 to promote petroleum industry education in the United States and Canada.
The articles of association were signed by the presidents of four clubs founded earlier in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston and Jackson. The combined membership of these charter clubs was about 800 women, mostly oil and natural gas company secretaries. The association’s mission was “the education and professional development of individuals employed in or affiliated with the petroleum, energy and allied industries and to educate the general public about these industries.”
The first ADDC newsletter was published in 1952 after a member won a contest for its name: The Oil and Gal Journal (renamed The Desk and Derrick Journal in 1987). Today, more than 2,500 members affiliated with the energy industry comprise 51 clubs. Learn more in Desk and Derrick Educators.
Recommended Reading: From the Rio Grande to the Arctic: The Story of the Richfield Oil Corporation, by former CEO Charles S. Jones (1972); Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska (2012); Texon: Legacy of an Oil Town, Images of America (2011); The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009); From Oklahoma to Eternity: The Life of Wiley Post and the Winnie Mae (1998).
Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on levels and types of sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.