July 5, 1900 – Edison films Standard Oil Refinery Fire, Bayonne, New Jersey –
An early morning lightning strike at the Standard Oil Company refinery at Bayonne, New Jersey, set off explosions in three storage tanks, each with a capacity of 40,000 barrels of oil. “Within minutes after the fire began, the company siren sounded, bringing its own fire department and tugboats into action,” noted a 2017 article in the Jersey Journal.
“The tugboats moved the company ships and oil-filled barges away from its burning docks to safe waters,” the journal noted about the fire, which was featured in one of the first newsreels by the Thomas A. Edison Company (view it here). As bad as the Standard Oil refinery fire was, there were no fatalities – unlike a destructive conflagration just days before on the nearby Hoboken waterfront, when flames destroyed the ocean liner S.S. Saale while in port. “In all, 99 passengers and crew died in that horrific blaze.”
July 6, 1988 – Piper Alpha North Sea Tragedy
An explosion and fire on Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea resulted in the deaths of 167 out of 224 personnel. It remains the most deadly offshore disaster of the petroleum industry.
At the time of the explosion, Piper Alpha was receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. “The initial explosion was caused by a misunderstanding of the readiness of a gas condensate pump that had been removed from service for maintenance of it’s pressure safety valve,” according to safety consultant Gary Karasek.
Improved offshore platform designs, operations engineering, evacuation technologies, and safety procedures emerged following an official inquiry of the tragedy, Karasek noted. “It was a ground-breaking effort, with numerous detailed findings and 106 recommendations, which were readily accepted by industry.”
July 7, 1947 – Sid Richardson starts Charitable Foundation
Independent producer Sid W. Richardson established the Sid Richardson Foundation to benefit Texas hospitals. schools and colleges.
One of the wealthiest men in the nation at the time, Richardson had made oil discoveries as early as 1919, but struggled in the exploration and production industry until 1933. He later formed profitable partnerships, including Richardson and Bass Oil Producers, in Fort Worth. “Mr. Sid” became a leading collector of paintings by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, today on display in Fort Worth’s Sid Richardson Museum.
July 8, 1937 – Secretary of War approves Experimental Gulf of Mexico Oil Pier
President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, Harry Woodring, approved an ambitious engineering plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil at offshore salt dome formations. Woodring approved an application for exploratory wells near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company (later Texaco, thanks to a 1903 discovery at Sour Lake).
Humble Oil built the experimental pier on a 60-acre lease eight miles east of High Island in Galveston County. with three drilling rigs, but found no oil. A hurricane destroyed the pier in 1938. Learn more by visiting Galveston Bay’s offshore rig museum, the Ocean Star.
July 9, 1815 – Early West Virginia Natural Gas Discovery
Natural gas was discovered accidentally by Capt. James Wilson during the digging of a salt brine well within the present city limits of Charleston, West Virginia (Virginia in 1815). Earlier, a young surveyor, George Washington, had written about “burning springs” – petroleum seeps – to the north, along the Kanawha River.
Awarded a land grant for his service in the French and Indian War, Washington acquired 250 acres along the river. He later explained he chose the location, “on account of a bituminous spring which it contains, of so inflammable a nature that it burns as freely as spirits.” In a 1994 history of West Virginia’s oil industry, author David L. McKain concluded, “This was in 1771, making the father of our country the first petroleum industry speculator.”
July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz
The future author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz started a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. The store offered lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”
L. Frank Baum — whose father had found success in early Pennsylvania oilfields — served as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which operates today in Rome, New York. Reporting on the opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper said Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons. The axle grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”
Although Baum sold the Castorine business in 1900, an Oz historian researched company records in Rome, New York, and found the Tin Man character began with Baum’s oil.
Learn more in Oil in the Land of Oz.
July 11, 2008 – World Oil Price hits Historic High
The price of oil reached a record high of $147.27 a barrel before dropping back to $145.08. Prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange had peaked at $145.29 a barrel eight days earlier. As supply fears subsided, oil prices fell below $37 a barrel by January 2009.
Annual U.S. oil production in 2018 reached almost 11 million barrels of oil per day, 17 percent higher than 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2019, U.S. production reached a new record level of 12.23 million barrels of oil per day.
July 11, 2013 – Drop of Pitch drips After 69 Years
Physicists at Trinity College Dublin photographed a falling drip of pitch – “one of the most anticipated drips in science,” according to the journal Nature. It was considered one of the longest-running laboratory investigations in the world.
Set up in 1944, the pitch-drop experiment demonstrated the high viscosity (low fluidity) of pitch — a natural hydrocarbon also known as bitumen or asphalt that appears to be solid at room temperature, but is flowing extremely slowly.
“The Trinity College team has estimated the viscosity of the pitch by monitoring the evolution of this one drop, and puts it in the region of two million times more viscous than honey, or 20 billion times the viscosity of water, ” the magazine noted. Also see Asphalt paves the Way.
Recommended Reading: Death and Oil: A True Story of the Piper Alpha Disaster on the North Sea (2011); Remington and Russell: The Sid Richardson Collection (1994); Where it All Began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story (2009). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.