This Week in Petroleum History – July 1 to July 7
July 1, 1919 – Leading Independent Producers join Mid-Continent Association
The two-year-old Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association (today’s US Oil & Gas Association) established its Kansas-Oklahoma Division in Tulsa. Members were a “who’s who” of top independent producers.
Kansas-Oklahoma members included Frank Phillips of Phillips Petroleum; E.W. Marland, whose company will become Conoco; W.G. Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil; H.H. Champlin, founder of Champlin Oil; and Alf Landon, future governor of Kansas and the Republican presidential candidate in 1936.
Robert S. Kerr, co-founder of Kerr-McGee Oil Company (later elected Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator), was president of the Oklahoma-Kansas Division from 1935 through 1941.
July 1, 1922 – Discovery of Smackover Field adds to Arkansas Drilling Boom
First settled by French fur trappers in 1844, Smackover, Arkansas, had a population of just 90 people in 1922 when a wildcat well erupted a geyser of oil. The well, drilled to 2,066 feet by sawmill owner Sidney Umsted, discovered the 25,000-acre Smackover field. Within six months, 1,000 wells were drilled with a success rate of 92 percent.
Smackover’s population grew to 25,000 and its uncommon name quickly attained national attention. Nearby and just one year and a half earlier, the first commercial oil well in Arkansas, the Busey-Armstrong No. 1, had revealed the giant El Dorado field and launched the career of a young H.L. Hunt (learn more in First Arkansas Oil Wells).
July 1, 1938 – The Texas Company discovers Illinois Oilfield
Using a newly introduced technology of seismic exploration, geologists for the Texas Company (later Texaco) found hidden anticlines with commercial quantities of oil in Marion County, Illinois. By January 1939 the Salem field was ranked seventh in U.S. daily production. In just one year the field produced more than 20 million barrels of oil. Natural gas production in Illinois began as early as 1853 when marsh or “drift gas” was produced from two water wells drilled near Champaign. Visit the Illinois Oilfield Museum.
July 2, 1910 – Naval Petroleum Reserves established
As the Navy converted from coal to oil-burning ships, President William Howard Taft established three Naval Petroleum Reserves. In a message to Congress he explained:
“As a prospective large consumer of oil by reason of the increasing use of fuel oil by the Navy, the federal government is directly concerned both in encouraging rational development and at the same time insuring the longest possible life to the oil supply.”
The last U.S. battleship to be built with coal-fired boilers, the U.S.S. Texas, was launched in 1912 and converted to oil-fired boilers in 1926. Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power.
July 2, 1913 – “Dan Patch” brings End to Steam Trains
While most locomotives were still steam-powered, General Electric designed and built the first commercially successful internal combustion gasoline engine locomotive in the United States.
Two General Motors 175-horsepower V-8 gasoline engines drive two 600-volt, direct current generators to propel the 57-ton locomotive to a top speed of 51 miles per hour. The Electric Line of Minnesota Company purchased the locomotive for $34,500. This new gas-powered electric hybrid was named Dan Patch in honor of the world’s champion harness horse of the time.
By 1930, 600-horsepower diesel engines with G.E. generators would launch modern train travel with popular and fast “Streamliners.” Learn more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.
July 4, 1906 – Louisiana conserves Natural Gas
Joining the growing number of U.S. states with producing oil and natural gas wells, Louisiana enacted conservation measures to prevent waste. The Louisiana State Legislature passed an act “to protect the natural gas fields of this state.”
The conservation law imposed penalties for “failure to cap out of control wells, doing injury to pipe lines, or wastefully burning natural gas from any well into the air.”
The measure was a result of lessons learned from the Indiana Natural Gas Boom and from other natural gas producing states.
July 5, 1900 – New Jersey Refinery Fire
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.
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 – 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 – originally designed for oil production – was receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. According to safety consultant Gary Karasek, “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.”
New platform designs and operation engineering, evacuation technologies, and safety procedures emerged following an official inquiry of the tragedy. “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 a multi-million dollar foundation to benefit Texas hospitals and schools. One of the wealthiest men in the nation at the time (estimated worth of up to $800 million), Richardson had made oil discoveries as early as 1919, but then struggled to find oil for more than a decade.
“In 1933, however, with a small investment and a friend with drilling know-how, he turned his oil business into a booming enterprise,” according to the Sid Richardson Foundation. “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.
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