This Week in Petroleum History – July 2 to July 8
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. The train’s novel G.E. gas-electric power system was removed in 1918 when the train was converted into a streetcar. 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,” notes 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 fire was featured in one of the first newsreels by the Thomas A. Edison Company.
According the article, John D. Rockefeller visited the refinery the next day, witnessing damage that included 25 oil tanks, “a boiler shop, the compounding and paraffin buildings, freight and oil tank cars of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Central Railroad of New Jersey, railway trestle, and piles of barrel staves and soft coal.” As bad as the oil refinery fire was, there were no fatalities – unlike another fire just days before on the 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 – Deadly Explosion creates 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.”
The tragedy led to the world’s offshore oil and natural gas production industry to take a detailed look at its practices. New platform designs and operation engineering, evacuation technologies and safety procedures emerged following an official inquiry. “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 before struggling 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,” explains the Sid Richardson Foundation. A partner in Richardson and Bass Oil Producers, “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 – Government approves Experimental Gulf Pier
President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War approved an ambitious plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil. War Secretary Harry Woodring approved an application to drill near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company (later Texaco, thanks to a discovery at Sour Lake). The 60 acre lease was eight miles east of High Island in Galveston County.
Humble Oil built the experimental one-mile pier and erected three drilling rigs to search for oil; all three wells were dry holes. A hurricane destroyed the pier in 1938. Visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center on Galveston Island.
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