This Week in Petroleum History – July 3 to July 9
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 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.”
New offshore 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, he also served as president for several other Texas companies. “Mr. Sid” became a leading collector of paintings by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell that today are on exhibit in Fort Worth’s Sid Richardson Museum, which is supported by the foundation.
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.
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” along the Kanawha River in his 1775 diary, noted historian David McKain in Where It All Began.
July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz: L. Frank Baum’s Oil Business
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 is still in operation. 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.”
Baum’s connection to the petroleum industry began decades earlier when his father closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the oilfields. Although Baum sold the Castorine business in 1900, an Oz historian has researched company records in Rome, New York, and proclaimed that the Tin Man character began with Baum’s oil. Learn more in Oil in the Land of Oz.
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).
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.