This Week in Petroleum History, June 19 – 25
June 20, 1977 – Oil flows in Trans-Alaska Pipeline
After three years of construction, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline began carrying oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez at Prince William Sound. The oil arrived 38 days later, culminating the world’s largest privately funded construction project at the time.
The 48-inch-diameter pipeline cost $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations. Its annual flow accounted for about 20 percent of U.S. oil production. Tax revenues earned Alaska $50 billion by 2002. Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) were built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes. In some permafrost areas the supports included special two-inch “heat pipes.”
Prudhoe Bay field was discovered in 1968 by Atlantic Richfield and Exxon about 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Learn more in Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.
June 21, 1893 – Submersible Pump Inventor born
Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the electric submersible pump for oil wells, was born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, Russia. He invented the first electrical centrifugal submersible pump in 1916. But after emigrating to America in 1923, Arutunoff could not find financial support for his down-hole oil production technology.
Thanks to help from his friend Frank Phillips, president of Phillips Petroleum, in 1928 Arutunoff moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and established a manufacturing company. His REDA Pump Company manufactured pump and motor devices (and employed hundreds during the Great Depression).
A 1936 Tulsa World article described his invention as “an electric motor with the proportions of a slim fencepost which stands on its head at the bottom of a well and kicks oil to the surface with its feet.”
The name REDA, which stands for Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff, was the cable address of the company he originally formed in Germany. REDA submersible pumping systems today are part of Schlumberger. Learn more about Arutunoff in Inventing the Submersible Pump.
June 23, 1921 – Signal Hill Discovery brings California Oil Boom
A discovery at Signal Hill, California – one of the world’s most famous oil strikes – launched another southern California drilling boom.
When the Alamitos No. 1 well erupted oil on June 23, 1921, the discovery revealed of one of California’s most prolific oilfields. The natural gas pressure was so great that a gusher rose 114 feet. The well produced about 600 barrels of oil a day when it was completed two days later.
Soon known as “Porcupine Hill,” the town’s oilfield 20 miles south of Los Angeles was producing almost 260,000 barrels of oil every day by 1923. Combined with the historic 1892 Los Angeles Oilfield discovery and the 1920 oilfield at Huntington Beach, southern California produced one-fourth of the world’s oil.
Today, Signal Hill’s Discovery Well Park hosts a community center with historic photos and descriptions. A monument dedicated in 1952 serves “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here.” Learn more in Signal Hill Oil Boom.
June 23, 1947 – Continental Shelf
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of California could not claim rights to the continental shelf beyond three miles.
California and other coastal states litigation had resulted from President Harry Truman’s 1945 Continental Shelf Proclamation, which placed control with the federal government.
The Supreme Court ruling affirmed federal jurisdiction “with respect to the natural resources of the subsoil and seabed of the continental shelf.” Similar rulings affecting Louisiana and Texas would be made in 1950.
June 24, 1937 – Little Oil found in Minnesota
Oil was discovered in Minnesota by a wildcat well drilled in Traverse County in the western part of the state. The well produced three barrels of oil a day from 864 feet deep. Although the discovery prompted more leasing, no commercial quantities of oil were found. This reaffirmed geologists’ conclusions since 1889 that the conditions for significant oil deposits did not exist in Minnesota.
“Not much oil and gas is obtain from Precambrian rocks, with which Minnesota is very amply blessed,” noted Richard Ojakangas in his 1984 book, Minnesota’s Geology. “Oil and gas form by the decay of animal and plant matter, and animals and plants were nearly nonexistent during the Precambrian time.” Although Minnesota today ranks fourth in the nation in ethanol production capacity, its oil production peaked that summer of 1937.
June 25, 1889 – First Oil Tanker catches Fire
The first oil tanker specifically constructed for that purpose, burned at its wharf in Ventura, California.
The Hardison & Stewart Oil Company, forerunner of Union Oil Company, had commissioned the uniquely designed steam schooner W.L. Hardison.
The vessel offered an alternative to paying for railroad tank cars charging one dollar per barrel to reach markets in San Francisco.
With oil-fired steam boilers and supplemental sail, the wooden-hulled W.L. Hardison had been capable of shipping 6,500 barrels of oil below decks in specially constructed steel tanks.
The vessel’s steel tanks were later recovered and used at the company’s Santa Paula refinery. The Ventura Pier remained a working wharf until 1936, when it became recreational. Today’s refurbished structure is 1,958 feet long – one of the longest in California.
The Museum of Ventura County houses more than 150,000 resources pertaining to the history of Ventura County and outlying regions. Also visit the California Oil Museum in nearby Santa Paula – the museum’s main building is the original 1890 Union Oil Company headquarters.
June 25, 1901 – Red Fork Discovery will Boost Tulsa
The future state of Oklahoma witnessed a second historic oil discovery in 1901. Four years earlier. the Nellie Johnstone No, 1 well near Bartlesville had been the first oil well in Indian Territory. Now, six years before statehood, two drillers from Pennsylvania made another discovery in the Creek Indian Nation.
Drillers John Wick and Jesse Heydrick drilled their Sue A. Bland No. 1 well well near the village of Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. Sue Bland, a Creek citizen, was the wife of the homestead owner. The well produced 10 barrels of oil a day from about 550 feet deep. It helped begin Tulsa’s journey to becoming Oil Capital of the World. Learn more in Red Fork Gusher.
Recommended Reading: The Great Alaska Pipeline (1988); Artificial Lift-down Hole Pumping Systems: Conference Transcript (1984); Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum (2014); Ross Sterling, Texan: A Memoir by the Founder of Humble Oil and Refining Company (2012); Signal Hill, California – Images of America (2006); Tulsa Where the Streets Were Paved With Gold – Images of America (2000).
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.