March 13, 1974 – OPEC ends Oil Embargo –
A five-month oil embargo against the United States was lifted by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel formed in 1960. The embargo, imposed in response to America supplying the Israeli military during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, created gasoline shortages, prompting President Richard M. Nixon to propose and Congress approve voluntary rationing and a ban of gas sales on Sundays. OPEC ended the embargo after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the Sinai.
March 14, 1910 – Lakeview No. 1 Well erupts in California
The Union Oil Company Lakeview No. 1 well erupted a geyser of oil at dawn in Kern County, California (some sources give the date as March 15). With limited technologies for managing the deep, highly pressured formation of the Midway-Sunset field, drillers had experienced several accidental oil spills, including the Shamrock gusher in 1896 and the 1909 Midway gusher.
“But none of these wells came close to rivaling the Lakeview No. 1 which flowed, uncapped and untamed, at 18,000 barrels a day for 18 months,” noted a San Joaquin Valley geologist. Surrounded by berms and sandbags to contain the oil, the well collapsed and died in September 1911, after producing 9.4 million barrels of oil (about half was contained and sold).
The environmental impact of the Lakeview well, still the largest oil spill in U.S. history, was less destructive due to evaporation and levees of sandbags that prevented contamination of Buena Vista Lake. A Kern County historic marker was erected in 1952 at the site, seven miles north of the West Kern Oil Museum.
The ram-type blowout preventer to seal well pressure was invented in 1922.
March 16, 1911 – Pegasus Trademark takes flight
A Vacuum Oil Company subsidiary in Cape Town, South Africa, trademarked a flying horse logo inspired by Pegasus of Greek mythology. Based in Rochester, New York, Vacuum Oil had built a successful lubricants business long before gasoline was a branded product.
When Vacuum Oil and Standard Oil of New York (Socony) combined in 1931, the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company adopted the red-winged horse trademark and marketed Pegasus Spirits and Mobilegas products.
A stylized red gargoyle earlier had advertised the company, which produced petroleum-based lubricants for carriages and steam engines. Created by the Vacuum Oil Company of South Africa, the Pegasus trademark proved to be a far more enduring image.
Learn more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.
March 16, 1914 – “Main Street” Oil Well completed in Oklahoma
A well completed in 1914 produced oil from about 1,770 feet beneath Barnsdall, Oklahoma. The popular TV program Ripley’s Believe It or Not would proclaim the well the “World’s Only Main Street Oil Well.”
The town originally was called Bigheart, named for Osage Chief James Bigheart, who on behalf of the Osage people in 1875 signed the first lease for oil and gas exploration, according to Osage County. In 1922, Barnsdall was renamed for Theodore Barnsdall, owner of the Barnsdall Refining Company, which later became part of Baker Hughes Company. The National Register of Historic Places added the Barnsdall Main Street oil well in 1997.
March 17, 1890 – Sun Oil Company founded
The Peoples Natural Gas Company, founded four years earlier by Joseph Pew and Edward Emerson to provide natural gas to Pittsburgh, expanded to become the Sun Oil Company of Ohio.
At the turn of the century, the company had acquired promising leases near Findlay and entered the business of “producing petroleum, rock and carbon oil, transporting and storing same, refining, purifying, manufacturing such oil and its various products.” In the 1920s, the company marketed Sunoco Motor Oil and opened service stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company became an oilfield equipment supplier in 1929, forming Sperry-Sun. Also see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.
March 17, 1923 – Oklahoma Discovery leads to Giant Oilfields
The Betsy Foster No. 1 well, a 2,800-barrel-a-day oil gusher near Wewoka, county seat of Seminole County, Oklahoma, launched the Seminole area boom. The discovery south of Oklahoma City was followed by others in Cromwell and Bethel (1924), and Earlsboro and Seminole (1926). Thirty-nine separate oilfields were ultimately found around Seminole and parts of Pottawatomie, Okfuskee, Hughes, and Pontotoc counties. Once one of the poorest economic regions in Oklahoma, by 1935 the Seminole area became the largest supplier of oil in the world.
March 17, 1949 – First Commercial Application of Hydraulic Fracturing
A team from Halliburton and Stanolind companies converged on an oil well about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma, and performed the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.
A 1947 experimental well had fractured a natural gas field in Hugoton, Kansas, and proven the possibility of increased productivity. The technique was developed and patented by Stanolind (later known as Pan American Oil Company) and an exclusive license was issued to Halliburton Company to perform the process. Four years later, the license was extended to all qualified oilfield service companies.
“Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique,” proclaimed a Halliburton company spokesman in 2009, adding that more than two million fracturing treatments have been pumped without polluting an aquifer.
Erle P. Halliburton had patented an efficient well cementing technology in 1921 that improved oil production while protecting the environment. The earliest attempts to increase petroleum production by fracturing geologic formations began in the 1860s.
Learn more in Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History.
March 17, 1949 – “Diamond Glenn” opens Shamrock Hotel
Texas independent producer “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy hosted the grand opening of his $21 million, 18-story, 1,100-room Shamrock Hotel on the outskirts of Houston. McCarthy reportedly spent another $1 million for the hotel’s St. Patrick’s Day opening day gala, including arranging for a 16-car Santa Fe Super Chief train to bring friends from Hollywood.
The Texas wildcatter, who had discovered 11 oilfields by 1945, also introduced his own label of bourbon at Shamrock, the largest hotel in the United States at the time. Dubbed Houston’s biggest party, the Shamrock’s debut “made the city of Houston a star overnight,” one newspaper reported.
Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.
March 18, 1937 – New London School Explosion Tragedy
With just minutes left in the school day, a natural gas explosion destroyed the New London High School in Rusk County, Texas. Odorless gas (a residual natural gas called casing-head gas) had leaked into the basement and ignited with an explosion heard four miles away. East Texas oilfield workers — many with children attending the school — rushed to the scene, as did a cub reporter from Dallas, Walter Cronkite.
Despite desperate rescue efforts, 298 people were killed that day (dozens more later died of injuries). The explosion’s source was later found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked odorless gas that had pooled beneath and in the walls of the school. As a result of this disaster, Texas and other states passed laws requiring that natural gas be mixed with a malodorant to give early warning of a gas leak.
Learn more about the tragedy in New London School Explosion.
March 18, 1938 — First Offshore Well drilled in Gulf of Mexico’s Creole field
Gulf of Mexico oil production from a well drilled by Pure Oil and Superior Oil companies helped launch the modern offshore industry. The Creole oilfield in Louisiana’s offshore Cameron Parish was the first discovered in the open waters of the Gulf, according to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR). More offshore wells followed after World War II, including the Kerr-McGee drilling platform, Kermac Rig No. 16, which in 1947 became the first offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico that was out of sight of land.
By the end of 1949, the offshore industry had discovered 11 oil and natural gas fields. The first mobile drilling platform, Mr. Charlie, began drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in 1954 (see articles in Offshore Oil History).
Recommended Reading: San Joaquin Valley, California, Images of America (1999); A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field(1981); The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy (2016); A Texas Tragedy: The New London School Explosion (2012).
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.