This Week in Petroleum History, March 13 to March 19
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, 1909 – Lake View Gusher of California
The Lake View well in California’s Midway-Sunset oilfield erupted oil at dawn. The San Joaquin Valley had experienced a lot of gushers, 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 in 1910 and 1911,” notes one San Joaquin Valley geologist.
The Lakeview No. 1 discovery, which became America’s most famous gusher after Spindletop Hill in 1901, was brought under control by October 1910. The “ram-type” blowout preventer to seal well pressure was invented in 1922.
March 15, 1946 – Independent Producers organize in Texas
After a series of oilfield discoveries resulting in overproduction, theft and conflicts with the major oil companies, independents formed a new trade association. The Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO) was founded in 1946 “to preserve the ability to explore and produce oil and natural gas and to promote the general welfare of its members.”
March 16, 1914 – “Main Street” Oil Well completed
A well completed in 1914 produced oil from about 1,770 feet beneath Barnsdall, Oklahoma. Ripley’s Believe It or Not someday will proclaim the well the “World’s Only Main Street Oil Well.”
The Osage County town, originally called Bigheart for Osage Chief James Bigheart, was renamed in 1922 for Theodore Barnsdall, owner of the Barnsdall Refining Company, which today is a wax refinery owned by Baker Hughes. Barnsdall also had discovered local oilfields in 1916. The well site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
March 17, 1890 – Sunoco begins in Ohio
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. It got in the oilfield equipment business in 1929, forming Sperry-Sun, a joint venture with Sperry Gyroscope. The Pew family established the Pew Charitable Trusts. Also see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.
March 17, 1923 – Discovery reveals Giant Oklahoma Oilfields
The Betsy Foster No. 1 well, a 2,800-barrel-a-day oil gusher near Wewoka, the county seat of Seminole County, Oklahoma, created a major Seminole area boom.
The discovery was followed by others in nearby Cromwell, Bethel (1924), Earlsboro and Seminole (1926) and other small towns south of Oklahoma City.
Thirty-nine separate oilfields were ultimately developed within a region centering on Seminole but also including parts of Pottawatomie, Okfuskee, Hughes and Pontotoc counties. Excessive oil production would drive prices to as low as 17 cents per barrel.
March 17, 1949 – First Commercial Application of Hydraulic Fracturing
Experts 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. “In the more than 60 years following those first treatments, more than two million frac treatments have been pumped with no documented case of any treatment polluting an aquifer – not one.”
The earliest attempts to increase a well’s petroleum production began in the 1860s (see Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History). In 1921, Erle Halliburton patented an efficient well cementing technology that improved oil production while protecting the environment.
March 18, 1937 – New London School Explosion
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 also called casing gas) had leaked into the basement and ignited with a force felt 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 natural 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.
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