This Week in Petroleum History, March 19 to March 25
March 20, 1919 – API founded
Tracing its roots to World War I – when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together to fuel the war effort – the American Petroleum Institute (API) was founded in New York City.
In 1921, API established a scale to measure a petroleum liquid’s density relative to water, now called API gravity. With more than 625 members, including the largest integrated oil and gas companies, API today maintains nearly 700 standards and recommended practices.
March 20, 1973 – Historic Oil Ghost Town
The former oil boom town of Pithole, Pennsylvania, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The 1865 discovery of the Pithole Creek oilfield launched a drilling boom for the young U.S. petroleum industry, which had begun in nearby Titusville in 1859. Pithole oil production would lead to construction of the nation’s first oil pipeline. From beginning to end, the once famous boom town lasted about 500 days. Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.
March 23, 1858 – Seneca Oil Company founded
Investors from New Haven, Connecticut, organized the Seneca Oil Company with former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake a shareholder. They had purchased leases of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, America’s first oil company founded with partner George Bissell in 1854.
Bissell, who exploited the idea of using oil to produce kerosene, was excluded despite having studied oil seeps south of Titusville. “The New Haven men then put the final piece of their plan into place with the formation of a new company,” notes William Brice in Myth Legend Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.
Seneca Oil and Drake completed the First American Oil Well in 1859 – thanks to knowledge gained from George Bissell’s Oil Seeps. Both Drake and Bissell would later be called the father of the U.S. petroleum industry.
March 24, 1989 – Supertanker Exxon Valdez runs Aground in Price William Sound
The Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The accident, which came after nearly 12 years of routine oil tanker passages through Prince William Sound, resulted in a massive oil spill.
Eight of the supertanker’s 11 oil cargo tanks were punctured. An estimated 260,000 barrels of oil spilled, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline. With the captain not present on the bridge, an error in navigation by the third mate had grounded the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload. Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely passed through Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times.
When the 987-foot-long tanker hit the reef that night, “the system designed to carry two million barrels of North Slope oil to West Coast and Gulf Coast markets daily had worked perhaps too well,” explains the Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s report. “At least partly because of the success of the Valdez tanker trade, a general complacency had come to permeate the operation and oversight of the entire system.”
A massive cleanup began for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The infamous vessel was sold for scrap in 2012.
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