March 6, 1935 – Search for First Utah Oil proves Deadly –
More than a decade before Utah’s first commercial oil wells, residents of St. George had hoped the “shooting” of a well drilled by Arrowhead Petroleum Company would bring black gold prosperity. A crowd had gathered to watch as workers prepared six, 10-foot-long explosive canisters to fracture the 3,200-foot-deep Escalante No. 1 well.
An explosion occurred as the torpedoes, “each loaded with nitroglycerin and TNT and hanging from the derrick,” were being lowered into the well. Ten people died from the detonations, which “sent a shaft of fire into the night that was seen as far as 18 miles away.” The 1935 accident has remained the worst oil-related disaster in Utah, according to The Escalante Well Incident, a 2007 historical account.
March 7, 1902 – Oil discovered at Sour Lake, Texas
Adding to the giant oilfields of Texas, the Sour Lake field was discovered about 20 miles west of the world-famous Spindletop gusher of January 1901. The spa town of Sour Lake quickly became a boom town where major oil companies, including Texaco, got their start.
Originally settled in 1835 and called Sour Lake Springs because of its “sulphureus spring water” known for healing, the sulfur wells attracted many exploration companies. Some petroleum geologists predicted a Sour Lake salt dome formation similar to that revealed by Pattillo Higgins, the Prophet of Spindletop.
Sour Lake’s 1902 discovery well was the second attempt of the Great Western Company. The well, drilled “north of the old hotel building,” penetrated 40 feet of oil sands before reaching a total depth of about 700 feet. The Hardin County’s salt dome oilfield yielded almost nine million barrels of oil by 1903, when the Texas Company made its first major oil find at Sour Lake.
Learn more in Sour Lake produces Texaco.
March 7, 2007 – National Artificial Reef Plan updated
The National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approved a comprehensive update of the 1985 National Artificial Reef Plan, popularly known as the “rigs to reefs” program.
The agency worked with interstate marine commissions and state artificial reef programs, “to promote and facilitate responsible and effective artificial reef use based on the best scientific information available.” The revised National Artificial Reef Plan included guidelines for siting, construction, development, and assessment of artificial reefs. A typical four-leg structure provides up to three acres of habitat for hundreds of marine species.
“As of December 2021, 573 platforms previously installed on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf have been reefed in the Gulf of Mexico,” according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).
Learn more in Rigs to Reefs.
March 9, 1930 – Prototype Oil Tanker is Electrically Welded
The world’s first electrically welded commercial vessel, the Texas Company (later Texaco) tanker M/S Carolinian, was completed in Charleston, South Carolina. The World War I shipbuilding boom had encouraged new electric welding technologies. The oil company’s 226-ton vessel was a prototype designed by naval architect Richard Smith.
The tanker — the first electrically welded ship — eliminated the need for about 85,000 pounds of rivets, according to a 2017 article for the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). Success of the prototype led to “the standard of welded hulls and internal combustion engines would become universal in construction of new vessels.”
March 9, 1959 – Barbie is a Petroleum Doll
Mattel revealed the Barbie Doll at the American Toy Fair in New York City. More than one billion “dolls in the Barbie family” have been sold since. Eleven inches tall, Barbie owes her existence to petroleum products and the science of polymerization, including several plastic acronyms: ABS, EVA, PBT, and PVC.
Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS) is known for strength and flexibility. This thermoplastic polymer is used in Barbie’s torso to provide impact and heat resistance. EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate), a copolymer made up of ethylene and vinyl acetate, protects Barbie’s smooth surface.
The Mattel doll also includes Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT), a thermoplastic polymer often used as an electrical insulator. A mineral component facilitates PBT injection molding of her “full figure,” according to the company. Barbie’s hair and many of her designer outfits are made from the world’s first synthetic fiber, nylon, invented in 1935 (see Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer).
March 11, 1829 – Kentucky Salt Well Driller discovers Oil
Boring for salt brine with a simple spring-pole device on a farm near Burkesville, Kentucky, Martin Beatty found oil 171 feet deep. Disappointed, he searched elsewhere. Because oil from his well would be bottled and sold, some people consider Beatty’s discovery the earliest commercial oil well in North America.
Beatty had drilled brine wells to meet growing demand from Kentucky settlers needing dried salt to preserve food. He bored his wells by percussion drilling — raising and dropping a chisel from a sapling, an ancient technology for making hole.
Historian Sheldon Baugh described the scene of Beatty’s March 11, 1829, Kentucky oilfield discovery: “On that day, well-driller Beatty bragged to bystanders, ‘Today I’ll drill her into salt or else to Hell.’ When the gusher erupted he apparently thought he’d succeeded in hitting Hell! As the story goes, he ran off into the hills and didn’t come back.”
Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well would be neglected for years — until oil from Beatty’s well found its way to Pittsburgh, where businessman Samuel Kier bottled and sold it as medicine. Kier also would build the earliest refineries for turning oil into kerosene for lamps.
March 11, 1930 – Society of Exploration Geophysicists founded
The Society of Exploration Geophysicists was founded by 30 men and women in Houston as the Society of Economic Geophysicists. Based in Tulsa since the mid-1940s, SEG fosters “the expert and ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”
SEG began publishing the award-winning journal Geophysics in 1936 and in 1958 formed a trust to provide scholarships for students of geophysics. The society in 2019 reported more than 14,000 members in 114 countries.
March 12, 1912 – Tom Slick discovers First of Many Oilfields
Once known as “Dry Hole Slick,” Thomas B. Slick discovered a giant oilfield midway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. His No. 1 Wheeler uncovered the Drumright-Cushing field, which produced for the next 35 years, reaching 330,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak. Knowing speculators would descend on the area when word got out, Slick secretly hired all of the local livery rigs.
After his success in Cushing, Slick began an 18-year streak of discovering some of America’s most prolific fields in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. His discoveries during the Greater Seminole Oil Boom of the 1920s made him the leading independent producer in the United States with a net worth up to $100 million.
By 1930 in the Oklahoma City field alone, Slick completed 30 wells with the capacity to produce 200,000 barrels of oil a day. When he died suddenly the same year from a stroke at age 46, oil derricks in the Oklahoma City field stood silent for one hour in tribute to Slick, Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters.
March 12, 1914 – Last Coal Powered U.S. Battleship Commissioned
The USS Texas, the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers, was commissioned. Coal-burning boilers, which produced dense smoke and created tons of ash, required the Navy to maintain coaling stations worldwide. Coaling ship was a major undertaking and early battleships carried about 2,000 tons with a crew of “coal passers.”
Dramatic improvement in efficiency came when the Navy began adopting fuel oil boilers. By 1916, the Navy had commissioned its first two capital ships with oil-fired boilers, the USS Nevada and the USS Oklahoma. To resupply them, “oilers” were designed to transfer fuel while at anchor, although underway replenishment was soon possible in fair seas.
The USS Texas was converted to burn fuel oil in 1925. The “Big T” — today the Battleship Texas State Historic Site docked on the Houston Ship Channel — was the first battleship declared to be a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power.
March 12, 1943 – Secret Mission sends Roughnecks to Sherwood Forest
A top-secret team of 42 American drillers, derrickmen, roustabouts, and motormen boarded the troopship HMS Queen Elizabeth. They were volunteers from two Oklahoma companies, Noble Drilling and Fain-Porter Drilling. Their mission was to drill wells in England’s Sherwood Forest and help relieve the crisis caused by German submarines sinking Allied oil tankers. Four rotary drilling rigs were shipped on separate transport ships. One of the ships was sunk by a U-Boat.
With the future of Great Britain depending on petroleum supplies, the Americans used Yankee ingenuity to drill an average of one well per week. Their secret work added vital oil to fuel the British war effort.
Learn more in Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.
March 12, 1968 – Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay Oilfield Discovered
Two hundred and fifty miles north of the Arctic Circle, Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield was discovered by Richfield Oil (ARCO) and Humble Oil Company (Exxon). The Prudhoe Bay State No. 1 exploratory well arrived more than six decades after the first Alaska oil well. It followed Richfield Oil’s discovery of the Swanson River oilfield on the Kenai Peninsula in 1957.
At more than 213,000 acres, the Prudhoe Bay field was the largest oilfield in North America, surpassing the 140,000 acre East Texas oilfield discovery of 1930. Prudhoe Bay’s remote location prevented oil production beginning in earnest until 1977, after completion of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Prudhoe Bay field’s production exceeded an average rate of one million barrels of oil a day by March 1978, according to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It peaked in January 1987 at more than 1.6 million barrels of oil per day.
Recommended Reading: Sour Lake, Texas: From Mud Baths to Millionaires, 1835-1909 (1995); Rigs-to-reefs: the use of obsolete petroleum structures as artificial reefs (1987); Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century Hardcover (1996); A Geophysicist’s Memoir: Searching for Oil on Six Continents (2017). “King of the Wildcatters:” The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930 (2004); Historic Battleship Texas: The Last Dreadnought (2007); The Secret of Sherwood Forest: Oil Production in England During World War II (1973); Discovery at Prudhoe Bay Oil (2008). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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.