November 14, 1947 – First Oil Well drilled Out of Sight of Land – 

The modern offshore oil and natural gas industry began in the Gulf of Mexico with the first oil well successfully completed out of sight of land. Brown & Root Company built the experimental freestanding platform 10 miles offshore for Kerr-McGee and partners Phillips Petroleum and Stanolind. The platform, Kermac 16, was designed to withstand winds as high as 125 miles per hour.

With $450,000 invested, Kerr-McGee completed the offshore well, which produced 960 barrels of oil a day in about 20 feet of water off Louisiana’s gradually sloping Gulf of Mexico coast.

Kermac 16 platform featured in a 1954 Bell Helicopter ad.

The Kermac 16 platform was featured in a 1954 Bell Helicopter advertisement encouraging use of helicopters for offshore transportation.

Kerr-McGee had purchased World War II surplus utility freighters and materials to provide supplies, equipment, and crew quarters for the drilling site at Ship Shoal Block 32. Sixteen 24-inch pilings were sunk 104 feet into the ocean floor to secure the 2,700 square foot wooden deck. The platform successfully withstood several 1947 hurricanes and intense tropical storms.

Learn more about offshore pioneers and technology in Offshore Drilling History.

November 14, 1947 – WW II “Big Inch” Pipelines sold for $143 Million

Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation, a company established 11 months earlier to acquire the World War II surplus 24-inch “Big Inch” and 20-inch “Little Big Inch” pipelines, won them with a winning bid of $143,127,000. It was the largest sale of the war’s surplus material to the private sector.

By the 1950s, Texas Eastern Transmission had converted both oil products pipelines to natural gas, which was needed for the Appalachian region. By the 2000s, transmission would become bi-directional for carrying natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale to mid-west markets. The Big Inch and Little Big Inch pipelines today are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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November 15, 1906 – Justice Department seeks Breakup of Standard Oil

U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte filed suit to compel dissolution of the Standard Oil of New Jersey. Despite an 1892 court decision ordering the Standard Oil Trust to be dissolved, John D. Rockefeller had reorganized it and continued to operate from New York. The Justice Department would win this latest suit, but Standard Oil appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s decision on May 15, 1911, and mandated dissolution of Standard Oil into 34 separate companies.

November 15, 1952 – Williston Basin produces Millionth Barrel of Oil 

The Williston Basin produced its millionth barrel of oil, which came from five fields in three counties in North Dakota. By the end of 1952, monthly production would reach 356,000 barrels of oil. “Oil was first found in the Williston Basin along the Cedar Creek Anticline in southeastern Montana, in the 1920s,” noted the North Dakota Geological Survey in 1988.

The North Dakota basin did not become a major producing region until Amerada Petroleum began searching there in 1946 — found an oilfield beneath Clarence Iverson’s wheat field northeast of Williston five years later (see First North Dakota Oil Well).

November 19, 1861 – America exports Oil for First Time 

America exported petroleum for the first time when the merchant brig Elizabeth Watts departed the Port of Philadelphia for Great Britain. The Union vessel arrived in London 45 days later carrying a cargo of 901 barrels of Pennsylvania oil and 428 barrels of refined kerosene.

A merchant brig with barrels at Port of Philadelphia circa 1870.

A merchant brig set sail from Philadelphia in 1861 with a cargo of Pennsylvania oil and refined kerosene. Photo of vinegar barrels at Massachusetts port in 1870, courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The shippers were the successful Philadelphia import-export firm of Peter Wright & Sons, which since its founding in 1818 had prospered transporting glass, porcelain and queensware china. The company hired the Elizabeth Watts to ship the petroleum to three British companies. On January 9, 1862, the brig  sailed down the Thames River to arrive at London, where it took 12 days to unload the 1,329 barrels of oil and kerosene.

Learn more in America exports Oil.

November 19, 1927 – Phillips Petroleum introduces “Phillips 66” Gasoline

After a decade as an exploration and production company, Phillips Petroleum entered the business of refining and retail gasoline distribution. The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, company introduced a new line of gasoline – “Phillips 66” — at its first service station, which opened in Wichita, Kansas.

Early gasoline retail logos of the Phillips Petroleum Company.

Originally promoted as a dependable “winter gasoline,” by 1930 “Phillips 66” gasoline was marketed in 12 states.

The gasoline was named “Phillips 66” because it had propelled company officials down U.S. Highway 66 at 66 mph on the way to a meeting at their Bartlesville headquarters. The popular roadway soon became the backbone of Phillips Petroleum marketing plans for the new product, which boasted “controlled volatility,” the result of a higher-gravity mix of naphtha and gasoline.

Acquisition of service stations added 50 new retail outlets each month to the company. By 1930, Phillips 66 gasoline was sold at 6,750 outlets in 12 states. Because the composition made Phillips 66 gas easier to start in cold weather, advertisements enticed motorists to try the “New Winter Gasoline.” 

Learn more by visiting the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum, which opened in 2007 in Bartlesville.

November 20, 1866 – Improved Well Torpedo patented

Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City patented improvements to his Roberts Torpedo, a revolutionary oilfield production technology. “Our attention has been called to a series of experiments that have been made in the wells of various localities by Col. Roberts, with his newly patented torpedo,” noted the Titusville Morning Herald newspaper a year earlier. “The results have in many cases been astonishing.”

The Civil War Union Army veteran would receive many patents for his “Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells” method of fracturing oil-bearing formations to increase production (see  Shooters – A “Fracking” History).

November 20, 1930 – Oil Booms help Hilton expand in Texas

After buying his first hotel in the booming oil town of Cisco, Texas, Conrad Hilton opened a high-rise hotel in El Paso. While visiting Cisco in 1919, Hilton had witnessed roughnecks from the Ranger oilfield waiting for rooms. Hilton’s first hotel, the Mobley, had 40 rooms he rented for eight-hour periods to coincide with workers’ shifts.

Thanks to a series of oilfield discoveries, Hilton was firmly established in the Texas hotel business. His El Paso Hilton (now the Plaza Hotel) was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 

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November 20, 1980 – Texaco Well drains Louisiana Lake

Minutes after its drilling crew evacuated, a Texaco drilling platform overturned and disappeared into a whirlpool that drained Lake Peigneur, Louisiana, in three hours. The crew had accidently penetrated a salt dome containing the mining operation of Diamond Crystal Salt Company. All 50 miners working as deep as 1,500 feet below the surface escaped with no serious injuries as the maelstrom swallowed the $5 million Texaco platform — and 11 barges holding drilling supplies.

“Texaco, who had ordered the oil probe, was aware of the salt mine’s presence and had planned accordingly; but somewhere a miscalculation had been made, which placed the drill site directly above one of the salt mine’s 80-foot-high, 50-foot-wide upper shafts,” noted a 2005 article, Lake Peigneur: The Swirling Vortex of Doom.”

Jefferson Island Mine Inundation report photo of rig sinking in lake.

Photo from a 1981 government report on Texaco’s accidental “Jefferson Island Mine Inundation” of one year earlier.

According to a 152-page government report in 1981, “Jefferson Island Mine Inundation, evidence for identifying the cause was washed away, but Texaco and drilling contractor Wilson Drilling paid $32 million to Diamond Crystal Salt Company and $12.8 million to a nearby botanical garden and plant nursery. Changed from freshwater to saltwater with a maximum depth of 200 feet, Lake Peigneur would become the deepest lake in Louisiana.

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Recommended Reading: Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (1997); Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993); The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016); Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum (2016); History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); Be My Guest (1957); Magnolia Oil News Magazine (January 1930). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

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