This Week in Petroleum History, November 13 to November 19
November 13, 1925 – New Oil Discovery at Spindletop
The Yount-Lee Oil Company started a second major drilling boom at Spindletop, Texas, when the McFaddin No. 2 well began producing 5,000 barrels of oil a day. The well was completed just south of the famous “Lucas Gusher” of 1901. Miles Yount, who had founded his exploration company in 1914, believed Spindletop Hill held more oil – if drilled deeper on its flanks. His well reached a depth of 2,500 feet (more than twice that of the 1901 well) and proved him right. That evening a Beaumont radio station announced the discovery, launching another Texas oil boom.
November 14, 1947 – First Oil Well drilled Out of Sight of Land
The modern offshore petroleum industry began in the Gulf of Mexico with the first oil well successfully completed out of sight of land. Brown & Root Company built the freestanding platform 10 miles offshore for Kerr-McGee and partners Phillips Petroleum and Stanolind.
The unique offshore platform, Kermac 16, could withstand winds as high as 125 miles per hour. Brown & Root constructed the experimental platform at a time when no equipment specifically designed for offshore drilling yet existed.
With $450,000 invested, Kerr-McGee completed the discovery well, which produced 960 barrels of oil a day in about 20 feet of water off Louisiana’s gradually sloping Gulf of Mexico coast.
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 – which successfully withstood the biggest Category 5 hurricane of the 1947 season a week after drilling had begun.
Kermac 16 produced 1.4 million barrels of oil and 307 million cubic feet of natural gas before being shut down in 1984. Learn more about offshore pioneers and technology in Offshore Petroleum History and Deep Sea Roughnecks.
November 14, 1947 – WW II “Big Inch” Pipelines sold for $143 Million
Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation, a company formed 11 months earlier specifically to acquire the World War II surplus 24-inch “Big Inch” and 20-inch “Little Big Inch” pipelines, won with a bid of $143,127,000 – the largest sale of the war’s surplus material to the private sector.
Under government terms, Texas Eastern Transmission converted both oil products pipelines to the transmission of natural gas, which was needed for the Appalachian region. The Little Big Inch line later proved too small for economic transmission of natural gas and was converted back to a common carrier petroleum pipeline in 1957.
November 15, 1906 – Government seeks Breakup of Standard Oil
U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte filed suit to compel dissolution of the Standard Oil of New Jersey. An 1892 court decision had ordered the Standard Oil Trust to be dissolved, but John D. Rockefeller had reorganized it and continued to operate from New York. Although the Justice Department would win this latest suit, Standard Oil would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which finally affirmed the lower court’s decision in May 1911, mandating dissolution of Standard Oil into 34 separate companies.
November 15, 1952 – Williston Basin produces One-Millionth Barrel of Oil
The Williston Basin produced its millionth barrel of oil. The oil came from five fields in three counties in North Dakota – Williams, McKenzie and Mountrail. By the end of the year production reached 356,000 barrels a month.
“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 basin did not become a major oil province until the 1950s when large fields were discovered in North Dakota.”
Amerada Petroleum began the search for oil in the basin in 1946 and found it on Clarence Iverson’s farm in 1951, as explained First North Dakota Oil Well.
November 17, 1949 – USGS looks for Oil and Gas Producing Areas
The U.S. Geological Survey embarked on a massive geological study of the United States. More than 70 geologists engaged in intensive investigations covering 22 states and the Alaska Territory. Their mission was to define areas best suited for oil and natural gas exploration. Computer technology would later transform USGS topographic mapping science from prints to digital data and on-line based applications.
November 19, 1927 – Phillips Petroleum introduces “Phillips 66” Gasoline
After a decade as an exploration and production company, Phillips Petroleum Company entered the competitive 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.
The gas 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.
Route 66 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.
Because the composition made Phillips 66 gas easier to start in cold weather, advertisements enticed motorists to try the “New Winter 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.
Learn more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.
Recommended Reading: Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery (2008); Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (2011); John D. Rockefeller: The Wealthiest Man In American History (2017); 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).
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