This Week in Petroleum History, October 7 to October 13
October 7, 1859 – First U.S. Oil Well catches Fire
The wooden derrick and engine house of the first U.S. commercial oil well erupted in flames, perhaps America’s first oil well fire. The well beside Oil Creek at Titusville, Pennsylvania, had been completed the previous August by Edwin L Drake for George Bissell and the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut.
Working with driller William “Uncle Billy” Smith, Drake had used steam-powered cable-tool technology to find oil. “The first oil well fire was started by ‘Uncle Billy,’ who went to inspect the oil in the vat with an open lamp, setting the gases alight,” notes historian Urja Davin. “It burned the derrick, all the stored oil, and the driller’s home.” Learn more in First Oil Well Fire.
October 7, 1929 – Teapot Dome brings Jail Time for Interior Secretary
Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall began serving a one-year sentence for taking a $100,000 bribe in the Teapot Dome scandal. In 1910, almost 30,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming had been established as a Naval Petroleum Reserve by President William Taft.
In 1921, an executive order from President Warren G. Harding gave Fall control of the Naval Reserves. A year later and without competitive bidding, Fall leased Teapot Dome fields to Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil Company and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills, California, fields to Edward Doheny, discoverer of the Los Angeles oilfield.
In Senate hearings, it emerged that cash was delivered to Fall in Washington, D.C. Although the Interior Secretary was convicted for taking a bribe, both Sinclair and Doheny were acquitted.
However, Sinclair spent six-and-a-half months in prison for contempt of court and the U.S. Senate.
October 8, 1915 – Elk Basin oilfield discovered in Wyoming
In a remote Wyoming valley on the border of Montana, a discovery well opened the giant Elk Basin oilfield. Drilled by the Midwest Refining Company, the wildcat well produced up to 150 barrels of oil a day of a high-grade, “light oil.” Since 1908, the earliest Wyoming oil wells produced
oil that even unrefined proved to be excellent lubricants.
The Elk Basin extended from Carbon County, Montana, into northeastern Park County, Wyoming. Geologist George Ketchum first recognized the potential of the basin as a source of oil deposits. Ketchum had explored the remote area in 1906 with C.A. Fisher while farming near Cowly, Wyoming.
Fisher was the first geologist to map sections of the Bighorn Basin southeast of Cody, Wyoming, where oil seeps had been found as early as 1883. The Wyoming discovery in unproved territory attracted speculators, investors, and new companies – including the Elk Basin United Oil Company.
October 8, 1923 – Tulsa hosts International Petroleum Exposition and Congress
Five thousand visitors braved torrents of rain for opening day of the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress in downtown Tulsa, an event that would return for almost six decades.
Attendance grew to more than 120,000 every year. Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth introduced the original Golden Driller of Tulsa at the expo in 1953. Economic shocks beginning with the 1973 Opec oil embargo depressed the industry and after 57 years, the International Petroleum Exposition ended in 1979.
October 9, 1999 – Converted Offshore Platform launches Rockets
Sea Launch, a Boeing-led consortium of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Norway, began commercial launches in 1999 using Ocean Odyssey, a modified semi-submersible drilling platform. It launched a Russian rocket carrying a U.S. satellite. In 1988, the rig had been used by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) for North Sea explorations. The Ocean Odyssey made 36 more rocket launches until 2014, when a civil war began in eastern Ukraine that ended the consortium. Learn more in Offshore Rocket Launcher.
October 10, 1865 – First Major Oil Pipeline constructed at Pennsylvania Boom Town
A two-inch iron pipeline began transporting oil five miles through hilly terrain from a well at booming Pithole, Pennsylvania, to the Miller Farm Railroad Station at Oil Creek.
Built by Samuel Van Syckel, who had formed Oil Transportation Association, the pipeline used 15-foot welded joints. Three 10-horsepower Reed and Cogswell steam pumps pushed the oil at a rate of 81 barrels per hour. “The day that the Van Syckel pipeline began to run oil a revolution began in the business,” proclaimed Ida Tarbell in her 1904 History of the Standard Oil Company. “After the Drake well it is the most important event in the history of the Oil Regions.”
With up to 2,000 barrels of oil arriving at the terminal every day, more storage tanks were soon needed, along with a fourth pump, explained historian Samuel Pees in 2004. The pipeline transported the equivalent of 300 teamster wagons working for ten hours. With their livelihoods threatened, teamsters attempted to sabotage the pipeline, until armed guards intervened. A second oil pipeline began operating in December 1865. Also see Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.
October 13, 1917 – U.S. Oil & Gas Association founded
The United States Oil & Gas Association (USOGA) was founded as the Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association in Tulsa, Oklahoma, six months after the United States entered World War I. A group of Oklahoma independent producers, including Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland, Bill Skelly, and Robert Kerr, established the association to increase U.S. petroleum supplies for the Allied forces. In 1919, the association formed the Oklahoma-Kansas Division (now the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association).
October 13, 1954 – First Arizona Oil Well
Arizona became the 30th petroleum-producing state when Shell Oil Company completed its East Boundary Butte No. 2 well one mile south of the Utah border on Apache County’s Navajo Indian Reservation. The well indicated natural gas production of 3,150 thousand cubic feet per day, but just a few barrels of oil per day from a depth of 4,540 feet.
A rancher had reported finding oil seeps in central Arizona in the late 1890s. By 1902, a part-time prospector from Pennsylvania, Joseph Heslet, unsuccessfully drilled in search of an oilfield. His last attempt in 1916 showed traces of oil, encouraging others to drill wells that proved unsuccessful for the next five decades.
Arizona still has no significant oil reserves and total oil production in 2017 was only about 13,000 barrels, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Apache County remains the only petroleum producing county. Learn more in First Arizona Oil Well.
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