This Week in Petroleum History, October 8 to October 14
October 8, 1915 – Elk Basin oilfield discovered in Wyoming
In a remote, scenic 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.” More well completions followed.
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, a farmer from Cowly, Wyoming, in 1906 had explored the area with C.A. Fisher.
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. Much like a major oilfield discovery in 1911 at Electra, Texas, 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
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). Today a lobbying organization in Washington, D.C., USOGA advocates industry views in energy policy.
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 has only minor crude oil production from about two dozen wells,” notes the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Of the 1,129 wells drilled in the state since 1954, almost 90 percent have been dry holes (2014 data). Apache County remains the only petroleum producing county in Arizona. Learn more in First Arizona Oil Well.
October 14, 1929 – Oilfield Discovery East of Dallas
The discovery of oil in Van, Texas, by the Pure Oil Company created an oil boom town 60 miles east of Dallas. The oilfield’s first well produced from about 2,700 feet deep in the Woodbine sandstone. By December 1929, three more successful oil wells were drilled as construction started on a camp for oilfield workers.
Pure Oil Company’s Jarman No. 1 discovery well initially produced 3,500 barrels of oil a day. By April 1930, the Van oilfield was producing 20,000 barrels of oil a day.
Two pipelines connected the field to refineries, one to the Pure refinery at Beaumont and the second to a Standard Oil Baton Rouge refinery, according to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). Oil companies also operating in the Van field adopted advanced production techniques.
“The field is significant because it was the first completely unitized field in Texas and the Mid-Continent,” TSHA notes. Van residents have celebrated the discovery with an annual oil festival since 1929. Among the oilfield’s “Cook Camp” buildings was a sheet metal warehouse that today is a museum.
Recommended Reading (October 9): The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (2008); Arizona Rocks & Minerals: A Field Guide to the Grand Canyon State (2010); History of the Pure Oil Company: 1914 to 1941 (1941); The History of the Standard Oil Company: All Volumes (2015).
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