This Week in Petroleum History, October 16 to October 22
October 16, 1931 – Natural Gas Pipeline Record
America’s first long-distance, high-pressure natural gas pipeline went into service during the Great Depression, linking prolific Texas Panhandle gas fields to consumers in Chicago.
A.O. Smith Corporation had developed the technology of thin-walled longitudinal pipe and Continental Construction Corporation built the 980-mile bolted flange pipeline for the Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America (NGPL).
The $75 million project consumed 209,000 tons of A.O. Smith’s specially fabricated 24-inch diameter steel pipe (the pipe filled 6,500 freight cars) and required 2,600 separate right-of-way leases. Texoma Natural Gas Company distributed the gas to Chicago businesses and residents. Today, NGPL operates about 9,200 miles of pipeline, “with more than 1 million compression horsepower and 288 Bcf of working gas storage.”
October 17, 1890 – Union Oil of California founded
Wallace Hardison, Lyman Stewart and Thomas Bard established the Union Oil Company of California in Santa Paula in 1890. Soon known as Unocal, the company moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1901. The original headquarters in Santa Paula, a California Historical Landmark, houses the California Oil Museum. Unocal merged its upstream business with Chevron in 2005.
October 17, 1917 – “Roaring Ranger” Oil Discovery
One century ago, a wildcat well between Abilene and Dallas launched a Texas drilling boom that helped fuel the Allied victory in World War I.
The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well erupted oil about two miles south of the small town of Ranger, which had been founded in the 1870s near a Texas Ranger camp in northeastern Eastland County. Petroleum companies had searched the region with limited success since 1904.
Texas and Pacific Coal Company’s William Knox Gordon completed the discovery well at 3,432 feet deep. It initially produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day of quality, high gravity oil. Within 20 months the exploration company’s stock value jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share.
“Roaring Ranger” launched a drilling boom that extended to nearby towns. More gushers followed, some producing up to 10,000 barrels of oil every day. Ranger’s population quickly grew from 1,000 to 30,000.
The petroleum proved essential in World War I. When the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”
After the war, a young veteran – Conrad Hilton – visited Eastland County intending to buy a Texas bank. When his bank deal fell through, Hilton (at the Cisco train station ready to leave), noticed across the street a small motel with a long line of roughnecks waiting for a room.
October 17, 1973 – OPEC Embargo
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implemented what it called “oil diplomacy,” prohibiting any nation that had supported Israel in the “Yom Kippur War” from buying the cartel’s oil.
The OPEC embargo brought an end to years of cheap gasoline, caused the New York Stock Exchange to drop by almost $100 billion, and created one of the worst recessions in U.S. history.
America’s low domestic reserves required annually importing almost 30 percent of the petroleum it needed. Dependence on foreign supplies peaked in 2005. In 2014, thanks to new technologies, the United States became the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.
October 18, 2008 – Derrick dedicated in Discovery 1 Park
Discovery One Park in Bartlesville – site of a renovated Nellie Johnstone No. 1, Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well – was dedicated with a reenactment of the dramatic moment that changed Oklahoma history.
Events included local roughneck reenactors bringing in the 84-foot derrick’s oil well with a water gusher. A similar cable-tool drilling rig thrilled spectators in 1897, when Jenny Cass, stepdaughter of Bartlesville founder George W. Keeler, was given the honor of “shooting” the oil well.
October 20, 1949 – Rare Natural Gas Well in Maryland
The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland was drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County – the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer Beachy well produced almost 500 Mcf of natural gas a day.
The wildcat discovery prompted a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depleted the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produced natural gas, but overall production from the field was low. No oil has yet been found in Maryland
October 21, 1921 – First Natural Gas Well in New Mexico
New Mexico’s natural gas industry was launched with the newly formed Aztec Oil Syndicate’s State No. 1 well about 15 miles northeast of Farmington in San Juan County.
The well produced 10 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. The crew used a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead was shipped in from Colorado.
By Christmas, a pipeline reached two miles into the town of Aztec where citizens enjoyed New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service. By 1922, natural gas could be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month (for a gas heater) and $2.25 (for a gas stove). Learn more about the state’s petroleum history in New Mexico Oil Discovery.
Recommended Reading (October 16): Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century (2015); The 76 bonanza: The fabulous life and times of the Union Oil Company of California (1966); Ranger, Images of America (2010); Desert Kingdoms to Global Powers: The Rise of the Arab Gulf (2016); Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Postcard History Series (2000); Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982).
Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on levels and types of sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.