This Week in Petroleum History, October 1 to October 7
October 1, 1908 – Ford produces First Model T
The first production Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line at the company’s plant in Detroit. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford built about 15 million Model T cars – fueled by inexpensive gasoline. The auto’s popularity was great timing for the U.S. petroleum industry, which had seen demand for kerosene for lamps drop because of increased use of electric lighting.
New major oilfield discoveries, including the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, helped meet growing demand for what had been a refining byproduct: gasoline. See Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.
October 1, 1942 – Water Injection Project begins in East Texas
The East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company drilled the first salt water injection well in the 12-year-old East Texas oilfield near the towns of Tyler, Longview, and Kilgore. As early as 1929, the Federal Bureau of Mines had determined injecting recovered saltwater into formations could increase reservoir pressures and oil production.
The Texas Railroad Commission established the salt water disposal company as a public utility to operate in the “Black Giant” oilfield. The company treated and re-injected about 1.5 billion barrels of saltwater in its first 13 years, prompting the commission to proclaim saltwater injection as the “greatest oil conservation project in history.”
October 2, 1919 – Future “Mr. Tulsa” incorporates Skelly Oil
Skelly Oil Company incorporated in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with founder William Grove Skelly as president. He had been born in 1878 in Erie, Pennsylvania, where his father hauled oilfield equipment in a horse-drawn wagon.
Skelly Oil Company resulted from Skelly’s early successes in the El Dorado oilfield east of Wichita, Kansas, and other petroleum industry ventures, including Midland Refining Company, which he founded in 1917. With Tulsa already famous worldwide (see Making Tulsa the Oil Capital), Skelly became known as “Mr. Tulsa” thanks to his support for civic causes; he served as president of Tulsa’s International Petroleum Exposition for 32 years until his death in 1957.
October 3, 1930 – Giant Oilfield discovered on Daisy Bradford’s Farm
With a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders, creditors and spectators watching, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 wildcat well was successfully shot with nitroglycin near Kilgore, Texas.
“All of East Texas waited expectantly while Columbus ‘Dad’ Joiner inched his way toward oil,” noted Jack Elder in The Glory Days. “Thousands crowded their way to the site of Daisy Bradford No. 3, hoping to be there when and if oil gushed from the well to wash away the misery of the Great Depression.”
Geologists were stunned when it later became apparent the well on Daisy Bradford’s farm – along with two other wells far to the north – were part of the same oil-producing formation (the Woodbine) that encompassed more than 140,000 acres. The “Black Giant” oilfield has produced more than five billion barrels of oil. Learn more in East Texas Oilfield Discovery.
October 3, 1980 – Oil Museum opens in East Texas
Fifty years after the discovery of the East Texas oilfield, the East Texas Oil Museum opened in Kilgore as “a tribute to the independent oil producers and wildcatters, the men and women who dared to dream as they pursued the fruits of free enterprise.”
Established with funding from the Hunt Oil Company, the museum at Kilgore College recreates the boom town atmosphere of the early 1930s. Among the more popular exhibits is an “elevator ride” simulation that takes visitors 3,800 feet below the earth’s surface, deep into an oil formation.
The museum’s exhibits, as well as those in oil museums in Beaumont and Galveston, are featured in American Oil & Gas Families, East Texas Independents – along with the region’s modern petroleum story. Near the East Texas Oil Museum is another popular attraction, the Rangerette Showcase and Museum.
October 5, 1915 – Science reveals Mid-Continent Oilfield
The growing science of petroleum geology played a key role in the 1915 discovery of a Mid-Continent oilfield. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the discovery well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas.
The Stapleton No. 1 well produced 95 barrels of oil a day from 600 feet before being deepened to 2,500 feet to produced 110 barrels of oil a day from the Wilcox sands. Other wells soon joined the Kansas oil boom east of Wichita.
Natural gas discoveries a year earlier in nearby Augusta had prompted El Dorado leaders to seek a geological study. For the first time, Cities Service used geological survey methods to identify a promising anticline. After the 1915 oil discovery, the company was joined by Archibald Derby, John Vickers, and William Skelly in establishing El Dorado as a major center for refining.
The Kansas Oil Museum notes lessons learned at the El Dorado oilfield led to exploration companies seeking out petroleum geologists before drilling.
October 5, 1958 – Water Park opens in West Texas
A water park inside a decades-old experimental concrete oil tank opened in West Texas. Leaks forced it to close after just one day. The Monahans,Texas, park had attracted swimmers, boaters, anglers and even skiers for its opening day.
A local couple had attempted to find a good use for the 525-foot by 422-foot “million barrel reservoir.” Once covered by a cedar roof, the tank had been completed in 1928 by Shell Oil due to a lack of pipeline for Permian Basin oil. Shell stopped using the tank because of leaks. Learn more in Million Barrel Museum.
October 7, 1859 – First U.S. Oil Well catches Fire
Near Titusville, Pennsylvania, the wooden derrick and engine house of America’s first commercial oil well erupted into flames – perhaps America’s first oil well fire.
Drilled by Edwin L. Drake the previous August, the well had produced oil from just 69.5 feet deep. Working with his driller, William “Uncle Billy” Smith, Drake had used steam-powered cable-tool technology.
“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, First Oil Fire.
October 7, 1929 – Teapot Dome brings Jail Time for Interior Secretary
Secretary of Interior Albert Fall began serving a one-year sentence in New Mexico’s Santa Fe Penitentiary for taking a $100,000 bribe in the Teapot Dome scandal. Almost 30,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming in 1910 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.
In 1922, 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. Sinclair spent six-and-a-half months in prison for contempt of court and contempt of the U.S. Senate.
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