This Week in Petroleum History, September 17 – September 23
September 18, 1855 – First U.S. Oil Company reorganizes
In need of more capital, George Bissell and partner Jonathan Eveleth reorganized their Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the first oil company in the United States, to attract investors for drilling a well in search of oil.
The businessmen re-incorporated the New York-based Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company (established in 1854 to explore oil seeps near Titusville) into their new exploration venture, the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut.
Given the difficult economic times of the mid-1800s, capital markets of New York City had shown little interest in drilling a well for oil, seen as too highly speculative. The new company hired a former railroad conductor, Edwin Drake, who overcame many financial and technical obstacles to complete the first American oil well in 1859.
September 18, 1948 – Oil discovered in Utah
J.L. “Mike” Dougan, president of the Equity Oil Company, completed the state’s first commercial oil well in the Uinta Basin. Dougan’s small company beat out larger and better financed competitors, including Standard Oil of California, Pure Oil, Continental, and Union Oil Company. His oil discovery launched a deep-drilling boom in Utah.
Unlike the earlier attempts, Dougan drilled beyond the typical depth of 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet. His Ashley Valley No. 1 well, 10 miles southeast of Vernal, produced 300 barrels of oil a day from about 4,000 feet. Production would soon average almost one million barrels a year from 30 wells.
Following Dougan’s success, exploration companies began drilling up to 8,000 feet and even deeper into the Uinta Basin. In recent years, thanks to horizontal drilling and other technologies, the basin is estimated to hold up to 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in a region covering 15,000 square miles. Learn more in First Utah Oil Well.
September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well
Just nine months after the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, another historic oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana.
W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to wells drilled at Spindletop Hill – completed a well that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day well on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings.
Drilled in a rice field, the Jules Clements No. 1 well found oil at a depth of 1,700 feet. “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” noted the Jennings Daily News. The discovery led to the state’s first commercial oil production.
Heywood’s well opened the prolific Jennings field, which he developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks. As the Jennings oilfield reached peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906, oil discoveries in northern Louisiana continued to expand the state’s new petroleum industry. Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Well.
September 23, 1918 – Start of Wood River Refinery
Roxana Petroleum Company’s new Wood River (Illinois) facility began refining crude oil. It processed more than two million barrels of oil from Oklahoma oilfields in its first year of operation.
Roxana Petroleum Company was the 1912 creation of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which founded the American Gasoline Company in Seattle to distribute gasoline on the West Coast. Roxana Petroleum was established in Oklahoma to produce the state’s high quality oil to be refined at the Wood River plant.
September 23, 1933 – Standard Oil of California Geologists visit Saudi Arabia
Invited by Saudi Arabian King Abdel Aziz, geologists from Standard Oil Company of California arrived at the Port of Jubail in the Persian Gulf. Searching the desert for petroleum and “kindred bituminous matter,” they discovered a giant oilfield. This early partnership between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil became known as the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), later joined by Texaco and other major U.S. companies.
September 23, 1947 – New Patent for “Hortonspheres”
The Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I) received a patent for improvements to a spherical storage vessel invented by the company’s founder in the 1920s. Designed to store natural gas, butane, propane and other volatile petroleum products, the efficient sphere was among the most important storage innovations to come to the U.S. petroleum industry.
First erected in 1923, CB&I named the “Hortonspheres” after engineer Horace E. Horton, who had started the company in 1889 to build bridges across the Mississippi River. The company built its first elevated water tank in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1892.
“The elevated steel plate tank was the first built with a full hemispherical bottom, one of the company’s first technical innovations,” notes a CB&I historian. In 1923 at Port Arthur, Texas, the company (which merged into McDermott International in May 2018) built “the world’s first field-erected spherical pressure vessel.” Learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres.
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