This Week in Petroleum History, September 18 – September 24
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. 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, Utah, produced 300 barrels of oil a day from about 4,000 feet. Production would soon average almost one million barrels a year from about 30 wells in the field. Exploration companies began drilling 5,000 feet to 8,000 feet and even deeper into the Uinta Basin. Today, the basin is estimated to have 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 7,000-barrel-a-day well on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings. Drilled in a rice field, the Jules Clements No. 1 found oil at 1,700 feet, leading to the state’s first commercial oil production.
According to the Jennings Daily News, “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.”
The discovery opened the prolific Jennings field, which Heywood 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 (later Chevron) 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 highly efficient sphere was one of the great innovations to come to the oil patch.
First erected in 1923, CB&I named the “Hortonspheres” after Horace E. Horton, who had started the company in 1889 to build bridges across the Mississippi River. CB&I 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 history. CB&I built “the world’s first field-erected spherical pressure vessel” at Port Arthur, Texas. “Since its introduction, CB&I has built 70 percent of the world’s field-erected spheres.” Learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres.
September 24, 1951 – Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology
Call it a “downhole bazooka.” In 1951, war veteran Henry Mohaupt applied to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun.” He brought a key World War II anti-tank technology to the petroleum industry.
Mohaupt had been in charge of a secret U.S. Army program to develop an anti-tank weapon. His idea of using a conically hollowed out explosive charge to direct and focus detonation energy ultimately produced a rocket grenade used in the bazooka.
After the war, the potential of these downhole rocket grenades to facilitate flow from oil-bearing strata was recognized by the Well Explosives Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The company employed Mohaupt to develop new technologies for safely perforating cement casing and pipe. Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.
Recommended Reading: Utah Oil Shale: Science, Technology, and Policy Perspectives (2016); Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012); The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (2008); The Bazooka (2012); Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields (1990).
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.