This Week in Petroleum History, September 3 to September 9
September 4, 1841 – Patent for Percussion Drilling Technology
Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris patented a “Rock Drill Jar.” It was an innovation he had been experimenting with while drilling brine wells.
“The mechanical success of cable tool drilling has greatly depended on a device called jars, invented by a spring pole driller,” explained oil historian Samuel Pees in 2004, adding that Morris used jars to drill salt wells as early as the 1830s. “Little is known about Morris except for his invention and that he listed Kanawha County (now in West Virginia) as his address. Later, using jars, the cable tool system was able to efficiently meet the demands of drilling wells for oil.”
Using experience as a brine well driller, Morris patented his device, describing it as a “manner of uniting augers to sinkers for boring artesian well.” According to Pees, the upper link of the jars worked with the overlying sinker bar to perform an important function: causing the lower link to strike a strong blow to the underlying auger stem on the upstroke. This upward blow could dislodge the bit if it was stuck in the rock formation.
The Morris telescoping link apparatus increased efficiency of percussion drilling because it could “slacken off as the bit hit bottom and pick up the bit with a snap on the upstroke.” Cable-tool drilling technology evolved rapidly as drillers improved upon Morris’ patented jars. Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.
September 5, 1885 – Birth of the “Filling Station” Pump
The modern gasoline-pump design was invented by Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sold his first pump to a grocery store owner in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” the pump’s container held 42 gallons. The pump included marble valves, a wooden plunger, and a simple, upright faucet.
With the pump’s popular success at Jake Gumper’s grocery store, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser Company and patented his invention in 1887. Within a decade – as the automobile’s popularity grew – Bowser’s company adapted and became hugely successful. By 1905 (the same year many claim the first gasoline station was built in St. Louis, Missouri) the S.F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” became known to motorists as a filling station.
The Bowser gas pump included a square metal tank and wooden cabinet equipped with a hand-levered suction pump and a hose attachment for dispensing gas directly into the automobile tank. As other pump manufacturers arrived, Fort Wayne became known as the “Gas Pump Capital of the World.” Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.
September 5, 1927 – Schlumberger Brothers test Electric Logging Tool
An electric, downhole well-logging tool was first applied near Pechelbronn, France. Brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger had modified their surface system to operate vertically in a well.
Conrad Schlumberger conceived the idea of using electrical measurements to map subsurface rock formations as early as 1912. After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers created the electric downhole well log.
Lowering their new tool into a well, they recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth – creating a well log of geologic formations. Changes in subsurface resistance readings showed variations and possible oil and natural gas producing areas. This technology breakthrough made Schlumberger the world’s first well logging oilfield service company.
September 5, 1939 – First Mississippi Oil Well
Union Producing Company completed its Woodson No. 1, the first commercial oil well in Mississippi. Drilled at Tinsley, a few miles southwest of Yazoo City, the well produced 235 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 4,560 feet in a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Field work by a young state geologist, Frederic Mellen, led to the Tinsley oilfield discovery.
Mellen, working on a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in February, found indications of a salt dome structure similar to the giant Spindletop field of 1901 in Texas. The 28-year-old geologist urged more seismographic testing. Houston-based Union Producing Company quickly leased about 2,500 acres at Perry Creek after the Mississippi State Geological Survey issued a press release about Mellen’s report.
Mellen’s original WPA project had been a clay and minerals survey, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.” Instead, he launched Mississippi’s oil industry. By June 1944, Mississippi had almost 400 wells in eight producing oilfields. Learn more in First Mississippi Oil Well.
September 7, 1917 – Oil Legacy of Governor Hogg
After drilling 20 dry holes, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company completed the No. 1 Hogg well 50 miles south of Houston. Four months later a second well produced about 600 barrels a day. These wells ended a succession of dry holes dating back to 1901 – when former Texas Governor Jim Hogg paid $30,000 for the lease. Governor Hogg had died 11 years before the two wells revealed the giant West Columbia oilfield. Fortunately for his family, he stipulated in his will the mineral rights should not be sold for 15 years after his death. The field would yield about 120,000 barrels of oil in 1918 alone.
September 7, 1923 – California Oilfield discovered at Dominguez Hills
Maj. Frederick Russell Burnham discovered oil in Dominguez Hills, an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, California, in 1923. His well produced about 1,200 barrels of oil a day from about 4,000 feet deep. Maj. Burnham, a decorated soldier for both the U.S. and British armies, was once known as “King of the Scouts.” His Burnham Exploration Company and partner Union Oil Company of California opened the Dominguez Hills oilfield, “a two-square mile, two-mile deep stack of eight producing zones.”
The region was named for a Spanish soldier who in 1784 received a land grant for grazing cattle. “But family fortunes truly took off with discovery of oil in the 1920s, first in the Torrance area and then, most resoundingly, on Dominguez Hill itself,” explains the California State University. By 1933 Burnham Exploration and Union Oil had paid more than $10 million to stockholders. Learn more California history in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.
September 9, 1928 – Oklahoma regulates Oil Production
For the first time, a state regulatory body issued an order that governed oil production for the entire state. The move was an effort to control excessive production from many newly discovered Oklahoma oilfields, including several giants of the Seminole oil boom.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission set the state’s oil production limit to 700,000 barrels daily and limited production of wildcat wells to 100 barrels of oil a day. The commission allocated 425,000 barrels of oil a day for new fields like Seminole (the premier high-gravity oilfield) and 275,000 barrels of oil a day for older fields.
Recommended Reading: Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language (2012); Schlumberger: The History of a Technique (1978); An Illustrated Guide to Gas Pumps (2008); California State University, Dominguez Hills (2010); Pico Canyon Chronicles: The Story of California’s Pioneer Oil Field (1985); Atoms for Peace and War 1953-1961 (2017).
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