This Week in Petroleum History, September 2 to September 8
September 2, 1910 – Cities Service Company incorporates
Henry Doherty formed the Cities Service Company as a public utility holding company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Doherty bought producing properties in Kansas and Oklahoma as he acquired distributing companies and linked them to growing natural gas supplies. His company derived income from the subsidiary corporations’ stock dividends.
In 1915, a Cities Service Company subsidiary, Wichita Natural Gas Company, discovered the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield. In 1928, another subsidiary, Empire Oil & Refining, discovered the Oklahoma City oilfield.
Federal court mandates in 1940 resulted in Cities Service’s divestiture of its public utilities, and in 1959 the remaining companies were reformed as Cities Service Oil Company, which changed its marketing brand to CITGO in 1964. Occidental Petroleum acquired the company in 1982. Four years later, Petróleos de Venezuela, purchased 50 percent of CITGO. The remainder of the company, today based in Houston, was acquired by the Venezuela state-owned oil company in 1990.
September 4, 1841 – Patent for Percussion Drilling Technology
Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris, a spring pole driller in West Virginia, 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.” The upper link of the jars helped the lower link to strike 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 – Petroleum Legacy of Governor Jim 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 8, 1891- Patent issued for “Flexible Driving Shafts”
The modern concept of horizontal drilling may have begun with two late-19th century patents by John Smalley Campbell of London. After receiving a British patent for his “useful improvements in flexible driving shafts or cables” in 1889, Campbell received a U.S. patent (no. 459,152) for his drilling method. While the main application described in the patent was dental, “the patent also carefully covered use of his flexible shafts at much larger and heavier physical scales,” explained geologist Stephen M. Testa in a 2015 article for Pacific Petroleum Geology Newsletter. Testa cited Cambell’s 1891 patent description: “My invention relates more particularly to the flexible driving-shaft or cable used in dental engines; but it is also applicable to flexible shafts or cables of larger size such, for example, as those used in engineers shops for drilling holes in boiler-plates or other like heavy work. The flexible shafts or cables ordinarily employed are not capable of being bent to and working at a curve of very short radius…”
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