This Week in Petroleum History, September 4 – September 10
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 petroleum 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, No. 2243 – 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, 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, 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 held 42 gallons. The pump used 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 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 Dominguez Hills. 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.
September 10, 1879 – Chevron founded in California
Chevron Corp. began in 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Company acquired the California Star Oil Works, which had made the first major oil discovery in California.
As the future major oil company grew over the century, it’s retail outlets added dozens of service station logos – including Standard Oil Company of California’s chevron, the Texaco red star, the orange disc of Gulf Oil, and the Unocal “76” logo.
“We trace our beginnings to an 1876 oil discovery at Pico Canyon, north of Los Angeles, which led to the formation of the Pacific Coast Oil Company,” notes a company historian.
“Driller Alex Mentry succeeded in striking oil in Pico No. 4, despite rattlesnakes, wasps, mud and underbrush,” he adds. This well launched California as an oil-producing state.
By 1880, Pacific Coast Oil had built California’s largest refinery, with a capacity of 600 barrels of oil a day, at Point Alameda on San Francisco Bay. In 1906, Pacific Coast Oil became part of the Standard Oil empire until it was divested in 1911. Standard Oil (California) became Socal in 1926. Chevron U.S.A. acquired Gulf Oil in 1984 and merged with Texaco in 2001.
In 2005 Chevron acquired another historic California oil company, Unocal, founded in Santa Paula in 1890. Visit the California Oil Museum located in Unocal’s original Santa Paula headquarters building. Learn more in First California Oil Well.
September 10, 1969 – Second Test of Nuclear Fracking
A 40-kiloton nuclear device was detonated underground about eight miles southeast of present-day Parachute, Garfield County, Colorado.
Project Rulison was the second of three natural gas reservoir stimulation tests that were part of Operation Plowshare, a government program to study the uses of nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes. The first, Project Gasbuggy, was a December 1967 detonation of 29 kilotons in a New Mexico natural gas well.
The third explosive experiment to increase gas production in a well was Project Rio Blanco of May 17, 1973, in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. Three 33-kiloton nuclear devices were detonated nearly simultaneously at depths of 5,838 feet, 6,230 feet and 6,689 feet below ground level. All the tests produced unusable radioactive natural gas.
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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