This Week in Petroleum History, October 22 to October 28
October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well launches Wyoming Boom
Wyoming’s first oil boom began when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek completed the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper. The Salt Creek area’s oil potential had been known since the 1880s, but a central salt dome received little attention until Italian geologist Cesare Porro recommended drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.
An English corporation, the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drilled the discovery well, which produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet deep. By 1930, about one-fifth of all oil produced in the United States came from the Salt Creek oilfield. Water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004. Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.
October 23, 1948 – “Smart Pig” advances Pipeline Inspection
Northern Natural Gas Company recorded the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds. The company examined a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – today known as a “smart pig” – traveled up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.
As early as 1926, U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” suitable for large pipelines. Modern inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.
October 23, 1970 – LNG powers World Land Speed Record
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered the Blue Flame to a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour – a world record that would stand for 27 years.
A rocket motor combining LNG and hydrogen peroxide fueled the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame, which set the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The unique motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.
Sponsored by the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame design came from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth.
After building their record-setting X-1 rocket dragster in 1967 – and getting the attention of AGA executives – the engineers began design and construction of the far more ambitious Blue Flame natural gas rocket car.
Keller explains that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, the AGA “suits” saw the value of educating consumers about LNG.
“The Blue Flame was really ‘green’ – it was fueled by clean-burning natural gas and hydrogen peroxide,” he explains. “It was the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”
October 26, 1970 – Joe Roughneck Statue
Governor Preston Smith of Texas dedicated a “Joe Roughneck” statue in Boonsville on the 20th anniversary of a giant natural gas field discovery there. In 1950, the Lone Star Gas Company Vaught No. 1 well discovered the Boonsville field, which produced 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 20 years. By 2001 the field reached production of 3.1 trillion cubic feet of gas from 3,500 wells.
“Joe Roughneck” began as a character in Lone Star Steel Company advertising in the 1950s. A bronze bust has been awarded every year since 1955 at the annual Chief Roughneck Award ceremony of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).
In addition to the Boonsville monument, Joe’s rugged mug today sits atop three different Texas oilfield monuments: Joinerville (1957), Conroe (1957) and Kilgore (1986). Learn more in Meet Joe Roughneck.
October 27, 1763 – Birth of the “Father of American Geology”
William Maclure, who would become a renowned American geologist and “stratigrapher,” was born in Ayr, Scotland. He created the earliest geological maps of North America in 1809.
After settling in the United States in 1797, Maclure explored the eastern part of North America to prepare the first geological map of the United States. His travels from Maine to Georgia in 1808 resulted in the first geological map of the new United States, published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.
“Here, in broad strokes, he identifies six different geological classes,” a Princeton historian reported later. “Note that the chain of the Appalachian Mountains is correctly labeled as containing the most primitive, or oldest, rock.”
When Benjamin Silliman, a Yale chemist, organized the American Geological Society in 1819, Maclure was elected its first president. Most geologists consider Maclure (1763-1840) the “Father of American Geology.” In the 1850s, Silliman’s son, also a Yale chemist, analyzed samples of Pennsylvania “rock oil” for refining into kerosene. His report led to drilling America’s first oil well in 1859.
October 27, 1923 – Lion Oil Refining Company founded in Arkansas
Lion Oil Company was founded as a refining Company in El Dorado, Arkansas, by Texan Thomas Harry Barton. He earlier had organized the El Dorado Natural Gas Company and acquired a 2,000-barrel-a-day refinery in 1922.
Production from the nearby Smackover oilfield helped the Lion Oil Refining Company’s refining capacity grow to 10,000 barrels a day. By 1925, the company acquired oil wells producing 1.4 million barrels of oil. A merger with Monsanto Chemical in 1955 brought the gradual disappearance of the once familiar “Beauregard Lion” logo.
Lion Oil today markets petroleum products, including gasoline, low-sulfur diesel, solvents, propane and asphalt. Learn more Arkansas history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.
October 28, 1926 – Yates Field discovered in West Texas
The giant, 26,400-acre Yates oilfield was discovered in a remote area of Pecos County, Texas, in the increasingly prolific Permian Basin. Drilled in 1926 with a $15,000 cable-tool rig, the Ira Yates 1-A produced 450 barrels of oil a day from just under 1,000 feet.
Prior to the discovery, Ira Yates had struggled to keep his ranch, located on the northern border of the Chihuahua Desert. “Drought and predators nearly did him in” notes one account, until he convinced a San Angelo company to explore for oil west of the Pecos River.
With the discovery well 30 miles from the nearest oil pipeline, a 55,000-barrel steel storage tank was under construction when four more Yates wells began yielding an additional 12,000 barrels of oil daily. Ira Yates would receive an $18 million oil royalty check on his 67th birthday. Also see Alley Oop’s Oil Roots and Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.
Recommended Reading: The Salt Creek Oil Field: Natrona County, Wyo., 1912 (reprint, 2017); Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993); The Reluctant Rocketman: A Curious Journey in World Record Breaking (2013); Historic Photos of Texas Oil (2012); Maclure of New Harmony: Scientist, Progressive Educator, Radical Philanthropist (2009).
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