This Week in Petroleum History, March 26 to April 1
March 26, 1930 – Oklahoma City’s “Wild Mary Sudik” makes Headlines and Newsreels
What will become one of Oklahoma’s most famous wells struck a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath Oklahoma City – and oil erupted skyward. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s Mary Sudik No. 1 well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control.
The well, which produced 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, became a worldwide sensation known as “Wild Mary Sudik.”
The well in Oklahoma City’s prolific oilfield (discovered in December 1928) was featured in movie newsreels and on radio broadcasts. It was later learned that after drilling more than a mile deep, dangerously well high pressure spiked. “The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” noted one oil patch historian. “They didn’t know the Wilcox sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that sand under so much pressure found a release.”
March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist trademarks Kerosene
Canadian physician and chemist Abraham Gesner patented a process to distill coal into kerosene. “I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he proclaimed. Because his new illuminating fluid was extracted from coal, consumers called it “coal oil” as often as kerosene.
The U.S. petroleum exploration industry was launched when it was learned that kerosene also could be distilled from crude oil. With new oilfields discovered in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, inexpensive kerosene became America’s main source of light until the electric light bulb arrived.
Gesner, today considered the father of Canada’s petroleum industry, established the country’s first Museum of Natural History in 1842. The New Brunswick Museum today houses one of Canada’s oldest geological collections, according to the Petroleum History Society.
March 27, 1975 – First Pipe laid for Trans-Alaskan Pipeline
With the laying of the first section of pipe in Alaska, construction began on the largest private construction project in American history at the time. Recognized as a landmark of engineering, the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, including pumping stations and the Valdez Marine Terminal, would cost $8 billion by the time it was completed in 1977. Learn more in Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.
March 28, 1886 – Discovery launches Indiana Natural Gas Boom
A natural gas drilling boom began in Portland, Indiana, after the Eureka Gas and Oil Company found a natural gas field at a depth of only 700 feet. For a time, the state became the world’s leading natural gas producer.
The discovery arrived just months after a spectacular natural gas well about 100 miles to the northeast – the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio. “Natural gas had previously been found in large quantities in western Pennsylvania and had revolutionized the iron, steel, and glass industries of Pittsburgh, as industrialists adapted their factories to use the natural gas in place of the more expensive coal,” notes historian James Glass of Ball State University.
The prolific Trenton limestone would be found in 17 Indiana counties across 5,120 square miles. The natural gas field became the largest in the world. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas. Learn more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.
March 28, 1905 – Oilfield found in Northern Louisiana
The Offenhauser No. 1 discovery well for the giant Caddo-Pine Island oilfield in Louisiana was completed at a depth of 1,556 feet. Although the well yielded only five barrels a day and was soon abandoned, more wells followed, revealing a northern Louisiana oilfield. To prevent the loss of natural gas through flaring, Louisiana passed its first conservation law in 1906. By 1918, annual production from the Caddo-Pine Island oilfield reached 11 million barrels. Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Well and visit the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City.
March 29, 1819 – Birthday of Father of the Petroleum Industry
Edwin Laurentine Drake (1819-1880) was born in Greenville, New York. Forty years later, in the summer of 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania, he used a steam-powered cable-tool rig to drill America’s first commercial oil well.
Drake would overcome many financial and technical obstacles to make “Drake’s Folly” a milestone in energy history. He also pioneered new drilling technologies, including using iron casing to isolate his well bore from nearby Oil Creek. Seeking oil for the Seneca Oil Company for refining into a new product (kerosene) his shallow well created a new industry.
“In order to overcome the hurdles before him, he invented a ‘drive pipe’ or ‘conductor,’ an invention he unfortunately did not patent,” reports a Pennsylvania State University historian. “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”
Drake made his historic oil discovery on August 27, 1859, at a depth of 69.5 feet. Learn more in Birth of the U.S. Petroleum Industry.
March 29, 1938 – Magnolia Oilfield Discovery in Arkansas
“Kerlyn Wildcat Strike In Southern Arkansas is Sensation of the Oil Country,” declared an Arkansas newspaper headline as the Barnett No. 1 well opened the 100-million-barrel Magnolia oilfield. Drilling had been suspended by the Kerlyn Oil Company (predecessor to the Kerr-McGee company) because of a recession and lack of backers, but company vice president and geologist Dean McGee persevered. He was rewarded with the giant Arkansas oil discovery at 7,650 feet deep. McGee also would lead efforts in early offshore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.
April 1, 1911 – First Well of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas”
South of the Red River border with Oklahoma, near Electra, Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well launched an oil boom that would last decades. “As news of the gusher spread through town, people thought it was an April Fools joke and didn’t take it seriously until they saw for themselves the plume of black oil spewing high into the sky,” reports one Electra historian.
The well on cattleman William Waggoner’s lease settled into production of about 650 barrels per day from 1,628 feet. Hundreds of producing wells followed, leading to the Electra oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913. North Texas oil fever would again soar when “Roaring Ranger” erupted in 1917 in neighboring Eastland County. A third major discovery arrived with the Burkburnett oil boom in 1918.
Thanks to a campaign by dedicated community activists, in 2001 Texas legislators designated Electra the Pump Jack Capital of Texas. The 2,800 residents today host an annual Pump Jack Festival celebrating their 1911 oil discovery.
April 1, 1986 – Crude Oil Price hits Modern Low
World oil prices fell below $10 a barrel – a modern low for the petroleum industry. Causes included excessive OPEC production, worldwide recession (increasing supplies with declining demand) and a U.S. petroleum industry regulated by production and price controls.
“Saudi Arabia, tiring of cutting output to support prices, flooded the market,” notes Mark Shenk of Bloomberg News. “West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, tumbled 69 percent from $31.82 a barrel in November 1985 to $9.75 in April 1986.”
Oil prices recovered by 1990 and set a record peak of $145 per barrel in July 2008, before another price collapse to below $32 by the end of the year. For 2018, the Energy Information Administration has forecasted West Texas Intermediate oil prices to average about $58 per barrel, compared with an average of $50 in 2017.
April 1, 2011 – Cherokee Strip Regional History Center opens
Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center opened in Enid, Oklahoma, following a six-year, $10 million construction initiative led by independent producer Lew Ward of Ward Petroleum. The center today includes a rare 1927 portable drilling rig invented by George Failing. The same engine that drove the sturdy truck across the oilfields was used to power its rotary drill.
The center also includes an educational exhibit about the Champlin Refining Company, which for many years held the distinction of being the nation’s largest fully integrated oil company under private ownership while based at Enid. “Exhibits and programs will make a significant impact on future generations,” noted Ward, an early AOGHS supporter who died in 2016 after leading state and national energy industry associations and receiving numerous lifetime achievement awards. The University of Oklahoma graduate was presented the prestigious Chief Roughneck Award in 1999. The American Oil and Gas Historical Society presented him with its Oil Patch Preservationist Award in 2007.
Recommended Reading: The Oklahoma Petroleum Industry (1980); Oil Lamps The Kerosene Era In North America (1978); Amazing Pipeline Stories: How Building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Transformed Life in America’s Last Frontier (1997); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Innovations in Energy: The Story of Kerr-McGee (1980); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); Cherokee Strip Land Rush, Images of America (2006).
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