The first Louisiana oil well discovered the giant Jennings oilfield in 1901 and launched the Pelican State’s petroleum industry. Almost a quarter million wells would be drilled by 2014.
Nine months after the 1901 headline-making oil discovery at Spindletop, Texas, oil erupted 90 miles to the east. W. Scott Heywood – already successful wildcatter at Spindletop – drilled a well that revealed the Jennings oilfield. His September 21 Louisiana gusher initially produced 7,000-barrels of oil a day.
Louisiana’s first commercial oil well came in on the Jules Clements farm about seven miles northeast of Jennings. Local investors earlier had formed the Jennings Oil Company and hired Scott, who recognized that natural gas seeps found nearby were nearly identical to the conditions observed at Spindletop.
Scott would insist on drilling deeper than many investors thought wise.
“At the age 29, W. Scott Haywood was already a seasoned, experienced and successful explorer,” notes the Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS). “He had gone to Alaska in 1897 during the great Yukon gold rush, sinking a shaft and mining a profitable gold deposit.”
Haywood, who also had drilled several successful oil wells in California, was one of the first to reach Spindletop following news of the “Lucas Gusher” of January 10, 1901.
Haywood eventually convinced the reluctant Clements to allow drilling in the farmer’s rice field. The Clements farm was at the small, unincorporated community of Evangeline in Acadia Parish, northeast of Jennings.
However, after drilling to 1,000 feet without finding oil or natural gas, the Jennings Oil Company’s investors wanted to abandon the first attempt.
“After all, 1,000 feet had been deep enough to discover the tremendous oil gushers at Spindletop field,” explains Scott Smiley of the LGS. “Instead of drilling two wells to a depth of 1,000 feet each, Heywood persuaded the investors to change the contract to accept a single well drilled to a depth of 1,500 feet.”
More drilling pipe was brought in and the well deepened.
Heywood finally found oil at 1,700 feet – after some discouraged investors had sold their stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. By 1,500 feet, stock in the Jennings Oil Company even sold for as little as 25 cents per share. Patient investors were rewarded with the gusher of 7,000 barrels of oil per day.
According to the Jennings Daily News, “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice.”
Although the Jules Clements No. 1 well is on only a 1/32 of an acre lease, it marked the state’s first oil production and launched the Louisiana petroleum industry. It opened the prolific Jennings field, which Heywood developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks.
The Jennings oilfield reached its peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906. Meanwhile, an October 1905 discovery in northern Louisiana further expanded the state’s young petroleum industry. Visit the Louisiana Oil City Museum.
Haywood returned to Alaska in 1908 on a big-game hunting trip. He retraced much of his travels to the Klondike gold fields, notes Smiley.
“After a brief retirement in California, he returned to Jennings and drilled several wells at Jennings and elsewhere in Louisiana,” Smiley reports, adding the he also found success at the Borger and Panhandle oilfields in Texas.
“Heywood returned to Jennings in 1927 and assisted Gov. Huey P. Long in passing legislation to provide schoolbooks for children,” concludes the LGS geologist in Jennings Field – The Birthplace of Louisiana’s Oil Industry, September 2001.
Among all petroleum producing states in 2014, Louisiana ranked fourth in natural gas production and tenth in oil production.
Editor’s Note – A retired professor challenged the date of Louisiana’s first commercial oil well during a 2011 presentation at Carnegie Library in Sulphur. Thomas Watson, PhD, “has uncovered evidence that the first producing oil well in Louisiana was at the Sulphur Mines in 1886,” notes an article in the Sulphur Daily News. “This information could alter the history of oil production in Louisiana.”
In 2014, the cumulative number of wells drilled in Louisiana from the first year of production (1902 for oil, 1905 for natural gas) was 230,647, according to the IPAA Oil & Gas Producing Industry in Your State. Of those wells, 35 percent were dry holes (80,907).
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