Arkansas Oil Ventures

Arkansas oil discoveries as early as the 1920s created boom towns and launched the state’s petroleum industry. In the 1950s, Arkansas Oil Ventures would try but fail to be part of a drilling resurgence.

Arkansas’ first commercial oil well was drilled in 1921 at El Dorado in Union County, 15 miles north of the Louisiana border. The 68-square-mile field will lead U.S. oil output by 1925 – with production reaching 70 million barrels.

When another well revealed the Smackover field, Arkansas oil fever began. It would last for decades. The Fayetteville Shale, a 50-mile-wide formation across central Arkansas, promised large quantities of natural gas. Petroleum technologies of the time could not economically produced it. Read more in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

Although glory days of Arkansas oil production dropped from about 58 million barrels of oil in 1926 to 12 million barrels by 1932, a dozen more major fields were discovered between 1936 and 1947. (more…)

Sound Cities Gas & Oil Company

Washington state had never experienced significant commercial oil production until a wildcat well drilled by the Sound Cities Gas & Oil Company during the Great Depression. The company found just enough oil to instill oil fever about 40 miles south of Seattle.

Although West Coast oil seeps had led to major California oil discoveries, Washington (and Oregon) geology had frustrated exploration companies for decades. Sound Cities Gas & Oil, which had offices in Seattle and Tacoma, drilled near coal seams with seeps already producing flames.

Sound Cities Gas and Oil Company 1922 stock certificate,

Despite its advertised “modern scientific drilling operations” and exploration efforts near natural seeps, success eluded Sound Cities Gas & Oil Company.

Using a cable-tool drilling rig near the town of Enumclaw, the company drilled the Bobb No. 1 well seeking a hillside anticline. Geologists had long recognized anticlines – created by the up-folding of rocks, similar to an arch – as potential oil and natural gas traps. (more…)

National Oil Company of New Jersey

Bandits and revolution in Mexico are not good for petroleum exploration.

 

National Oil Company of New Jersey (later the New National Oil Company of Delaware) originally formed in August 1910, as a holding company with multiple subsidiaries. The venture’s activities included shipping as well as oil exploration drilling operations in Texas, Louisiana — and during the Mexican Revolution.

Further, a subsidiary National Oil Company of Mexico (formerly Cie Exploradora Del Petroleo) held title to about 36,000 acres of oil-produing land as well as a tidewater terminal and other facilities on the Panuco River near Tampico, Mexico.

The leases on La Herradura and Los Chijoles came under attack during Mexico’s revolutionary period. On April 17, 1914, Constitutionalist forces raided, appropriated livestock and equipment, and forced the company to abandon a 30,000 barrel a day gusher that had yet to be capped. They returned 30 days later, but negotiations with Mexico over damages would last for decades. (more…)

Early Wells of Oil Creek

Learning hard lessons about wasteful overproduction and depleted reservoir pressures.

 

The discovery of oil along a small creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in August 1859 launched the American petroleum industry. Drilled just 69.5 feet deep at Oil Creek by former railroad conductor Edwin Drake, the well produced oil that could be refined into an inexpensive lamp fuel, kerosene.

Drake, who pioneered drilling technology, borrowed a local kitchen water pump to fill the first oil barrels. Early oil production from his and other northwestern Pennsylvania wells brought new refineries to Oil City and Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River. Demand for kerosene quickly outpaced the inexpensive but volatile lamp fuel camphene.

Kerosene also replaced expensive whale oil. A typical four-year whaling voyage returned with 40,000 gallons; New oilfields produced 10 million gallons of kerosene in 1860 alone.

foster farm and oil wells in PA map

Four acres close to the Sherman well sold for $220,000 as venture oil capitalists, entrepreneurs, and speculators tried their luck in the newly created petroleum industry.

Drake’s well, drilled for the first U.S. oil company established by George Bissell, brought the country’s first drilling boom as entrepreneurs rushed in. Farmers who leased their land were among the first to benefit.

“Oil Creek was soon taken up and within a relatively short time, the entire valley as far back as into the hillsides, had been leased or purchased,” author Paul Gibbons noted.

With the science of petroleum geology yet to debut, early oil explorers searched near oil seeps and the “rich territory was limited to flats along the streams,” Gibbons added. Natural gas discoveries would later arrive to the benefit of Pittsburgh industries.

Sherman Well of 1861

 J.T. Foster’s farm on Pioneer Run hillside off Oil Creek was in “the dry diggings” where few were willing to gamble. Nonetheless, newly minted oil operators gathered investors to try to find oil. Capital was hard to come by.

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On the 200-acre Foster farm, one struggling and almost cashless outfit had to trade a one-sixteenth interest for $80 and an old shotgun to continue drilling on its Sherman well.

Drilling along Oil Creek continued undiminished, but in September 1861 on the Funk farm, the Empire well began flowing a river of oil under its own pressure. They called it a “fountain well.” Some said it initially produced 2,000 barrels of oil a day. Other successful wells followed.

Back on the Foster farm lease, the Sherman well (saved earlier for $80 and a shotgun) in March 1862 was completed as the “best single strike of the year,” despite being “above all the other flowing wells” according to the Hornellsville Tribune. Leases became highly prized and, as historian Terence Daintith observed, “subleasing was also a money machine.”

Foster Farm Oil Company building circa 1866,

Oilfield offices of the Shoe & Leather Petroleum company, David Harris Supply Company, and the Foster Farm Oil Company, which drilled an 1866 well that produced 300 barrels of oil.

The Venango Citizen reported, “Territory along the river above and below Franklin has been changing hands at high figures, and preparations are being made for active work.”

Just four acres close to the Sherman well sold for $220,000 as venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and speculators tried their luck in the newly created petroleum industry. The Foster Farm Oil Company and the Shoe & Leather Petroleum Company were among many corporations formed to exploit exploration opportunities.

Foster Farm Oil Company

Foster Farm Oil Company incorporated in February 1865. Based in Philadelphia and capitalized at $1.5 million, the company offered 150,000 shares to the public. “The Foster Farm is owned by a company of ten gentlemen, and is known as the Foster Farm Oil Company,” reported the The Titusville Morning Herald. E.C. Bishop (Elisa Chapman ) was principal owner as well as one time general agent, treasurer, and superintendent.

The new company secured acreage on the Foster farm that already had 12 wells pumping 100 barrels of oil a day. Foster leased acreage in small tracts to several new companies vying for closest proximity to known producers. Oil prices had always fluctuated wildly, but a standard 42-gallon barrel of crude oil sold in 1865 for about $6.50, including a Civil War excise tax of $1 per barrel.

Foster Farm Oil Company continued drilling and subleasing small tracts. In April 1866, it drilled a well producing 300 barrels of oil a day from 612 feet deep. Then a second well produced at 310 barrels, a third at 100, and another at 350 barrels of oil a day. In 1867, Foster Farm Oil Company sold 1,000 barrels of oil at $2.10 each.

All over the Pioneer Run hillside, wooden derricks with steam engines pumped away even as overproduction drained the oilfield. Margins disappeared and companies began to fail. 

Foster Farm Oil Company’s fortunes faded, as did the value of its stock. In 1869, total U.S. oil production topped 4 million barrels and oversupply drove many out of business. After 10 years in the oil patch, Elisha C. Foster departed to enter the banking business in Connecticut.

By 1871, shares of Foster Farm Oil were being auctioned off along with other “Stocks, Loans, etc.” The following year, 5,000 shares of Foster Farm Oil Company were offered at 11 cents a share. Litigation began to overtake the failing company in 1873; it would continue long after the drilling boom had moved on, finally being settled by the Connecticut Superior Court in 1886.

Shoe & Leather Petroleum

Shoe & Leather Petroleum Company incorporated in New York City in March 1865 to join the Pennsylvania oil rush. The company initially capitalized at $400,000, later reduced to $160,000. “Until the spring of 1865, the Foster Farm, Pioneer Run and vicinity were considered dry territory. Through the exertions of Mr. David Harris of this city, the Shoe & Leather Petroleum was formed,” reported the Titusville Morning Herald.

The company leased six acres on the Foster farm, then subleased them into 11 smaller tracts – the kind sought by smaller, speculative operations. “Substantial leaseholders could milk their leases by subleasing small lots for large premiums and high royalties,” historian Daintith later noted. “Far more money could be made this way than by actual production.”

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By 1867, Shoe & Leather Petroleum had five producing wells, on five different tracts, with five different operators, yielding about 350 barrels of oil a day. But frantic production at Pioneer Run and Oil Creek, compelled land owners above oil reserves to drill, “regardless of price or market demand, in order to prevent his neighbor from draining his reserves.”

This traditional “law of capture” rendered an oily landscape thick with derricks, according to local accounts.

Overproduction and waste depleted reservoir pressures. Wells were pumped dry. Triumph Hill, and Pithole and other examples reinforced the precedent of oil discovery leading to drilling boom, and then to inevitable bust. By 1902, United States Investor reported Shoe Leather & Petroleum Company had “disappeared” and concluded, “The supposition is that the company has gone out of existence.” 

In 1904, Smythe’s Directory of Obsolete American Securities and Corporations described Shoe & Leather Petroleum, “Extinct. Stock worthless.”

The stories of exploration and production companies can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?

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Recommended Reading:  Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Early Wells of Oil Creek.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/early-wells-of-oil-creek. Last Updated: April 15, 2022. Original Published Date: December 22, 2018.

 

Dramatic Oil Company

John Wilkes Booth and actor friends drilled for Pennsylvania oil in 1864 — and found it.

 

After forming an oil company and drilling for “black gold” in booming northwestern Pennsylvania, the actor’s dreams of a petroleum fortune collapsed in June 1864. He then sought fame as a martyr to the Confederacy. A failed oilman turned assassin.

As the Civil War approached its bloody conclusion, John Wilkes Booth in January 1864 made the first of several trips to Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he purchased an oil lease on the Fuller farm. Maps of the day reveal the three-acre strip of land on the farm, about one mile south of Franklin and on the east side of the Allegheny River.

Hidden deep in the woods of the “Valley that Changed the World,” a small concrete marker can be found (with some effort) at the actual site where the future assassin drilled for oil. The weathered post and Booth’s capped well stand about 20 miles south of larger monument at an oil museum and park at Titusville — where the first commercial U.S. oil well was drilled by former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake.

Dramatic Oil founder John Wilkes Booth portrait by Alexander Gardner.

John Wilkes Booth’s dreams of Pennsylvania oil wealth ended in July 1864. Photo by Alexander Gardner courtesy Library of Congress.

Drilled for the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, Drake’s August 27, 1859, discovery launched a drilling boom that made newspaper headlines (the industry’s first “dry hole” a few days later did not). Investors had organized Seneca Oil for  tax advantages after founding the first American oil company established to drill for oil, the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York. (more…)

Montana Belle Oil & Gas Company

Although successful oil wells had been drilled as early as 1901, oil fever arrived in Montana with the October 1915 discovery of the Elk Basin oilfield in Carbon County.

More discoveries came at the Cat Creek oilfield in 1920 and in the Kevin-Sunburst oilfield of 1922, both of which motivated businessmen in Miles City to form the Montana Bell Oil & Gas Company. They filed to do business in the state on March 8, 1924, but their timing was terrible.

In the last few months of 1924 alone, a financial crisis described by Montana’s superintendent of banks as a “veritable nightmare” closed 191 banks.

Wooden derrick similar to Montana's first oil well was drilled in 1901.

Montana’s first oil well was drilled in 1901 in the Kintla Lake area that’s now part of Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Montana.

Between 1921 and 1926, no state had more bankruptcies than Montana. Newspapers reported in 1924 reported “the tremulous activity” of Montana Belle Oil that “may be expected in this country within the year, unless present plans halted.”

Nonetheless, Montana Belle Oil & Gas was able to secure a mineral lease from Adolph F. Loesch west of Miles City in April 1926. The company selected a drilling site for its first well in typically foreboding southeast Montana (see Public Land Survey System, Northeast Quarter of Section 28, Township 8 North, Range 45 East).

Drilling the wildcat well during hard financial times and in a remote location slowed progress. Legal issues also troubled the company, according to reports in the Billings Gazette.

“With the settlement of differences arising without recourse to the courts, the officers of the Montana Belle Oil & Gas company are preparing to proceed,” the newspaper noted in January 1928.

“Drilling in the Montana Belle Oil and Gas company well, located about twelve miles west of this city is proceeding 24 hours a day,” the reporter added.

Using dated cable-tool drilling technology, the company reached a depth of 1,035 feet. The Billings Gazette reported the company’s objective was a depth of 1,750 feet, “in accordance with the report of the geologist who has made a survey and examination of the earth strata, and at which it is expected that results will follow. Gas is also in evidence in the hole.”

Investors and stockholders were encouraged that the well was “showing some light oil though not in commercial quantities.” The drilling continued into deeper formations. Then on October 24, 1929 — “Black Thursday” — the U.S. stock market crashed, leading to the Great Depression.

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In December 1929, five years after incorporating, Montana Belle Oil and Gas Company’s only oil well shut down for the winter. It reportedly had reach the impressive depth of 4,562 feet, but drilling never resumed.

Montana Belle Oil and Gas Company failed in 1930, as did Miles City’s oil refinery and many other oilfield businesses. The first Montana oil well was drilled in 1901 in the Kintla Lake area, later part of Glacier National Park. More about the state’s petroleum history can be found in the 2011 article “Montana’s first oil well was drilled at Kintla Lake in 1901.”

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The stories of exploration and production companies joining petroleum booms (and avoiding busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything? Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Montana Belle Oil & Gas Company .” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL:  https://aoghs.org/old-oil-stocks/montana-belle-oil-amp-gas-company. Last Updated: April 13, 2022. Original Published Date: April 13, 2022.

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