Halliburton and the Healdton Oilfield

Shallow Oklahoma oilfield discovered in 1913 helped launch many petroleum careers.

 

 

It began in 1919 when a 27-year-old inventor began using his new method for cementing oil wells. His company would become among the largest oilfield service companies in the world.

Erle Palmer Halliburton (1892-1957) arrived in Ardmore, Oklahoma, during the frenzied drilling boom of the Healdton oilfield, after working in another headline-making boom town in Burkburnett, Texas.

Halliburton’s New Method Oil Well Cementing Company would receive many patents on its way to becoming Halliburton Corporation, which in 2018 employed 80,000 worldwide, specializing in “locating hydrocarbons and managing geological data, to drilling and formation evaluation, well construction and completion, and optimizing production through the life of the field.”

Oklahoma’s Healdton field had been revealed by the Wirt Franklin No. 1 well in August 1913, about 20 miles northwest of Ardmore. The well revealed the Healdton field, which soon became known as the “poor man’s field,” because of its shallow depth and consequent low cost of drilling. The area quickly attracted independent producers with limited financial backing — edging out many major oil companies.

Pierce-Arrow exhibit at oil museum in Healdton

The Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin’s Pierce-Arrow. The museum hosts annual oil history events.

“Within a 22-mile swath across Carter County, one of the nation’s greatest oil discoveries was made – the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Field,” noted historian Kenny Arthur Franks in his 1989 book, Ragtown: A History of the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Oil Field.

“Encompassing some of the richest oil-producing land in America, Healdton and Hewitt, discovered in 1913 and 1919 respectively, produced an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” he explained.

In addition to launching Halliburton’s petroleum career, it also helped independent producer Wirt Franklin became the first president of  the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) in 1929. Among those who established themselves at Healdton were Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner and former Governor Charles Haskell. The Healdton Oil Museum preserves their exploration heritage.

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Thanks to the Healdton drilling boom and its many shallow wells, Halliburton established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan. He was soon experimenting with technologies to improve oil well production. Water intrusion hampered many wells, requiring time and expense for pumping out. Water, he noted in a 1920 patent application, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”

Awarded a U.S. patent in 1921 for his “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” the 28-year-old inventor was just beginning. The cementing innovation – at first resisted by some oilfield skeptics – isolated the various down-hole zones, guarded against collapse of the casing and permitted control of the well throughout its producing life.

Halliburton statue in Duncan, Oklahoma.

The city of Duncan, Oklahoma, dedicated a Halliburton statue in 1993.

Halliburton’s well cementing process revolutionized how oil and natural gas wells were completed. He went on to patent much of today’s cementing technology – including the jet mixer, the remixer and the float collar, guide shoe and plug system, bulk cementing, multiple-stage cementing, advanced pump technology and offshore cementing technology.

Pike added that Halliburton’s only real service company competitor for decades was Carl Baker of Baker Oil Tools.

Meanwhile, another Oklahoma oilfield service company, the Reda Pump Company, had been founded by Armais Arutunoff, thanks to help from his close friend Frank Phllips and Phillips Petroleum of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  Arutunoff has invented a practical electric submersible pump). Use of Arutunoff artificial lift pumps would dominate oilfields by 1938.

Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company in 1938 expanded into offshore work with a barge-mounted unit cementing a well off the Louisiana coast. A major petroleum industry milestone came in 1949, when Halliburton and Stanolind Oil Company completed a well near Duncan, Oklahoma – the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing (see Shooters – A “Fracking” History).

“Halliburton was ever the tinkerer. He owned nearly 50 patents,” noted William Pike, former editor-in-chief of E&P magazine. “Most are oilfield, and specifically cementing related, but the number includes patents for an airplane control, an opposed piston pump, a respirator, an airplane tire and a metallic suitcase.”

Learn more about Halliburton’s oilfield inventiveness in Halliburton cements Wells.

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Recommended Reading:  Erle P. Halliburton: Genius with Cement (1959). 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Halliburton and the Healdton Oilfield.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/halliburton-and-healdton-oilfield. Last Updated: May 3, 2021. Original Published Date: July 14, 2015.

 

Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields

Natural oil seeps, vast oilfields, and the beginning of the California petroleum industry.

 

“Everyone thinks of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city, but the city’s relationship with petroleum products is far more significant than just consumption.” — Center for Land Use Interpretation

 Camouflaged oil drilling rig in downtown Los Angeles.

Edward Doheny discovered the Los Angeles oilfield in 1892 when he drilled into tar seeps near present-day Dodger Stadium. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Culver City, California.

When struggling prospector Edward L. Doheny and his mining partner Charles A. Canfield decided to dig a well in 1892, they chose a site already known for its “tar” pools that bubbled to the surface.

Some historians report that Doheny was downtown when he noticed a cart with a black substance on its wheels. The Los Angeles oilfield’s history would begin when Doheny asked the driver where he had come from.

On April 20, 1892, Doheny and his partner Canfield struck oil near present-day Dodger Stadium and revealed the giant Los Angeles City field, part of the onshore and offshore geology of California oil seeps. The “tar” Doheny had seen on the cart’s wheels was asphalt from one of California’s animal-trapping pools discovered in 1769 at Brea by a Spanish explorer. 

Drilling for oil in moving derrick that looks like LA artwork

A tower moves on tracks, servicing 19 wells drilled at sharp angles under the adjacent neighborhood. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

The Los Angeles City oilfield discovery well, completed in 1893 between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue, set off California’s first oil boom by producing about 45 barrels a day. Within a few years, hundreds of wells were producing oil that was being refined into lubricants and kerosene for lamps.

Los Angeles Oilfields Boom

(more…)

Million Dollar Auctioneer

“Bond of Friendship” memorial dedicated in 1926 preserves Osage petroleum history.

 

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth (his real name) Walters was the most famous auctioneer in all of Oklahoma history. In 1912, the Osage Indians hired him to auction mineral rights from their petroleum-rich reservation. By 1920, they awarded  him a gold medal for his skilled auctioning of the Osage leases. 

million dollar auctioneer

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters, “auctioneer of the Osage Nation.”

Working for $10 a day, beneath a giant elm tree in Pawhuska, Ellsworth earned the tribe millions.

Born at Adrian, Illinois, in 1865, Walters was named in honor of Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteers, the first Union officer killed during the Civil War (shot while removing the Confederate flag from the roof of a Virginia hotel). Walters moved with his parents to the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, in 1866.

Although Walters became a deputy U.S. marshal at 19, he began gaining distinction as an auctioneer. He sold live stock, real estate and mineral leases in 2,250-square-mile Osage County. 

Walters held many of the auctions in Pawhuska while standing in the shade of what become known as the “Million Dollar Elm.”

Beginning in 1912 he sold Osage mineral leases in 160-acre blocks based on “headrights” from a 1906 tribal population count. In Pawhuska, between the Osage council house and the county courthouse, Walters called the auctions.

Osage auctioneer

Newspaper ad courtesy of Colonel Walters’ great-great-granddaughter Hope Litvinoff. Her grandmother in 1928 helped unveil a statue in Skedee, Oklahoma, honoring Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation.

The bidders for the leases were a who’s who of leading Oklahoma independent producers. E.W. Marland biographer John J. Mathews quotes one impressed onlooker: “You could stand on the edge of the crowd and see two or three of the biggest names in America squatting there on the grass, as common as an old shoe, and when they raised their hands it meant millions. That’s a fact!”

million dollar acutioneer

Born in 1865, Colonel  E.E. Walters wasn’t actually a Colonel. He was named in honor of the first Union officer killed in the Civil War, complete with rank. Currier and Ives engraving, 1861. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Another onlooker described hundreds of spectators and reporters who gathered to watch the bidding. Walters proved so effective at “extracting millions from the silk pockets of such newly minted oil barons as Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland, and William G. Skelly” that the Osages awarded him a medal.

“On February 3, 1920, before that day’s bidding began, the Osage tribe presented Walters with a medal to show their appreciation for all the wealth he’d drummed up for them in the shade of the Million Dollar Elm,” the witness reported.

By 1922, the National Petroleum News proclaimed that Walters had “Sold 10 Times As Much Property Under Hammer As Any Other Man” and his friends, the Osage, became “the richest people in the world.”

Beneath the Pawhuska elm on March 18, 1924, Walters secured a bid of $1,995,000 for one 160-acre tract. It was the highest price paid at that time, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Walters reportedly received more Osage gifts, including a diamond-studded badge and a diamond ring.

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in his nearby hometown of Skedee for the dedication of a 25-foot “Bond of Friendship” monument. The unveiling revealed “painted bronze” statues of Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation shaking hands on a two-tiered sandstone and concrete base. 

million dollar auctioneer

Colonel E.E. Walters (above in striped shirt) on March 18, 1924, accepted a $2 million bid from Josh Cosden for a single 160-acre Osage lease.

The close friendship between Osage Chief (phonetically) Wah-she-hah and Walters was rare enough at the time to warrant an Oklahoma monolith. Wah-she-hah translates to Star-That-Travels in the Osage language – but history and visitors to the Skedee statue remember him as Chief Bacon Rind.

Still standing in Skedee, the 1928 sculpture depicts the Chief Bacon Rind wearing his traditional otter-skin cap and a cloak. Walters wears a suit with trousers tucked into his boots and holds his hat in left hand. By 1928, the famous “auctioneer of the Osage Nation” had sold $157 million in lease sales for his friends. But it wasn’t all good news.

Dark Side of “Headrights”

Sudden great wealth for the Osage people brought a bloody criminal conspiracy of unsolved murders that left dozens of Osage men, women, and children dead – killed for the headrights to their land.

million dollar auctioneer

Osage Chief Bacon Rind and Colonel E.E. Walters in an undated photo.

“Osage mineral leases earned royalties that were paid to the tribe as a whole, with each allottee receiving one equal share, or headright, of the payments, notes Oklahoma Historical Society historian Jon D. May in Osage Murders.

“A headright was hereditary and passed to a deceased allottee’s immediate legal heir,” May adds. “One did not have to be an Osage to inherit an Osage headright.” Estimates vary, but approximately 24 Osage Indians died violent or suspicious deaths during the early 1920s, when con men, bootleggers and murderers began a “Reign of Terror.”

William K. Hale was one of the worst. He was accused of repeatedly orchestrating murders, tried four times, and finally convicted of a single killing. The best-selling 2018 book Killers of the Flower Moon by journalist David Grann investigated the disturbing and tragic stories.

million dollar auctioneer

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in Skedee, Oklahoma, for the unveiling of the 25-foot “Bond of Friendship” monument honoring the chief of the Osage Nation and the state’s greatest auctioneer of mineral rights.

Sadly, Oklahoma news media ignored the reservation’s murders – and the murderers. Newspapers there and around the country instead featured scandalous stories of incredible Osage wealth squandered on Pierce-Arrows and gaudy fashion. As Osage Indians died, reporters mocked the tribe with sarcasm and caricatures.

million dollar auctioneer

Like the town, the “Bond of Friendship” of Skedee, Oklahoma, has deteriorated since 1926. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

In his 1994 book, Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed and Murder on the Osage Reservation, Washington Post journalist Dennis McAuliffe noted little wonder that, “this period in our history hardly dances with awareness.”

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After almost a century, the Skedee “Bond of Friendship” monument began showing its age. The legacy of the once famous friendship has provided some slight merriment for at least one contributor to Roadside America:

million dollar auctioneer

Although a traditionalist in customs, Chief Bacon Rind’s leadership earned his people millions from oil and natural gas resources.

“The lesson imparted here is that white and red can be harmonious — if you just add a little green…Atop a blocky concrete pillar stands the Chief and the Colonel, facing each other, shaking hands. The work is primitive for such well-oiled honorees: the pillar is plastered cinder block around old oil pipes, while the Chief and the Colonel appear to be made of Play-Doh spray-painted silver. The distended lower half of the Chief, in particular, looks as if he’s carrying a space alien seed pod that is about to burst.”

According to more dependable sources, Chief Bacon Rind, “a statuesque man at six feet four inches,” perhaps the most photographed of all Native Americans.

The Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration noted the chief was frequently asked to pose for the prominent artists of the day “and created an image of the romantic ideal of the American Indian.”

Skedee’s population peaked in 1910. Today only about 50 residents call Skedee home. The aging monument draws few crowds. Chief Bacon Rind died in 1932 and Colonel Ephriam Ellsworth Walters followed in 1946. For those who choose to look deeper, the heart of Skedee can be found in the center of town. Walters, an amateur poet, had his hopes for the future carved into his hometown monument’s base:

…I will build for them a landmark,
That the coming race may see,
All the beauties of the friendship,
That exists ‘tween them and me…
And explain it to grandchildren,
as they sit upon their knee.

Preserving Osage Lease Auctions Stories

book cover of Colonel E. Walters: Auctioneer for the Osage Lease Sales

Osage writer Anna Marie Jefferson published a book about the Colonel Walters in 2019.

In 2018, an Osage writer decided to look deeper into Walter’s life and times. Already an author of several books about Osage history, Anna Marie Jefferson a year later published her 2019 book, Colonel E. Walters: Auctioneer for the Osage Lease Sales During the early 20th-Century. Her research includes local newspaper accounts and rare images from his career.

Jefferson, who grew up in Osage County, remembered visiting the statue as a child in neighboring Pawnee County. “As an Osage (Sac and Fox/Pawnee as well) I was unaware of who Colonel E. Walters was, the man on top of the memorial.”

Familiar with Osage leader Bacon Rind, Jefferson began researching the life of Walters and his famed long career as a skilled auctioneer. “When traveling the Osage, sometimes one needs to go just beyond the county lines to find early Osage Nation,” she explained in her book’s introduction. “Such is the case with the Bond of Friendship monument in the small town of Skedee, Oklahoma.”

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Recommended Reading: The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (1985); Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (2018); Colonel E. Walters: Auctioneer for the Osage Lease Sales During the early 20th-Century (2019). 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Million Dollar Auctioneer.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/million-dollar-auctioneer. Last Updated: April 16, 2021. Original Published Date: March 27, 2015.

 

First Oklahoma Oil Well

Indian Territory onlookers gathered in Bartlesville for the 1897 “shooting” of the Nellie Johnstone No.1 oil well.

 

Soon after the Civil War, America’s search for oil to refine into kerosene for lamps prompted entrepreneurs, speculators, and the new petroleum industry’s “wildcatters” to seek their fortunes on the great plains of the Indian Territory.

The rolling hills and plains west of Arkansas were part of land reserved for Native Americans by the U.S. Congress and home to an indigenous people as well as the “Five Civilized Tribes” — Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, and Chickasaw, that had been forced to relocate from southeastern states.

A pink granite rock marks the spot of first Oklahoma oil well.

A pink granite rock marks the spot where a large crowd gathered at Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well to witness history being made in 1897. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Each of the Five Civilized Tribes established national territorial boundaries, constitutional governments, and advanced judicial and public school systems. The Indian Territory included present-day Oklahoma north and east of the Red River, as well as Kansas and Nebraska.

Fifty-one years before Oklahoma statehood, in 1856 the Indian Territory had become home to the Five Civilized Tribes — as well as the Osage, Pawnee, Seneca, Shawnee, Delaware, and other American Indians. A non-tribal member coming into the Indian Territory to work was required to take out a license or permit; one who married into a tribe was adopted and able to share in tribal property. (more…)

First Arkansas Oil Wells

Oil discoveries at El Dorado and Smackover brought 1920s drilling booms.

Wildcat wells created two Arkansas oil and natural gas boom towns, boosted the career of a young wildcatter named Haroldson Hunt while launching the state’s petroleum industry.

The first Arkansas well that yielded “sufficient quantities of oil” was the Hunter No. 1 of April 16, 1920, in Ouachita County, according to the Arkansas Geological Survey. Natural gas was discovered a few days later by Constantine Oil and Refining Company north of the present-day El Dorado field in Union County. 

The January 1921 well in the same field that marked the true beginning of commercial oil production in Arkansas.

Arkansas oil and gas

Surrounded by 20 acres of woodlands, the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, seven miles north of El Dorado – in equally historic Smackover – exhibits the state’s petroleum history.

When the Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well struck oil in 1921, it catapulted the population of nearby El Dorado, Arkansas, from 4,000 to 25,000. The discovery, 15 miles north of the Louisiana border, was the state’s first commercial oil well.

“Twenty-two trains a day were soon running in and out of El Dorado,” noted the Arkansas Gazette. An excited state legislature announced plans for a special railway excursion for lawmakers to visit the oil well in Union County. Meanwhile, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt arrived from Texas with $50. He joined the crowd of lease traders and speculators at the Garrett Hotel – where fortunes were being made and lost.

H.L. Hunt, who had borrowed the $50, got his start as an independent oil and natural gas producer in El Dorado. Many people said it was his expertise at the poker table that earned him enough to purchase a one-half acre parcel lease. He drilled his Hunt-Pickering No. 1 well, which at first produced some oil, but ultimately was not profitable.

Hunt persevered and in four years had acquired substantial El Dorado and Smackover oilfield holdings. By 1925, he  was a successful 36-year-old oilman with wife Lyda and three young children living comfortably in a fine three-story El Dorado home. He will add to his oil patch successes a decade later in East Texas (see East Texas Oilfield Discovery).

Giant Oilfield at El Dorado

Located on a hill a little over a mile southwest of El Dorado, the derrick was plainly visible from the town, according to historians A.R. and R.B. Buckalew. They write that three “gassers” had been completed in the general vicinity, but did not produce oil in commercial quantities. There was no market for natural gas at the time, the authors explained in their 1974 book, The Discovery of Oil in South Arkansas, 1920-1924.

Arkansas oil and gas

The Garrett Hotel, where H.L. Hunt checked in with 50 borrowed dollars – and launched his career as a successful independent producer.

Yet Dr. Samuel T. Busey was convinced “there was oil down there somewhere.”

The authors added, “among those who gambled their savings with Busey at this time were Wong Hing, also called Charles Louis, a Chinese laundry man, and Ike Felsenthal, whose family had created a community in southeast Union County in earlier years.”

With no oil production nearby, investing in the “wildcat” well was a leap of faith. Chal Daniels, who was overseeing drilling operations for Busey, contributed the hefty sum of $1,000. On January 10, 1921, the well had been drilled to 2,233 feet and reached the Nacatoch Sand. A small crowd of onlookers and the drilling crew after moving a safe distance away watched and listened.

“The spectators, among them Dr. Busey, watched with an air of expectancy,” noted the historians. “Drilling had ceased and bailing operations had begun to try to bring in the well. At about 4:30 p.m., as the bailer was being lifted from its sixth trip into the deep hole, a rumble from deep in the well was heard.”

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The rumbling grew in intensity, “shaking the derrick and the very ground on which it stood as if an earthquake were passing,” the authors report. “Suddenly, with a deafening roar, ‘a thick black column’ of gas and oil and water shot out of the well,” they added.

The gusher blows through the derrick and “bursts into a black mushroom” cloud against the January sky. The Busey No. 1 well produced 15,000,000 to 35,000,000 cubic feet of gas and from 3,000 to 10,000 barrels of oil and water a day.

Petroleum brings Prosperity

Thanks to the El Dorado discovery, the first Arkansas petroleum boom was on. By 1922, there were 900 producing wells in the state.

Arkansas oil and gas

Civic leaders raised funds to preserve El Dorado’s historic downtown – and add an Oil Heritage Park at 101 East Main Street.

“Three months after the Busey well came in, work was under way on an amusement park located three blocks from the town that would include a swimming pool, picnic grounds, rides and concessions,” notes the Union County Sheriff’s Office. “Culture was not forgotten as an old cotton shed in the center of town near the railroad tracks was converted to an auditorium.”

The 68-square-mile field will lead U.S. oil output in 1925 – with production reaching 70 million barrels. “It was a scene never again to be equaled in El Dorado’s history, nor would the town and its people ever be the same again,” the authors conclude. “Union County’s dream of oil had come true.”

In 2002, El Dorado gathered 40 local artists to paint 55 oil drums donated by the local Murphy Oil Company. Preserving the town’s historic assets, including boom-era buildings, remains a major goal of the local group, Main Street El Dorado, which was the “2009 Great American Main Street Award Winner” of the National Trust Main Street Center.

Second Oil Boom: The Smackover Discovery

Prior to the January 1921 El Dorado discovery, the region’s economy relied almost exclusively on the cotton and the timber industries “that thrived in the vast virgin forests of southern Arkansas.”

Logo for City of Smackover, Arkansas.

Petroleum wealth helped Smackover, Arkansas, incorporate in 1922.

Incorporated in 1922, Smackover, Arkansas, had been a small agricultural and sawmill community. Today, the town celebrates its petroleum heritage with the annual “Oil Town Festival” in June.

Six months after the Busey-Armgstrong No. 1, another giant oilfield discovery 12 miles north will bring national attention – and lead to the incorporation of Smackover. A small agricultural and sawmill community with a population of 131, Smackover had been settled by French fur trappers in 1844. They called the area “Sumac-Couvert”, meaning covered with sumac or shumate bushes.

According to historian Don Lambert, by 1908 Sidney Umsted operated a large sawmill and logging venture two miles north of town. He believed that oil lay beneath the surface. “On July 1, 1922, Umsted’s wildcat well (Richardson No. 1) produced a gusher from a depth of 2,066 feet,” Lambert reports. “Within six months, 1,000 wells had been drilled, with a success rate of ninety-two percent. The little town had increased from a mere ninety to 25,000 and its uncommon name would quickly attain national attention.”

Oil drenched roughnecks photographed at 1922 Arkansas oil well.

Roughnecks photographed following the July 1, 1922, discovery of the Smackover (Richardson) field in Union County. Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives.

The oil-producing area of the Smackover field covered more than 25,000 acres. By 1925, it had become the largest-producing oil site in the world. The field will produce 583 million barrels of oil by 2001.

Visit the Arkansas Natural Resources Museum in Smackover — the heart of the Smackover field. The museum includes a five-acre Oilfield Park with operating examples of oil producing technologies used in south Arkansas oilfields from the 1920s to today.

Arkansas Fayetteville Shale Map.

Abundant natural gas in the Fayetteville shale formation brought more drilling to Arkansas.

About one-third of the 75 Arkansas counties produce oil and or natural gas. By 2010, more than 40,800 wells had been drilled since 1921’s Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well in Union County.

Thanks to advances in drilling technologies combined with hydraulic fracturing, the Fayetteville Shale (a 50-mile-wide formation across central Arkansas), added vast natural gas reserves — and launched a new petroleum boom for the state. Unlike traditional fields containing hydrocarbons in porous formations, shale holds natural gas in a fine-grained rock or “tight sands.” Until the 1990s, drilling in most shale formations was not considered profitable for production.

Surrounded by 20 acres of lush woodlands, an oil museum collects and exhibits southern Arkansas petroleum – and brine – industrial history. It also documents a fascinating social history that accompanied the state’s oil boom of the 1920s.

Opened in 1986,  Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources educates visitors in the heart of the historic Smackover oilfield. Exhibits explain how the Busey No. 1 well near El Dorado “blew-in with a gusty fury” in January 1921. The museum can be found one mile south of the once oil-rich town of Smackover.

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Recommended Reading:  Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901-1946 (1982);  The Three Families of H. L. Hunt (1989);  Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery (2008) . 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Arkansas Oil Wells.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/arkansas-oil-and-gas-boom-towns. Last Updated: January 3, 2021. Original Published Date: April 21, 2013.

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