Exploring Seismic Waves

Oklahoma scientists first used reflection and refraction technologies in the 1920s.

 

Exploring seismic waves is all about a vital earth science technology – reflection seismography – which first revolutionized petroleum exploration in the 1920s. Seismic waves have led to oilfield discoveries worldwide and billions of barrels of oil. 

Seismic technologies evolved from efforts to locate enemy artillery during World War I.

seismic waves

A tourist site for geologists, a sign and historic marker on I-35 near Ardmore, Oklahoma, commemorates the August 9, 1921, test of seismic technology.

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Technology and the “Conroe Crater”

A 1933 Texas well disaster would lead to advancements in directional drilling.

 

A Great Depression era disaster in a giant oilfield near Conroe, Texas, brought together the inventor of a revolutionary portable drilling rig and the father of directional drilling. 

Although the Conroe well’s producing sands proved to be dangerously gas-charged, shallow and unstable, the oilfield – the third largest in the United States at the time – soon had 60 successful wells producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil a day. The region north of Houston boomed as the Great Depression worsened. Disaster came in January 1933 when one of the wells blew out and erupted into flame. The runaway well cratered – completely swallowing nearby drilling rigs. (more…)

Halliburton cements Wells

Innovative 1920s technology for protecting oil and natural gas wells – and the environment.

 

Erle P. Halliburton received a 1921 patent for an improved method for cementing oil wells, helping to bring greater production and environmental safety to America’s oilfields.

 

cementing oil wells George Hallibuirton at wheel of  service truck

George Halliburton, one of Erle P. Halliburton’s younger brothers, posed confidently in a Model T Ford around 1929. “George, my grandfather, and several of E.P.’s brothers were employed with the company for many years,” noted Cole Halliburton, Halliburton Operating Company president, in 2020. An early Halliburton self-propelled truck with pumps for cementing wells can be seen in background. Photo courtesy Timothy Johnson.

Erle P. Halliburton received a 1921 patent for an improved method for cementing oil wells, helping to bring greater production and environmental safety to America’s oilfields. When he patented his “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” the young inventor revolutionized how wells were completed after drilling. (more…)

Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern

The 1870 patent for a two-wicked safety lamp to prevent “destructive conflagrations” on derricks.

 

Oil patch lore says the yellow dog lantern was so named because its two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Others believed the lamp projected a strange and eerie dog’s head shadow on the derrick floor.

 

yellow dog two wick lantern from 1877 US patent drawing

Jonathan Dillen’s lantern was “especially adapted for use in the oil regions…where the explosion of a lamp is attended with great danger by causing destructive conflagration and consequent loss of life and property.”

Rare is the community oil and natural gas museum that doesn’t have a “yellow dog” in its collection. The two-wicked lamp is an oilfield icon.

Some say the unusual spout design originated with whaling ships – but neither the Nantucket nor New Bedford whaling museums could find any such evidence.

Many railroad museums have collections of cast iron smudge pots, but nothing quite like the heavy, odd shaped, crude-oil burning lanterns once prevalent on petroleum fields from Pennsylvania to California.

Although many companies manufactured the iron or steel lamps, the yellow dog’s origins remain in the dark. Some historical references claim the lanterns were so named because their two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Other oil patch lore says the lamps cast a dog’s head shadow on the derrick floor.

Inventor Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, was first to patent what became the “yellow dog” of the U.S. petroleum industry’s early years. The U.S. patent was awarded on May 3, 1870. Dillen’s lamp joined other safety innovations as drilling technologies evolved.

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All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology

From the eccentric wheel to the a counter-balanced “nodding donkey,” inventing new ways to produce petroleum.

 

In a valley in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859, Edwin L. Drake drilled America’s first commercial oil well, launching the U.S. petroleum industry. For his oil well pump, Drake borrowed a common kitchen hand-pump to retrieve the important new resource from a depth of 69.5 feet.

 

Seeking oil for the Seneca Oil Company for refining into a popular lamp fuel, kerosene, Drake’s shallow well created a new exploration and production industry, it wasn’t long before necessity and ingenuity combined to find something more efficient for producing oil from a well.

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Shooters – A “Fracking” History

The evolution of technologies for fracturing geologic formations to increase oil and natural gas production.

 

Ever since America’s earliest oil discoveries, detonating dynamite or nitroglycerin down-hole helped increase a well’s production. The technology – commonly used in oilfields for almost a century – would be greatly improved when hydraulic fracturing arrived in 1949. 

 

history of hydraulic fracking E.A.L. Roberts portrait and frac drawing

In 1862, E.A.L. Roberts was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the Union Army. In December he “conceived the idea of opening the veins and crevices in oil-bearing rock by exploding an elongated shell or torpedo therein.” Images courtesy Drake Well Museum, Early Days of Oil, Princeton University Press.

Modern hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – can trace its roots to April 1865, when Civil War Union veteran Lt. Col. Edward A. L. Roberts received the first of his many patents for an “exploding torpedo.”

In May 1890, Pennsylvania’s Otto Cupler Torpedo Company “shot” its last oil well using liquid nitroglycerin – abandoning nitro but continuing to pursue a fundamental oilfield technology. President Rick Tallini says today’s widely used fracturing systems are much advanced from Col. Roberts’ original patents.

“Our business since Colonel Roberts’ day has concerned lowering high explosives charges into oil wells in the Appalachian area to blast fractures into the oil bearing sand,” says Tallini. His company is based in Titusville – where the American petroleum industry began in August 1859 (learn more in First American Oil Well). (more…)