Giant rigs drilled to record depths in Oklahoma in the 1970s.
The Anadarko Basin, extending more than 50,000 square miles across west-central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, includes some of the most prolific — and deepest — natural gas reserves in the United States.
Beginning in the late 1950s, when technological advances allowed it, Anadarko Basin wells in Oklahoma began to be drilled more than two miles deep in search of highly pressurized natural gas zones. By the 1960s, a few companies began risking millions of dollars and pushing rotary rig drilling technology to reach beyond the 13,000-foot level in what geologists called “the deep gas play.” (more…)
Converting an oil drilling platform to launch rockets from the equator.
Many offshore oil and natural gas platforms have found use after retirement. Hundreds of former platforms today serve as aquatic habitats in the Gulf of Mexico (see Rigs to Reefs). Two historic jack-up drilling rigs have been converted into museums and energy education centers in Texas and Louisiana. And one retired, self-propelled petroleum platform has launched satellites into orbit.
Russian-built rockets launched satellites from the Ocean Odyssey, a modified semi-submersible drilling platform. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.
Ten percent (about 450) of decommissioned production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been converted to permanent reefs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A retired jack-up drilling rig in Galveston Bay, Texas, the Ocean Star, opened as a petroleum museum in 1997 after drilling more than 200 wells.
Another offshore museum, Mr. Charlie of Morgan City, Louisiana, was the first submersible drilling rig when it was launched in 1953 (see Mr. Charlie, First Mobile Offshore Drilling Rig).
The Ocean Odyssey, a self-propelled, semi-submersible drilling platform designed to endure 110 foot North Atlantic waves, became a floating equatorial launch pad. on March 27, 1999, a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket — fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen — placed a demonstration satellite into geostationary orbit from the Ocean Odyssey’s remote Pacific Ocean launch site (Latitude 0° North, Longitude 154° West).
Constructed in Japan in 1982, the Ocean Odyssey was designed to endure 110 foot North Atlantic waves before it became a floating equatorial launch pad. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.
Sea Launch, a Boeing-led consortium of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway, began commercial launches on October 9, 1999, using a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket with a DirecTV satellite payload. By 2014 the Ocean Odyssey had made 36 such launches for XM Satellite Radio, Echo Star and communication companies.
Originally to have been named Ocean Ranger II, the $110 million platform was under construction in Yokosuka, Japan, on February 15, 1982, when its namesake and predecessor tragically capsized in a North Atlantic storm off Newfoundland, killing all 84 men aboard. Renamed Ocean Odyssey, the new offshore drilling platform went to work that same year.
Between April 1983 and September 1985 the platform drilled off the coasts of Alaska and California before a two-year hiatus. In early 1988, the Ocean Odyssey was contracted to Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) for North Sea explorations.
All was well until September 1988 when a blow-out and fire ended the platform’s career in oilfields.
Led by a Boeing, the Sea Launch consortium of international companies used Russian Zenit-3SL rockets to carry communications satellites into geosynchronous orbits. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.
After spending the several years as a rusting hulk in the docks of Dundee, Scotland, advancing aerospace technologies came to the rescue of the self-propelled platform, 436 feet long and about 220 feet wide.
The advantages of space launches from the equator — and the availability of the Ocean Odyssey — prompted Boeing to convert the rig into a launch platform. According to experts, the speed of earth’s rotation is greatest at the equator, providing a minor extra launch “boost.”
By April 1995, Boeing (with 40 percent ownership) led a four-country joint partnership, Sea Launch LLC. The venture included: Russia (25 percent), Norway (20 percent), and Ukraine (15 percent).
Ocean Odyssey’s last launch on May 26, 2014, came as civil war broke out in Ukraine. Bankruptcy and years of litigation followed. Photo courtesy Steve Jurvetson.
Thanks to Ocean Odyssey, a new industry was “launched.”The consortium established its U.S. home port in Long Beach, California, near satellite, aerospace and maritime supply companies. Before the end of 1995, Hughes Space and Communications had contracted for 10 launches.
Another platform, the Ocean Star, opened as a museum in 1997 in Galveston Bay. Photo by Bruce Wells
However, economic and legal troubles emerged. After almost 40 launches (with three failures), operating costs and a declining world economy led to Sea Launch’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganization in 2009. Russia emerged with 95 percent ownership.
Then began litigation, claims and counter-claims within the Sea Launch consortium. Ocean Odyssey’s last launch in May 2014 came as civil war broke out in Ukraine.
According to financial reports, the company’s debt when it filed for bankruptcy was estimated at $1 billion, with assets of $100 million to $500 million. The cost per launch was more than $80 million. Boeing sued to recoup $356 million of a reported $978 million loss in loans, trade debt and partner liabilities. At the end of 2014, the Ocean Odyssey and its command ship, Sea Launch Commander, were moored at Long Beach, California.
SpaceX buys Semi-Submersibles
Relocated to Russia, the future of the aging Ocean Odyssey rocket platform remained uncertain at the end of 2020. Meanwhile, Elon Musk of SpaceX in January 2021 announced plans to build “floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth,” according to a CNBC article.
SpaceX subsidiary Lone Star Mineral Development reportedly purchased two deep-water rigs for $7 million from Valaris as the offshore drilling contractor filed for bankruptcy.
The semi-submersible platforms, part of a series built by ENSCO between 2005 and 2012, have been renamed Deimos and Phobos (the moons of Mars). They have relocated to the Port of Brownsville, a short distance from the SpaceX Starship development facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
Semi-submersible rigs like the ENSCO series, “differ from drilling ships in that they sit on pontoons that are pushed under the water, below the waves, which gives them greater stability,” according to the January 21, 2021, “More About SpaceX’s Oil Rigs,” article at CleanTechnica.
Learn about America’s Offshore Petroleum History and visit the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center in Galveston, Texas, and Mr. Charlie in Morgan City, Louisiana.
Recommended Reading: Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (1997); ; Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993); Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century (2015). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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 email@example.com. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information: Article Title: “Offshore Rocket Launcher.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/offshore-rocket-launcher. Last Updated: October 3, 2021. Original Published Date: January 2, 2015.
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 burgeoning oilfields. When he patented his “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” the young inventor revolutionized how wells were completed after drilling.
George Halliburton, one of Erle P. Halliburton’s younger brothers, posed in a Model T 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.
Halliburton was 27 years old in 1919 when he founded his oilfield equipment and service company headquartered in Ardmore, Oklahoma. His New Method Oil Well Cementing Company would receive many patents on its way to becoming today’s Halliburton.
Halliburton had moved to Ardmore and its nearby the Healdton oilfield after working in the booming fields of Burkburnett, Texas.
“It is well known to those skilled in the art of oil well drilling that one of the greatest obstacles to successful development of oil bearing sands has been the encountering of liquid mud water and the like during and after the process of drilling the wells,” Halliburton noted in his June 1920 U.S. patent application. (more…)
Public fascination with “black gold” briefly switched to Kansas natural gas in 1906.
As petroleum exploration wells reached deeper depths by the early 1900s, highly pressurized natural gas formations in Kansas and the Indian Territory challenged well-control technologies of the day.
Once ignited by a lightning bolt, the natural gas well of Caney, Kansas, towered 150 feet high and at night could be seen for 35 miles. The conflagration made national headlines, attracting a host of exploration companies to drill into Mid-Continent oilfields — even as well control technologies tried to catch up.
Newspapers as far away as Los Angeles regularly updated readers as the technologies of the day struggled to put out the Caney well fire, “which defied the ingenuity of man to subdue its roaring flames.”
Reversing an earlier ban, in 1962 voters in Long Beach, California, approved petroleum exploration in their harbor. Five oil companies formed a company called THUMS and built four artificial islands to produce the oil.
California’s headline-making 1921 oil discovery at Signal Hill launched a drilling boom that transformed the quiet, residential area. So many derricks sprouted it became known as “Porcupine Hill.”
Island Grissom, one of the four THUMS islands at Long Beach, California, was named after Nasa astronaut Col. Virgil “Gus” Grisson, who died in 1967 in the Apollo spacecraft fire. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy.
Many homeowners became aspiring oil drillers and speculators. Much of the hill’s land was sold and subdivided in real estate lots of a size described as “big enough to raise chickens.”
Derricks were so close to one cemetery that graves “generated royalty checks to next-of-kin when oil was drawn from beneath family plots,” noted one historian. By 1923, oil production reached more than one-quarter million barrels of oil per day. At the time, “the law of capture” for petroleum production ensured the formerly scenic landscape would be transformed. Competitors crowded around any new well that came in, chasing any sign of oil to the Pacific Ocean.
The islands are among the most innovative oilfield designs in the world. Circa 1965 illustration courtesy Oxy Petroleum.
By the early 1930s, the massive Wilmington oilfield extended through Long Beach as reservoir management concerns remained in the future. Naturally produced California oil seeps had led to many discoveries south of the 1892 Los Angeles City field.
Onshore and offshore tax revenues generated by production of more than one billion barrels of oil and one trillion cubic feet of natural gas helped underwrite much of the Los Angeles area’s economic growth. But not without consequences. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported, “Subsidence, the sinking of the ground surface, is typically caused by extracting fluids from the subsurface.”
Petroleum reserves brought drilling booms to southern California. By 1923, oil production reached more than one-quarter million barrels of oil per day from Signal Hill, seen in the distance in this detail from a panorama from the Library of Congress.
Although Californians had experience dealing with groundwater induced subsidence and the building damage it caused, by 1951 Long Beach was sinking at the alarming rate of about two feet each year. Earth scientists noted that between 1928 and 1965, the community sank almost 30 feet. TIME magazine call the bustling port “America’s Sinking City.”
After decades of prospering from petroleum production, the city prohibited “offshore area” drilling to slow the subsidence as the community looked for a solution.
Oil Production in Plain Sight
On February 27, 1962, Long Beach voters approved “controlled exploration and exploitation of the oil and gas reserves” underlying their harbor. The city’s charter had prohibited such drilling since a 1956 referendum, but advances in oilfield technologies enabled Long Beach to stay afloat.
Directional drilling and water injection opened another 6,500 acres of the Wilmington field — and saved the sinking city.
Five oil companies formed a Long Beach company called THUMS: Texaco (now Chevron), Humble (now ExxonMobil), Union Oil (now Chevron), Mobil (now ExxonMobil) and Shell Oil Company. They built four artificial islands at a cost of $22 million (in 1965 dollars). The islands in 1967 were named Grissom, White, Chaffee, and Freemen in honor of lost Nasa astronauts.
The prospering but “sinking city” of Long Beach would solve its subsidence problem with four islands and advanced drilling and production technologies. Photo by Roger Coar, 1959, courtesy Long Beach Historical Society.
Today the four islands, a total of 42 acres, include about 1,000 active wells producing 46,000 barrels of oil and 9 million cubic feet of natural gas every day.
To counter subsidence, five 1,750-horsepower motors on White Island drive water injection pumps to offset extracted petroleum, sustain reservoir pressures, and extend oil recovery. The challenge was once described as “a massive Rubik’s Cube of oil pockets, fault blocks, fluid pressures and piping systems.”
Meanwhile, all of this happens amidst the scenic boating and tourist waters in Long Beach Harbor. The California Resources Corporation operates the offshore part on the islands of the Wilmington field, the fourth-largest U.S. oilfield, according to the Los Angeles Association of Professional Landmen, whose members toured the facilities in November 2017.
“Most interestingly, the islands were designed to blend in with the surrounding coastal environment,” explained LAAPL Education Chair Blake W.E. Barton of Signal Hill Petroleum. “The drilling rigs and other above-ground equipment are camouflaged and sound-proofed with faux skyscraper skins and waterfalls.”
Most people simply do not realize the islands are petroleum production facilities. From the shore, the man-made islands appear occupied by upscale condos and lush vegetation. Many of the creative disguises came courtesy of Joseph Linesch, a pioneering designer who helped landscape Disneyland.
The THUMs islands required exceptional designs, and “the people who were involved at the time were very creative visionaries,” noted Frank Komin, executive vice president for southern operations of the California Resources Corporation (CRC), owner of the islands.
About 80 percent of the company’s properties overlie the Wilmington oilfield, according to the CRC website, also noting, “Since 2003, CRC’s operations, have generated over $5.2 billion in revenues, taxes and fees for the City of Long Beach and the State.”
THUMS Island White, named for Col. Edward White II, the first American to walk in space, who died in 1967 along with Nasa astronauts “Gus” Grissom and Roger B. Chaffee. A fourth island was named for Nasa test pilot Ted Freeman, who in 1963 was the first fatality among the Nasa astronauts. Photo courtesy UCLA Library.
“Even today, those islands are viewed as one of the most innovative oil field designs in the world,” CRC executive Komin declared in a 2015 Long Beach Business Journal article.
“The islands have grown to become icons in which the City of Long Beach takes a great deal of pride,” Komin added.
The Journal article explained that 640,000 tons of boulders, some as large as five tons, were mined and placed to build up the perimeters of the islands. “ Concrete facades constructed for aesthetic purposes also divert industrial noise away from nearby residents, For more noise abatement, electricity has provided nearly all of the power to run the islands.
The THUMS aesthetic integration of 175-foot derricks and production structures has been described by the Los Angeles Times as, “part Disney, part Jetsons, part Swiss Family Robinson.”
Recommended Reading: An Ocean of Oil: A Century of Political Struggle over Petroleum Off the California Coast (1998). Your Amazon purchases benefit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “THUMS – California’s Hidden Oil Islands.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/thums-california-hidden-oil-islands. Last Updated: February 18, 2022. Original Published Date: March 8, 2018.
America’s first gas street lamps illuminated Baltimore in 1817 after a dazzling art museum demonstration.
America’s first public street lamp (fueled by manufactured gas) illuminated Market Street in Baltimore, Maryland, in early 1817. The Gas Light Company of Baltimore thus became the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company by distilling tar and wood to manufacture its gas.
A replica of the first Baltimore gas street light. Photo courtesy BG&E.
A small, brass monument to the company and its street lamp stands at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street (once Market and Lemon streets). Dedicated by the city’s utility company in 1991 and fueled by natural gas, the elegant lamp is a 175th anniversary replica of the original 1817 design.
In 1816, well-known artist, inventor, and museum founder Rembrandt Peale made headlines by illuminating a large room in his Holliday Street art and natural history museum with artificial gas. This first demonstration dazzled civic leaders, leading businessmen, and socialites gathered there.
A 1921 painting dramatized the moment when Rembrandt Peale demonstrated his Baltimore museum’s manufactured gas-fueled “gems of light.” Photo courtesy BG&E.
“Taking after a natural history museum that his father, Charles Wilson Peale, started in Philadelphia in 1786, Rembrandt Peale displayed collections of fossils and other specimens, as well as portraits of many of the country’s founding fathers that his family had painted,” noted a historian for Explore Baltimore Heritage.
Peale hoped his demonstration would attract investors like moths to a flame.
An 1816 advertisement for the Peale Museum illumination. Photo courtesy BG&E.
“During a candlelit period in American history the forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors,” added another historian at the utility Baltimore Gas & Electric.
“Gems of Light”
Peale’s manufactured gas gamble worked. Onlookers were awed with the museum’s display of a “ring beset with gems of light.” Several of the city’s financiers approached Peale to form the Gas Light Company of Baltimore, BG&E’s precursor. Less than a year later, on February 7, 1817, America’s first public gas street lamp was lit in a ceremony one block south of City Hall, according to BG&E.
The impressed city council speedily approved Peale’s plan to light more of the city’s streets. BG&E also credits Baltimore inventor Samuel Hill for establishing America’s first gas meter manufacturing company in 1832. Two years later the first meters were installed. The company petitioned the city to begin laying underground pipelines in 1851.
“Peale’s Baltimore Museum and Gallery of Paintings” opened in 1814 in a building designed by architect Robert Carey Long. Photo courtesy Baltimore Heritage.
Over coming decades, two miles of gas main would be completed under Baltimore streets and the company showed its first profit. Metering replaced flat-rate billing, helping residents afford lighting their homes with gas.
By 1855, a new gas manufacturing plant was constructed to distill gas from coal – an improvement over the former “gasification” of tar or wood. Manufacturing gas from coal had earlier proved successful in Philadelphia.
Following the illumination of Baltimore, public use of manufactured gas began brightening New York City streets in 1823, after the New York Gas Company received a charter from the state legislature to light to parts of Manhattan.
Consolidated Edison Inc. – now popularly known as “Con Edison” or “Con Ed” – was created in 1884 by the merging of six New York City gas-light companies.
Coal Gas lights Philadelphia
Forty-six lights burning manufactured “coal gas” were lit on February 8, 1836, along Philadelphia’s Second Street by employees of the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works. As Philadelphia became the nation’s center for finance and industry, the municipally owned gas distribution company began a series of gas-manufacturing innovations.
By 1856, Philadelphia Gas completed construction of a gas tank at the company’s Point Breeze Plant in South Philadelphia. At the time it was the largest in the nation with a total holding capacity of 1.8 million cubic feet.
A natural gas storage facility at Point Breeze in South Philadelphia, circa 1856. Photograph courtesy Philadelphia Gas Works.
When the American Centennial Exposition of 1876 displayed the wonders of the age in agriculture, horticulture and machinery, gas cooking was showcased as a novelty. Sixty miles of pipe brought manufactured gas to the exhibition’s lamps.
According to most oil patch historians, the earliest commercial use of natural gas (not manufactured gas) took place in Fredonia, New York, about two years before the 1859 first U.S. oil well in Pennsylvania. Natural gas was piped to several downtown Fredonia stores, shops, and a mill from a natural gas well drilled in a nearby creek by William Hart.
It took three wells for Hart, considered by many as the father of the natural gas industry, to produce commercial amounts of natural gas. “He left a broken drill in one shallow hole and abandoned a second site at a depth of forty feet because of the small volume of gas found,” noted historian Lois Barris in her history of the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company, which incorporated in 1857.
According to Barris, Hart made three attempts at drilling. “In his third attempt, Mr. Hart found a good flow of gas at seventy feet,” she explained. “He then constructed a crude gasometer, covering it with a rough shed and proceeded to pipe and market the first natural gas sold in this country.”
Considered America’s first natural gas company, Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company incorporated in New York. Learn more about the early natural gas industry in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh and Indiana Natural Gas Boom.
Recommended Reading: In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860 (1993); The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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 email@example.com. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Illuminating Gaslight.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/manufactured-gas. Last Updated: February 5, 2022. Original Published Date: January 30, 2016.