Kansas Gas Well Fire

Public fascination with “black gold” briefly switched to natural gas in 1906.

 

As petroleum exploration wells reached far 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 well, “which defied the ingenuity of man to subdue its roaring flames.”

Natural gas well fire blazes in 1906 in southern Kansas.

Kansas oilfield workers struggled for weeks trying to cap the 1906 burning well at Caney. Photo courtesy Jeff Spencer.

It would take five weeks to bring the well under control.

Midwest Gas Boom

By the early 1900s, abundant natural gas supplies were attracting manufacturing industries to the Midwest. Major gas fields had been discovered between Caney and Bartlesville in Indian Territory (the state of Oklahoma in 1907). About 20 miles apart, the towns were connected by the Caney River. (more…)

All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology

Eccentric wheels to the counter-balanced “nodding donkey,” inventing ways to produce oil.

 

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.

(more…)

Illuminating Gaslight

First U.S. gas street lamps illuminated Baltimore in 1817 after a dazzling “gems of light” at art museum.

 

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.

Illuminating Gaslight plaque at original street lamp replica.

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 local businessmen and socialites gathered there with a “ring beset with gems of light.”

Illuminating Gaslight

A 1921 painting dramatized the moment when Rembrandt Peale ignited his “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 (perhaps like moths to a flame).

“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.

Ad for Peale Museum illumination.

An 1816 advertisement for the Peale Museum illumination. Photo courtesy BG&E.

The manufactured gas gamble worked, and several financiers aligned with Peale, forming The Gas Light Company of Baltimore, BG&E’s precursor. “Less than a year later, on February 7, 1817, the first public gas street lamp was lit in a ceremony one block south of City Hall,” noted 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.

Exterior of the Peale museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

“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 Baltimore, public use of manufactured gas lighting began in New York City in 1823 when the New York Gas Company received a charter from the state legislature to light to parts of Manhattan. Consolidated Edison, Inc. – known as “Con Edison” or “Con Ed” – was created in 1884, when six New York City gas-light companies merged.

Coal Gas brightens 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.

Tank and buildings of illuminating gas light manufacturing plant 1856

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.

Natural Gas Lights

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 too 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 nation’s first natural gas company, the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company, which incorporated in 1857.

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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 

By 2005, more than U.S. 900 public natural gas systems were serving more than 70 million customers, and the Philadelphia Gas Works had become the largest of them. Learn more about the early natural gas industry in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh and Indiana Natural Gas Boom. 

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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. Copyright © 2021 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 1, 2021. Original Published Date: January 30, 2016.

 

Ending Oil Gushers – BOP

It took the ingenuity of a skilled machinist and a Texas wildcatter to invent a device to stop gushers.

 

 

Petroleum drilling and production technologies, among the most advanced of any industry, evolved as exploratory wells drilled deeper into highly pressurized geologic formations. One idea began with a sketch on the sawdust floor of a Texas machine shop.

In January 1922, James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron sought their first U.S. patent for the hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer. The invention would become a vital technology for ending dangerous oil and natural gushers. 

“The object of our invention is to provide a device designed to be secured to the top of the casing while the drilling is being done and which will be adapted to be closed tightly about the drill stem when necessary,” they noted in their patent application, which was finalized and approved four years later. The design revolutionized the petroleum industry. (more…)

Offshore Rocket Launcher

Converted drilling platform launches 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.

Offshore Rocket Launcher rocket blasts off from modified oil rig.

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 in 1953.

The Ocean Odyssey, a self-propelled, semi-submersible drilling platform designed to endure 110 foot North Atlantic waves, became a floating equatorial launch pad. In March 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).

offshore rocket launcher began as this drilling rig

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 rig’s career in oilfields.

offshore rocket launcher Sea Launch oil platform

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).

offshore rocket launcher Sea Launch converted oil rig

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.

Ocean Star oil museum in Galveston Bay.

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.

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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-Submersible Rigs

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 now are at the Port of Brownsville, not far from the Starship development facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

“The ENSCO 8500 series are semi-submersible rigs. What this means is that they don’t sit on the bottom of the ocean like a drilling platform (which sits atop a tower) or a “jack up” (which has extendable legs to sit on the sea floor). They differ from drilling ships in that they sit on pontoons that are pushed under the water, below the waves, which gives them greater stability,” explains a CleanTechnica article.

Learn about America’s Offshore Petroleum History and visit the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center in Galveston and Mr. Charlie in Morgan City.

________________________________

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. 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: February 1, 2021. Original Published Date: January 2, 2015.

 

Sweeny’s 1866 Rotary Rig

An innovative patent for “making holes in hard rock.”

 

An “Improvement in Rock Drills” patent issued after the Civil War included the basic elements of the modern petroleum industry’s rotary rig.  On January 2, 1866, Peter Sweeney of New York City was granted U.S. patent No. 51,902 for a drilling system with many innovative technologies. 

Sweeny’s 1866 rotary rig design, which improved upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart, applied rotary drilling’s “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.” More efficient than cable-tool percussion bits, the patent provided for a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

Sweeny 1866 Rotary Rig patent drawing.

Peter Sweeney’s innovative 1866 “Stone Drill” patent included a roller bit using “rapid rotary motion” similar to modern rotary drilling technologies.

Sweeney’s design utilized a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.” In another innovation, the “drill-rod” was hollow and connected with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.”

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Better than commonly used steam-powered cable-tools, which used heavy rope to lift and drop iron chisel-like bits, Sweeney claimed his drilling apparatus could be used with great advantage for “making holes in hard rock in a horizontal, oblique, or vertical direction.”

Drilling operations could be continued without interruption, Sweeny explained in his patent application, “with the exception of the time required for adding new sections to the drill rod as the depth of the hole increases. The dirt is discharged during the operation of boring and a clean hole is obtained into which the tubing can be introduced without difficulty.”

Sweeny 1866 rotary rig photo from 1917 oil well floor

A 1917 rotary rig in the Coalinga, California, oilfield. Courtesy of the Joaquin Valley Geology Organization.

Foreseeing the offshore exploration industry, Sweeney’s patent concluded with a note that “the apparatus can also be used with advantage for submarine operations.”

With the American oil industry booming, drilling contractors improved upon Sweeney’s idea. A new device was fitted to the rotary table that clamped around the drill pipe and turned. As this “kelly bushing” rotated, the pipe rotated – and with it the bit down hole. The torque of the rotary table was transmitted to the drill stem.

Thirty-five years after Sweeney’s patent, rotary drilling revolutionized the petroleum industry after a 1901 oil discovery by Capt. Anthony Lucas launched a drilling boom at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas. Learn more at Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

_______________________

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. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Sweeny’s 1866 Rotary Rig.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/1866-patent-rotary-rig. Last Updated: December 18, 2020. Original Published Date: January 2, 2013.

 

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