Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern

A patented, two-wick safety lamp to prevent “destructive conflagrations” on oil 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.

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.


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 downhole helped increase a well’s production. The geologic “fracking” technology commonly used in oilfields after the Civil War would be significantly enhanced when hydraulic fracturing arrived in 1949. 

Modern hydraulic fracturing — popularly known as petroleum well “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 1990, Pennsylvania’s Otto Cupler Torpedo Company “shot” its last oil well with liquid nitroglycerin as the company abandoned using nitro while continuing to pursue a fundamental oilfield technology. Company President Rick Tallini credited Col. Roberts’ original patents for leading to the modern fracturing systems.

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.

When the Roberts patent expired in 1883, his company was sold to former employee Adam Cupler Jr. (who died in a 1903 nitro explosion). The Cupler Torpedo Company became Otto Cupler Torpedo Company in 1937 after Otto Torpedo Company purchased it.

“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,” Tallini said.

Roberts’ torpedo company operated in the Allegheny region of Titusville, where the U.S. petroleum industry began in August 1859 with the first American well specifically drilled for oil. His explosive method for fracking wells in Pennsylvania’s oil-bearing geologic formations would be adopted as other states made their first oil discoveries. (more…)

All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology

From 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.


Anadarko Basin in Depth

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…)

Offshore Rocket Launcher

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.

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 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).

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.

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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.

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.

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 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: Last Updated: October 3, 2021. Original Published Date: January 2, 2015.


Halliburton cements Wells

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, younger brother of Erle P. Halliburton, sits at the wheel of company service truck

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…)

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