This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
January 10 is the 10th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 355 days remaining until the end of the year (356 in leap years).
On this day in 1901, a gusher signals start of U.S. oil industry
A drilling derrick at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, produces an enormous gusher of crude oil, coating the landscape for hundreds of feet and signaling the advent of the American oil industry. The geyser was discovered at a depth of over 1,000 feet, flowed at an initial rate of approximately 100,000 barrels a day and took nine days to cap. Following the discovery, petroleum, which until that time had been used in the U.S. primarily as a lubricant and in kerosene for lamps, would become the main fuel source for new inventions such as cars and airplanes; coal-powered forms of transportation including ships and trains would also convert to the liquid fuel.
Crude oil, which became the world’s first trillion-dollar industry, is a natural mix of hundreds of different hydrocarbon compounds trapped in underground rock. The hydrocarbons were formed millions of years ago when tiny aquatic plants and animals died and settled on the bottoms of ancient waterways, creating a thick layer of organic material. Sediment later covered this material, putting heat and pressure on it and transforming it into the petroleum that comes out of the ground today.
There had long been suspicions that oil might be under [“Spindletop Hill.” The area was known for its sulfur springs and bubbling gas seepages that would ignite if lit. In August 1892, George W. O’Brien, George W. Carroll, Pattillo Higgins and others formed the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company to do exploratory drilling on Spindletop Hill. The company drilled many dry holes and ran into trouble, as investors began to balk at pouring more money into drilling with no oil to show for it.
Pattillo Higgins left the company and teamed with Captain Anthony F. Lucas, the leading expert in the U.S. on salt dome formations. Lucas made a lease agreement in 1899 with the Gladys City Company and a later agreement with Higgins. Lucas drilled to 575 feet (180 m) before running out of money. He secured additional funding from John H. Galey and James M. Guffey of Pittsburgh, but the deal left Lucas with only a small share of the lease and Higgins with nothing.
Lucas continued drilling and on January 10, 1901, at a depth of 1,139 ft (347 m), what is known as the Lucas Gusher or the Lucas Geyser blew oil over 150 feet (50 m) in the air at a rate of 100,000 barrels per day (16,000 m3/d)(4,200,000 gallons). It took nine days before the well was brought under control. Spindletop was the largest gusher the world had seen and catapulted Beaumont into an oil-fueled boomtown. Beaumont’s population of 10,000 tripled in three months and eventually rose to 50,000. Speculation led land prices to increase rapidly. By the end of 1902, over 500 companies were formed and 285 active wells were in operation.
Production began to decline rapidly after 1902, and the wells produced only 10,000 barrels per day (1,600 m3/d) by 1904. On November 14, 1925, the Yount-Lee Oil Company brought in its McFaddin No. 2 at a depth of about 2,500 feet (800 m), sparking a second boom, which culminated in the field’s peak production year of 1927, during which 21,000,000 barrels (3.3 GL) were produced. Over the ten years following the McFaddin discovery, over 72,000,000 barrels (11.4 GL) of oil were produced, mostly from the newer areas of the field. Spindletop continued as a productive source of oil until about 1936. It was then mined for sulfur from the 1950s to about 1975.
America’s first documented oil spill