Early Texas Oil Fields

Texas Oil Fields

The Texas oil field boom, sometimes called the gusher age, was a period of dramatic change and economic growth in the U.S. state of Texas during the early 20th century that began with the discovery of a large petroleum reserve near Beaumont, Texas. The find was unprecedented in its size (worldwide) and ushered in an age of rapid regional development and industrialization that has few parallels in U.S. history. Texas quickly became one of the leading oil producing states in the U.S., along with Oklahoma and California; soon the nation overtook the Russian Empire as the top producer of petroleum. By 1940 Texas had come to dominate U.S. production. Some historians even define the beginning of the world’s Oil Age as the beginning of this era in Texas.

 Although limited reserves of oil had been struck during the 19th century, the strike at Spindletop near Beaumont in 1901 gained national attention, spurring exploration and development that continued through the 1920s and beyond. Spindletop and the Joiner strike in East Texas, at the outset of the Great Depression, were the key strikes that launched this era of change in the state.

This period had a transformative effect on Texas. At the turn of the century, the state was predominantly rural with no large cities.  By the end of World War II, the state was heavily industrialized, and the populations of Texas cities had broken into the top 20 nationally.  The city of Houston was among the greatest beneficiaries of the boom, and the Houston area became home to the largest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants in the world. The city grew from a small commercial center in 1900 to one of the largest cities in the United States during the decades following the era. This period, however, changed all of Texas’ commercial centers (and developed the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, where the boom began).

Downtown Houston 1927

Downtown Houston 1927

Oil and natural gas are the most valuable minerals produced in Texas. They have been produced from most areas of Texas and from rocks of all geologic eras except the Precambrian. All of the major sedimentary basins of Texas have produced some oil or gas.

The Permian Basin of West Texas has yielded large quantities of oil since the Big Lake discovery in 1923, although there was a smaller discovery in the Westbrook field in Mitchell County three years earlier.

The 1923 discovery, Santa Rita No. 1 in Reagan County, was on University of Texas land, and it and Texas A&M University both have benefitted from the royalties.

Although large quantities of petroleum have been produced from rocks of Permian age, production in the area also occurs from older Paleozoic rocks. Production from rocks of Paleozoic age occurs primarily from North Central Texas westward to New Mexico and southwestward to the Rio Grande, but there is also significant Paleozoic production in North Texas.

Mesozoic rocks are the primary hydrocarbon reservoirs of the East Texas Basin and the area south and east of the Balcones Fault Zone. Cenozoic sandstones are the main reservoirs along the Gulf Coast and offshore state waters.

Earliest Oil Texas Oil Field

Indians found oil seeping from the soils of Texas long before the first Europeans arrived. They told explorers that the fluid had medicinal values. The first record of Europeans using crude oil, however, was for the caulking of boats in 1543 by survivors of the DeSoto expedition near Sabine Pass.

Melrose, in Nacogdoches County, was the site in 1866 of the first drilled well to produce oil in Texas. The driller was Lyne T. Barret. Barret used an auger, fastened to a pipe, and rotated by a cogwheel driven by a steam engine — a basic principle of rotary drilling that has been used since, although with much improvement.

Other oil was found in crudely dug wells in Bexar County in 1889 and in Hardin County in 1893. The three small wells in Hardin County led to the creation of two small refineries in 1896 and 1898.

But it was not until June 9, 1894, that Texas had a major discovery. This occurred in the drilling of a water well for the city of Corsicana. Oil caused that well to be abandoned, but a company formed in 1895 drilled several producing oil wells.

The first well-equipped refinery in Texas was built in Corsicana in 1898, and this plant, which shipped its first production in 1899, usually is called the state’s first refinery, despite the earlier efforts. Discovery of the Powell Field, also near Corsicana, followed in 1900.

Spindletop, 1901 Texas Oil Field

Jan. 10, 1901, is the most famous date in Texas petroleum history. This is the date that the great gusher erupted in the oil well being drilled at Spindletop, near Beaumont, by a mining engineer, Capt. A. F. Lucas.

This was the first salt dome oil discovery, and thousands of barrels of oil flowed before the well could be capped. Spindletop created a sensation throughout the world and encouraged exploration and drilling in Texas that has continued since.

Texas oil production increased from 836,039 barrels in 1900 to 4,393,658 in 1901; and in 1902 Spindletop alone produced 17,421,000 barrels, or 94 percent of the state’s production. Prices dropped to 3 cents a barrel, an all-time low.

Offshore, 1908

The first offshore drilling was in shallow northern Galveston Bay, where the Goose Creek Field was discovered in 1908. Several dry holes followed, and the field was abandoned. But a gusher in 1916 created the real boom there.

1911–1929  Texas Oil Field

In 1911, a water-well drilling outfit on the W. T. Waggoner Ranch in Wichita County hit oil, bringing in the Electra Field. Salt dome oil fields followed at Damon Mound in 1915 (Brazoria County), Barbers Hill in 1916 (Chambers County), and Blue Ridge in 1919 (Fort Bend County).

In 1917, came the discovery of the Ranger Field in Eastland County. The Burkburnett Townsite Field in Wichita County was discovered in 1918.

About this time, oil discoveries brought in a short era of swindling, with oil stock promotion and selling on a nationwide scale. It ended after a series of trials in federal courts, but the oil discoveries continued. The Mexia Field in Limestone County was discovered in 1920, and the second Powell Field in Navarro County in 1924.

Another great area developed in 1921 in the Panhandle, with sensational oil and gas discoveries in Hutchinson and contiguous counties and the booming of the town of Borger.

The Luling Field in Caldwell County open in 1922, and 1925 saw the comeback of Spindletop with a production larger than that of the original field.

In 1925, Howard County was opened for production. Hendricks in Winkler County opened in 1926, and Raccoon Bend, Austin County, opened in 1927. Sugar Land was the most important Texas oil development in 1928.

The Darst Creek Field in Guadalupe County was opened in 1929. In the same year, new records of productive sand thickness were set for the industry at Van, Van Zandt County. Pettus in Bee County was another contribution to the 1929 discoveries.

East Texas Field

The East Texas field, biggest of them all, was discovered near Turnertown and Joinerville, Rusk County, by veteran wildcatter C. M. (Dad) Joiner in October 1930. The success of this well — drilled on land condemned many times by geologists of the major companies — was followed by the biggest leasing campaign in history.

The field soon was extended to Kilgore, Longview, and northward. The East Texas field brought overproduction and a rapid sinking of the price. Private attempts were made to prorate production but without much success.

On Aug. 17, 1931, Gov. Ross S. Sterling ordered the National Guard into the field, which he placed under martial law. This drastic action was taken after the Texas Railroad Commission had been enjoined from enforcing production restrictions. After the complete shutdown, the Texas Legislature enacted legal proration, the system of regulation still utilized.

West Texas Oil Field

The most significant subsequent oil discoveries in Texas were those in West Texas. In 1936, oil was discovered west of Lubbock in the Duggan Field in Cochran County.

Originally Duggan was thought to be one of two fields, it and the adjacent Slaughter Field, but in 1940 the Railroad Commission ruled that the two produced from one reservoir and called both areas Slaughter. The prolific Levelland Field, in Cochran and Hockley counties, was discovered in 1945. A discovery well in Scurry County on Nov. 21, 1948, was the first of several major developments in that region. Many of the leading Texas counties in minerals value are in that region.

Austin Chalk

The Giddings Field on the Austin Chalk in Lee, Fayette, and Burleson counties had significant drilling in the 1970s that continued into the 1980s. Texas Oil Field


Early Day Texas Oil Field Discoveries – via Texas Almanac

Related Content: A Look Back at One of The Biggest Oil and Gas Fields

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