Albert Phenis' Story
(Galveston Daily News, February 3, 1901)
Beaumont, Tex., Jan. 19--A Noted Correspondent of the Manufacturer's Record Visits Texas Oil Fields--About Beaumont's Geyser--Texas Oil More Than A Local Matter Now--A Revolution In The Fuel of The World.
Nothing less than whether the Lucas geyser at Beaumont means a revolution in the oil trade is the momentous question with which the oil men of the country are now concerned. Producers of every degree, from Standard Oil men down to producers with limited knowledge and less means all are represented in the surging crowds which have filled to suffocation every hotel and rooming house in this now world-famed city, and who still pour in on every train. Ever since the gushing fountain of petroleum shot 200 feet high into the air on Jan. 10, the oil world has been holding its breath, awaiting developments. Of what world-wide significance is this famous strike ample demonstration was furnished in the "list to starboard," which it gave the oil market, when the price went off several cents a barrel the minute the news went out.
A stream of oil shooting some 200 feet (about one hundred feet would be more accurate) into the air from the mouth of a six-inch pipe and from a field which was practically unknown to the oil world was mystifying and disturbing to a degree. And when now, after ten days of continuous, steady flow, the pressure remained unchanged up to the time the valves were made to work and the stream was shut off, this monster of an oil well is almost as much an unsolved problem as it was the morning the frightened workmen flew to refuge in the apprehension that the infernal regions were about to belch forth.
It has been conceded that the oil is very heavy--"the gravity of the oil relieves the gravity of the situation" is the way that "Golden Rule" Jones of Toledo (Ohio) expresses it--and therefore the Lucas well at least is not to exert a greatly disturbing influence on the price of illuminating oil. It has a gravity of about 23 degrees, and there is sulphur in it. Therefore it will not be used for anything but fuel, so the owners say. While it has such excellent lubricating properties that even the crude oil has been used with satisfactory results on locomotives and other machinery, it is declared that it will not be profitable to refine it. So apparently the greatest of the unsolved problems is the situation of how much of the oil there is in the well and the field.
No explicit report has been made of the analysis of the oil. Quantities of it have been sent away to be tested thoroughly. There are differences of opinion as to the percent of illuminating properties it possesses. Chemists on the ground declare they have found paraffine to be present in quantity. But nevertheless it seems to be settled that there will be no attempt at refining now, and it is a matter of frequent comment that it is no misfortune to the section and the world at large that this immense production is of fuel (oil) instead of illuminating oil.
It has been determined how great is the flow of this well, but many experts have come together on the estimate of about 25,000 barrels every twenty-four hours. If this quantity of illuminating oil were to be dumped on the market, and subsequent operations here were to add even to this vast addition to the world's oil supply, it is declared that the oil industry would be shaken to its foundation, and that the less-favored fields (in Pennsylvania) would be forced to the wall of bankruptcy. There are some who do not hesitate to say that this oil is of a much better grade than is announced, but that vast interests are opposed to recognition of the quality of the oil. Careful analysis of the oil and numerous tests will settle this point, but the preponderance of testimony is in favor of the great value of the oil lying in its uses as fuel.
It is not aside of the mark to say that at the present time everybody, including the owners of the Lucas well, are considerably at sea (confused). All are as one who has fallen out of a fourth-story window and has not yet had time to find out whether bones have been broken or not. The magnitude of the flow is not the sole element of the perplexity. The character of the oil seems to be different from that of other fluids, and the nature of the flow is also unusual. Unlike most gushers, where the oil is forced out for a few days by the accumulation of gas, there is no gas behind this oil. It flows in a steady, even stream, and without the noise which is always present when there is gas. Whence (as a result) the pressure is another of the problems. Is the source of the supply a river, lake, or pool, and is there an artesian pressure behind the oil. These are some of the questions which present themselves. The 'wiseacres' are simply looking profound and saying nothing. They want more evidence before submitting themselves to any theories. It is not agreed as to the geological formation of the strata in which the oil was found. Some say it is a shale or conglomerate, and if so, is not regarded as so promising for a long-lied producer. Others affirm that the rock is a sandstone, and therefore fulfills the best requirements.
It takes time and may take some more wells to definitely settle several mooted questions. But it is certain that in the public mind, it has already been settled that a Texas oil field has been established. The oil industry at Corsicana has been profitably built on during the past four years, and has now attained a very respectable degree of importance, but a 100 barrel (per day) well there was a large one. And with few exceptions, the development of that field has been left to the Texans themselves.
With the development of the Beaumont geyser, Texas oil became more than a local matter. And now every bubble of gas, every oil-coated pool in all this region is prized as a possible indication of vast oil deposits beneath. Consequently, there is anxiety to tie up lands with leases. Prospectors are scanning the maps and running about the country in search of owners and indications, and without question there will be many new wells sunk hereabouts within the next sixty days. The lessees of the tract on which the Lucas well is located propose to sink other wells as soon as they can get the machinery in place, and altogether much development is promised. Just at present, however, outsiders have some difficulty in making much headway. The prospecting for oil here has been able to tie up much of the most promising lands. Then there was so much excitement following the discovery of the geyser that owners and prospectors were unable to get together. A number of companies are being formed now, however; leasing propositions are under consideration, and a very general activity is being promised. The prospectors include men from the oil fields of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and California, as well as speculators and real estate men from nearly every corner of the Union. There has been some disposition to trade in town lots also, but in the main, the talk and the thought of visitors and all (others) is oil, oil, oil.
Before the discovery of oil in Corsicana, there was talk of oil in various parts of Texas, and State reports pointed out years ago that traces of petroleum existed here and there. In 1878 a prospector named Dr. Kavanaugh reported that he had found traces of oil down through Texas, from the Indian Territory to the Gulf, and he enumerated several places in this vicinity, one of them about Sour Lake, this (error: Hardin) county. Some time since a well was sunk at Sour Lake, but the result was not satisfactory, although some oil was found. The great gusher was sunk by Capt. A. F. Lucas, an engineer and geologist from Washington, D. C., who had had experience in several fields. He was backed by Pittsburgh oil men, one of whom, John H. Galey, has operated all over the country, and has been fortunate enough to be identified with about every gusher struck in recent years in any part of the country. For the site of his operations, Capt. Lucas selected a spot where there was a good deal of surface oil. Some wells have been sunk in the vicinity recently, but they went no farther down than about 600 feet, and only moderate volume of gas was struck, and the wells were abandoned. After four months work, after a depth of about 1,300 feet was reached in the Lucas well, the rock was struck which covered the oil. The well was closed up, and an attempt was made to lease other property in addition to the 5,000 acres already secured. Fearing the well might be clogged up, it was concluded desirable in a short time to work a four-inch (pipe) inside of the six-inch casing. This had been put down to the depth of 600 feet when evidences of a disturbance below warned the workmen that something was about to happen. The men on the derrick slid down like a fireman coming down a fire ladder, and soon 600 feet of four-inch pipe went up in the air. The oil shot up behind it some 150 feet, and Beaumont went wild. The flow continued with slight variation, sometimes being clogged with a mass of rock, and then shooting higher as it cleared, and before long there was a lake of oil about the well. For a mile along the adjoining railroad tracks, it lies two or three feet deep. And for half a mile about the well all the depressions in the ground have been filled with miniature lakes of oil. On the sixth day, a T-joint was fastened to the casing and the flow of oil was deflected horizontally, while workmen put in "dead men" and packed the casing with cement to stand the strain and permit the stoppage of the flow. The cement having sufficiently hardened, the flow was finally and completely stopped at 11 o'clock this morning (Jan. 19).
Mr. Galey arrived several days ago and naturally first directed his attention toward controlling the well. Now he is hurrying up tanks. A telegraphic order for tanks was placed in Pittsburgh, and they are to come through on a passenger schedule. The first order is for a capacity of 250,000 barrels. It is proposed to increase this as fast as needed. Mayor Sam Jones of Toledo (Ohio) says this well means a revolution in the fuel of the world; that the twentieth century fuel will be petroleum, and that it will be burned on steamships and in factories and for the running of trains, and that it must be demonstrated by the actual presence of the stuff above ground and in tanks. And that there is a supply sufficient for several years use and at a guaranteed price.
Therefore, he declares, there must be from 10,000,000 to 40,000,000 barrels stored before a market for fuel on a grand scale can be created. Mr. Galey says he concedes that Mayor Jones is right and that his crowd will store the stuff. Tanks for storing and for loading aboard ships are to be erected at Port Arthur, according to present plans, and a pipe line will be laid from here to the terminals of the Port Arthur route. And meantime other wells are to be sunk by the company and vast stores of the oil are to be accumulated. The company will operate independently of any other concern, so Mr. Galey says. The people of Beaumont consider that the well means the making of a big factory center here. It certainly would seem that it conferred great advantages. The people of Houston take the same view, as already there is talk of a pipe line from this district to that city.
What the oil will cost consumers is wholly undecided, but it is declared that it will be considerably under a dollar a barrel. It is stated that from three to four barrels would equal a ton of coal. Coal sells here for around $7.00 a ton just now. The matter of prices and supply and all that must be worked out later.
Meantime all over the country there will be prospecting and drilling for more oil. All the territory between here and Corsicana and also all the other places in the State where surface indications of oil and gas have been found will be worked over by the eager prospector, both from home and abroad. Texas is all the talk the world over now, and it will be a surprise if the development of her oil industry is not one of the great big things of the opening years of the new century. Albert Phenis (comp. by W. T. Block)