Harnessing the Oil Gusher
(Galveston Daily News, February 28, 1901)
Great Feat In Engineering And How It Was Accomplished--Something About The Man Who Struck Oil at Beaumont.
Austin, Tex., Feb. 27--Everybody who reads the daily papers knows what a big hole was sunk in the ground near Beaumont; that a mighty stream of oil rushed forth and that the Lucas gusher was created. Everybody knows that after several days had elapsed, the well was "capped," and the further waste of oil was prevented. But everybody does not know what a great feat of engineering skill, daring, and endurance the process of "capping" was. Nor what an effort it took to control and bring into subjugation that mighty belching of Nature. Right at the time, the interesting fact was that the stream had been controlled--that thousands of barrels of oil would no longer be spilled over the prairies and exposed to fire; that this valuable product of the earth could be saved and turned into money. But some weeks have passed. There has been a subsidence of the excitement occasioned by the great discovery. It may interest some people to know that and how the great stream was controlled.
If the reader has ever come amuck of the stream of a fire nozzle, he can appreciate something of the force of the stream of oil that sprang upward from the Lucas well. If he has ever seen the stream of water thrown in hydraulic ---. he can better understand the force that had to be met in capping this well. He can understand that it was a herculean task to get a valve through the terrific stream, fix it in place, and then close the valve without having the pipe forced out of the ground.
That it was a difficult task is further attested by the prices which Mr. Lucas was asked by numerous parties, some of them being skilled mechanical engineers, for closing the well. Mr. Lucas denies that he ever offered $10,000 for capping the well. He says he did offer $1,000 to anyone who could close it on the day the oil first appeared. The news of his alleged offer of $10,000 went out, and he was flooded with telegrams for men and women all over the country offering to close the well for $10,000 or more. A party of three experienced men from Beaumont offered to close the well for $30,000, but Mr. Lucas persistently refused to treat with anyone who would not make his plans known to him, promising on his part to pay them if he used their plan. His terms were not agreed to, with a notice from these gentlemen that they would want $100,000 the next day, Mr. Lucas went to work with his own force to stop the rushing flow of oil.
In order to get an understanding of the work, a preliminary statement is necessary. On Jan. 9, the well had reached a depth of 1,100 feet, and there were four metal tubes in the hole. The first casing, a pipe 10 inches in diameter, reached a part of the way; inside of that there was an eight-inch pipe extending still farther down; and within that, there was a six-inch pipe reaching almost 1,000 feet down. All of these pipes were extending beyond the surface of the ground. Below the end of the six-inch pipe was a rock formation, through which the contractors had been drilling for several days. The drill was driven by a four-inch pipe extending through the others. The four-inch pipe was merely used as a tool, and was not intended as a casing.
On the evening of January 9, the four-inch pipe was pulled out in order that a new drill might be substituted for the one which had become worn. The pipe was left out overnight. The next day, a new bit was affixed to it, and the men had begun lowering it. It had gotten down about 700 feet when the oil gushed out of the rock, forcing the four-inch pipe out, hurling it 300 feet aloft, carrying away the tackles, hydraulic pump connections, etc. The oil deposit was not drilled into. The commotion in the bowels of the earth broke through the rock 17 hours after the drill made its last turn, and the oil gushed forth and shot heavenward with terrific force, a belching, seething, ungovernable monster.
To cap, curb, and control this great geyser of force, the upward pressure of which it was afterwards determined to be 105 pounds per square inch, the men had to work under the torrent of greasy, dirty oil as it descended back to the earth. In order to do this, they wore goggles to protect their eyes, gauze shields to protect the nose, all the apertures around them being closed with plaster. Speech and hearing were impossible, and the work was directed by a code of signals previously agreed upon.
Mr. Lucas attempted to secure a split valve, that is, a valve made in to vertical section,with the intention of bringing these sections up on either side of the stream (of oil) and then pulling them together by clamps. Had he been able to get such a valve, the terrific force of the stream would not have been encountered except in closing the valve. And it would have been a comparably easy task to "cap" the well. But no such valve was to be had, and Mr. Lucas could not wait for the local machine shop to make one. They advised that they must have two weeks to do the job.
A plan was therefore devised for putting a whole valve in place. A frame was constructed of railroad iron as a slide to carry the valve. Two bars were laid horizontally across the derrick frame, passing on either side of the stream of oil. These bars were intended to support and hold the valve in place from the sides. Above these were two other bars, engaging the top of the valve and intended to keep it from being thrown upward when it would come in contact with the stream of oil. Just beyond the stream, bolts were fastened in the bars so as to stop the valve over the stream and at the proper place. The bars were securely anchored so as to withstand the strain and pressure to be put upon them. In the frame, or slide, the valve was put. A block and tackle was rigged up and connected with the valve, and when everything was in readiness, a team of horses was driven forward at a rapid speed. The valve was, of course, open at both ends to permit the flow of oil to pass through it when it would come directly over the pipe. But it was known that a tremendous pressure would be exerted upon the half of the valve passing through the stream before the valve would finally be in position to surround the flow. As the horses moved forward and the valve came in contact with the stream, there was a fearful strain as well as a tilting movement and a terrific spattering of oil. It was an anxious and critical moment for the men who were trying to harness this force of nature. But the crisis was safely passed. The valve reached the stop bolts and settled into place directly over the end of the casing pipe and perfectly enclosing the stream of oil. The petroleum again flowed unimpeded toward the sky, but with the circle of iron surrounding it.
Thus, one step in the closing of the well had been safely accomplished.
But the valve hung in its frame 12 inches above the top of the pipe. Anchors were then made and the valve was pulled down to the top of the 8-inch pipe and screwed on. Fortunately, there were good threads on the pipe. The 6-inch pipe was what is known as a "blind" pipe and was not threaded.
It next became necessary to put down anchors sufficiently strong to hold the pipe in place after the closing of the valve should bring the full pressure of the oil stream against it. As the oil was still rushing upward through the orifice at the top of the valve and falling on the ground around the well, the men could not work at digging the necessary holes, and furthermore the saturation of the soil made it soft. It therefore became necessary to divert the stream. An orifice on the side of the valve was opened; then the orifice at the top of the valve was gradually closed, and the stream then shot out horizontally some 200 feet. Then the holes were dug, the anchors put in and screwed down upon the top of the valve.
People in Beaumont who had field glasses turned on the well concluded when the upward flow of the stream ceased that the well had been capped. They could not see the stream shooting sideways from the well. And when the anchors had been completed and the upward orifice was again closed, they concluded that the stream had broken its confines and was again beyond control. But this was a great mistake. The oil returned to the upward in order that a "T" might be attached at the side of the valve. When this had been accomplished, the side orifice was again opened, the top orifice was closed, and the stream again shot out horizontally over the prairie.
And now the really critical moment had arrived. The stream of oil had thus far not been controlled. Naught save (nothing except) the shell of the valve had been in contact with it, except when the top orifice was closed, and then the side gate was opened. Now the moment had arrived to shut off the stream altogether, and every pound of pressure exerted by the hidden force down in the ground must be born by the valve and by the anchors chaining it. A pressure gauge was fitted into the valve. Then the gate of the side orifice was gradually closed Gradually the pressure rose on the gauge and then it stopped. Possibly something might be wrong with the gauge. The steam was turned on again, and a new gauge substituted. Gradually the pressure rose in this gauge as the stream was shut off. Again it stopped at 105 pounds, and not a drop of oil trickled from the pipe. The anchors held firm; the great pillar of oil was stopped; the commotion in the earth no longer was manifest on the surface; the roar was hushed, and silence again reigned. In ten days and ten minutes from the timne the oil first burst from its rocky bed, the Lucas gusher had been closed. The six men who had done the work shouted for joy, and Mr. Lucas threw his hat in a pond of oil.
The work of closing the well had occupied two days, the beginning having been delayed for several days while securing the necessary materials. After the well had been closed, Mr. Lucas built a large iron casting around the pipe above the earth and filled it with sand to protect the well from fire. Last week the valve was uncovered and opened a little. Mr. Lucas says the presure continued the same, and they now have the oil confined in its natural reservoirs from which they can draw a quart or a million gallons at will. (compiled by W. T. Block)