Friday, January 12, 2001

Texas re-enacts historic oil strike


Spindletop gusher opened new era

By Mark Babineck
The Associated Press

        BEAUMONT, Texas — Spindletop Hill was not the first oil strike in the United States, nor was it the world's first petroleum “geyser,” as it was called on Jan. 10, 1901.

        Yet the massive strike came at the right time, as automobiles were emerging and the industrial revolution was looking for new fuel.

        “Back in '01, Beaumont for a week there was in every international newspaper ... with headlines saying, "Oil Found in Texas,'” said Ryan Smith, executive director of the Texas Energy Museum.

        On Wednesday, with a towering column of water spouting from a replica 1901 derrick, Texans recreated the scene 100 years to the minute after the gusher erupted at Spindletop.

        The geyser of water spewed about 150 feet through the derrick and into the cloudy sky, misting some of the thousands attending. Re-enactors portraying the drillers scurried below.

        Former President George Bush and other speakers at the ceremony, including Houston oilman Michel Halbouty, recounted how Spindletop helped fuel the industrial revolution and make possible new technologies.

        “Let future generations know that the oil from this Texas soil helped transform the American land of liberty into a beacon of freedom, hope and, yes, opportunity to the world,” Mr. Bush said.

        Spindletop drew worldwide attention because it was the Western Hemisphere's first gusher, proving oil was abundant enough to become a primary energy source.

        “The significance of Spindletop cannot be overlooked,” said Mr. Halbouty, 91, who knew many of Texas' early wildcatters, including the Spindletop pioneers. “It started the modern petroleum industry.”

        Oil had been produced in Pennsylvania for nearly half a century and small wells were active in Texas when amateur geologist Pattillo Higgins insisted there was oil beneath lonely Spindletop Hill, south of Beaumont along the coastal plain.

        Mr. Higgins found backing, but several abortive drilling attempts exhausted the money. Desperate for technical help, Mr. Higgins placed newspaper ads, and Anthony Lucas, an Austrian expert on salt dome formations, responded.

        On land adjacent to Mr. Higgins' tract, Mr. Lucas went back to work Oct. 27, 1900, with the help of Texas drillers Al and Curt Hamill. Better equipment and troubleshooting know-how helped them reach 1,020 feet the morning of Jan. 10. That's when mud, gas and pieces of the drilling pipe began blowing from the hole.

        Then came the oil, in amounts never imagined, streaming an estimated 200 feet in the air.

        “No production in the world had ever been like that,” said Halbouty, a Beaumont native. “Not Baku (Russia), Pennsylvania or Corsicana (Texas). They were producing 50, 75, maybe 100 barrels a day. Spindletop came in at 100,000 a day. In one year, the potential was for more oil than had been produced up to that time.”

       



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