Exhausted, John Galey directed the crew to take the Christmas week off. When they returned to the derrick on New Year’s Day 1901, they could see a rice barn being built nearby by six workers. That displayed how skeptical the farm owner was of their oil prospects.
At 1020 feet, Al Hamill got the bit stuck in what seemed to be a rock crevasse and the crew was forced to pull up all the pipe lengths in the well. They sharpened the bit and bore into the rock for another whole evening with little progress. William Owens, Al then rode into Beaumont and bought a new 12 inch bit. When they installed it and had drilled back down to 700 feet, mud began gurgling up the rotary and then the drill pipe itself began shooting upward. They watched in amazement as lengths of pipe jettisoned out of the well like mortars. The pipe blew out the elevator, the pulley blocks and then shattered the smokestack of the steam engine. The twenty foot lengths of pipe snapped like matchsticks and were scattered in all directions. When a shrieking blast of natural gas followed, that made believers of the barn workers and sent them scrambling for their lives.
It was covered with 6 inches of mud and most of their equipment was destroyed. Without warning, a chunk of mud fired out of the 6 inch hole. The Hamills could hear a rumbling noise deep within the earth. A stream of mud and then natural gas started spurting out. In their interviews, the Hamills said they could see bubbling crude breathing up and down in the well. In moments the pressure was too great and the explosion of oil shot to the heavens. The spray reached 160 feet and could be seen all the way to Beaumont. Hundreds of people from the town rushed to see the unstoppable Spindletop Gusher. The eruption would not be contained for another nine days. The resulting pool of 900,000 barrels of crude oil was so immense that its volume exceeded the annual oil production of Texas at the time. Moreover, the well owners were instantly $40 million richer and Spindletop would produce an astounding 3.59 million barrels of oil by the end of the year. And to put into perspective the current November oil slump, the Lucas Spindletop Gusher crashed oil prices of that period from $2 to 25 cents in a matter of weeks. The History Channel added that the price of oil would continue to drop to 3 cents a gallon, basically cheaper than water. In the wake of the Spindletop strike, more than 500 oil companies formed in the next year including Texaco and Gulf Oil at Spindletop. The discovery transformed the American economy and set the stage for the Golden Age of the automobile. The Minnesota Geologic Survey noted that oil was discovered in a wildcat well in 1937 in western Minnesota near Wheaton. The record states that the well produced 3 barrels a day at a depth of 864 feet, but was never commercially viable. Geologist Richard Ojakangas is doubtful that oil will ever be discovered in Minnesota. In his book Minnesota’s Geology he stated: “Not much oil and gas is obtained from Precambrian rocks, with which Minnesota is very amply blessed. Oil and gas form by the decay of animal and plant matter, and animals and plants were nearly nonexistent during the Precambrian time.” I guess if Jed Clampett were hunting for food in Minnesota, his rifle shot would likely bring down several stalks of corn? Our only consolation is that we are the fourth largest producer of ethanol in the U.S. To learn more about Spindletop, check out this video from their museum: About Author. Retired after more than 20 years in marketing with United and Northwest Airlines, Tony has been published by the Star and Tribune, Minnesota Monthly, MinnPost, Minnesota Connected, Air Cargo News, The Forward, CNS Air Cargo Focus and the TC Daily Planet. As a result, he has been a regular guest on the CBS-Entercom Radio ‘Jordana Green Show’ in the Midwest. His cold case mystery novel Unpremeditated: A Murderous Caribbean Travelogue — is available now on Amazon.
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