The Oil Wars

Anthony F. Lucas was a salt mining engineer from Louisiana. With his knowledge of geology, Lucas believed that a large salt dome known as Spindletop would have a large pool of oil associated with it. He raised the funds and began to dig.

On January 10, 1901, the Spindletop well blew in spectacular fashion. The volume of water, rocks, gas, and oil that burst from the hole shot hundreds of feet in all directions. For the next nine days, the well spewed forth a tower 200 feet high of high-quality crude oil, a full 70,000 barrels a day.

There had never been a well like Spindletop. The impact was immediate. Beaumont grew from a population of 9,000 to 50,000 in three months. By 1902, more than 500 companies were doing business in oil storage, pipelines, and refining.

Investors brought billions of dollars to Texas to search for more oil and gas. Many of the world’s major oil companies got their start as a result of Spindletop. The cheap fuel they found in vast quantities revolutionized American transportation and industry. Industry and agriculture everywhere in the world became closely tied to oil.

Boom, Boom, Boom

Refineries were built. Port facilities along the coast were dredged to allow tanker ships to pass.

New related industries grew that didn’t even exist before the boom. The oil industry needed timber, rope, steel cable, and pipes. Foundries and machine shops that had once turned out farm tools converted to oil drilling equipment.

The oil industry also created waste and pollution. Gushers produced oil uncontrollably. The runoff soaked into the ground. Fires were common.

Common Carriers

Before oil, cotton had been king in Texas. The state’s network of railways had been built to transport cotton. By 1904, more than 1500 railway oil tankers had been built to move oil, along with fleets of trucks. Oil also required its own transportation network – hundreds of miles of pipeline, from field to refinery to distribution center.

The major oil companies formed an industry group to establish procedures to meet the nation’s needs during World War I. Both the state and the federal governments took action to try to regulate the industry.

Source: The Oil Wars
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