Spindletop

Spindletop is the name of a small knoll just south of Beaumont Texas.

Anthony Lucas, an Austrian-born mining engineer, has been supervising the drilling of an oilwell since October 27, 1900.

His crew must install a new drilling bit on the string of a drill pipe. The date is January 10, 1901. The drilling crew begins lowering the new bit to the bottom of the hole. They run about 700 feet (200 meters) of drill pipe into the 1,000-foot (300-meter) hole. Suddenly, the well starts spewing drilling mud. The mud, a liquid concoction that carries rock cuttings out of the hole, drenches the rig floor and shoots up into the derrick.

The crew evacuates the rig and waits to see what will happen. The flow stops. The workers return to the rig and start cleaning up. Without warning, mud erupts again. Then a geyser of oil gushes 200 feet (60 meter) above the 60-foot-high (18 meter high) derrick.

See the photo to the right.

The spouting oil blows all the drill pipe out of the hole. The blowing well elates Lucas and his crew as they watch the display from a safe distance. They estimate that it is flowing over 3 million gallons (over 12,000 cubic meters) of oil per day. In oilfield terms, that's over 80,000 barrels of oil per day.

Before Spindletop, a big producer flowed 50 barrels (8 cubic meters )per day. The Lucas well produced 1,600 times that amount. It showed that buried layers of rock could contain tremendous amounts of oil. What is more, it proved that rotary drilling was an effective way to obtain it. Spindletop marked the beginning of the modern petroleum industry.

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