In 1923, the surprisingly successful Santa Rita No. 1 well opened the door for West Texas, and specifically the Permian Basin, to become one of the richest oil producing regions in the world. One of the most well-known wildcatters drawn to this plentiful ground is Clayton Williams, a real scrapper of an oilman for whom winning and losing millions is commonplace. Interspersed with Williams’ story are explanations of porosity, permeability and the revolutionizing effect of 3D-Seismic technology.
After Santa Rita No. 1’s remarkable discovery in the Big Lake field, Pennsylvania wildcatter Michael Benedum was invited to come down and develop the play. His next Texas discovery was the Yates field. Record-making wells soon sprung up all over the field, including the Yates 30-A in 1929 that set a world record with 8,528 barrels of oil per hour. Over the 20th century, the methods for reaching oil improved dramatically. Cable tool rigs were replaced by rotary rigs and, in the 1990s, horizontal drilling became a feasible way to reach oil that was non-commercial vertically. One of the first modern-day wildcatters to effectively use horizontal drilling is David H. Arrington. A self-made millionaire by age 27, Arrington exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit of the wildcatter with stories of shrewd deal-making and calculated risk-taking.
In 1949, the Scurry County field transformed the town of Snyder into a bustling boomtown and turned Joseph I. O’Neill, Jr., a novice oil-lease broker from the East, into a well-known West Texas wildcatter. O’Neill gained national recognition for his role in Scurry County’s development when Life magazine featured him in a 1949 article. Nearly two decades later, another West Texas oilfield drew widespread attention. In August 1966, Joe Gifford’s first well, the #1 Wolf Unit, erupted with a spectacular blowout, estimated at a hundred million cubic feet of natural gas per day. The expertise of Red Adair and his red-clad men were ultimately needed to put out the raging, 48-day fire. This episode also explores another type of explosion, the intentional kind called “fracing” that is used for rock with low-permeability.
Oilmen past and present have contributed generously to their communities. Early wildcatter George T. Abell poured his petroleum wealth into the Abell-Hanger Foundation and the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. Following in Abell’s footsteps, contemporary oilman Jim Henry also freely gives his time, money, and talent to local nonprofits like United Way and Casa de Amigos. A variety of community representatives affirm the oil industry’s importance, discussing oilmen’s initiation and continuation of many charitable organizations. This episode also covers an important type of service company: the chemical supplier that mixes solutions for oil flow problems. Also explored are the methods of storing and transporting oil.