Carney Lake, Pierce/Kitsap Counties, Washington
Once again it is an unidentified newspaper article which caught my attention.
The headline reads “Drilling Near Vaughn Abandoned at 6,700 Feet”. The pictures accompanying the article is captioned “Oil Venture Fails”. Now, aren’t you too intrigued about oil drilling on the Key Peninsula?
The search begins, and I must admitted it hasn’t ended. But it has thrown up several roadblocks. But before I tell you about the search, let’s read the article.
Drilling Near Vaughn Abandoned at 6,700 Feet by Earl Luebker, Staff Correspondent
VAUGHN, March 7. — A thick crust of volcanic rock has caused drillers to abandon their efforts on the Pierce county exploratory well near here, officials of the Standard Oil company announced today.
The final string of drill pipe was pulled from the hole known as Hebert No. 1, near Carney Lake this morning after drillers had attained the depth of 6,700 feet and still hadn’t cut through the bothersome layer of lava. Work began on the well in October, and after 132 days of drilling through the rock, the company had spent some $200,000.
The well was begun as a joint venture of Standard and Union Oil companies, but on Feb. 18 when a depth of 5,650 feet had been attained, Union officials decided not to drill any further. Standard then took the well down to the 6,700 foot level before concluding that the chance of finding oil was too remote to justify the large additional expense that would be required.
Commenting on the history of this exploratory venture, a Standard geologist said:
“After considerable seismograph work, and surface geological exploration we found what appeared to be a favorable sub-surface structure-an underground dome which could have trapped a quantity of oil or gas. We suspected that an ancient lava flow overlay this area, and expected to hit this lava at about 600 feet. However, it was our hope that the lava might be a relatively thin crust at this point. At the outside, we did not expect it to exceed an approximate thickness of 5,000 feet.
“The drillers struck this lava flow at 620 feet, as we expected. But they never got out of it. When we were still drilling through the lava at 6,700 feet, without any indication of how much thicker this formation is, we concluded that it was not worth while to go any deeper.”
Standard has drilled two other unsuccessful wells in Washington, one near Bellingham and one near Everett, in the last five years, but company officials stated today that they would continue to explore for favorable locations in the state despite their oilless search so far.
Some of the men involved in this specific well included Ken Akers, a cathead or man charged with uncoupling the drill pipe as it comes from the hole. Also involved were Sheldon L. Clover, Director of WA State Division of Mines and Geology; Harold Billman, Union Oil Co., paleontologist; Tom Ethrington, Standard Oil Co. geologist; Bob Patterson and Walter Dale, consultant geologists.
An email to the Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room identified the news article as published by the Tacoma News Tribune, March 7, 1950, page 1.
Another lead led me to Kitsap Sun article “Remember When” written by John Haughey on January 30, 2000 which reads “50 Years Ago - January 30, 1950. Drilling has been resumed at the Union Oil Co.’s test well in Kitsap County, w. L. Stanton, the company geologist, reported today. Work was halted Dec. 31 because of the loss of tools in the hole. The well is at Carney Lake, near the Pierce County line.”
Brian Kamens, a volunteer at the Northwest Room, Tacoma Public Library told me that the Union Oil Co. also searched for oil at a site near Longbranch in 1947 and 1948. These efforts were abandoned as unsuccessful. But the story behind these two was interesting in and of themselves. Louis E. Swaboda thought he had smelled oil and thinking he could pipe it into his house for heating and cooking, he hired a drilling company to drill the well. The two employees of Tacoma Pump & Drilling Company hit an gas pocket which nearly killed them. The well names are Swabodi water well No. 1 and Swabodi water well No. 2. and are described in the Oil & Gas Exploration in Washington, Information Circular No. 15, Division of Mines and Geology, Sheldon L. Glover, Supervisor, State of Washington, Department of Conservation and Development, August 30, 1947. In 1951 through 1953 they also explored for oil in Grays Harbor County with no success. I imagine it was very disappointing to know that oil drilling in southern California was so successful both on the coast and inland, especially around Santa Barbara area, but could not repeat the successes in Washington State.
Brian Kamens mentioned to me when I visited the Northwest Room at the main branch of Tacoma Public Library, there was drilling for oil conducted at Annie Wright School in the 1940s. Looking through their Washington Oil files, there were several articles in the 1940-50s where oil was drilled for in the surrounding areas as well as over in and around Spokane.
Another full page article that I found interesting was explaining the long history of oil exploration in our state. Most of my connection to oil exploration took place in the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the world. Or in Texas. But I never considered oil existing in the Pacific Northwest of Washington. And as far as natural gas, I always think of Wyoming. So I found this exercise most interesting.
Another government report issued by the State of Washington Department of Conservation and Development, J. B. Fink, Acting Director and the Division of Geology, Harold E. Culver, Supervisor entitled “Report of Investigations No. 4, Preliminary Report on Petroleum and Natural Gas in Washington” by Sheldon L. Glover was issued in 1936. Mr. Glover tells us in the opening paragraph that “The first well of which there is record was put down in Snohomish County in 1892; since then, drilling has been almost continuous in one part of the State or another, with recurring cycles of more intense activity.” He goes on to say “Some 200 wells in all have been drilled to date, but relatively few of these were located where formations and structural conditions were favorable for the occurrence of petroleum. During the last few years, some of this prospecting has been successful. Natural gas has been developed and put to commercial use, and oil in amounts considerably greater than mere indications has been struck in three different wells.”
But for our purposes of local interest, let’s consider the information contained in a newspaper article in The Tacoma Sunday Ledger-News Tribune, January 10, 1960. The article is titled “Hunting for Oil in Olympics in Early Days. Explorers Covered Wild Area on Foot’ by Harold Otho Stone. Mr. Stone actually participated by accompanying D. C. Nutting, Commander of the Navy, Construction Officer and Kitsap Oil Company personnel on this hunt in August, 1913. Mr. Stone was publisher of the Bremerton News. The group consisted of 10 men who went by boat to Clallam Bay. He and Edwin S. Keith, Bremerton merchant and government geologist and Edgar L. Gale, Bremerton postmaster spent considerable time together fishing and hunting. Around the Hoh and Forks rivers they met John Huelsdonk, the Iron Man of the Olympics. Huelsdonk showed them a blow-hole in a swale where gas was escaping. He lit a match and when it was thrown in the vapor ignited and burned with a bright flame. However, it most likely was just swamp gas.
However this encouraged the men to keep going along the Hoh. Before they left, Huelsdonk offered to take the men on an excursion to the south fork of the river to find a herd of elk. To get there it was necessary to cross over a rushing torrent of the Hot, so Huelsdonk took it upon himself to carry each man across on his shoulders.. Huelsdonk was a German immigrant who, along with his wife, Dora, were the first settlers on the west side of the Olympic Mountains in Jefferson County approximately 30 miles up the Hoh valley in 1891. It is the wettest area in the continental US receiving more than 12 feet of rain a year. He had come to Washington Territory at age 21, working with timber surveying parties in Seattle.
All in all, however, the three men’s search for oil had been unsuccessful. But they had had the opportunity to spend time in the Olympic Peninsula great rain forest, meet some great people and enjoy some of the world’s best trout fishing.
As Stone writes “Two years later, America was at war and the oil boom burst like one of the bubbles forced upward by the gas that seeped from the springs along the Hoh. Now, nearly 50 years and two major wars later, hopes for an oil strike in this region again rise and fall. Perhaps one day a rich field may be discovered, but Nature seems jealous, preferring to preserve her treasured forests and mountains undefiled. Instead, she still reserves her store of petroleum to be uncovered in other, less comely places on earth.”
- Report of Investigations No. 4 PRELIMINARY REPORT ON PETROLEUM AND NATURAL GAS IN WASHINGTON
- Hunting for Oil in Olympics in Early Days, Explorers Covered Wild Area on Foot - Tacoma Sunday Ledger-News Tribune Jan. 10, 1960
- Drilling Near Vaughn Abandoned at 6,700 Feet by Earl Luebker, Staff Correspondent -Tacoma News Tribune March 7, 1950
- HistoryLink.org Essay 7480 - John Huelsdonk (1866-1946)
- Northwest Room, Tacoma Public Library, Main Branch
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