The ups and downs: The oil booms of Texas

By Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
March 17, 2012 at 6 p.m.
Updated March 17, 2012 at 10:18 p.m.

Texas is again the leading crude oil-producing state in the country, but it wasn't always this way.

Here are some of the big finds that changed the face of the Texas oil industry:


Jan. 10, 1901, Spindletop erupted in Beaumont, firing mud, gas and finally an arc of dark green oil more than 1,000 feet into the sky.

The well came in at more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day and put Texas at the forefront of oil production.

Spindletop also gave sharecroppers and their sons an alternative to farming and the Texas oil field family was born. This was the place where they learned the oil business.

Spindletop created a new language: a "well-borer" became a driller; a "skilled hand," a roughneck; a "semi-skilled hand," a roustabout.


Aug. 23, 1921, Santa Rita No. 1 came gushing in, the first big well discovered in West Texas. That started a land rush and little towns like Odessa and Midland swelled with those eager to get in on the action and drill for their fortunes in the Permian Basin.

West Texas has been booming and busting ever since.

West Texas is still the biggest production region in the state, and West Texas Intermediate crude oil is still the benchmark of crude oil in North America.


Sept. 3, 1930, the East Texas Oil Field was struck when the men drilling the Daisy Bradford No. 3 hit pay dirt.

So much oil was being produced that it sent the oil industry into a tailspin in the middle of the Great Depression. In 1931, when overproduction had driven the price down to 13 cents a barrel, Gov. Ross Sterling ordered the National Guard into the field and declared martial law to force production to slow down. The Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates the industry, gained power in the fight to control production.

SOURCES: Daniel Yergin, "The Prize;" The Handbook of Texas; The U.S. Energy Information Administration; Bryan Burrough, "The Big Rich."

This article is part of the fifth installment of "The Play," a special series. To read the main article, go here.



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