Geology: A Lesson in Being a Life-long Learner

Amazingly it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that mankind began to scientifically study the earth beneath their feet. Scientists were making discoveries into the unseen world of germs and cellular biology at the same moment they were discovering the composition of the land that was always before their eyes. However, once scientists began looking down, their discoveries would open the doors to new heights of and profits in the exploration of natural resources.

In the early years of oil exploration, drillers had more in common with gamblers than they did with scientists. For the most part it was pure luck to strike oil. Those early explorers naturally sought out any technique that would improve their chances of a strike. Consequently, there was no shortage of people (mostly charlatans) who were happy to take on the challenge.

German miners in the sixteenth century believed the use of a forked hazel bush twig could locate ore veins underground. This early form of witching (divining rods) would expand to locate everything from ore, to water, to black gold. If you wanted something with a more personal touch, you could turn to the spiritualists who received their information from the “great beyond.”

There were also oil “smellers” and the more unique personalities that had their own approach. There was a man who carried a bottle of crude around his neck on a string. He claimed when we walked over an underground oil field he would receive a shock from the bottle.

As the industrial revolution mechanized the world, the search for oil spawned an endless procession of machines claiming to aid in the process. These machines were dubbed “doodlebugs.” Many of them were remarkable machines, however, they did little to improve the likelihood of making a discovery. One such machine was built by a Pittsburg man who claimed his giant X-ray machine when focused on the earth could disseminate an electrical current that would excite the molecules in the earth and render it temporarily transparent. During that moment, he could see the oil beneath the earth.

Scientifically speaking, I probably don’t need to tell you that all of these approaches historically proved to be no more effective than random drilling. However, it is important to note in the early 1900s, geologists where seen as no more credible than the diviners, spiritualists, smellers or doodlebuggers.

It was in 1913 when geologist Charles N. Gould (founder of the Oklahoma Geological Survey) presented a paper to the International Geological Congress describing the correlation between geological occurrences and natural resource deposits that the perception began to change. However, Gould’s statement on the relationship was hardly earth shaking. Rather, it was a very cautious statement. He said, “careful studies of geological conditions have demonstrated that there is a rather definite relation between structure of rocks and occurrence of oil and gas.” While his statement barely kept people awake, it was revolutionary.

Following the congress, Cities Service hired Mr. Gould and Everett Carpenter to help with prospecting. Gould and Carpenter rented a spring buggy and travelled from Oklahoma to Butler County, Kansas. Over a period of time they mapped the area around Augusta. At Gould’s direction, Cities Service hired J. Russell Crabtree to make some engineering drawings of the data collected so the executives could better understand the findings. This was one of the first geological maps that included contouring of the landscape.

At the recommendation of Gould and his team, Cities Service initiated the drilling of several wells in the area. Unbelievably, all but one of the wells found gas at 1,400 feet. It was an unprecedented feat for almost every well to be successful. However, the one that was dry at 1,400 feet, Gould encouraged they drill deeper and at 2,516 feet the Frank Varner No. 1 struck oil. A hundred percent success rate on drilling was beyond belief.

In 1911, the city of El Dorado was in desperate need of gas. Several attempts were made to drill in the El Dorado area, however all attempts failed to produce. Even with these failures looming in the background, Cities Service found new hope in the science of geology. They sent H.R. Straight and F.L. Frankenberger to the area. They staked out the location of Stapleton No. 1.

On Oct. 5, 1915 at 549 feet the drill bit into Admire Shale and flowed 96 barrels of oil per day. They continued to drill, hitting several oil producing formations until they reached 2,497 feet and the well flowed 110 barrels of oil per day. The first time geology was used in the discovery of oil was the beginning of the El Dorado oil boom. In the words of newspaper columnist K. V. “Ken” Brooks, “There was no doubt about it, Cities Service had struck a bonanza.”

These discoveries not only revolutionized El Dorado and Butler County. They fundamentally changed forever the field of geology. Today, no one would even consider drilling a well without consulting a geologist.

There is a lesson we can all learn in the establishment of geology as key in the oil industry. Organizations have traditions, whether it be a business, non-profit or club. One of the most common pitfalls is that we tend to continue doing things the way we’ve always done them without consideration of why we do them that way. Many of the activities we engage in have no more proof of effectiveness than the charlatans, diviners and doodlebuggers of early oil exploration.

It is important we evaluate the effectiveness of the activities we engage in as to how they move us forward in our mission. We must constantly be exploring and learning. Growing in our knowledge is vital. We must dedicate ourselves to being life-long learners.

Many organizations fall by the way side simply because they lack the knowledge and ability to evaluate their actions. Thus, they become inconsequential in the lives of others. They simply keep doing what they’ve always done.

Museums (and all organizations) must actively work to avoid this end. To remain relevant, we must adapt. Adaptation requires evaluation of practices, understanding of mission and continual growth in our knowledge base.

The Kansas Oil Museum is dedicated to adapting to the needs of our community and state. We are on the forefront of changing the image of museums (much like the image of geology) to become an educational institution of choice. Museums can no longer remain static collectors of things. We must adapt and become institutions dedicated to the preservation and promulgation of history through education. We invite you to join with us in this effort.

© 2015 Warren Martin. All Rights Reserved.