top of page

Kinley in Romania; 1931

Romania has a rich and colorful oil history; it is believed some of the first wells ever dug, little more than earthen pits, recovered crude oil in Romania as early as the year 1440. The first known commercial oil well was drilled in Romania in 1855, before Titusville, and the absolute first ever commercial gas well was drilled in Romania in 1911...that gas was used in the first known systematic oil refinery capable of multiple bi-products, built in Ploiesti, north of Bucharest. The first blowout preventer in the world was supposedly developed in Romania, and the first open hole electric log by those French guys was run there. Oh, and the first oil well ever gas lifted was in Romania.

By 1904 Standard Oil of New Jersey and Mr. Rockefeller formed the Romano- Americana Oil Company and jumped in the Moreni area to develop reserves. Royal Dutch Shell was also a big operator in Romania.

Romanian oil fields, the largest in Europe, were "abducted" by the Germans in both World War I and World War II, bombed to smithereens by Allied forces, then completely rebuilt again. A fine Texas oil man named Ralph E. Fair from San Antonio helped develop some of Moreni oil field's deeper pays in the mid to late 1930's and in 1943 Mr. Fair, then in his 60's, sat in the lead B-24 bomber and helped direct Allied bombing runs over that field and nearby Ploiesti to destroy the very oilfields he helped develop.

"The Torch of Moreni"

In late May of 1929 Romano-Americana was drilling ahead on Moreni 160 at about 4,800 feet; the well came in suddenly and blew the drill pipe into the wooden derrick setting the well on fire. Four men were killed. Six other wells being drilled immediately downwind of the 160 also caught fire but all of those fires were quickly brought under control.

The Romanian military did what all good militaries do when they don't have another plan, they shot artillery rounds into the No. 160 well trying to put the fire out.

No. 106 raged on.

A funnel-like cap was set on the blowing well but was blown in the air crushing a nearby well and killing a man.

The casing parted 40 feet below ground level and the well started to crater.

Tunneling began several hundred feet away in an attempt to intersect the parted casing but the tunnel filled with gas and killed ten men immediately. The photo of the left is believed to be tunnel No. 2 started in 1930. It collapsed. The sign above the tunnel entrance is French for 'black cat." A third tunneling attempt was actually made by the Romanians. It failed also.

Riots occurred in the village of Moreni as angry Romanians wanted the well fire to be stopped and blamed Standard Oil and Americans for the whole mess. An American drilling superintendent from Oklahoma named Fred Jackson, in charge of trying to control the fire, literally had to shoot his way out a riot at the well location with a pistol and worldwide attention about the "eternal torch" of Moreni became quite popular; the New York Times has numerous articles about this event in its archives.

Myron M. Kinley, then operating out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, flew to Bucharest in 1929 to meet with the Romanian government about how to regain control of the well but his suggestions were declined because of his insistence on using explosives. Before returning to the US Kinley drove to Moreni to see the fire. Ironically when Kinley first saw the Moreni No. 160 it would have been a piece of cake to extinguish the fire and cap the well. Romanians, however, were adamant about not using explosives.

The great Moreni fire continued to burn for the next 23 months, while Myon Kinley worked around the world on other fires and blowouts.

Kinley was eventually contacted by Standard of New Jersey (Romana-Americana) in 1931 and thru various telegrams negotiated with the company, and the government in Bucharest, to come to Romania again and actually engage in controlling the fire...this time with the OK to use explosives.

Part of the contractual terms between the Romanians and Kinley was that he would not be paid if he could not put the fire out and control the well.

When Kinley arrived in Moreni in August of 1931 he was fresh off killing a big fire in East Texas where he had broken his leg and he was still in a great deal of pain. In tow with him was a new helper a man named, Grady Chupp from Oklahoma. An interesting relationship had been formed with a Romanian named, Costeca Lepur, in Kinley's first trip to Romania in 1929 and Kinley hired him to help. The government in Bucharest made it very clear to Kinley that Lepur was the only Romanian allowed to actually work near the well.

The three men found a crater about 300 feet wide and 55 feet deep full of boiling mud and other smaller fires burning in the crater walls. The well would kick and periodically fill the entire crater with fire. One of the man-made tunnels to the base of crater had casing stuck in it horizontally and fire was also blowing out that, at right angles to the wellbore itself. Kinley pulled that casing and closed the tunnel.

Kinley's first glycerin shot knocked debris away from what was left of the casing, got the fire going sort of straight up and it was extinguished. It immediately re-ignited due to small ground fires in the crater. Over the ensuing weeks Kinley was able to drag all the debris away from the casing stub and clean the crater completely out.

He then engaged in numerous small glycerin shots to put these ground fires out and to help create landslides to fill the crater. It helped tremendously that it rained like hell for a solid three weeks and most of the ground fires are eventually controlled. Another shot of explosives knocked the blowout fire out and it stayed out.

Using an overhead cable strung between two, gin pole-like towers on each side of the crater, Kinley was able to lower a 30 foot joint of 10 inch casing over the parted 8 inch casing and got the fire going straight up, actually getting vacuumed up the 10 inch casing like a venturi tube. He then put over a 500 yards of hand mixed cement over the casing "tie-back" and half way up the crater walls. He was then able to set the well back on fire whereby he backfilled the crater with dirt and more cement. The top of the new casing was almost to original ground level.

A very small shot of glycerin put the fire out for the last time and Kinley then capped the well with a bell shaped device with diverter outlets on it and cemented that in place. With the well finally under complete control the two diverter lines were tied into sales lines and the well produced 1.4MM feet of gas per day to the local refinery until it depleted in the early 1970's.

A total of 15 men were killed on this well and countless others seriously injured before Kinley came to the rescue in 1931. It took him 93 days to bring the well under control.

Above is some remarkable 8MM film shot of the Romanian job in 1931. There is some footage in this film of Kinley rolling drums of glycerin jelly down into the bottom of the crater to shoot ground fires out and help expose the parted casing. There is a scene of him and his helper hand digging to find the parted casing and another scene actually cementing the casing tie-back in place before the crater was back filled. It's probably noteworthy to observe Kinley rolling these damn drums of glycerin down the crater wall where he would place them where he wanted them, by hand, then load the blasting cap and detonator wire to the drum before hauling ass out of the crater and setting them off electrically.

In the photo of the left we can see one of the "towers" erected on both sides of the crater to help trolley the casing tie back over the well. The crater is now almost completely backfilled..

Costeca Lepur , Myon Kinley and Grady Chupp, Romania, 1931.

Grady Chupp

This is the actual bell housing that was placed on the Moreni No. 160 by Myron Kinley in November of 1931 and cemented in place.

The photograph below was taken 85 years after the event showing the ravine and remnants of the 1931 blowout crater.

Conquering the great Torch of Moreni made Myron Macy Kinley a wealthy man; he was paid $50,000 plus expenses, a startling sum of money back then. The Moreni No. 160 in Romania also jump started his international fame as the world's premiere oil well firefighter and blowout specialist.


I relied heavily on notes from Myron Kinley and his family regarding this event and used in his biography, Call Kinley, as well as old newspaper/ magazine articles and previous work done on the subject by an oilfield historian named, Jeff Spencer. There is a terrific blog about the history of oil and natural gas in Romania called Petroblog that I also referred to. My personal notes on the job are extensive. The rare film footage of the Moreni 160 well was given to me by Myron Kinley's grandson, Karl Kinley, and to my knowledge is one of only three or four copies of this film that have been preserved.

Moreni Fld. in 1929; No.160 lights up the night time sky, Photo by H. Lehmann

bottom of page