As early as the 15th century the Spanish found shallow water passage from the Gulf of Venezuela, south into a large fresh water lake they eventually named, Maracaibo.
Along the eastern shore of the lake massive seeps of heavy tar were found along river beds and simply bubbling up in shallow water near the shoreline. This thick gooey stuff could be used to chalk wooden ships, treat livestock and was diluted and used to lessen the suffering men went thru, non-stop, from suffocating clouds of mosquitoes.
So abundant was the gooey stuff it was put in wooden casks and stored aboard ship as the Spanish sailed on exploring the eastern shore of the Gulf of Mexico and Spanish settlements in Veracruz and Tampico.
After the discovery of Spindletop in Texas in 1901, commercial oil exploration using cable tool rigs started hammering away at places where oil seeped out the ground, anywhere, and massive discoveries were made in Mexico's Golden Lane and eventually along the eastern shore of Lake Maracaibo. In 1914 an American based company called Caribbean Petroleum Company found very small, shallow Eocene aged oil in Mene Grande Field. Mene Grande still produces oil today from a wide range of correlative depths.
La Apertura, the "opening," of the great Venezuelan oil industry, however, occurred in December 1922 with the Barroso No. 2 well drilled near Cabimas, the first significant oil found in Venezuela, indeed all of South America.
The Barroso well(s) was drilled by the Venezuelan Oil Concessions Company (VOC), an actual subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell. Its No. 1 well was located seven miles north of the No. 2 and was a dry hole. The No. 2 well was spudded soon after using a standard derrick but with draw works and boilers hauled across the countryside with mules.
At 1,613 feet the No.2 bottom hole assembly because stuck in hard lignite, thought to be cap rock as some oil shows oozed to the surface while trying to pull the bit. The well was abandoned for five months while mechanical jars from America were shipped to the well site. Once the BHA was jarred lose, everything in the hole blew out sending a column of thick oil over 150 feet into the air.
The surrounding jungle was cleared with mules and horses and pits were dug to capture the oil, gauged then to be near 2,000 BOPD. Every day the well increased its critical flow rates up the only string of set casing and by day eight production into earthen pits was placed at 100,000 BOPD.
The oil was black, viscous 18 gravity goo but there was a bunch of it and earthen pits were pumped to storage tanks. Some boys from Texas were shuffled down to Venezuela and on day 10 they were able to stab a valve over the casing, anchor everything down and get the well on some reasonable form of diverter system. The subsequent development around El Barroso No. 2 was quite large and the field was named, La Rosa.
Over the ensuing two years America and English companies found more Eocene oil along the eastern side of the lake in places like Bachaquero, Tia Juana and Languillas Fields, massive amounts of oil at various depths. whose gravities ranged from 11 degrees to 34 degrees.
Eventually over By 1939, with the rumblings of World War II in the wind, Venezuela became the single most important crude oil exporter to Allied Forces in Europe. By the early 1950's Venezuela as the largest crude oil exporter in the world.
Right, over 700 acres of jungle eventually died from oil flow from the blowout and had to be clear cut, by hand, and burned.
16 gravity La Rosa Eocene aged oil, below.
El Barroso Numero Dos produced as estimated 900,000 barrels of oil before dying by loss of bottom hole pressure. The well was plugged and sealed up in 1932. A home was built directly over the old abandoned well years later and soon an entire neighborhood appeared in the area.
In 1970 a professor of Venezuelan oil history
named, Orlando Mendez, did various surveying in the neighborhood in at attempt to locate the abandoned well and did, under a bathroom of a home for a family of seven. The floor was ripped up and low and behold, there lay the great, Barroso No. 2
To honor the well, and the discovery that essentially changed Venezuela forever, the home and the entire neighborhood was bought by the government in Caracas and destroyed. A stunningly beautiful plaza was created and fountain was built just a few feet from the actual well bore. It still stands today, though sadly, the fountain no longer works, symbolic, if you will, of Venezuela's current situation.
La Plaza El Barroso, Cabimas.
Venezuelan oilfield workers, Cabimas, La Rosa Field; 1927. Courtesy the University of Louisville.
I have been to Venezuela numerous times and my love for the country, its culture, and its people prevents me from lamenting about its problems, the demise of its great oil industry, and the environmental blight of Lake Maracaibo. It only brings me sadness to think I may never see the country again.
It was Obama that first implemented sanctions against the country of Venezuela in 2015 and Trump simply enforced them during his tenure, both administrations believing they held some form of 'moral high ground' over this small, South American country. Economic sanctions seldom accomplish anything other than the additional suffering of already poor people.
I never knew a Venezuelan that felt safe voting in any form of make-believe, democratic election process; they only wanted to work, care for family and be happy.
"Relámpago del Catatumbo"
The southeastern portion of Lake Maracaibo is often called the lightening capital of the world. In the rainy season enormous thunderstorms develop over cooler water and clash with warm land updrafts that cause spectacular lightening storms that light up the entire sky for hours at a time. It is breathtaking to see.