This article has been re-published a number of times in places around the world, I am proud to say.
Everett Lee DeGolyer was an incredible man, His role in early Mexican oil history is only slightly less important than that of his role in United States oil history and the history of entire world.
Of small stature he was incredibly tough and the work he did in Mexico in the early 1900's off horseback, and literally on his knees, was then vital to the new, emerging oil industry in Mexico. He withstood incredible hardship to explore North Eastern Mexico.
When he became terminally ill at the age of 70, Mr. Dee killed himself. The courage of that I admire immensely.
As true oilfield history gets diluted over successive generations the story of men like Everett DeGolyer get shoved under the rug in favor of men like Harold Hamm, or Scott Sheffield; men who a lot of modern day "historians" consider wildcatters and paramount to today's oil and gas industry. I don't think so. Not by a long shot. We can never know where we are going in the future without first understanding where we have been. Mr. Degolyer was one of many great men who brung us all to this dance.
I urge everyone to read more about Mr. De, not only in Mexico, but his entire life.
Mr. De In Mexico
Everett Lee DeGolyer (1886-1956) attended the University of Oklahoma beginning in 1905, worked for the United States Geological Survey while attending college, later formed Amerada Oil Company, was the director of the American Petroleum Institute (API) for 20 years, founded the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), created Core Lab and the world renown petroleum engineering firm of DeGolyer and MacNaughton. His development of reflective seismology ultimately led him to be called the "father of geophysics." As an advisor to the United States government regarding reserve estimates and reserve categories he was a staunch believer in reservoir pressure preservation, restricting well production for the sake of pressure preservation and conservation of America's hydrocarbon resources.
Mr. DeGolyer's accomplishments are too numerous to write about here and I strongly recommend reading Oilfield Revolutionary, The Career of Everett Lee DeGolyer by Houston Faust Mount. It is a good read about an important man in oil and gas history, perhaps one of the most important figures in our industry.
Mr. De, as he was affectionately known later in his very philanthropic life, left the University of Oklahoma in his junior year (1909) and became a surface geologist for his old boss at the USGS, C. Willard Hayes, and the Mexican Eagle Oil Company, also known as El Aguila Oil Company. DeGolyer worked the area known as Faja de Oro, or the Golden Lane along the Eastern coast of Mexico, south of Tampico.
Everett DeGolyer, Mexico, 1909
In the early 1900's the jungles and coastal plains of Eastern Mexico were very remote and sparsely populated, the regions living conditions very difficult. Exploring early Mexican oil required extraordinarily tough men. The jungles were thick with no access other than by boat, or horseback, the heat and humidity unbearable and malaria and dysentery rampant. If that wasn't enough, most of the Golden Lane of Mexico was developed during the very contentious Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and the American occupation of Tamaulipas and the Battle of Veracruz in 1914.
To drill wells in that region of Mexico men hacked locations out of thick jungle, barged cable tool rigs, pipe and cement up rivers and lagoons, then used mules and tractors to get equipment through swamps and bogs into remote places near surface highs and "chapapotes,' or oil seeps. As minor discoveries were made along the Golden Lane trend railroads were eventually built inland, and pipelines were built toward the coastline to get oil out.
The history of early Mexican oil is fascinating, full of hard men with lofty visions, men like Edward Doheny of California (Huasteca Oil Co.) and Sir Weetman Pearson of England (El Aguila Oil Co.). I highly recommend a number of reading sources on the subject of early Mexican oil. Few American's realize, for instance, that the great conservative spokesperson, William F. Buckley's, family had a
great presence in early Mexican oil history.
Doheny's Bridge Over the Panuco River, 1915
Faja de Oro, 1913
Everett DeGolyer's geological focus was on El Aquila's acreage position in the Tierra Amarilla area south of Ebano Field, discovered in 1901 by Ed Doheny. DeGolyer used a compass to determine the dip rate of rock outcrops at the foot of the Sierra Madres and projected them basin ward, toward the Gulf of Mexico. Using a surveyors level and plane table he mapped surface anticlines several miles long, often with less than 20 feet of structural relief, in thick jungle.
After drilling two wells with good oil shows and one minor producer in a particular area of interest, DeGolyer picked the location for the Potrero de Llano No. 4 well, about 2000 feet WSW of the No. 1 well, seen below. He actually advised his bosses at El Aguila NOT to drill the well because of results from offsetting wells and $25,000 estimated D&C costs.
DeGolyer's Prospect Map, 1910; Courtesy of Southern Methodist University
The Golden Lane of Mexico was home of many dry and "wet" wells drilled from 1901-1916, but it was also home of some of the most spectacular wells the world has ever known. Some eight miles south of the Potrero region, for instance, the biggest well in the world in terms of daily production rates (260K BOPD), the Cero Azul No. 4, was discovered in 1916 by Huasteca Oil.
El Aguila, Potrero de Llano Numero 4, sin embargo, fue un caballo de guerra un pozo de petróleo... was, however, a war horse of an oil well. It is THE single most productive oil well in world history in terms of cumulative production.
Potrero de Llano No. 4
On December 26, 1910, Canadian drillers penetrated 50 feet of cavernous, Tamasopo limestone with cable tools at a TMD of 1,973 feet. There was no valve on the 8 inch casing. Thinking they were still no where near to the top of the pay the drillers left the bailer in the well overnight and went back to camp. The well came in at 2:00 am the morning of the 27th; it blew the bailer a mile away and all the rig into smithereens. Estimated initial flow rates down ditches to earthen dams and out into the nearby Buena Vista River was between 100,000 and 115,000 BOPD. The oil was 23 degrees API and very hot, estimated to be nearly 140 degrees. Estimated height of the uncontrolled flow was over 600 feet. Before the well was brought under control over two million barrels of oil was set on fire in the Buena Vista and Tuxpan River confluences to keep it from reaching the Gulf of Mexico.
It took two weeks to design and install a bell nipple with some sort of inverted slip segments on the bottom that could be be "ratcheted "(DeGolyer) down over the 8 inch casing and a valve stabbed over the flow. Estimated SICP was 850 PSI. At shut in the 8 inch production casing started to lift out the ground. An 8 inch flowline was quickly installed straight to the bell nipple and connected to a pipeline that took the oil to Tuxpan, then north by tanker to El Aguila's refinery in Tampico. The well flowed 39,000-43,000 BOPD for the next nine years, with no decline in FCP and no water. In early January 1920 the well completely watered out in a period of less than 1 month and was plugged. Its known total cumulative production was over 111 million barrels. Most of that oil was sold for less than 70 cents a barrel.
The well caught fire in 1914 from lightening and another 1.5 million BO was lost down the Tuxpam River, again, before the fire was extinguished and control regained. A giant cement coffer damn was built around the well and kept full of water to prevent additional fires from lightening strikes. Eventually a cement bunker was built around the well head with an iron door, kept locked at all times.
Well No. 4's biggest operational expense, besides the marketing and transportation of its crude oil, was guarding it during the Mexican Revolution. It was surrounded in razor wire with guard towers and armed Mexicans on watch 24 hours a day for ten years.
Mr. De (seated) in Mexico, circ. 1914
Shortly after the No. 4 discovery DeGolyer returned to Norman to finish his degree at OU. He went back to Mexico in 1911 and discovered Los Naranjos Field further to the south that ultimately produced over 100 million barrels of oil. Shallow (<2,000 feet) wells along the Golden Lane produced a total of 600 million barrels of oil from 1901 to 1919 and ultimately close to 1.2 billion barrels.
DeGolyer left the Golden Lane of Mexico in 1916 never to return. Pierson eventually sold El Aguila to Shell Oil in 1919. In 1938 Mexico nationalized its oil resources and all remaining oil production and associated infrastructure owned by foreign entities eventually became part of Pemex.
Mr. De became severely ill in 1953 and had numerous prolonged stays in the hospital over ensuing years. He killed himself in 1956. He was 70 years old.
The Everett DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas contains all his personal journals, reports and maps of his work in Mexico. I have been and it is testament to a great oil finder who understood pressure maintenance and conservation, who cared deeply about the long term oil future of his country.
Next on the series, Mexico, I will write briefly of some world famous men who worked in Mexico in the early 1900's and went on to bigger and better things in the world, one the founder of DeBeers. We're going to understand what Veracruz means in Spanish and then we will see a little about the biggest blowout the world has ever known in the Golden Lane of Mexico, Two Mouths. When Everett DeGolyer first came to Mexico he took the train, then a boat, then burros to the crater of this great well. It made an impression on him that perhaps incentivised him to ultimately help discover the biggest well the world has ever known nearby.