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Refugio; 1930

Refugio is pronounced, (re-FYOO-ri-o); its a county located along the lower Texas Gulf Coastal plains north and slightly east of Corpus Christi, its county seat is the city of Refugio. It is rich in large ranch history (Welders and O'Connors), cattle, cotton, oil and gas. Part of the county to the south lies along Copano Bay and the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, where whooping cranes spend the winter and big redfish can be caught in crystal clear water, then grilled on the half shell to perfection.

Gas was first discovered in the county right outside the town site of Refugio in 1919 and in 1928 a fella named. Blackie Wheeler, re-entered a gas well, drilled deeper into Frio sands and made a good oil well. The Field was called Refugio Field, naturally, and folks like Roy Cullen and numerous others started drilling wells in empty lots in Refugio.

Geologically. most of the pays in Refugio were found on faulted anticlinal structures associated with the Frio/Vicksburg growth-fault zone that parallels the Gulf Coast shoreline. New pays started popping up everywhere in the early 30's; the Frio 5200 zone, the Frio 5400 zone, etc. and the most prolific of them all was found just up the road from Refugio, towards Victoria, in "Greta" sands at 5,500 feet.

In 1936, in the the little village of Greta, Myron Kinley fought one of the most difficult gas well blowouts and fires in history, written about here on Oily Stuff Blog. This blowout lasted for 3 1/2 years before it was finally capped and commerce restored to S. Texas.

Greta and Myron Kinley, right

Hugh Roy Cullen, left

Once the Greta extension was made in 1931 it wasn't long before Hugh Roy Cullen, Jim West and Humble Oil and Refining Company discovered the enormously large, Mary Ellen O'Connor Field, southeast of Refugio. Cullen and West eventually sold their interests in that field to Humble.

Many years later Humble, then Exxon, got in a fascinating chicken fight with the O'Connor family on leases in Mary Ellen's field when she re-leased part of the field inactive and no longer held by production to a new company. Exxon had a fit about that and sabotaged all its old wells on its expired leases in the field so they could not be re-entered. An ensuing lawsuit occurred and drug on forever. You may, and should, read about THAT story here, on Oily Stuff Blog. When you get thru reading about this you will perhaps have a better understanding of why Exxon is likely the most loathed major corporation in America history. It ruined countless wells in Mrs. O'Connor's great field simply so that nobody else could produce them. Out of spite.

1933; Frio Sand activity in the township of Refugio

After he sold his interest in the Mary Ellen Field, Hugh Roy Cullen formed a new company called, Quintana and went right back to work in Refugio County in the Frio play. He eventually discovered the famous, Tom O'Connor Field in 1936.

That macho oil field was sold to Hilcorp in 2001 where associated gas was re-injected into the biggest reservoirs and ultimately over 600 MM barrels of oil and 1.5 trillion cubic feet will be produced after recycling has ceased.

1933, Refugio Field, right outside the township, on the highway to Victoria. These Frio wells were awesome wells that simply had to be perforated slightly underbalanced to flow, water free, for many, many years. Note the well head assembly and appreciate the simplicity of it, how all the wing valves on the production tubing are braced with clamps, etc. Flow to the tank batteries is from both wings. Even at $1.55 a barrel, this puppy is making some big bucks, I assure you. You can always tell how good the well is because all the "suits" want to come out and have their picture taken in front of it.

1934; Refugio County. Though derricks, floors and substructures were all wooden in the Refugio area, these wells were drilled using rotary tables and circulation systems. In this photo a new bunch of office types have come to the well to see its progress and are around the back side of the rig, where steam engines power two duplex mud pumps.

Most black and white photographs courtesy of the Texas Portal of History and/or the University of Texas; Dolph Briscoe Library


I roughnecked on a few wells in Refugio County when I was kid, centuries ago; never drilled a well as an operator in this county, sad to say. I went on several blowouts in this part of the world, however, and this one, left, about 18 miles from Refugio as the buzzards fly, almost singed David, Wayne and I when it exploded with us standing at the end of the cat walk.

Most all of Refugio County turns white in July during the cotton picking season, like a beautiful snowfall. Bails upon bails of cotton as far as one can see sit on highways ready to be trucked to gins, the wind blowing cotton everywhere; farmers go 24 hours a day for weeks, non stop. By late August tropical storms develop in the Gulf and move inland dumping enormous amounts of rain in this flat country.

Please visit the Refugio County Museum in Refugio, left; this is a grand area in Texas' history, rich in S. Texas traditions.


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