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Salt and Sugar

Santa Fe Springs, California; 1921. Courtesy University of Southern California

The above photograph is amazing for a host of reasons. Roughnecks on the rig in the forefront are making a pipe trip and can essentially look off their rig floor to the carnage of a collapsed derrick and burned up rig floor immediately next door. Those same hands could likely feel the heat from a raging fire just a few hundred yards away. Santa Fe Springs had a shallow, overpressured gas cap above the primary pay that kicked everybody's ass, constantly. If you were drilling ahead in that field it was likely with an overwhelming sense you were on borrowed time.

But life in the oilfield goes on and the Perkins Oil Well Cementing company has just pumped another job down a nearby well and is in the process of cleaning its holding tank, the mixing funnel is broken out and laid over, empty cement sacks are strewn about and hands are breaking out fittings. Job done, RDMO.

Erle Halliburton did not invent oil well cementing, he learned it in California from Almond A. Perkins (1852-1940).


Almond Perkins hailed from Pennsylvania and spent two years working at Spindletop before partnering up with a man named Edward Double in 1908 in Taft, California. He and Double started mixing water with Portland cement to form slurries that could be pumped down casing strings with pressure from steam boilers. By 19o9 the effectiveness of these slurries were enhanced by pumping cedar posts less than the diameter of the casing drift behind the cement and in front of displacement fluids. Not kidding. The cedar would, theoretically, hydrate and swell tight to the casing walls preventing flowback. That could all be drilled out when necessary.

By 1911 a man named Baker perfected the bullnose casing shoe and Perkins replaced wooden plugs with iron plugs to the pump between cement and water. These early plugs were crude, made of cast iron and leather cups, but very effective. The cast iron could also be easily drilled out when necessary. Multi-string well architecture using casing shoes and Perkin's wiper plugs provided good zonal isolation behind pipe; groundwater was protected and wells made less water from behind pipe encroachment.

Perkins was believed to be the first to accelerate cement slurries by using common table salt...and to retard setting time of cement with household sugar.

Perkins and Double filed an early patent on its two stage cementing process. The companies crude wiper plugs, above, were the precursor to modern, rubber wiper plugs seen on the left that Ms. Catherine is about to place in a cementing head.

By 1918 Perkins Oil Well Cementing Company was rolling non-stop throughout California and it hired a young kid fresh out of the Navy named, Erle Halliburton to drive trucks for the company. Haliburton supposedly never stopped talking and drove Al Perkins nuts wanting to change the pump and plug process, redesign slurries and cement mixing equipment; Perkins fired his ass within a year. Halliburton went on to say publicly that getting fired by Perkins was "the best thing that ever happened to him."

Perkins, I am sure, was happy to be shed of him.

Erle Halliburton moved to Burkburnett, then further north to Duncan and the rest is history.

One of the first things Halliburton did was file additional patents on the wiper plug process, right. Perkins actually sued Erle Halliburton in 1922 for using his process but the matter was settled out of court and Halliburton was awarded a license to use the early Perkins patents, but only in certain areas of the country. Halliburton at one point in the late 1920's filed a lawsuit against Standard Oil for patent infringement on Perkin's license to Halliburton. Three million dollars was awarded to Halli and Standard got out of the cementing biz.

Perkins Well Cementing, above

Halliburton, on the right

Perkins Oil Well Cementing, 1928, Signal Hill, left. Courtesy Calisphere

Halliburton in Oklahoma, 1933, below.

If a lot of Halliburton's stuff in the 1920's looked a lot like Perkin's equipment, there is a reason for that. In fact, like many, many different components in the process of drilling and completing oil and gas wells, things have changed very little over the past 100 years. Improved, of course, but still the same.

Todays cementing trucks look pretty much the like they did back then, just bigger and fancier. Cement is mostly brought to location in bulk form these days, pre mixed with various additives, etc. On the other hand, little stripper well operators like my chicken shit outfit still use service companies that break cement sacks open, sometimes by the hundreds per job.

Perkins and Double cemented just about all of California for three full decades. Halli stayed in the Mid-Continent region of Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and New Mexico. The latter of the two companies kept getting bigger and bigger until 1940 when Halliburton bought out Perkins and Double completely. Perkins died that same year.

Erle Halliburton, 1940's

Halliburton now cements the world but it was Almond A. Perkins that broke the ground that modern day oilfield cementing was built on.


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