On this day in oil and gas: March 14

Tim Haïdar

March 14th 1910, Kern County, California, United States of America - The ground begins to rumble in the California Central Valley. This is not a good sign in a part of the world periodically prone to massive earthquakes. Yet, in this case, the groaning earth is not yawning from the onset of a seismic event but a phenomenon equally uncontrollable and yet much longer-lasting.

The Lakeview Oil Company has been working its Number One well since New Year’s Day 1909. 438 days later, drilling has reached a depth of 2,440 feet (740 metres). Then all Hell breaks loose. Oil under enormous pressure breaks through the well casing above the drill bit and begins to erupt through the wooden derrick. The "Lakeview Gusher" as it became known would begin to burst 200 feet (61 metres) into the California sky at an initial rate of 125,000 barrels per day. By April 6th, the gusher was the longest lived in history. It would continue to vent unchecked for a further 521 days, with an arrangement of sandbag berms and dikes channelling the river of oil produced into a storage lake.

By the time the well caved in on September 10th 1911, 9.4 million barrels of oil had been escapedin the largest accidental oil spill in human history. Lakeview Gusher Number One was so egregious it changed the way the oil industry looked at well blowouts forever, and a decade later the first blowout preventers were fitted to wellheads. Just goes to show that innovation can emerge from every disaster…