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Who Was First?

Sorenson, Raymond P.1
1 Cimarex Energy Co., Tulsa, OK.

2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the Drake well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, an event which triggered the rapid development of the modern petroleum industry. By 1859 oil and gas had been used commercially for centuries at many locations, from seeps, hand-dug wells, and as a byproduct of brine production, but Drake arguably drilled the first commercially successful well that intentionally targeted oil. There will never be a consensus regarding this claim, due to rival candidate wells from other geographic regions, but Drake stands alone in terms of economic significance and the level of historical documentation and publicity.

Being first to conduct an activity or define a theory provides geographic, cultural, or personal bragging rights that can spark enthusiastic debate. Competing priority claims can exist due to variations in the precise definition of terms, poor documentation of historical events, inadequate research, or biased promotional materials. Historical errors and omissions are common in the geological literature, and are routinely propagated by subsequent authors who accept the published historical information as accurate and complete.

For example, more than one field can claim to be the first giant, depending on the criteria employed, and modern AAPG publications have incorrectly identified the first giant field in the United States and overlooked the first giant oil field in Texas. There are at least eight pre-Drake published reports on oil in Oklahoma but none have been cited in the geological literature. At least four fields claim the first offshore production, but offshore drilling itself originated outside the oil industry. Baku, not Spindletop, had the first giant gushers despite recent publicity to the contrary. Schlumberger produced the first electric logs, but did not invent formation evaluation. The theory of structural entrapment clearly dates from the 1860s, but early AAPG Bulletin papers commonly credited a twentieth century author.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90090©2009 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, Denver, Colorado, June 7-10, 2009