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Early History of the Natural Gas Industry, Fredonia, New York


Gas shale plays have been the focus of much recent scientific and international media attention, yet it is important to bear in mind that the advent of the natural gas industry in the first half of the nineteenth century involved production from an Upper Devonian black shale and occurred in the village of Fredonia, New York. The first commercial well was drilled along the banks of Canadaway Creek Fredonia, most likely in late spring/early summer of 1825 (rather than the oft erroneously cited 1821), by gunsmith William Aaron Hart. A contemporary account published in the Fredonia Censor declared that the “hole was drilled 27 feet into a slaty rock.” By August of 1825, several stores and a mill along the creek were illuminated by natural gas that Hart was accumulating in a crude gasometer. As Hart's wells declined, Preston Barmore of nearby Forestville, New York, who had attended Fredonia Academy, the forerunner of the State University of New York at Fredonia, from August 1847 until spring 1851, and was related to Hart by marriage, convinced several Fredonia businessmen to invest in the newly formed Fredonia gas Light and Water Works Company. During late summer 1857, the 26-year-old Barmore drilled two wells along the Canadaway Creek, less than a mile north of Hart's well location. Not satisfied with the gas flow from one of the wells, Barmore, who appears to have understood the importance of fractures as conduits of gas migration through shale, decided to induce artificial fractures as a means of stimulating the well. Barmore ignited eight pounds of gunpowder at a depth of 122 ft depth which, as the Censor put it, “was followed by a plentiful supply of gas.” In essence, Barmore had successfully fracture stimulated a shale gas well. He used lead pipe to conduct gas from the well head to a eight-sided gasometer erected in the center of Fredonia. By December of 1858, the first of many gas burners had been placed in downtown Fredonia and Barmore was contracted by the village to install a number of street lamp posts. Further, natural gas usage was being metererd at this time at a cost of $4.00 per 1000 CF. Preston Barmore passed away at the early age of 30, likely a victim of alcoholism. It is only recently that we have come to realize the advanced level of scientific and engineering thought that he applied in the nascent days of natural gas exploration.