--> Early Drilling and Oil Production in and Around Grand Lake, Ohio (1886-1911)

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Early Drilling and Oil Production in and Around Grand Lake, Ohio (1886-1911)


The drilling for oil and gas in and around Grand Lake, Ohio was a significant milestone in the history of over-water drilling in North America. Innovative small local operators developed methods of drilling and operating in shallow water, while contending with storms, ice, and higher operating costs. Early crib designs to contain oil spills were also implemented at Grand Lake. The over 20-year history of these lake operations is found primarily in the small- town newspapers of Ohio and Indiana and has largely been overshadowed by later over-water drilling and production operations in California, Louisiana, and Texas. As drilling in the prolific Lima-Indiana oil fields progressed to the southwest, wells were drilled near Grand Lake in 1886. Some of the earliest over-water drilling in the United States occurred in 1891 as operators extended their drilling into Grand Lake’s floodwaters and then into the lake itself. This 13,500-acre man-made lake, also known as Grand Reservoir, Lake Celina, Lake Mercer, Mercer Reservoir, St. Marys Reservoir, and Grand Lake St. Marys, was constructed between 1837 and 1845 as a reservoir for the Miami and Erie Canal. The State of Ohio held a joint committee meeting in March, 1892 to take testimony from individuals associated with the surface and mineral leases and the oil developments “around St. Mary’s reservoir.” The purpose of the meeting was to determine why the state was not receiving royalty on leases in the areas adjacent to the lake that annually flooded or were “between high and low water.” Much of the early petroleum history of the area can be found in the testimonies from this meeting. Additionally, historic maps show well locations in the lake and along the lakeshore. Newspapers followed the initial drilling in the lake and the concerns of the local fisherman. A Pittsburgh Dispatch September, 1891 newspaper headline read, “An oil well in a lake. The successful close of a remarkable experiment.” Early photographs and postcards show both the lake drilling from wooden platforms and the derricks located in the adjacent low areas. Though 1910 is often reported as the end of production from the lake, at least one well was still pumping in 1911. That year, the State Senate passed a bill which included appropriation of funds to the Board of Public Works to aid in the removal of some oil derricks and pilings from the lake.