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More than a century of history for oil and gas


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Montana and North Dakota have more than 160 years of oil and gas history. The first recorded mention of oil and gas in Montana goes back to 1864, when the members of an immigrant train stopped to repair a tire on a wagon.

While some of the men worked on the tire, a different group went looking for water and discovered an oily sheen on a pool of water about 12.5 miles northwest of where the Bozeman trail crosses the Big Horn River.

The men skimmed some of that oil off the surface and used it to grease their axles.

That wasn’t too many years before the nation’s first intentional oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania, with the express purpose of finding and producing oil.

North Dakota’s first recorded exploration in 1910, meanwhile, was hampered by both limited knowledge and inadequate tools. They couldn’t really dig deep enough at the time to reach productive layers, let alone the Bakken, and they lacked the technological knowhow that would force shale to give up its tightly held oil.

Below is a timeline of various developments, some of them national and even global, that mattered most to the development of the oil and gas industry in Montana and North Dakota.

1859 — America’s first oil rush in Pennsylvania. The Drake well was the first drilled with the intention of finding and producing oil and gas. The oil was marketed to consumers as kerosene for lamps, and as naptha and benzene to painters and cleaners, as well as those few who needed gasoline for a motor.

1865 — Civil War Veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts receives a patent for an exploding torpedo, used in Pennsylvania to improve oil production by up to 1200 percent.

1892 — Natural gas reported in southeastern North Dakota in an artesian well, producing from the Dakota Formation sandstone. This was common in a belt that extended from Jamestown to Merricourt. Some people collected and used this gas for lights, cooking, and heating.

1899 — first organized drilling takes place at Kintla Lake Field in Missoula, organized by Butte businessmen, who sunk $30,000 into the enterprise. The field could not support commercial production.

1902 — Montana Coal and Fuel Company drilled a well 14 miles south of Dillon. While the well was not commercial, it showed that other parts of Montana also had potential.

1903 — Somes hits oil at a depth of 500 feet, touching off an oil boom in northern Montana. The company had 12 wells going by 1906, but only five produced in paying quantities, and the production declined very quickly. Somes ran out of money and abandoned the field.

1912 — W.T. Thom., Jr., a sophomore studying geology, finds coral in clay and sandstone beds exposed on the banks of the Cannonball River, along with two other geologists at the time, leading him to believe the area was once inundated by an ancient sea. He spends a decade defining the limits of this Cannonball Sea Basin.

1915 — A group of people from Bainville organize the Pioneer Oil and Gas company and begin to drill the Pioneer oil and Gas No. 1 well near Williston. It was abandoned as a…

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