Friday Flashback: December 11th

December 10, 2015
My favorites from the American Oil and Gas Historical Society‘s This week in Oil and Gas History: Gas Shortage fears (1905), Leaded Gasoline Invented(1921) and Nuclear Frac’ing (1967).

December 10, 1967 – Project Gasbuggy tests Nuclear Fracturing

Government scientists detonate an underground 29-kiloton nuclear warhead about 60 miles east of Farmington, New Mexico. It’s “fracking” late 1960s style.
The experiment is designed to test the feasibility of using nuclear explosions to stimulate release of natural gas trapped in dense shale deposits.  Near three low-production natural gas wells, the team drills to a depth of 4,240 feet and lowers a 13-foot by 18-inch diameter nuclear device into the borehole.

The detonation creates a molten glass-lined cavern 160 feet wide and 333 feet tall that collapses within seconds. Although the well produces 295 million cubic feet of natural gas, the gas is radioactive and useless.

Learn more in “Gasbuggy” tests Nuclear Fracking.

A September 1967 Popular Mechanics article describes how nuclear explosives would improve previous fracturing technologies, including gunpowder, dynamite and “forcing down liquids at high pressure.”

December 9, 1921 – Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Leaded Gasoline invented

General Motors scientists discover the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead in 1921. American motorists are soon saying, “fill ‘er up with Ethyl.”
In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonations of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. This shock frequently damaged the engine.
After five years of lab work to find an additive to eliminate pre-ignition “knock” problems of gasoline, G.M. researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discover the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead.
Tetraethyl lead’s danger to public health results in its phase-out beginning in 1976 and completed by 1986. Read more in Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas.


Phillips Petroleum’s leaded aviation fuel came from high-quality oil found in Osage County, Oklahoma, oilfields.

December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears

Fearing that the supply of oil may soon run out, the Horseless Age (a cutting edge technology publication of the time) ran an article on the need for Hybrid vehicles. “The available supply of gasoline, as is well known, is quite limited, and it behooves the farseeing men of the motor car industry to look for likely substitutes,” they declared.

As early as 1902, Ferdinand Porsche’s Mixte uses a small four-cylinder gasoline engine to generate electricity – but not to turn its wheels. The engine powers two three-horsepower electric motors mounted in the front wheel hubs that can achieve a top speed of 50 mph.

See more engine technologies in Cantankerous Combustion – First U.S. Auto Show.

An early hybrid, this 1902 Porsche used a gas engine to generate electricity to power motors mounted on the front wheel hubs.

For more moments from this week in Oil and Gas history, check out the American Oil and Gas Historical Society’s weekly post here.

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