Posts Tagged ‘pithole city’

Historic Pithole City

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

A few photos taken at the historic Pithole City in the Western PA oil region. It was once a city of 10,000 people with oil derricks practically touching each other. The law of capture prevailed, and much crude was wasted. Now it is a ghost town.


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Disaster Averted in Marcellus Shale

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

On the evening of May 3, there was a gas well blowout in Penfield, PA: “Details about the accident were still sketchy, but the agency was told that unexpectedly high gas pressure in the new well prevented the crew from containing it, said Dan Spadoni, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.”  It took 16 hours to get the well under control. According to the article, polluted water (most likely containing fracking chemicals)  spewed 75 feet into the air.

We have been told by the industry that no federal regulation is needed, the water supply is safe, only a poorly drilled pipe could put hazardous chemicals into the water supply and the chances of this happening are between slim and none. They say that if the EPA regulates these fracking chemicals, it will be the end of civilization as we know it, and nobody will be able to make a decent living drilling for shale gas.  You know the lobbyist and interest group gloom and doom drill.

The country can use its shale gas.  Landowners can use the royalties, drilling companies can use the profits, drilling crews can use the work.  But do we want more Deepwater Horizon disasters on a smaller scale?  What if the escaping methane had exploded?  What if the blowout preventer had failed? Was there a Plan B?  Is the current petroleum engineering model based upon “Safety 3rd?”  We need to know.

There is some risk to humans and the environment from any form of energy production.  There is no sense pretending we can make the world completely safe.  Fracking of oil wells was once done with nitroglycerin torpedoes. People died.  The abandoned Pithole City, PA serves as a monument to environmental and human degradation in the rush to extract valuable substances from the earth. These things are mostly out of sight and out of mind. And we have improved our methods of resource extraction over time.

However, the companies that produce our energy are dropping the ball these days.  In this case, the PA Department of Environmental Protection was not even called for 5 hours. Do you think there might be some angry regulators down in Harrisburg? My limited knowledge of PA DEP leads me to have more respect for this agency than the US Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service. But I do not know if the agency has been affected by state budget cuts or if they have the resources to keep up with the Marcellus drilling frenzy.

As it has been said, we are all downstream.  The public needs to get involved.


Photos from the Rock Oil Trip

Monday, August 24th, 2009

On August 21, 2009, the National Capitol Area Chapter of the National Association of Energy Economists ( took an overnight bus trip to the first commercial oil production region in the US in Northwestern PA.  The occasion was to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Col. Drake’s well, drilled near Titusville, PA (also, see the announcement at  Below are photos from this trip taken by yours truly.



Col. Drake’s tomb, Woodlawn Cemetery Titusville, PA.


Standing in front of the shed containing the engine that runs the pumps for McClintock #1 and #2.  McClintock #1 is the oldest producing well in the US, dating from August, 1861.


Fire in the hole!

In order to crack the rock that holds the oil and increase the flow, nitroglycerin torpedoes were dropped down the well shaft.  Sometimes this worked, sometimes it shut in the well.  And sometimes the nitro handlers blew themselves up.  Such was the sad case of Adam Cupler Jr., the owner of the Cupler Torpedo Company whose wagon exploded while he was delivering nitroglycerin  (   The truck in the photo was owned by a successor firm.   Similar methods are used to fragment the rock today, but the explosives are a bit more stable than nitroglycerin.


This is all that is left of Pithole, PA, a town that rapidly expanded to 15,000 people then just as rapidly shrunk down to zero, as wildcatters sunk their wells too close together and extracted oil as fast as they could.  A good example of how the “law of capture” can be detrimental to everyone’s benefit.  This oil is produced by a water drive (i.e., water pressure forces the oil upward).  Sinking so many wells within a few feet of each other destroyed the water pressure in a year or so.  Everyone moved on, and what lumber did not burn was harvested for rebuilding elsewhere.


Restored National Transit Building in Oil City, PA.  National Transit was a Standard Oil Company pipeline.  Ralph Nader bought this building, restored it, used it for a few staffers for a fairly short period of time and turned it over to a community non-profit organization.


Part of a historical mural in the National Transit building.  In the upper right corner is John D. Rockefeller.


Reconstructed Drake’s Well pump.  The well is no longer producing, but the pump recirculates oil from McClintock #1.