Drilled utilizing cable tools in 1902, the first Alaska oil nicely proved manufacturing was doable within the territory – however troublesome and expensive to transport. Photo courtesy College of Alaska Fairbanks Archives.
Alaska’s petroleum history began lengthy earlier than statehood in 1959. The first Alaska oil well with business manufacturing arrived in 1902 in rugged territory where oil seeps had been recognized for years.
Regardless of restricted cable-software applied sciences of the day, the Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate produced oil close to the remote settlement of Katalla on Alaska’s southern coastline. The oilfield there additionally led to building of Alaska Territory’s first refinery.
The Katalla discovery properly, drilled on non-public land owned by the Alaska Development Company, marked the primary unsteady steps of Alaska’s petroleum industry.
“Among Alaska’s huge resources, gold and oil had been the wealthy twins that put the territory on the map near the turn of the final century,notes Tricia Brown in Katalla: Alaska’s First Oil Effectively.
“Gold discoveries had been made within the inside and at Nome when, in September 1902, the Alaska Improvement Firm, recognized because the English Firm, made the first business oil discovery at Katalla, forty seven miles southeast of Cordova,she explains.
Enthusiastic reporting about Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate’s success brought traders and competing exploration corporations. Newspaper articles – usually wildly exaggerating the Katalla discovery – inspired a rush of entrepreneurs on the lookout for opportunities similar to the well-known gold rush.
“A special dispatch from Valdez proclaims an immense oil gusher was struck at Cotella [Katalla], on the Southern Alaska Coast, at a depth of 200 feet, reported the new York Occasions in a vivid (however inaccurate) article. “The gusher took everything away with it, rising practically 200 toes earlier than it could possibly be capped./p>
Adding that the Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate had introduced its intention of “refining the oil on the spot,the Occasions article concluded that an vital new industry had arrived in the territory. A January 1903 article in the St. Paul Globe gushed much more.
Harsh winters at the Katalla oilfield incessantly challenged males and tools. Photo courtesy University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives.
“Oil consultants who’ve simply returned to Tacoma from the oilfields of southern Alaska declare that they may rival the fields in Pennsylvania in the matter of production within a short time,exclaimed the Minnesota newspaper.
Such accounts of Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate’s success attracted new corporations, together with the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Firm (1903), Amalgamated Growth Company, and the Alaska Oil & Refining Firm.
The “oil fevercentered on Alaska Development Company’s 826-acre Katalla patent alongside Oil Creek and Arvesta Creek as cable-instrument rigs multiplied there. “I anticipate to see, subsequent year, a dozen massive outfits actively at work growing the oil fields surrounding the town,wrote John F.A. Strong, publisher of the Katalla Herald, in 1907.
“I gave it out that the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Firm stood ready to give each encouragement to oil men to return here, and we are able to let oil builders have from forty to eighty acres each to begin work upon, on probably the most liberal phrases,added the future governor of the Alaska Territory.
The place Rails meet Sails
Katalla was on Controller Bay and accessible by water if the weather was proper. This was tough country, however planned railroad service from Alaska’s prolific interior copper mines promised new alternatives.
Unloading supplies at the dock in Katalla, Alaska Territory. Photo courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.
Because the Alaska Pacific Railway and Terminal Firm started constructing its line, Katalla promoted the venture by declaring, “Katalla, Where the Rails Meet the Sails!Drilling on the original patent continued and quite a lot of successful wells continued to provide “Pennsylvania qualitycrude oil.
And but earlier than the year ended, Katalla residents could be reduced to subsisting on salt pork and porcupine after storms minimize off provides from the skin. “Ship After Ship Undertakes to Land Relief however in Vain – Six Weeks of the Roughest of Weather,reported the The Marshfield, Oregon, newspaper.
A view of Katalla’s Front Street not lengthy after the town’s historic 1902 oil discovery. The inhabitants would later peak at about 5,000 resident before a dramatic decline. Picture courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.
Violent storms in late 1907 remoted Katalla and destroyed the breakwater together with an 1,800-foot dock underneath development by the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad. The village of Cordova about 50 rugged miles west of Katalla was was chosen to be the new terminus and thereby the Katalla oilfield’s nearest railhead.
Katalla was further isolated when the Army’s Washington to Alaska Navy Cable and Telegraph System also changed its vacation spot to Cordova. With out a railroad or telegraph, Katalla’s population dropped from a peak of 5,000 residents to 770 residents. Then prospects for Alaska’s first oil boom city obtained even worse.
Involved that overdevelopment of oil supplies on federal lands would diminish the United Statespetroleum reserves, President William Howard Taft intervened. On November 2, 1910, he issued an executive order stopping further exploration and drilling in the Alaska Territory.
Only Katalla’s privately owned 826-acre patent remained open amidst all of Alaska’s vast petroleum potential of virtually 425 million acres. Despite this setback, the Alaska Oil & Refining Firm rebounded by building Alaska’s first refinery.
First Oil Refinery
The refinery on Katalla Slough serviced native needs for gasoline, kerosene and lubricants. As soon as a week, the corporate shipped 60 one hundred-gallon drums to Cordova. Merchandise traveled to markets by boat, barge – or towed in floating tanks.
Alaska Oil & Refining operated the refinery till 1915, when the St. Elias Oil Firm took over the company’s assets. Petroleum exploration was nonetheless restricted to the original 826 acres permitted by Taft’s govt order.
St. Elias Oil advised traders of enlargement plans to “increase the output of the refinery…pumping four wells, anticipating four more inside the 12 months. Will install tanks at Katalla to facilitate speedy shipment./p>
The company drilled three profitable wells (and three dry holes) that helped keep the refinery operating as the rest of Alaska imported in excess of 732,000 gallons of illuminating oil and 373,000 gallons of lubricants.
Nonetheless, Katalla’s population dropped to 87 hardy souls by 1920. Congress then handed the Mineral Leasing Act to finally open the remainder of Alaska to petroleum exploration.
“All the Alaska oil lands had been withdrawn in 1910, and patent has been granted to just one claim, which is within the Katalla subject,noted a 1921 report of the U.S. Geological Survey. “This condition persisted until the passage of the recent oil and gas leasing act of February 25, 1920. The provisions of this legislation applying to Alaska appear to be liberal and can permit prospecting the pretty accessible localities close to the Pacific where seepages have been found./p>
Oil from the Katalla area was processed at Alaska’s first refinery – till it burned down on Christmas eve in 1933. Picture courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.
The 1921 report, “Preliminary report on petroleum in Alaska,also famous areas with oil seeps “now give promise of being of business significance. There are, however, some indications of oil within the excessive northern part of Alaska, a region at current virtually inaccessible./p>
That very same 12 months St. Elias Oil bought out to Chilkat Oil Company and the federal government issued about four hundred new exploration permits. However few got here to Alaska and none to the Katalla oilfield for the following sixty five years. The Alaskan Crude Corporation drilled briefly there in 1985 however suspended operations.
Whereas Alaska’s oil industry struggled, California’s had been booming; by 1921 annual oil production exceeded 77 million barrels with oil selling for just $1.Seventy three per barrel (oil costs would stay beneath $2 a barrel till 1948). At these costs, transporting oil from Alaskan oilfields made no financial sense. Chilkat Oil’s refinery continued to deliver Katalla oilfield products to close by customers.
Alaska’s first refinery burned on Christmas eve of 1933, taking with it the fortunes of Chilkat Oil Firm and the city of Katalla. The refinery had produced a total of about 6.5 million gallons of distillates, however there could be no more.
With no economic engine, Katalla was soon abandoned – with only 12 residents by the 1940s. When a 9.2 magnitude earthquake raised the land around Katalla by eight toes in 1964, the town’s outdated waterfront disappeared. “It put the final nail in the coffin,based on the Anchorage Press. Katalla grew to become a ghost city.
Though Katalla’s heritage as house of the first Alaska oil effectively and refinery was acknowledged in 1974 by the Nationwide Register of Historic Places, the town’s 30 years of oil manufacturing actually amounted to less than what Alaska’s North Slope would yield in a single day.
Despite its destiny, Katalla proved petroleum production was doable in Alaska Territory – but transporting oil to market was tough and costly. When Atlantic Richfield and Humble Oil companies found the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay discipline in 1968, the most important oilfield in North America impressed the industry’s modern engineering marvel, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
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