Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Drilling Caddo Lake

Caddo Lake is a large, naturally-formed body of water that encompasses parts of northeast Texas and northwest Louisiana. Legend has it that Caddo Lake was formed by the New Madrid Earthquake. One thing is certain. It is little changed since since the early 1900’s when the world’s very first offshore platform found oil beneath its shallow surface.

Geologically, Caddo Lake is situated at the highest structural point of the deep-seated subsurface feature known as the Sabine Uplift. In the early 1900’s, many high-flowing oil wells already surrounded the lake. Most oil explorers had little doubt that the strata below Caddo contained even more oil. The problem was how to get to it. When the federal government dammed the lake in 1911, returning it to a deeper depth, the problem grew even larger.

Oil leases beneath Caddo’s shallow 8,000 acres were controlled by the Levee Board. When the Levee Board put these leases up for bid, only one entity, Gulf Refining Company of Louisiana, did so.

Little is known about the discussions that must have ensued in order to convince Gulf’s management to make its last minute bid for the leases. One thing is certain; they must have been interesting and heated. What occurred is that some unknown person with vision, great foresight and an explorer’s mentality convinced Gulf to risk a lot of money and effort on a technology never before attempted.

The risk was worth it. Once Gulf had secured the leases it had a crew drive pilings into Caddo’s shallow water. A platform was constructed on the pilings. From this platform, the Ferry Lake #1 was drilled and completed in 1911. Historically, the Ferry Lake #1 was the world’s first offshore well.

If you rented a small fishing boat today and motored out across Caddo’s sleepy surface you’d find little has changed since 1911. The coffee-colored water is still shallow and you might see the head of an alligator as it peeks up from the bottom. Giant cypress trees still grow in the water, Spanish moss draping from their limbs in lazy waves. And you’d still see the remnants of many of the original wooden platforms. Some of them are operational with timeless pumping units still at work atop of them.

Books chronicle many heroes, innovators, inventors and explorers that have shaped the history of the world. But like the unknown person or persons that convinced Gulf Refining to drill the world’s first offshore oil well, many more heroes, innovators, inventors and explorers have shaped the world in ways we’ll never know and can only imagine. Although unknown, their contributions are just as important.


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