When the oil business started, the main problem was finding the stuff. Colonel (self-promoted) Drake drilled the first oil well in Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. Hence, the smart money was to look for oil along creeks and streams–the era of the creekologists. Well, that did not work out too well, so the next place to look were various lumps and bumps, which were known as anticlines. That worked fine, mostly, and the Spindletop discovery resulted from that geology.
The problem was that looking at the surface did not give a great picture about what was going on below the surface. All kinds of exploration methods were tried with varying degrees of luck.
The explorationists were not having a great deal of luck, and whatever scientific method was being tried yielded no results that were better than guesswork, although that did not fail all the time.
Along came World War I. Somebody figured out that if the vibrations in the earth were recorded from two sites, then one could work out where the guns were firing from with some accuracy, and counter-battery fire could be brought in, and the enemy gun stood a good chance of being blown away. John Karcher, a graduate of University of Oklahoma, was one physicist that was involved in that research.
Once the guns stopped firing, Karcher did some thinking, and applied for patents in reflection seismology, and in 1921, the first seismic cross section was created across the Arbuckle mountains in Oklahoma. Then, in 1928, the first well in history was drilled near Seminole, Oklahoma, resulting in commercial production.
Karcher did many other things in the industry, among them partnering up with Everette Lee DeGolyer (a rather well-known name), and founding Geophysical Services, Inc. (GSI), which was eventually acquired by Texas Instruments. As the reader probably knows, what has occurred since then in the seismic industry has revolutionized exploration for hydrocarbons.
In 1964, I signed on with GSI to do work in central Oklahoma. I was what is now known as a jug-hustler– the guy that carries geophones and plants them in the earth with a stomp from a boot, and later worked in the head office in Dallas, trying to make some sense out of squiggly lines. I never contributed much to the seismic industry, except to discover that I did not have an affinity for outdoors Oklahoma in the summer, and undoubtedly made my superiors at GSI happy with my decision. Let me know if any topic in the history of the oil business may interest you. Theodore R. Borrego done nearly 50 years in this industry, and I’d point you to my website, www.explorationlaw.com to know more.