• U.S.

Business: Cottingham No. 1

3 minute read

For months the Carter Oil Co., subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey, had been drilling for oil in the middle of Farmer R. F. Cottingham’s corn and cotton fields in McClain County, Oklahoma. Now, as the drill bit touched 10,620 ft., the drillers had brought in the gun perforator to shoot 60 half-inch cartridges through the heavy steel casing. They were testing the famed Wilcox sand that, at a much shallower level (from 5,000-6,000 ft.), had turned the great Oklahoma City Field into a bonanza 15 years before.

“She’s Bubbling.” At 2 a.m. on Monday there was a wisp of gas and a roughneck snapped “Fires out!” The drill motors and the engines of the watchers’ automobiles were silenced; greasy mud began to slop out of the two-inch tube onto the derrick floor. All night long the Cottingham belched and spluttered, while roustabouts scraped the mud into testing tanks.

By noon the news had reached Oklahoma City, 35 miles north. In front of the 33-story First National Bank building, Bill Brannan spread it as he hawked his papers to the leasehounds who make their fairweather “offices” around his newsstand. Atop the building, in the swank Beacon Club, the talk of better heeled oilmen was the same: “Carter brings in new pool . . . she’s bubbling out of the hole right now.” For the Cottingham mud had tested 50% good crude, 50% mud and drilling water—no salt. By week’s end the new well flowed at the rate of 150-175 bbl. a day, was closed down for another gun perforation at 10,640 ft. A second Carter test hole a few miles away was already below 10,000 ft. but had not yet come in as a producer.

Though Carter men were coy, oil-wise Oklahomans were sure that the Cottingham was a “commercial” well, i.e., could produce enough oil to recoup lifting costs and then some, though not necessarily enough to pay off the $200,000-plus drilling costs. And Oklahoma’s Ickes-feuding Senator Edward H. Moore, home to help out fellow Republicans in this week’s Congressional election, was quick to say the Cottingham showed what “American free enterprise” could do, without any newfangled Government pipelines in far-off Arabia (see p. 77).

Oil or Nothing. But what really titillated the industry was that oil from the Cottingham may be the beginning of the end of a weary search for a vast new northwestern Oklahoma oilfield in what geologists long ago named the Anadarko Basin. Though seismograph crews have swarmed over the basin for eleven years, dynamiting and painstakingly recording the sound waves that came back to their earphones, its area and oil content are still unknown. Until the Cottingham came in on the east flank of the basin, Anadarko produced little but “dry hole money”—the cash that oil companies advance to an enterprising wildcatter, to be repaid in oil or nothing.

Whether the field turns out to be oil or nothing, 69-year-old Farmer Cottingham is sitting pretty. With his own 390 acres, plus his two daughters’ 320, he has royalty rights to a rich chunk of the Carter leasehold. Last week, in overalls and rubber boots, Farmer Cottingham phlegmatically cleared ground for more corn and cotton. But the gossips in Oklahoma City whispered that he had already been offered $10,000 for the royalty rights to a mere ten of his 710 acres.

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