Gas and Growing Technologies
Some Salt Creek oil wells in the 1910s-20s were uncontrollable gushers. Before pipelines, storage tanks, and advanced equipment, much oil soaked into the ground, ran into streams, and was burned to reduce runoff. A few early Salt Creek wells produced more than 5,000 barrels per day, which the ill-equipped oil companies pioneering the field struggled to control. Since then, enormous technological strides have transformed the oil and gas industries from chaotic wildcatter operations into the sophisticated systems in place today.
Creek oil production grew rapidly from the 1890s until 1923 when it yielded 35,000,000 barrels and was known as the richest field in the U.S. Declining production in 19214 signaled decreasing gas pressure and oil supply. Once oil stopped naturally flowing to the surface, wells were pumped.
Nature of Oil & Gas
Through the 1920s, Salt Creek had "flowing" wells: oil was pushed to the surface by natural gas. In 1916 Midwest Refining Company began building gas plants, booster stations, and pipelines to collect and transport natural gas escaping with the oil. A byproduct of this new industry was "natural" gasoline. Expanding gasoline and natural gas demands made these
new products valuable.
"On the Pump"
Midwest Refining Company powered the electric well pumps from a central, massive, steam-turbine, gas-fired electric plant near the town of Midwest. By the end of 1925, practically every well in Salt Creek was "on the pump," making this one of the first and largest totally electrified fields in the U.S. The plant also powered the company's refinery, the drilling of new wells, the local community, and the lighting for one of the first night football games, which was held in Midwest in 1925. The plant closed in 1958 but still stands.
New production techniques are continuously tested at Salt Creek to extract oil from sand and rock. In the mid-1920s natural gas was injected back into the ground to repressurize wells, a technique called gas drive.
Introduced in 1955, water flooding
injects water into the ground and forces oil up through pores in the rock. Other 1950s methods include: hydofrac
(which releases oil by fracturing the reservoir sandstone through hydraulic pressure) and fire drive
(in which a burner is lowered below ground to loose oil). In 1965 a technique called steam drive
forced hot steam into underground sands to warm and release captive oil. Today, CO2 flooding
is used throughout Salt
The appearance of the oilfield continually changes. When thousands of tall wooden derricks covered the land, Salt Creek was a "forest of derricks."
In the early 1910s, the expected life of Salt Creek oil wells was 20 years. More than 100 years later, they are still producing oil. The extraction method used here is CO2 flooding.
Carbon dioxide compressed into a liquid is injected underground alternately with water through a well's bore hole. As it expands into a gas, CO2 forces oil out of its hiding places in tiny crevices and micro-pores and pushes it to the surface. Repressurized by CO2, wells once again flow "naturally," making pumping unnecessary.
Changes on the Landscape
The wooden derrick was one component of a cable tool rig used to drill oil wells. Beginning in the mid-1930s, lighter metal derricks belonging to rotary drilling systems marked wells. As wells lost pressure, drilling equipment was replaced by pumping equipment. The iconic silhouette of pumpjacks - also known as horse heads, nodding donkeys, grasshopper pumps, and thirsty birds - identified Salt Creek in the last half of the 20th century.
Looking like porcupine quills on the landscape, a dense network of power poles and
cables accompanied the electric well pumps. Like pumpjacks, these are disappearing as oil wells are converted to CO2 flooding. By repressurizing wells and piping oil and other products underground, this system visually reduces the impact of oil production on the landscape.
With the closure of Casper refineries, Salt Creek oil is pumped via a vast network of underground pipelines to many refineries in multiple states. There, it is transformed into commercial products: gasoline, kerosene, lubricating oils, petroleum jelly, heavy greases, paraffin, and coal tar. Although Salt Creek oil is known for being a "light" oil, some wells do produce heavy asphaltines. Salt Creek has numerous oil-bearing formations, which produce a variety of types of crude.