JENNINGS OILFIELD – THE BIRTHPLACE OF LOUISIANA’S OIL INDUSTRY IN 1901
The Jennings oilfield, Acadia Parish, was Louisiana’s first oil discovery, just a few months after the January, 1901 discovery of Spindletop oil field near Beaumont, Texas. The well was drilled in a rice field on the Mamou Prairie in the community of Evangeline near Jennings.
The owner of the property, Jules Clement, had noticed bubbles rising from a spot in one of his rice fields when it flooded. With the recent discovery in Spindle Top in mind, he conducted an experiment. He stood on an old stovepipe over the bubbles, lit a match and threw it into the pipe. Gas from the bubbles ignited.
He told friends about this and word spread to Jennings, reaching the ears of several interested area businessmen. They quietly secured leases on approximately 2000 acres in the vicinity of the seepage and formed S.A. Spencer & Company.
The businessmen sent representatives to Beaumont, Texas, to hire an operator who had experience drilling for oil at Spindletop. There they met with W. Scott Heywood and described their Jennings prospect. Heywood was fascinated with their tale and immediately went to Jennings to personally inspect the prospect area, where he became convinced that there was oil underground. In a short time Heywood and the S.A. Spencer Company had organized the Jennings Oil Company and stock was sold to finance drilling the property.
The Jennings Oil Company contracted with Heywood Brothers and Dobbins to drill two exploratory wells, each to a depth of 1000 feet, in the hope of finding oil. A drilling rig was moved from Beaumont to drill the well and drilling began on the Jennings Oil Company- Clement No. 1 on June 15, 1901. Scott Heywood was the superintendent and co-owner. Machinery was shipped from Spindle Top.
It was 90 days of working in the hot sun, fighting mud and mosquitos. The specified contract depth of 1000 feet was reached and no oil had been found. W. Scott Heywood convinced his investors, his drilling crew, and his own brothers to drill deeper. More drilling pipe was brought in and the well deepened. Unfortunately, with no favorable results at 1500 feet they ran short of drill pipe.
At the age of 29, W. Scott Heywood was already a seasoned, experienced, and successful explorer. He had gone to Alaska in 1897 during the great Yukon gold rush, sinking a shaft and mining a profitable gold deposit. He was an oil finder, having successfully drilled for oil in California. When news broke of the Spindletop discovery, Heywood was one of the first oil men to reach Spindletop, and he drilled a number of the earliest successful oil wells. Reluctantly, W. Scott Heywood’s brothers once again agreed to support him in continuing. More drill pipe was delivered and the well was drilled deeper.
At 1700 feet struck “a very fine showing of oil in sugar sand.” More pipe was sent in to finish drilling into the sand and when finished there was 110 feet of oil sand.
Casing was set with a gate valve for protection. After running the bailer the second time the well came in, flowing a solid four-inch stream of pipeline oil over 100 feet high. On the evening of September 21, 1901, a farmer rushed into Jennings with the news that oil had been discovered.
The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice.
Washing, bailing and flushing continued for about 30 days. If the sand could have been controlled in that well, it would have produced over 7,000 barrels per day.
The boom had begun bringing people, money and ideas into the area, and the town of Jennings flourished.
According to the State of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, over 220,000 wells have been drilled in Louisiana. It is this first well which changed the history of Louisiana forever. In 1909, the first well drilled offshore was on Caddo lake on the border between Texas and Louisiana.
(Source: State of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources/Louisiana State University/Louisiana Geological Survey – Image: drilling crew on the Jennings No. 2 well in late 1901 – W. Scott Haywood (far right) and Elmer Dobbins (center)/State of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources)