There’s always been oil under Curry County soil

Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

Perhaps 1926 should be remembered as the year oil was found in Curry County. Deliberate or not, rumor had it that an unnamed, big oil company paid someone to sabotage the well. What happened to another well in 1927 is unknown.

Professional oil well drillers drilled four or five test holes in Curry County. The Frio Oil Co. was made up of Clovis investors: Charles Scheurich, W. F. Swartz, George Houk, Harry Tyler, W. G. Head and W. C. Barton. The company started a test hole on the Sanders ranch near Highway 18 on the Frio Draw north of Clovis. On Jan. 6, 1927 traces of oil were found after drilling a little over 350 feet down. “A little over four inches of oil in the 15-inch casing” was reported at the time.

On March 10 the drill was down to 1100 feet, at that time the deepest hole in Curry County. They were sinking the well at a rate of 50 feet a day. At 1175 feet, driller Joe Hull of Artesia started using 10-inch casing. They were going through Shelly lime and blue shale.

On May 9 a new driller, Harry Steinberger, took charge. At 1,239 feet a showing of oil was discovered. On May 26, after a cave-in near the bottom of the well, they hired Joe Huff to clean out the well. It took until September to clean the well which was contracted for 3,500 foot of drilling. Money was running out and the Frio Oil Co. traded off part of its acreage for more casing and fuel. Reports later told of deliberate sabotage to the well. Anyway, the well was capped and apparently forgotten.

Another well was drilled four miles north and two east of Clovis, and () called the Clovis Gas & Oil Co. The driller was Harry Steinberger. The contract called for the well to be drilled to 4,000 feet.

On Oct. 27, 1927, at a depth of 3,634 feet, they ran into lime formation that showed oil saturation of 10 to 20 percent oil content, with a strong odor of gas. They were in the St. Andreas Sand and going down at one foot an hour.

On Nov. 2 the company shut down for two weeks of tool repairs. On Jan. 12, 1928 the well was 3,900 feet deep and going into hard sand. Again what happened to this well is unknown. It, too, was capped and forgotten.

I got the answer of why they shut one of the wells down, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

The wife’s late husband (she wouldn’t give a name) was a member of the oil derrick crew. She told me a story I found hard to believe.

It seems that they hit oil about 9,500 feet down and found that the well would produce 65 barrels of oil an hour. However, they capped and abandoned it.

“Why in heaven’s name did they shut it down?” I asked.

“First,” she said, “it would cost a billion dollars to set up a refinery here to handle the oil.

“Second, have you tried getting steel pipe laid from here to the closest refinery?” she asked. “It’s harder to find than hen’s teeth.”

She also told me the refineries down near Lovington are handling all the oil they can refine now. (She told me this 28 years ago.)

In this year of 2005, if there was oil in Curry County (the woman said that there was a big pool of oil that extended clear to San Jon and west to the Quay community) the big oil companies would be here and drilling. Right now the big oil refineries are making a killing in oil. Conoco-Phillips, the nation’s third-largest oil company, recently reported that quarterly profits rose 89%, and nobody has built a new refinery in over 25 years! They say it still costs a billion, or more, to build a refinery.

It seems like the oil companies aren’t during right by us, but look at the good side. It won’t be long before most of our vehicles will be powered, not by oil, but by hydrogen and other clean sources.

Don’t you reckon most of us old timers will be long gone by then?

Don McAlavy is the Curry County historian. E-mail: