First timer? In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much an every-third-day blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48). I call this “landing.” I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near. I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.
Landing number 2028; A Landing A Day blog post number 446.
Dan – For the 5th time in 2013 (out of 53 landings), I’ve landed the granddaddy of USers . . . TX; 148/178; 5/10; 12; 150.3. Here’s my regional landing map:
The closer-in landing map shows my close proximity to two towns, Newgulf and Boling:
My Google Earth (GE) shot shows an ill-defined landscape with mysterious, apparently man-made linear features:
Backing out to a similar scale as my closer-in landing map, here’s a broader-view GE map:
I’ve labeled both Boling and Newgulf, but what’s up with Newgulf? Let me zoom in a little:
There’s practically nothing there! I see I need some serious internet research . . .
But first, my watershed: I landed adjacent to a ditch that flows east and discharges into a new river – the San Bernard – which flows south and discharges into the Gulf.
From the Texas State Historical Association (tshaonline), some excertps about Newgulf:
NEWGULF, TEXAS is on top of the Boling Salt Dome, reputed to be the largest known inland deposit of sulfur in the world. The company-owned town was established in 1928 for the employees of the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company. Texas Gulf Sulphur’s first company town was named Gulf, so, naturally-enough, this one was Newgulf.
About 400 houses-with one, two, or three bedrooms-were constructed and were leased to employees. The business section of Newgulf consisted of a single four-lane avenue lined with stores. At the town’s zenith it had as many as fifteen businesses. Texas Gulf Sulphur also built a hospital, a library, a school, a post office, four churches and a clubhouse with a nine-hole golf course.
The population of Newgulf peaked in 1940 at 1,586. Self-contained and semi-isolated, residents developed into a very close-knit community.
Because of the oil and sulfur discoveries, during this same period the community of Boling emerged three miles to the west.
By 1956 the sulfur industry was producing more sulfur than it sold, foreign sulfur prices had dipped, and Texas Gulf Sulphur had begun constructing several new plants elsewhere. The company began selling empty houses in 1961. New mining techniques and machinery further reduced the need for onsite employees. In 1980 and 1990 the town reported 963 residents.
By 1990 only 100 houses remained at Newgulf, and the businesses and their buildings were gone. In 1995 a skeleton crew remained at the sulphur mine site, the town was only a shadow of its former self.
The website specifies how to reference the article, so here goes: Thanks to Merle R. Hudgins, “NEWGULF, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hln18), accessed May 26, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
It looks like I landed right near the old sulphur plant. I’m sure the two ponds had to do with the plant. Here’s a close-up of the plant ruins. Check out the two huge smokestacks (and smokestack shadows):
When I read that the raison d’etre of both Newgulf and Boling was sulphur and oil associated with the Boling Salt Dome, I knew that my geology side was about to kick in.
So, what (you may ask) is a salt dome? Well, I checked out Geology.com to freshen up my stale knowledge. Since pictures are worth many words, let me start with a north-south geologic cross-section across Texas (from OK to the Gulf):
The purple layer is salt, formed by evaporating inland seas back during the Jurassic Period (thus the “J”). FYI, the Jurassic was about 150 – 200 million years ago. After the salt was deposited, various thickness of sand, silt and clay were laid down on top of the salt. Those are the green and orange layers shown on the cross section.
Note that the salt layer is pretty deep, ranging from 5 km to 10 km (aka 3 to 6 miles).
It turns out that the salt layer is much less dense (lighter) than the overlying sands and clays, and that the salt (if given enough time), can flow, albeit very slowly. Because the salt is less dense, it wants to rise (just like something less dense than water wants to float).
See those purple spikes sticking up? Those are salt domes – essentially large fingers of salt that have pushed up through the sand & clay. Note that the ones near the coast have pushed up six miles!
So, what does this have to do with oil? Well, here goes: Some of the rock layers are petroleum-producing – they were laid down with lots of organic material that under pressure & temperature (and enough time) – presto chango! Crude!
So, crude oil seeps out of the source rock, and tends to flow upward through the interconnected nooks and crannies in the rock (keeping in mind that the rock is water saturated and the crude is lighter than water).
So, the crude oil is creeping its way up, as long as the interconnected nooks and crannies give it a pathway. The crude is particularly inclined to move through sandstone, because of all of the pore spaces between the sand grains. So, maybe the oil is flowing up through a sandstone, and boom, it hits a real tight shale (made of clay). No more nooks and crannies, no more movement. The oil tends to accumulate at the top of the sand unit.
Now it’s time to get back to salt domes. Here’s another picture from Geology.com.
As the salt dome punches up, it deforms the surrounding rock layers (note how the layers bow upward around the salt). See the speckled yellow unit? It’s a sand (or sandstone). The overlying gray is clay (or shale). Thanks to the salt dome, the oil gets concentrated (or “trapped”) where the sand is pinched by the salt.
So, now we’re drilling for oil, and we have smart geologists who know about salt domes and know about oil migration and how traps are formed. So, they poke around (with a drill rig) until they run into one of the traps in the sand, and bingo, we now have a producing oil well.
Here’s a GE shot showing the location of a nearby well. Looking at the above picture, we all know where it was drilled relative to the salt dome, don’t we, class?
The above well location is a Panoramio shot (by Morgan RS), so here’s his photo of the well (known as a pumpjack):
Wanna know more about pumpjacks? Check out my Lovington NM post. . .
Here’s an interesting bit from the Geology.com article:
Salt domes were almost unknown until an exploratory oil well was drilled on Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas in 1900. Spindletop was a low hill with a relief of about 15 feet where a visitor could find sulfur springs and natural gas seeps.
At a depth of about 1000 feet, the well penetrated a pressurized oil reservoir that blew the drilling tools out of the well and showered the surrounding land with crude oil until the well could be brought under control. The initial production from the well was over 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day – a greater yield than any previous well had ever produced.
The Spindletop discovery ignited a drilling spree on similar structures across the Gulf Coast area. Some of these wells struck oil. Those discoveries motivated geologists to learn about the structures below that held such vast amounts of oil.
Back when I was with Mobil, I spent a fair amount of time at the Beaumont Refinery (built next to Spindeltop to refine all of that bubblin’ crude).
Anyway, the sulphur connection to salt domes is a little more vague. Here’s what Geology.com has to say:
Salt domes are sometimes overlain by a cap rock that contains significant amounts of elemental sulfur. The sulfur is thought to have formed because of bacterial activity associated with the salt.
Some salt domes have enough sulfur in the cap rock that it can be economically recovered. It is recovered by drilling a well into the sulfur and pumping superheated water and air down the well. The superheated water is hot enough to melt the sulfur. The hot air converts the molten sulfur into a froth that is buoyant enough to rise up a well to the surface.
Today most sulfur is produced as a byproduct from crude oil refining and natural gas processing. The production of sulfur from salt domes is generally not cost competitive with sulfur produced from oil and natural gas.
To check out the entire Geology.com article (which is excellent), click HERE.
The GE Panoramio shots near my landing were almost all posted by one Arnaldo Silva Alvarez. I’ll close with this smattering from Señor Alvarez:
That’ll do it.
© 2013 A Landing A Day