OIL: Gold Under the Garbage

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While eager prospectors searched for oil all around the world, beneath the sea and in the mountains, high-living Houston last week took a look under its garbage and found black gold. An independent driller, Trice Production Co., brought in a rich (140 bbls. daily) well from 8,000 ft. below the city dump, and gave it an appropriate label: "Houston City Dump No. 1."

Dump No. 1 is the latest strike in the old Pierce Junction salt dome, where wells are pushing ever closer to Houston's city limits. For more than three decades prospectors in Pierce Junction made occasional strikes at conservative depths of 2,000 ft. to 5,000 ft. Then, in 1949, Wildcatter Glenn McCarthy dared to go deeper, brought in a well from between 7,000 ft. and 8,000 ft. But McCarthy did not follow through. Not until lesser-known Wildcatter E. C. Scurlock brought home a deep payload late in 1954 did the Pierce Junction boom begin.

In the past year it has become the biggest of all Gulf Coast oil booms. Thirty-five companies have sunk 171 producing wells deep into the treeless flat, now get around 24,000 bbls. daily from the field. Said one Houston newsman: "The whole town is on the verge of being overrun by derricks." Oil rigs are creeping within 100 yds. of the residences and businesses off Houston's primary north-south thoroughfare, South Main Street. One derrick stands 75 yds. from the roller coaster at Playland Park: another is within No. 7-iron distance (125 yds.) of the South Main Golf Center driving range. Two more wells have been drilled in the path of a proposed $20 million freeway, which probably will be rerouted. Worried Harris County officials have urged the Texas Railroad Commission to deny future oil permits on freeway land.

Musing about the fact that traces of oil have been found downtown when water wells were drilled, some Texans crack about tearing down Houston (and rebuilding it a few miles away) to get at the oil. Since the downtown real estate is worth more than the oil potential, even Houston is not likely to go that far. But the oil is worth a lot to the city of Houston. The city holds a one-fourth interest in "City Dump No. 1," should reap $40,000 yearly from it. Trice already has begun drilling "City Dump No. 2'' on the same profits deal with Houston. Geologists figure that the 300-acre dump is good for at least 15 producing wells. Such a sea under her garbage could enrich the city government by $600,000 a year.