Oil in Georgia
Black Gold! Texas Tea! Uncle Jed Clampett never found any oil in Laurens County. It is here, but no slug of Jed’s trusty rifle could penetrate the ground deep enough to bring up the bubbling crude which is there and has been there for hundreds of thousands of years. During the waning years of the Cretaceous period, millions of years ago, oil began to form from the remains of dead sea animals and
plants along the receding coast line of the Atlantic Ocean.
For nearly three hundred years, oil had not been a necessary commodity for Americans. It was not until the horseless carriage came along, that the slippery substance, which had only been used for lubricating stationary engines, become such a highly prized viscous and highly valuable liquid.
The first two oil wells in Georgia were drilled four and one half miles northwest and eight miles west of Rome in 1902. Neither of them were successful. In 1908 and for three successive years, oil seekers worked to strike a gusher seven miles south of Madison in Morgan County. At a depth of 1,015, the drillers gave up and went back home.
The most common instances of the location of oil in Georgia are in seeps, which are places where oil rises to the surface, usually along streams or the banks of springs. The majority of these seeps seem to follow a line from south of Augusta on the Savannah River, through Louisville, Sandersville, Wrightsville, lower Laurens County, Scotland, and Hawkinsville, along the line separating the lower and upper coastal plain.
Seeps weren’t known to be indicative of any underlying geological formations, which usually indicate the presence of massive pools of oil underneath. In nearby Johnson County on the old Ed Spell farm, some four crow-fly miles north-northwest of Wrightsville, Oil was found in globules and thick films in and around a small spring. Geological tests from the seepage on the Spell farm to be greater than any other place in the state.
Two oil seeps, one twelve miles west and another a half mile east of Hawkinsville, were noted for their massive amount of oil globules seeping up from the watery ground.
Perhaps the most celebrated oil seep ever discovered in Georgia was found in northeastern Telfair County near the village of Scotland. In the fall of 1919, a team of geologists conducted a series of tests on the farm of H.G. Sample, eight tenths of a mile south of the town on the road to Lumber City. State Geologist Dr. S. W. McCallie collected a pint sized sample which tested about sixty percent kerosene - a level comparable to California crude, but somewhat inferior to the oil found in Texas and Oklahoma.
The unexpected discovery led to eager, but reserved, excitement in the state capital in Atlanta, where a meeting of the Geological Board took place to discuss future plans for testing. McCallie, in an attempt to restrain wild stake grabbing, issued a public statement confirming the presence of substantial seepage, but warned that no substantial evidence of a workable pool of oil was yet found. Folks in Telfair County had been noticing the seepage for more than a quarter of a century, but never drew any conclusions as to its sources. After discounting that the oil was simply the excess oil used to treat hogs for cholera, McCallie was convinced that the oil was naturally occurring. He ordered an expanded examination of a hundred square mile area. With inclusive results in hand, McCallie believed that a test well would yield oil somewhere at a depth of 1500 to 3000 feet in the cretaceous strata.
It didn’t take long for the profiteers and exploiters to spring into action. Within a few days of the announcement of the potential find, R.L. Kinchen, of Scotland, led the organization of a dozen investors who rapidly acquired four thousand leased acres with their fortune-seeking eyes on as many a hundred thousand more acres of potential oil sites. Speculation was wild. Wildcatters, skulkers and the pure greedy were descending on Scotland like ants at a dinner on the grounds at the Smith family reunion. Bidders piled on top of each other hounding Mr. Sample and his flabbergasted wife with lucrative and unrefusable offers, said by some to have amounted to fifty thousand dollars or more.
By the opening of spring, the Telfair Oil Company was beginning the final preparations to begin drilling. With more than a half million dollars in capital, the company imported drilling equipment from Kentucky and piping from Pittsburgh. Saw mill workers began to fashion beams to erect a derrick. The experiment failed. No large quantities of oil were ever found. Investors, some greedy and others poor farmers trying to keep their families fed in the pre-Depression years, lost life long
fortunes, which evaporated in a matter of weeks.
McCallie and his staff continued to explore for oil in eastern and central Georgia. A possible location was found in the northern part of Emanuel County, but no potential sites were found near Millen, despite some signs to the contrary.
One Laurens Countian got in on the action. I.E. Thigpen spent $50,000.00 to purchase 3,400 acres of a promising oil field in Jeff Davis County in 1920. His descendants will tell you that he never struck oil.
In the years preceding World War II, owners of large tracts of land in Laurens County reserved all mineral rights to the lands they sold. One such tract, which is still under lease rights today, is occupied by the neighbors of Quail Hollow Subdivision off Academy Avenue Extension.
In February 1971, Texaco, Inc. petitioned the Commissioners of Laurens County for permission to explore the possibility of oil deposits in the county. The commissioners granted the company the right to conduct seismographic tests along the right of ways of county roads. Texaco’s engineers placed explosive charges in the ground, ignited them and then looked for signs of the presence of geological structures which might tend to support the presence of oil.
F.W. McCain and George Nicholson were granted permission a year later to drill for oil on the property of R.T. Gilder, sixteen miles below Dublin. With a standing reward of a quarter of a million dollars to the first person to begin commercial production of more than 100 barrels per day, the State of Georgia was inundated with drillers looking to make millions for themselves and millions more for the state’s coffers . As was the case with the 139 previous attempts, McCain and Nicholson were unsuccessful in their venture.
In the 1980s, the Southeastern Exploration Company signed leases for tens of thousands of acres of land in eastern and southern Laurens County in one final attempt to strike it rich. No oil was ever found.
And now, more than a century after the first oil wells were dug in Georgia and when we need more oil that we can import from around the world, our gas guzzling auto’s thirst for more oil and gas may lead us back to beneath the ground we walk on, and for those who still do, shoot rabbits on. Maybe one day, one of us will strike it rich, become a millionaire, and move to Beverly Hills. Then we and all your kin will load up our trucks and SUVs, take off our shoes, sit a spell with you, take a dip in the cement pond, and see a few movie stars. But as for me, I have been to Beverly Hills twice. And, right here in this locality, hospitality and all, is where I want to be.