Streetwise Professor

September 23, 2010

Fracking, Old School

Filed under: Economics,History — The Professor @ 7:06 pm

I spoke about Frank-n-Dodd today at the 9th Annual Oil & Gas Institute here in Houston.  Prior to my talk, Larry Nettles of Vinson & Elkins gave a crisply delivered and amazingly informative talk about shale gas and fracking.

Mr. Nettles remarked on how there hasn’t been much drilling in the Northeast in the last 100 years, but that is changing with the Marcellus Shale.  His comment brought to mind some family history.

My grandfather’s stepfather, Bill Wilcox, “shot” oil wells in West Virginia and Southeastern Ohio from the 1890s to the 1920s.  Back in the day, fracking meant drilling a hole, filling a coffee can with nitroglycerine, lowering it very carefully down the hole, and then detonating it (hence the term “shooting” the well).  We have family pictures of the process, including an honest-to-God gusher that Wilcox blew.

Obviously, this was a very, very hazardous occupation.  My grandfather said that Wilcox told him that for 16 Februaries in a row, at least one of his fellow shooters was blown up.  The rapid fluctuations in temperatures typical for that time of year made the nitro unstable, and put that together with icy and rutted mountain roads in West Virginia, or the hills of Ohio, and well, use your imagination.  As a result, Wilcox eventually spent every February dead drunk, or so my grandfather said.  It must of worked, as he survived into a ripe old age (although his liver was probably twice as old as that).

But there were compensations, apparently.  Wilcox used to drive a “shooting wagon” (again, we have some photos) that everybody around knew was used to carry nitro.  As a result, everybody, and I mean everybody, steered clear of it.  Including law enforcement.  So Wilcox figured out that the shooting wagon was a great way to run moonshine, which he did.  According to my grandfather, the local brand was known as New Straitsville Special, after a small coal town called New Straitsville.  The stuff was distilled there in old mines that had been abandoned, because many of the mines had been set on fire during a labor dispute in the 1880s.

Think they’re running any moonshine in the water trucks used in that new fangled fracking?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. […] Any modern analogies anyone can think of? […]

    Pingback by Interesting career move — September 24, 2010 @ 3:25 am

  2. Fracking’s coming to Mother Russia soon, if Chatham House is to be believed. Oh Professor, what will you do when your Houston oil and gas industry friends are making money hand over fist fracking the Urals in a few years? Tell them not to go after the Soros minions have tried to ban it in upstate New York in the freedom loving US of A?

    Comment by Mr. X — September 30, 2010 @ 5:05 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress