High Island Oilfield

By: Julia Cauble Smith

Type: General Entry

Published: October 1, 1995

High Island field is an onshore oil-producing area on a 2,500-acre mound in a coastal salt marsh, halfway between Sabine Pass and Galveston on State Highway 124 and one mile from the Gulf of Mexico in southeastern Galveston County. The field has drawn oil and negligible amounts of dry gas from as many as thirteen horizons between depths of 150 and 7,413 feet in a piercement salt dome in the Pliocene, Miocene, and Oligocene formations. Field development, managed by a few independent companies, unfolded in three stages-the initial caprock discovery at a depth of 198 feet on April 12, 1922, the recovery of good overhang production at a depth of 5,077 feet in 1931, and the finding of flush flank production at 7,413 feet in 1947. Primary recovery may have been solution gas, but operators maintained field production over the first eight decades by tapping and draining the multitude of fault compartments and reservoirs in the field through successive well recompletion and by secondary water injection. From its first yield until 1994 the field reported cumulative production in excess of 139.6 million barrels of oil, and since 1973 its modest cumulative dry gas production was less than 184 million cubic feet. The field is significant because it is a piercement salt dome, the type of producing structure that made the Texas oil industry, and because of its unusual development. High Island field was named for the mound and the town at its location.

Gas seeps, paraffin dirt, and sulfur in the marshes and the fresh water at High Island suggested the presence of oil in the shallow subsurface as early as 1901, when Chase and Newsome, a Galveston independent, drilled the first test at High Island. It was drilled to a depth of 900 feet in the caprock before it was abandoned without an oil show. In 1902 J. M. Guffey Petroleum Company drilled three wells that were abandoned in 1903 amid a lease dispute. Also in 1903 Monroe Carroll of Beaumont drilled the No. 1 Smith to a depth of 1,100 feet, where an oil show was encountered, but the well was abandoned in 1904. In 1912 and 1913 Gulf Production Company drilled two wells on the dome, both giving shows of oil. Even with some success in the wells, Gulf determined to move out of the area. In 1915 the small company of W. C. Patton and W. Robichaux drilled a well in Block 11 on the east flank of the dome. After a storm blew down the derrick and stuck the drill stem at a depth of 2,250 feet, the well was abandoned. In 1916 Marrs McLean of Beaumont assumed the leases of Patton and Robichaux and drilled three wells that were abandoned in the caprock. In March 1919 Sun Oil Company took over the McLean leases and drilled three wells on the Cade tract, but they were abandoned without production. Finally in 1922, W. C. Patton organized Patton Oil Company and took leases from the Cade Estate and W. D. Gordon on top of the dome and found the first commercial production at High Island. The Patton No. 1 Cade was drilled to a depth of 155 feet in porous caprock, where it encountered an oil show. On April 12, 1922, the No. 1 Cade was brought in with an initial flow of twenty barrels of oil per day from a depth of 198 feet. In the months after the No. 1 Cade discovery, Sun came back to the island and drilled its No. 4 Cade to a depth of 2,219 feet for an initial yield of five barrels of oil per day. This well, like the later Sun No. 1 Broussard and Orme, which had an initial production of 638 barrels of oil per day, sanded up and ceased to flow. During the first year of production, High Island field yielded only 2,700 barrels of oil. Although both Sun and Yount-Lee Company sank a number of wells into the caprock during 1923, flush production like that at Spindletop oilfield and Batson-Old oilfield evaded them, as the annual yield edged upward to 12,500 barrels of oil. Although yearly yields rose in 1924 and surged to 121,000 barrels in 1925, the figure slid to 58,420 barrels in 1926. During the 1920s crude from the field was transported to refineries by railroad tank cars as the up-and-down annual production trend continued until 1931.

However in 1931 the promise of flush production moved towards reality when Yount-Lee took over the leases held by Marrs McLean and Sun companies and assumed control of the most of the producing acreage in the field. The Yount-Lee No. 21 Cade was spudded on April 30, 1931, and completed on July 30, 1931, for initial production of 700 barrels of oil per day from a total depth of 5,077 feet. The No. 21 Cade was a significant discovery because it proved the presence of an overhang of caprock and salt in the dome that delivered good production from the underlying sands. The new discovery set off a drilling campaign in High Island that developed it into a prolific salt dome field. In the fall of 1931 Yount-Lee laid a ten-inch pipeline from the field to its Spindletop tank farm to handle the increased production, but some crude was transported from the field by barge. Between 1931 and 1935 Yount-Lee drilled forty-six productive wells at High Island. Eight wells were worked over and seven were drilled deeper to find overhang production. Yearly totals increased markedly through 1934, when 2,747,000 barrels of oil were recovered. In response to the new production, the Railroad Commission set the field allowable at 6,614 barrels of oil per day on a per-well basis and twenty-acre spacing. Under proration the field decreased production in 1935 to 2,509,974 barrels of oil. Production after 1935 and throughout the second phase of field development continued generally downward. By the end of 1938 the field covered 300 proved acres with sixty-two wells, producing from an average depth of 6,710 feet. At the end of 1940, when the annual yield was just under 970,000 barrels of oil, the field consisted of nineteen flowing and forty pumping wells managed by three operators. At the end of 1946 High Island reported to a yearly yield of 992,042 barrels of oil.

On September 13, 1947, the field entered its third and most prolific period of development when the J. W. Mecom No. 8-A Cade et al., found production on the northwest flank of the dome from a total depth of 7,413 feet for an initial production of eighty-seven barrels of oil per day. In 1948 both Yount-Lee and Stanolind Pipe Line Company built carriers to service the field. By 1951, with other flank deposits tapped, annual production for the thirty-year-old field rebounded to 2,384,841 barrels of oil from depths of 2,900 to 6,275 feet. In August 1959 Pan American Petroleum Corporation began secondary recovery attempts in the Miocene. With salt water injection to force oil from old compartments and additional wells to pierce new reservoirs, field production dramatically increased to over 3.9 million barrels in 1959. Production soared to more than 4.6 million barrels in 1960 and to 5.1 million in 1961. At the end of 1962 and of forty years production, the field gave up an annual yield in excess of 6.6 million barrels of oil. Production mounted to over 9.2 million barrels in 1963, but in 1964 the field recovered its highest-recorded annual total when more than 9.8 million barrels of oil were reported from the mature field. Throughout the late 1960s field production ebbed, and at the end of 1969 its yearly yield was less than 2.9 million barrels. In December 1970 Amoco Production Company began salt water injection in the Miocene at the 4,810-feet depth, but no increase in production was realized. At the end of 1972, after fifty years of yields, the field reported annual totals of nearly 1.4 million barrels of oil and over 555.4 million cubic feet of casinghead gas. Production in the waning field fell to less than 664,000 barrels of oil in 1982 and to less than 329,000 barrels in 1992. At the end of 1993 High Island field reported eighty-three producing wells and cumulative production of 139,638,056 barrels of oil and cumulative production since 1973 of 183,930,000 cubic feet of dry gas.

N. M. Fenneman, Oil Fields of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coastal Plain (U.S. Geological Service Bulletin 282, Washington: GPO, 1906). William E. Galloway et al., Atlas of Major Texas Oil Reservoirs (Austin: University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, 1983). Frank J. Gardner, Texas Gulf Coast Oil (Dallas: Rinehart Oil New Company, 1948). Michel T. Halbouty, "Geology and Geophysics Showing Cap Rock and Salt Overhang of High Island Dome, Galveston County, Texas," in Gulf Coast Oil Fields: A Symposium on the Gulf Coast Cenozoic (Tulsa: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1936). Survey of Secondary and Enhanced Recovery Operations in Texas to 1980, A (Bulletin 80, Austin: Railroad Commission of Texas, 1980).


  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Oil Fields and Wells

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Julia Cauble Smith, “High Island Oilfield,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 25, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/high-island-oilfield.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995