Although the Ranger, Desdemona, and Breckenridge oilfields are sometimes considered separately, they are more logically discussed together because of their geographical proximity, times of discovery, and production figures. The oil prospecting in 1890 at Abilene found neither oil nor water, and no more test holes were drilled in this general region until 1912, when test holes in Eastland County indicated oil seven miles south of Ranger. In 1915 a good producer was brought in at Strawn, ten miles east of Ranger. A 200-barrel producer was brought in near Breckenridge in October 1916, and exploration continued in the Ranger area. In 1917 William Knox Gordon was persuaded by a group of Ranger citizens to finance a deep test well near Ranger. On October 21, 1917, the second test hole blew in under good pressure at 3,431 feet. This McClesky No. 1 well, a 1,700-barrel producer, opened the Ranger boom. Within a year, Ranger's population climbed from 1,000 to 30,000, mostly men, and Ranger became a typical oil-boom town. Gordon's company, the Texas Pacific Coal Company (reorganized as the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company), had leased most of the field, and as gusher after gusher came in, the territory was subleased at prices as high as $8,000 an acre. Independent operators and small companies fanned out from Ranger and opened such fields as the Gray-Hightower, the Parsons, the Sinclair-Earnest, and the Lake Sand. The most spectacular area was the Brewer pool, which produced more than $2 million worth of oil in 1918 and launched a frenzied drilling campaign. By 1919 eight producing horizons had been opened, and the field had produced nearly four million barrels of oil, which, because of its good quality and economic stimulus emanating from World War I, brought a top price of about $4.25 a barrel.
The discoveries at Ranger stimulated exploration, and in September 1918 a 2,000-barrel discovery well blew in at 2,960 feet near Desdemona (frequently called Hog Town). Unlike Ranger, Desdemona was a small operator's field. Production reached a peak of 7,375,825 barrels in 1919, and then dropped sharply, chiefly because of overdrilling.
There had been drilling in the Breckenridge area as early as 1911, but it had been unproductive. The No. 1 Chaney, coming in as a huge producer on February 4, 1918, began the boom, which swelled the population of Breckenridge from 800 to about 30,000 in a short time. Some 200 derricks rose within the town, and five years later more than 2,000 oil rigs were located in the immediate vicinity. The production at Breckenridge in 1919 was over ten million barrels and rose to a peak of 31,037,710 barrels in 1921. By means of acidization the Breckenridge field was kept as a producer, having an output of more than two million barrels in 1948.
Ironically, while attention was drawn to major subsurface tectonic features during the search for petroleum, the failure of the majority who developed the fields to understand the area's geology resulted in serious consequences. Many operators, adhering to the "Rule of Capture" doctrine, bled away natural gas until petroleum flowed from the well bore. They destroyed reservoir dynamics by drilling offset wells along property lines, thus bringing a premature and expensive end to the oil game for many wildcatters, even though most of the oil was left underground. Over a thirty-year period, from 1950 to 1980, production levels gradually slumped, but in 1982 the Sun Oil Company flooded many dormant wells in the Ranger field with water from Possum Kingdom Lake, forcing remaining oil pools to rise to the surface. Though the boom days are past, the Ranger, Desdemona, and Breckenridge fields still contain many small producers; 5,601,323 barrels were produced in Stephens County alone in 1990.
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Richard Mason, "Lost Seas and Forgotten Climes: Petroleum and Geologists in North Texas," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 63 (1987). Richard Mason, "Ranger and the First West Texas Drilling Boom," West Texas Historical Association Yearbook 58 (1982). Carl Coke Rister, Oil! Titan of the Southwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949). Charles Albert Warner, Texas Oil and Gas Since 1543 (Houston: Gulf, 1939).
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.
“Ranger, Desdemona, and Breckenridge Oilfields,”
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