Yates Oil Field – Oil Patch History

in Oil Patch History

The Yates Oil Field is one of the largest oil fields in the United States, producing almost one and a half billion barrels of oil since its discovery in 1926, primarily from the San Andres and Greyburg Dolomite Formations, and covering a surface area of over 26,000 acres. It lies about 80 miles south of Midland, Texas, straddling the Pecos and Crockett County lines, near the town of Iraan (Pronounced Ira-Ann, not Iran).

Yates Oil Field

When Ira and Ann Yates bought their ranch in Pecos County, Texas, they had no idea that there was an ocean of oil sitting only about 1,000 feet below their feet. Shortly after buying the ranch though, having difficulties making enough money from the land to pay their mortgage and taxes, Ira decided to go to San Angelo and try to convince Transcontinental Oil Company to drill a well. Transcontinental agreed, although conventional wisdom at the time was there was no oil west of the Pecos River.

Transcontinental, in 1926, partnered with Mid Kansas Oil Company, a subsidiary of the Ohio Oil Company to drill an exploratory well on the Yates Ranch. With a cable tool rig that cost approximately $15,000, they drilled the Ira G. Yates 1-A Well, to a depth of 992 feet. The well turned into an uncontrolled gusher, producing so much oil that they had nowhere to store it. So much oil was produced and with no nearby infrastructure, the only way to contain it was to dam a nearby canyon to create a large holding pond. The oil was later moved by pumping it out.

Once they got the well under control, they shut it in while Humble Pipeline Company, who had a main pipeline in Upton County, built a 55,000 barrel steel storage tank.

The first five wells in Yates Oil Field averaged production of more than 9,000 barrels a day. The sixth well blew out due to high pressure and spewed over 500 barrels of oil per day into the air.

The most spectacular well in the Yates Oil Field was the Yates 30-A well, which blew out with a flow rate of 8,528 barrels of oil per hour, which set the world record.

Due to all of the storage and transportation problems in the field, the Texas Railroad Commission, for the first time in history, established field-wide proration rules, which established allowables for each well based on total potential production and available pipeline capacity. Operators were also only allowed to penetrate the formation by 225′ so that they were all on equal footing

With the way that casing was set on some of the early wells a tremendous amount of oil migrated to the surface, and some ended up in the Pecos River. To mitigate some of the oil migration, shallow wells (between 20 to 400′) were drilled throughout the field and a large scale skimming operation was begun on the Pecos River. Thousands of barrels of oil were recovered this way. The Toborg Field which is a low pressure zone overlying Yates Oil Field, is thought to be comprised primarily of oil that migrated up from poor casing jobs on some of the original high pressure wells in Yates Field.

Yates Field Unit Plat

Yates Field Unit

Yates and Toborg Fields

The Yates and Toborg Fields sit primarily in Pecos County, but a small portion runs under the Pecos River into Crokett County.

Iraan, Texas

The first community that sprung up from all of the activity in the area was Redbarn, Texas, which was completely abandoned by 1952.

Ira Yates ended up donating 152 acres of land to start a new community in the area. He and his wife devised a contest to name the town, the winner of which received a free town lot. The winning entry ended up being Iraan (Ira + Ann).

Operations in Yates Oil Field

In 1930, Transcontinental Oil Company merged into Ohio Oil Company, and later, in 1962, Mid Kansas Oil Company and Ohio Oil Company became Marathon Oil, which ran the field until 2003, when Kinder Morgan Production Company, LLC acquired a controlling interest and began operating Yates Oil Field.

Marathon Oil Logo

Production in the field peaked in 1929, but various strategies have improved the declining production and have increased the estimated recoverable reserves in the field.

Waterflooding began in 1968, and waterflooding combined with CO2 flooding began in 1972.

Now, with modern horizontal drilling techniques, the productive life of the field is again being extended.

Recommended Reading:  Uncertain Riches – The Discovery and Exploitation of the Yates Oil Field

Source:  Julia Cauble Smith, “YATES OILFIELD,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/doy01), accessed November 08, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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