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The American Oil Renaissance Begins

By Alex Planes - Apr 4, 2013 at 11:33AM

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Learning from the market's past to understand its present.

On this day in economic and business history...

The Bakken oil boom, upon which so much of the United States' domestic energy revival depends, is popularly thought to have begun in the latter half of the 2000s. Improved drilling technologies, particularly hydraulic fracturing, have brought more oil to the surface of this North Dakota-centered formation than had ever been thought possible. However, without an initial discovery on April 4, 1951, the Bakken formation might not have been tapped at all.

Historian James Key recounts the efforts that led up to the Bakken's first successful well:

About 40 miles east of Williston, a small town or village known as Nesson became the visible reason that the principle feature in the Williston Basin became known as the Nesson Anticline. Between 1924 and 1951, there were 23 serious attempts at the discovery of oil. Plans for drilling what was to become the "discovery" began in 1946. It was through 1949 that the leases were acquired by two men, Thomas W. Leach and A. M. Fruh. These leases were assigned to Amerada Petroleum Corp [now Hess (HES 2.16%), after a merger in the late 1960s].

The well was begun on the Clarence Iverson farm south of Tioga in August, 1950 and was a novelty and curiosity to residents in the area. Drilling became routine and skeptics scoffed, particularly since the closest supply company was located more than five hundred miles away at Casper, Wyoming.

The year 1951 came in with a snowstorm. January 4, a pint of oil was recovered at the Clarence Iverson farm. Drilling continued. The bits had now dug to the depth of 10,500 feet. Weather shut down the operation and snow clogged the roads. Operations resumed on April 4, 1951. About 9:30 p.m. on April 4 a new industry was born in North Dakota. The Clarence Iverson became the discovery well of the Williston Basin. 

This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II. Williston, the county seat, felt the immediate impact of the petroleum industry's beginning operations. 

By May 20, thirty million acres of North Dakota were under lease. This was accomplished in 45 days -- just think, 30 million acres leased out of a total 44.8 million acres in all of North Dakota!

It would be nearly to 1953 before the region produced its millionth barrel of oil. By comparison, the Spindletop gusher -- which marked the start of the American oil boom in 1901 -- had shot nearly as much oil out onto the Texas plain in less than two weeks of uncontrolled production. The slow pace of North Dakota extraction didn't deter major producers from swarming the region. In addition to Amerada Hess, Texaco (today part of Chevron), Stanolind (today part of BP), and privately held Hunt Oil all moved in to acquire big leases and set up operations.

Hydraulic-fracturing technology had been developed for Stanolind by Halliburton (HAL 2.99%) two years before the Bakken discovery, but it was not until recent years that horizontal-drilling technology enabled the recovery of tight oil from the Bakken shales. The Minneapolis Fed now calls the Bakken boom "five times larger than the oil boom in the 1980s," and data makes this shockingly clear: North Dakota produced roughly 2.5 million barrels of oil per month in 2002, but nearly 24 million barrels of oil flowed from the state a decade later. Continental Resources (CLR 4.45%) took the lead in North Dakota production with 19 million barrels extracted in 2011, although EOG Resources was more concentrated in the Bakken itself, with 16 million barrels produced from that region compared to Continental's 13.5 million.

The first successful Bakken well on the Clarence Iverson Farm was a modest producer by these standards. In its 28-year working life, the well produced 585,000 barrels of oil, or about 1,750 barrels per month. This was enough to make Clarence Iverson himself a wealthy man. His son, when interviewed by the Associated Press in 2008, said his late father "never got used to all that money."

A symbol of America opens to the world
On April 4, 1973, The New York Times reported that "the $700-million World Trade Center, its two 1,350-foot towers the largest buildings in the world, was dedicated formally yesterday by Governors Rockefeller [of New York] and Cahill [of New Jersey]." The dedication and opening of the Twin Towers, and the rest of the landmark complex, brought to a close more than a decade of ambition, planning, and construction. offers a glimpse at the history of the complex's construction:

Construction of a world trade facility had been under consideration since the end of WWII. In the late 1950s the Port Authority took interest in the project and in 1962 fixed its site on the west side of Lower Manhattan on a superblock bounded by Vesey, Liberty, Church and West Streets. Architect Minoru Yamasaki was selected to design the project; architects Emery Roth & Sons handled production work, and, at the request of Yamasaki, the firm of Worthington, Skilling, Helle and Jackson served as engineers.

The Port Authority envisioned a project with a total of 10 million square feet of office space. To achieve this, Yamasaki considered more than a hundred different building configurations before settling on the concept of twin towers and three lower-rise structures. Designed to be very tall to maximize the area of the plaza, the towers were initially to rise to only 80-90 stories. Only later was it decided to construct them as the world's tallest buildings, following a suggestion said to have originated with the Port Authority's public relations staff.

Yamasaki himself had high hopes for what the World Trade Center might become:

The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man's dedication to world peace. ... Beyond the compelling need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his belief in the cooperation of men, and through this cooperation, his ability to find greatness.

Unfortunately, the Twin Towers also became a lightning rod for controversy -- and, ultimately, tragedy. Completed at the start of one of the deepest downturns in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 1.76%) since the Great Depression, the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower (completed a year later as the crash neared its end) came to be the 1970s touchstones for the Skyscraper Index, which predicts that such downturns coincide with the construction of record-breaking buildings. In fact, the Dow would not get past its early 1974 closing levels until late 1982.

The World Trade Center suffered a major fire in 1975, a bombing in 1993, and a multimillion-dollar robbery in 1998 before succumbing to terrorist attacks that launched two aircraft into its 110-story towers, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. Begun as a symbol for world peace and shared humanity, the World Trade Center ended its life as a rallying cry for war and a reminder that some men will always be capable of boundless inhumanity.


NYSE Euronext (NYX.DL) was then, and remains today, by far the largest and most liquid of the major global exchanges. In 2007, the new company boasted "a combined $28.5 trillion/21.5 trillion euro total market capitalization of listed companies and average daily trading value of approximately $118.8 billion/89.9 billion euros," according to NYSE Euronext. Five years later, that was still true: The total market capitalization of NYSE Euronext-listed companies was roughly $19.5 trillion (keep in mind that the merger was completed at the peak of a global equities bubble), equal to a third of the total global market capitalization of companies listed on all exchanges tracked by the World Federation of Exchanges.

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Stocks Mentioned

NYSE Holdings LLC Stock Quote
NYSE Holdings LLC
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return) Stock Quote
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return)
$33,212.96 (1.76%) $575.77
Hess Corporation Stock Quote
Hess Corporation
$123.28 (2.16%) $2.61
Halliburton Company Stock Quote
Halliburton Company
$41.36 (2.99%) $1.20
Continental Resources, Inc. Stock Quote
Continental Resources, Inc.
$69.01 (4.45%) $2.94

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