The first successful oil well was completed around 1921 and the first successful gas well was completed a year earlier, but the Midwest State No. 1, spudded in 1927 using a standard cable tool rig and found oil on June 13, 1928 at a depth of 4,065 feet is considered to be the well that revealed the huge oil deposits in this area.
Writers have commented that the flat land surface typical of Lea County disguised the formations below the surface. Surface formations may sometimes indicate favorable subsurface formations for petroleum products.
Midwest Refining Company, which would later become part of Amoco and subsequently British Petroleum, had brought in a successful well near Shiprock some six years earlier in 1922 in what is now called the San Juan Basin. In the Permian Basin, oil was found in nearby Winkler County, Texas in the Scarborough Field. In an oversimplication of all the various split ups and mergers, Midwest had been operating under the name Midwest Refining Company since 1914 after a merger between Midwest Petroleum and Franco Petroleum and Amoco was created in 1911 after the federal government ordered the split up of Standard Oil Company.
The Midwest State No. 1 was drilled using a steel derrick that came from Amarillo. The engine was rebuilt locally after a fire had occurred when the rig had reached a depth of about 1,500 feet. Exhaust from the Franklin 85 engine created a fire that involved the engine house. The cable tools were fished from the hole, repairs were made and drilling resumed.
The first signs of oil came at just below 4,000 feet in June and the well was later completed in November, 1928 at a depth of 4,330 feet. The Las Vegas Daily Optic reported on June 15, 1928:
“The Midwest State No. 1 well, sec 9-19-38, is standing 4000 feet in oil and promises to open a new field, C. B. Barker, attorney for the state land commissioner was advised today. ‘This is on land belonging to the state deaf, dumb and blind schools and may mean a large income for them,’ said Mr. Barker. ‘Another section of common school land adjoins this one.'”
Early production was measured at 700 barrels of oil per day, but it promised more and greater finds in the Hobbs area. One year later, the Humble Bowers No. 1 was completed. By comparison, its production was estimated to have a potential of 10,000 barrels per day.
Cable tool drilling is considered to be one of the earliest drilling methods, dating back thousands of years over the world for other applications, such as drilling water wells. Drilling is accomplished by percussion, repeatedly lifting and dropping a string of pipe and tools into the hole. Fluid is pumped into the hole and crushed material is pumped out. Early drilling equipment included the drill bit, the drill stem, drilling jaws, a socket and steel cable. It is still in limited use for other applications but has been replaced by more advanced methods for deeper wells.
[Sources: American Oil and Gas Historical Society.]