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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Hopes for local oil & gas go far back

  • Early prospecting of the Upper Delaware


    The current wave of exploration for natural gas has created a geyser of debate and headlines across the region. Prospecting for oil and natural gas in the Upper Delaware area is nothing new, reaching back to the 19th Century.


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  • The current wave of exploration for natural gas has created a geyser of debate and headlines across the region. Prospecting for oil and natural gas in the Upper Delaware area is nothing new, reaching back to the 19th Century.
    A nationwide excitement was created in 1859 when the first commercial oil well was drilled in western Pennsylvania, at Titusville. Edwin L. Drake’s well produced as much as a thousand barrels a day. Sounding similar to today’s rush to exploit the Marcellus Shale, adventurers, capitalists, explorers and speculators were combing the state. Farmers were selling oil rights and a few became wealthy.
    In 1879, The Wayne County Herald reprinted a story from The New York Sun of Aug. 9, 1855, reporting that gas was suspected in the Big Eddy area of the Delaware at Narrowsburg.  The Big Eddy, which is nearly 100 feet deep and the deepest section of the entire Delaware River, was seen to be constantly bubbling.
    In the summer of 1855, Rev. Dr. Winslow of Staten Island, who was spending the summer in the area, is said to have applied a lighted match to one of the bubbles and saw a blue flame shoot up from it. At night he lighted numerous bubbles, and the spectacle of seeing a large party of the eddy seemingly on fire, was enjoyed from boarders at Murray’s Hotel.
    The doctor sounded the river at that spot and determined it was 81 feet deep. Gas was said to be rising from fissures and agitating the sand and mud.
    Along a small island of sand near the New York shore,  Dr. Winslow set an inverted a air-tight basket over the sand and inserted a small lead pipe, with a plug in the upper end. According to the 1855 newspaper account, in a few hours the reservoir was filled with gas. The plug was pulled out, and on lighting the gas a jet of flame rose to the height of six feet. It burned for several days, until a freshet washed it away.
    Mountaineers flocked to Narrowsburg by the hundreds to see this modern pillar of fire. Some saw it as a sign of the soon return of the Lord. A family on the Pennsylvania side reportedly gave away their household effects, and fasted and prayed for several days in anticipation of the Second Coming.
    Dr. Winslow tried floating large casks to the sand island to try and store the gas in large quantities.  The gas was to be lighted after dark.
    Hundreds of persons gathered in boats. A man by the name of Mr. Partridge lit the pipe. A loud rambling noise was head, followed by an explosion the cask was shattered and Mr. Partridge was hurled into the river, He was picked up unharmed.
    No further experiments were conducted.
    Page 2 of 3 - In 1865, a wealthy man by the name of Brower, was spending the summer at Narrowsburg and began prospecting for oil, speculating it may lie beenath the gas bubbling to the surface.  He employed experts from Oil City, Pa., who  reported that oil prospects were good.
    Brower then leased 4,000 acres of and on both sides of the river. He offered a farmer named McAllister $12,000 for a tract of land not worth the taxes, and to give his family a share in any oil found.  A well was dug to 300 feet, when someone threw several pieces of railroad iron into it. Nothing more could be done with the well. Another well was put down to the depth of 900 feet. No oil was found, and the enterprise was abandoned.
    Attempts wee made upriver to find oil near Hancock, NY. Simeon Goodman recalled at in 1840 he had a stone quarry in the area, and released a thick, yellowish fluid from the rock. It had an unpleasant smell. Goodman plugged the hole, and later quit the quarry work. When he heard that boring from oil had begun at Narrowsburg, he went to his old quarry and began blasting. More of the greasy fluid was found.
    A party of capitalists from New York visited the spot, and paid Goodman $60,000 for his quarry and five acres of wild land around it. Goodman reserved a $10,000 interest in the property. Another company bought a tract known as Labar’s flats, paying $20,000 for it. Both companies bored for oil, but found none.
    Further prospecting in the Delaware Valley was done in 1879, investigating sites drilled 14 years before, The Wayne County Herald reported. The prospectors theorized that the wells put down in 1865 were deserted before the test was complete, and that oil may life probably twice as far down.
    No mention in these accounts were made of environmental groups or concerns raised that the water table or surface water could be at risk. These were the days before government regulation and permit processes as we know today. These were also the days of clear-cutting the landscape and seeing streams and rivers as convenient and acceptable places to deposit chemicals from tanneries as well as untreated sewage.
    The precursor of the modern environmental movement in the United States was the early 20th century conservation movement, associated with President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the latter who became the first chief of the US Forest Service in 1905, and later became a Pennsylvania governor. Pinchot is well known locally, as his home, Grey Towers, is a National Historic Site just outside Milford.
    Heritage in energy
    It remains to be shown what the outcome of current interest in the massive gas field known nearly 9,000 feet below Wayne and Pike. Great speculation abounds over an expected economic bonanza, tempered with caution over potential hazards to our environment.
    Page 3 of 3 - Meanwhile, the quest for energy remains unabated and in history has been manifested in other ways in our region.
    Anthracite coal, heavily mined in the Lackawanna Valley was transported through the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal beginning at Honesdale in the 19th century. There were two gravity rail systems, the D&H which took coal to the canal down through Waymart, and the competing Pa. Coal Company system which met the canal at Hawley. Coal was never mined in Wayne or Pike, except for a deposit at Browndale, Wayne County on the border of an old coal-mining town, Forest City in Susquehanna County.
    Our very wind has been exploited for energy. At first by hardy farmers who set up turbines, in 2003, FPL Energy began operation of the Waymart Wind Farm, stretching five miles on the Moosic ridge.
    Perhaps the most beneficial of all to the local economy, however, has been the harnessing of water for power, by Pennsylvania Power & Light (today, PPL) on the Wallenpaupack Creek. Their massive dam created Lake Wallenpaupack in 1926.  Besides the benefit of clean hydroelectric power, an economic boom was started in what became known as the Lake Region of the Poconos. Hawley Borough, surrounding townships and the Wayne/Pike area has been served by this economic generator ever since.
     

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