The Golden Lane of Mexico and the Great Blue Mountain No. 4 Well
No American involved in early Mexican oil history is more significant than, Edward L. Doheny (1856-1935). A Californian responsible for several large discoveries of oil in the Los Angles Basin in the late 1800's, his work in Mexico, under the name, Mexican Petroleum Company, eventually led him to become the richest man in America, more so than even John D. Rockefeller. By 1925 Doheny's wealth was estimated at over $100 million and most of it came by way of Mexico. In the 1920's Doheny was involved in the famous, Teapot Dome scandal and was accused of attempting to bribe federal employees to obtain oil leases in the Elk Hills region of California. He was eventually acquitted of those charges.
Upton Sinclair's great book, "Oil" was loosely written about the life of Doheny and the movie, "There Will Be Blood," starring Daniel Day Lewis, a take-off on Sinclair's book, in some ways parallels the life of Edward L. Doheny.
The early years of Mexican oil history were similar to that of the United States in terms of the ability to lease minerals from large land owners and in making private investment in exploration and infrastructure to get oil to developing markets. Many famous American oil finders, like Everette DeGolyer, Benedum & Trees, H. C. Pierce, W.F.Buckley and others worked in the jungle of eastern Mexico.
Mexico ultimately nationalized its oil industry in 1938 and Doheny's Mexican Petroleum Company, his refineries in Tampico, pipelines, railroads and other holdings in Mexico eventually became part of what is today called, Pemex
El Faja de Oro
As early as 1901, about the time Spindletop was being discovered on the Texas Gulf Coast, Ed Doheny explored a surface anomaly that was later determined to be a buried, Cretaceous-age carbonate ridge along the west flank of a reef-like atoll. The area was west of Tampico in the State of San Luis Potosi. There had long been numerous oil seeps reported along this very subtle surface feature.
Doheny first discovered Ebano Field, about 45 miles west of Tampico, in 1901 at a depth of about 1,800 feet. Ten miles south of Ebano, in the state of Veracruz, a British company called Eagle Oil Company found enormous amounts of uncontrolled oil flow in the "Dos Bocas Gusher," reported to have made 90,000 BOPD before cratering. Doheny and the Mexican Petroleum Company leap-frogged the Dos Bocas well another 10 miles south and discovered other fields, some with enormous flow rates. This north-south trending play, basically along the same buried carbonate ridge, eventually became known as the La Callejuela de Oro (Faja de Oro), or the Golden Lane. The most productive well in this trend was the El Aguila, Potrero de Llano No. 4 and from 1911-1919 it made close to 111,000,000 barrels of 23-28 gravity, sweet oil before it virtually watered out overnight. Another incredible well, the Huasteca (Doheny), Casiano No. 7 produced nearly 70,000,000 barrels of oil. Shallow oil fields along the Faja de Ora have accumulated a little over 2.3 billion barrels of oil from 1906 to 1997.
El más grande de todos
By 1914 Doheny had finished a substantial refinery in Tampico, and a pipeline to accommodate his already several hundred thousand barrels per day of production in the region, and was slowly marching south along the buried ridge, the lane of golden oil, into the district of Cerro Azul. The first three wells drilled in the area were less than spectacular but helped to establish better cable tool drilling methods, depth to caprock above the pay zone, and also had further advanced the concept, with the help of a great Mexican geologist named, Ordonez, of buried serpentine (basalt) plugs that had pierced the carbonate ridge from below and created vugular, almost cavern-like porosity. In 1916, at the base of a surface hill, Doheny spudded in the Cerro Azul No. 4 well and set 8 inch casing to the very top of the pay zone. He spudded into the top of the carbonate, to a total depth of 1,792 feet, and the well immediately started making gas that then turned to oil, blew the cable tools out of the hole, a thousand feet away, and the top of the wooden derrick off. So violent was the initial flow rate that large chunks of coral reef and pieces of stalagmites and stalactites from the formation were blown hundreds of feet away from the well.
The well continued to strengthen in flow over the ensuing days and was reported to have been blowing over 450 feet in the sky and could be heard over 16 miles away.The well blew completely out of control for nine days. Trenches were dug into earthen pits and ravines and nearby arroyos were dammed up to contain as much of the oil as possible and engineers estimated flow rates down hand-dug ditches to be over 260,000 barrels of oil per day.
Ultimately good men were able to nipple the well up directly into a pipeline and it's entire flow was directed toward Tuxpan, then north towards the refinery at Tampico. From 1916 to 2001 the Cerro Azul No. 4 well flowed a remarkable 57,000,000 barrels of oil up 8 inch casing with a steady, 1000 PSI of FCP. It was never placed on artificial lift. It produced an estimated 64,000,000 BO.
I was fortunate enough to drive thru the heart of the Golden Lane into the city of Pozo Rico in 2003 and visited the Cerro Azul No. 4. It was reported to still be making heads of oil from time to time but its location was in sort of a nice park area and the well is treated much like a monument in the community.
While driving thru this beautiful part of Mexico I was struck with how incredibly difficult it must have been in that era to build roads thru thick, hardwood jungles, erect bridges across rivers and railroads to access oil fields and haul equipment to remote drill sites; of the heat, humidity and mosquitoes closer to the coastal plain and of the hardships men and women endured to get the Mexican oil industry underway.
So, forgive me, but I kind of think the term "monster well," used to describe a Bakken well in North Dakota that is being gutted up production casing, post-frac, with an IP of 2,800 BOEPD and on its way to 485,000 BOE of total UR over 20 years, maybe, 325,000 of that being oil, maybe, is a little silly. That might be a monster well to some (particularly if they are not paying the bills on it !) but those kinds of wells pale in comparison to those like the Cerro Azul No. 4 and many others like it that are part of the worldwide oil industry's long and very colorful history.
Mis más sinceras disculpas por mi mal escrito en español. Hablo peor que yo escribo, me temo, Lo siento,
Recommended reading about the great Golden Lane of Mexico: