The small community of Saint George is located in SW Utah, in Washington County, near the Arizona state line and about as far away from Utah's oil and natural gas provinces in the east as you can get. There is some stunningly beautiful country in this part of Utah, including Dixie National Park.
Escalante, means to climb, in proper Spanish, and in my broken, Texas Spanish it can also mean...steps, or can also be used to describe a staircase. Indeed the Grand Escalante Monument in this part of Utah is a unique geological feature sometimes called the "steps."
In the late 1920's a company called El Escalante Exploration had amassed some 5o,000 acres of mineral leases on something they called the Bloomington Dome in and around St. George. Along came a man named Charles Alsop and Arrowhead Petroleum Company who bought 51% of El Escalante and in February, 1935 it spud its Escalante No. 1, left. located four miles south of St. George.
About the same time it was spudding its Escalante 1 well, Arrowhead was finishing rigging up on its No. 2 Escalante well in a little valley about four miles NW of St. George, called the "Punch Bowl" well.
As is often the case in history, historians get their photographs, and well names and numbers mixed up.
Not the Escalante 2 well
The disastrous events of 1935 I am set to describe are often referred to as the Escalante disaster; in reality it was not the No. 1 well that blew up it was the Escalante 2 well, also called the Punch Blow well. There is a small town in Utah named Escalante, about 200 miles to the northeast of St. George, that also tends to confuse the issue.
The Punch Bowl well was actually drilled in 1931 by El Escalante Exploration itself and suspended, with no shows, at around 3,700 feet TD, after a world of bad luck with stuck pipe, etc. A string of 6 5/8ths OD casing had been set to 3,300 feet before abandonment.
In March, 1935 Arrowhead re-entered the wellbore using a standard derrick rig complete with rotary table and electric motor draw-works from a nearby 440v power line. This photo of the No. 2 Escalante, on the right, is taken looking down the valley toward the little community of St. George.
Arrowhead drilled the 2 well to a total depth of 4,250 feet, its targeted formation and had shows of oil. Mr. Alsop, ordered a small shot of nitroglycerine with one torpedo and all went well with that on Sunday, March 3rd. A Mr. Chester Flickinger, from Pennsylvania, was the well shooter, a famous one, at that, with lots of experience. The well was bailed out the following day and there was oil in the bailer and strong gas smell on the rig floor. Mr. Alsop decided the well needed help and ordered it to be shot with nitro glycerin, again, this time a much bigger shot.
Waiting on the glycerin gelatin to come over from Colorado, the 2nd shooting was set up for Wednesday the 6th. In the mean time, excitement in St, George and surrounding area was enormous; it was evident a new oil discovery had been made and people were very excited.
Mr. Alsop actually ordered enough gelatin for shooting the No. 1 well when it was finished and stored that gelatin in a building near the No. 2 rig, some 60 feet away.
By Wednesday afternoon, a cold, foggy day, several hundred people had come up to watch the bringing in of the new well. Many on lookers parked cars on the rock rim above the valley to watch and Alsop invited guests to the rig location and to actually observe from the rig floor. The driller, a man named Mike Eric, argued with Alsop and Flickinger about having so many people on the rig floor when loading the torpedoes and drove away, back to town, in disgust.
Six torpedoes, 5 inches OD and 10 feet long, each, were loaded with nearly 800 pounds of glycerin jelly and wired together for simultaneous denotation by local electricians. Mr. Flicklinger set his blasting caps and entire assembly hung in the derrick under bare light bulbs as rig lights. At around 9:30 PM that evening, Alsop took a moment to thank everyone for coming out, apologized for running behind, and hoped for success for the community and SW part of Utah.
A few seconds later most of the entire rig and people on the rig floor were vaporized.
The blast and ensuing fireball could be seen 20 miles away. It blew out windows down the valley in St. George. A local lawyer, sitting in his car a hundred yards away from the rig, lost the top of his car like somebody had taken a can opener to it. He survived with some burns and no ear drums. Electricity was lost in homes 100 miles away.
Three people were never found and only jewelry could identify the remains of four more, including Charles Alsop and his wife, Mabel. Three additional people died later from massive wounds from flying shrapnel and burns. Included in the dead were three women.
Shooting wells with nitro glycerin was inherently dangerous; in 1935 that danger would have been well documented by countless stories of death and dismemberment by well shooters all around the world. Flicklinger had shot hundreds of wells in the past. Mr. Eric, the driller, was correct to have spoken up about the "crowd" and heading back to town saved his life.
This tragic event was the end of Arrowhead and both Escalante wells were plugged and abandoned.
The nearest oilfield to St. George was to the Northeast, near Virgin City, on something called the Virgin Dome and it produced an estimated 350K BO before being completely abandoned in the late 1930's.