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History of The Yates Oilfield Near  The Town of Iraan, in West Texas

The Yates  Field in Pecos County, West Texas, has been one of the most productive oil and gas fields in the world.

Here is the history of this amazing oilfield that has produced over one billion barrels and counting.


Original Wooden Tank In Use Until Recently (taken 7/10/2007)

One of the most unique stories in Oil and Gas History is that of the Yates Field.   

Ira and Ann Yates were a pioneer ranching couple  who settled the rough, unwanted country in a long valley along the Pecos River in northern Pecos County. For years they struggled to make a living in the hard country, raising sheep, goats and cattle until one day, like Jeb Clampbett, a fortune was found underneath their dusty ranch that changed history and poured millions into the Texas State Permanent School Fund, helping to make universities in Texas some of the best funded in the world.

On October 28, 1926 an exploration well was drilled to 992 feet in the San Andreas formation by Transcontinental Oil company in partnership with Mid Kansas Oil Company (a subsidiary of Ohio Oil) in what is now called "Discovery Canyon" on Ira and Ann Yates West Texas ranch located in northern Pecos County. The well was drilled with a wooden cable tool rig to a shallow depth in limestone rock.   When the well came in oil sprayed hundreds of feet up into the sky, raining down across the desert. Since there were no methods at that time of controlling the pressure, an earthen dam was built at the base of the canyon and a small lake filled with oil until the pressure subsided.

The owners of Yates 1-A, which was located in a remote part of West Texas were faced with the problem of delivering their oil to the buyer. Humble Pipe Line Company already had a main line at McCamey, TX, in Upton County. Humble contracted to buy the oil and began building a 55,000-barrel steel storage tank.   The well was shut in until the storage tank was completed. Three more gushers were discovered by the two oil companies and were also shut in until pipelines could be built.   

The town of Iraan, which was the winning entry in a contest sponsored by the couple, offering the winner a town lot as a prize, began to spring up in a valley on the ranch near the Pecos river.     The oil companies began to build stores, camp houses, schools and water wells for workers who began moving to the boom town in droves.By 1930 Iraan had sixty rated businesses and an estimated population of 1,600. In the 1930s V. T. Hamlin, a local newspaper man, began the "Alley Oop" comic strip, which was nationally syndicated. and was widely popular for many years.

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A city park named for the cartoon character was dedicated in Iraan in 1965. The population of Iraan dropped to 951 by 1967, when declining oil production forced several major oil companies to move their offices from the community. In 1986, after the temporary rally in the oil business in the 1970s and early 1980s, Iraan had twenty-five businesses and a population of 1,358. In 1990 the population was 1,322.

Numerous mineral right disputes followed the discovery of the first well as the land around the ranch was poorly surveyed and swindlers moved in to claim some of the disputed areas. Eventually the Texas School Fund took control of some of the disputed claims and the Yates Field has earned millions of dollars for Texas Colleges.

Allsman and Bell Oil Company widened the field in 1927 a mile to the east when its well, located in the bed of the Pecos River, reached the oil-saturated limestone at 1,002 feet. Production in Yates field was pinched back to 7,000 barrels a day because of limited storage and pipeline access. At the end of June the major producers in the field completed their Yates 6-A.

High pressure in the hole forced an astonishing flow of 500 barrels of oil per hour from a depth of 1,045 feet. The crude broke through the connections in the well and ran out of its pipe onto the ground. Caught in the nearby canyons, the oil was picked up later by pumps.   By September 23, 1927, Mid-Kansas and Transcontinental reported twelve producers with pinched daily production of 4,035 barrels. Six other companies claimed one producer each.   Abundant production from  the Yates field presented storage and transportation problems to the operators.

On October 1, 1927, the first field-wide prorating in Texas went into effect. Allowables were based on the total potential production of all wells in the field. Each well was given a share of the pipeline outlet equal to the ratio of its potential to that of the total field. Shortly thereafter, a rule that limited each well's penetration of the lime formation to 225 feet was adopted to allow each operator the same advantage in the cavern like reservoir.     On June 1, 1928, an official order placed the prorating enforcement in Yates field under the direction of the Railroad Commission. On July 1 a new prorating program was adopted, based on both potential production and acreage holdings. In October 1928 oil migrating from poorly cased deep wells was discovered seeping under the banks of the Pecos River and floating on the surface. Seepage into the river still occurs to this day but is more managed.

Back in the days before the EPA, thousands of barrels of crude were recovered daily by skimming the river and by drilling 20-foot to 400-foot wells. By mid-1933 over 3.25 million barrels of seepage oil had been gathered. Drilling activity in the field peaked at the end of 1928, when 175 producing wells were completed and ten dry holes were plugged.

By July 1929 the field consisted of 15,000 proven acres. In September 1929 the Yates 30-A, operated by Transcontinental and Mid-Kansas and located a few hundred yards down the canyon from the discovery well, set a world record when it produced 8,528 barrels of oil per hour or 204,672 barrels per day.

Field production peaked in 1929, when more than 41 million barrels of oil was produced. In 1930 Transcontinental sold its interest in Yates field to Mid-Kansas.  By 1941 Yates field production had dropped to under six million barrels of oil, and on August 31, 1943, the Railroad Commission ordered the observance of special rules to reduce water production in the field. Oil production climbed to over thirteen million barrels during 1945 and to more than eighteen million by 1948 from 22,671 proven acres.

More Recent Times

In 1962 the Ohio Oil Company and its subsidiary, Mid-Kansas Oil and Gas Company, became known as Marathon Oil Company and controlled the field until the 1990's. From November 1968 through December 1972 five operators in the field were permitted by the Railroad Commission to inject salt water and gas into producing formations to maintain field pressure and to store gas temporarily.   The injection of gas back into the reservoir maintained pressure and retarded salt water encroachment, thus exposing a greater area of the reservoir to gravity drainage and doubling field production.

On January 11, 1985, Yates field produced its billionth barrel of oil. By the late 1980's, new techniques were in use in the field-secondary recovery methods of water-flooding, polymer injection, carbon dioxide flooding, and the drilling of new wells within the proven areas.

At the end of 1989 Yates field reported a yearly production of 27,292,621 barrels of oil and 56,120,285 million cubic feet of gas. Cumulative crude production of 1,180,073,629 barrels over the first sixty-three years placed Yates among the most prolific oilfields in the world. In the 1990's horizontal drilling methods began to be utilized to drill lateral out from the original wells, penetration more of the oil pay zone. This has doubled the production of some of the older wells and there is an active drilling program with two full time rigs running as of 2008.  The original well is still in production, having been re-drilled to a deeper depth with horizontal drilling techniques to get more pay zone. It has produced thousands of barrels of oil and the production of the entire field has been possibly as much as Prudhoe Bay Alaska.* (Not Verified, was told that by Kinder Morgan employee).   The Ohio Oil company eventually became Marathon Oil Company which operated the field before selling it to Kinder Morgan in the 1990's.

For RV'ers the town boasts two nice parks which are owned by the city. Fees are $11 per day. The Alley Oop Museum and a nice 9 hole golf course nearby. The town is located approximately 15 miles off of Interstate 10 and the town of Sheffield. Visitors are not encouraged to, but can travel on the county maintained, paved roads through the oilfield but not in an RV since they are narrow and winding. Visitors must not trespass onto dirt or gravel roads and be aware that there is poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas in the area.

New to the area are dozens of wind turbines  lazily turning and generating electricity on hilltops near the oil field, with old technology meeting the new. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Samuel D. Myres, The Permian Basin: Petroleum Empire of the Southwest (2 vols., El Paso: Permian, 1973, 1977). Pecos County Historical Commission, Pecos County History (2 vols., Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains, 1984). Fred Tarpley, 1001 Texas Place Names (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980). Sam T. Mallison,  The Great Wildcatter (Charleston, West Virginia: Education Foundation of West Virginia, 1953). Edgar Wesley Owen, Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (Tulsa: American Association for Petroleum Geologists, 1975). Thomas H. Smith, "Yates Field Claims World's Biggest Well, Basin's Largest Production," Drill Bit, March 1954. Hartzell Spence, Portrait in Oil: How the Ohio Oil Company Grew to Become Marathon (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962).

More books about the Early Days of the Oil Industry are available in The Oilfield Bookstore. 

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