C. L. Murphy accidentally discovered natural gas near Westhope, North Dakota, on this date in 1907. Murphy had set up a wooden drilling rig in hopes of locating water on land owned by W. B. Parker. Mr. Parker hired Murphy to build a well for his livestock and farm operations, and was surprised to hear that his holdings included an immense reservoir of ‘marsh gas,’ as natural gas was known at the time.
Located in an area of glacial outwash, early prospectors discovered natural gas deposits across much of Bottineau County. The richest deposits followed the course of the Souris River as remnants of glacial Lake Souris. The discovery led to the formation of the North Dakota Gas Company, which began supplying natural gas to the city of Westhope. A twenty-mile pipeline was built to deliver the gas, which was initially used to light the city’s streetlamps; later, residents were able to purchase the gas for only thirty cents per 1,000 cubic feet to cook with and heat their homes.
Eight artesian wells were established 170 feet below ground in the vicinity of Mr. Parker’s farm. The wells cost less than fourteen cents a foot to dig. Area farmers also used the gas to heat barns and outbuildings. Unfortunately, problems with the pipeline freezing during the winter months and a dwindling and unsteady gas supply ended the Westhope venture by the 1920s. In nearby Lansford, however, an underground delivery system eliminated the problem of freezing pipes. Meanwhile, in the southeastern part of the state, a methane gas reservoir associated with the Dakota aquifer had been discovered near Edgeley over a thousand feet underground. Residents used the methane for lights, cooking, and heating in the first decades of the 20th century.
In 1916, despite the large number of natural gas discoveries, state geologist Dr. A. G. Leonard advised against drilling more long-term wells. He believed that only small-scale production would be economically viable. His recommendations, along with a string of non-productive explorations, delayed large-scale oil and gas exploration in North Dakota until the 1950s.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme Job