In 1883 pioneers of oil and gas exploration drilled more than 1,000 feet – a deep well in those days – to reach the Middle Ordovician Trenton limestone in northeastern Ohio, encountering a significant flow of natural gas. Within a few years, an extensive area of Trenton oil and gas production had been established in northwestern Ohio and eastern Indiana. It was one of the largest accumulations discovered in the United States before 1900.
Most of the Ordovician production in this area has now been depleted, but in 1887 a group of small companies, threatened by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, based in Cleveland, joined forces in Findlay, Ohio, to form the Ohio Oil Company, known today as Marathon.
Just two years after its founding, the Ohio Oil Company was gobbled up by Standard, in 1889, and remained part of the Standard Oil Trust until the breakup of Standard Oil in 1911. In 1930, the Ohio Oil Company acquired a small marketer, Transcontinental Oil Company, and also acquired Transcontinental’s brand, Marathon, which ultimately became the trademark of the original company. US Steel bought Marathon in 1982, but the combined company spun off the steel business in 2001 and now it’s Marathon Oil Company again, an important multinational oil company.
Production from the Trenton Oil and Gas Field peaked long ago, about 1902 to 1905. The estimated total production over time is a trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 105 million barrels of oil. For context, while that was a huge boom back in its day, 105 million barrels of oil is just five and a half days worth of US oil consumption today. Winter natural gas consumption in the United States is about 3 trillion cubic feet per month, so the Trenton Field would have provided three months’ supply at today’s rates.
By no means was all of the oil and gas removed – it never is – and newer technology and higher prices have driven some rejuvenation of production in this area today. But the production is small, and expensive compared to that of the late 19th century.
An interesting side light to the natural gas boom in Indiana in the 1880s was the development of a flourishing stained glass industry around Kokomo. The Opalescent Glass Company was established there in 1888 because of the abundant natural gas in the area, which served as a ready fuel for the glass kilns. They’re still in business today.
—Richard I. Gibson
Photo of gas flares from Trenton Field, Jan, 18, 1889, Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine (public domain)
Oil & gas statistics from EIA