Lucas, Anthony Francis

Lucas, Anthony Francis
b. 9 September 1855 Spalato, Dalmatia, Austria-Hungary (now Split, Croatia)
d. 2 September 1921 Washington, DC, USA
Austrian (naturalized American) mining engineer who successfully applied rotary drilling to oil extraction.
A former Second Lieutenant of the Austrian navy (hence his later nickname "Captain") and graduate of the Polytechnic Institute of Graz, Lucas decided to stay in Michigan when he visited his relatives in 1879. He changed his original name, Lucie, into the form his uncle had adopted and became a naturalized American citizen at the age of 30. He worked in the lumber industry for some years and then became a consulting mechanical and mining engineer in Washington, DC. He began working for a salt-mining company in Louisiana in 1893 and became interested in the geology of the Mexican Gulf region, with a view to prospecting for petroleum. In the course of this work he came to the conclusion that the hills in this elevated area, being geological structures distinct from the surrounding deposits, were natural reservoirs of petroleum. To prove his unusual theory he subsequently chose Spindle Top, near Beaumont, Texas, where in 1899 he began to bore a first oil-well. A second drill-hole, started in October 1900, was put through clay and quicksand. After many difficulties, a layer of rock containing marine shells was reached. When the "gusher" came out on 10 January 1901, it not only opened up a new era in the oil and gas business, but it also led to the future exploration of the terrestrial crust.
Lucas's boring was a breakthrough for the rotary drilling system, which was still in its early days although its principles had been established by the English engineer Robert Beart in his patent of 1884. It proved to have advantages over the pile-driving of pipes. A pipe with a simple cutter at the lower end was driven with a constantly revolving motion, grinding down on the bottom of the well, thus gouging and chipping its way downward. To deal with the quicksand he adopted the use of large and heavy casings successively telescoped one into the other. According to Fauvelle's method, water was forced through the pipe by means of a pump, so the well was kept full of circulating liquid during drilling, flushing up the mud. When the salt-rock was reached, a diamond drill was used to test the depth and the character of the deposit.
When the well blew out and flowed freely he developed a preventer in order to save the oil and, even more importantly at the time, to shut the well and to control the oil flow. This assembly, patented in 1903, consisted of a combined system of pipes, valves and casings diverting the stream into a horizontal direction.
Lucas's fame spread around the world, but as he had to relinquish the larger part of his interest to the oil company supporting the exploration, his financial reward was poor. One year after his success at Spindle Top he started oil exploration in Mexico, where he stayed until 1905, when he resumed his consulting practice in Washington, DC.
1899, "Rock-salt in Louisiana", Transactions of the American Institution of Mining Engineers 29:462–74.
1902, "The great oil-well near Beaumont, Texas", Transactions of the American
Institution of Mining Engineers 31:362–74.
Further Reading
R.S.McBeth, 1918, Pioneering the Gulf Coast, New York (a very detailed description of Lucas's important accomplishments in the development of the oil industry).
R.T.Hill, 1903, "The Beaumont oil-field, with notes on other oil-fields of the Texas region", Transactions of the American Institution of Mining Engineers 33:363–405;
Transactions of the American Institution of Mining Engineers 55:421–3 (contain shorter biographical notes).

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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