USGS Logo Geological Survey Bulletin 581—B
Oil and Gas in the Western Part of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington




High-grade paraffin oil is reported to have been discovered in the western part of the Olympic Peninsula, Wash., as early as 1881. Since then attempts to obtain oil or gas in commercial quantities by drilling have been made from time to time in different localities in this region, but without success. Within the past few years interest has been aroused in oil seeps near the mouth of Hoh River and in gas vents in other parts of the field to such an extent that many persons have been attracted to this country to search for oil and gas. As a result of this interest and on account of the fact that efforts had been made to lease tracts of land for this purpose in the Queniult Indian Reservation, an examination of this region was made by the United States Geological Survey at the request of the Office of Indian Affairs. The results of the investigation, which are enumerated below and which are discussed in detail throughout this report, suggest that certain parts of the field are worthy of careful consideration by oil operators. The following summary includes the most important facts regarding the area examined:

High-grade paraffin oil issues from two seeps near the mouth of Hoh River, and at other localities oil-saturated sandy clay ("smell mud" of the Indians) is exposed. Natural gas containing about 95 per cent methane escapes from a conical mound just north of the mouth of Queniult River and also from an inverted cone-shaped water-filled depression on Hoh River a short distance west of Spruce post office. Other minor gas vents are also known in this field and are described in detail in this report. Three wells—one in the reservation about 1 mile north and slightly west from Taholah, another near the mouth of Hoh River, and the third about 1 mile south of Forks—are being drilled for oil and gas. So far as drilling has progressed none of these wells have encountered oil in paying quantities, but all of them have struck small amounts of gas. A study of the structure and stratigraphy in addition to the examination of oil seeps and gas vents reveals the fact that several anticlines, which may serve as reservoirs for oil and gas, exist in the area examined and that they have apparently a close relationship to the oil seeps and occurrences of "smell mud."


The information set forth in this report was collected during an eight weeks' reconnaissance in 1913. Although the field work in this region was done primarily in order that the Queniult Indian Reservation, which includes about one-third of the area shown on the accompanying map (Pl. II, p. 78), could be classified with regard to coal, oil, gas, and other minerals, yet it was necessary to make a careful study of the area surrounding the reservation, because it contains the oil seeps and the localities from which are obtained many of the data that make possible an interpretation of the stratigraphy and structure in the reservation.

Field examination, which was entirely reconnaissance in character, was made on foot and by canoe, as it was impracticable to use horses to much advantage on account of the few and poorly constructed trails and roads and the presence of an almost impenetrable growth of underbrush. The best and most continuous exposures occur along the coast and the larger streams. The coast and the valleys of Humptulips, Moclips, and Hoh rivers were traversed on foot, whereas canoes were used in the reconnaissance of Queniult, Queets, and Clearwater rivers. In attempting to traverse the streams by canoe it is advisable to procure the services of men who are well acquainted with the various streams, as dangerous log jams and "skukemchucks" (bad rapids) are rather numerous. All the streams heading in the Olympic Mountains and flowing into the Pacific are so swift that progress upstream can be made only by poling.

The writer did not visit all the outcrops along the routes traversed in the valleys of Humptulips, Moclips, and Hoh rivers, but examined those exposures most easily reached by short side trips from the trails and roads.

The annual rainfall in the Olympic Peninsula is greater than that in any other section of the United States, and for that reason the forests of spruce, fir, cedar, and hemlock, and the underbrush are dense and jungle-like, so that detailed work on the uplands is rendered very slow and tedious and in many places passageways have to be cut through the exceedingly dense undergrowth. Field work away from streams and the coast is unsatisfactory for the additional reason that the older rocks in the uplands are covered almost entirely with a thick mantle of clay, sand, and gravel of Pleistocene age, and this in turn by soil.

The locations of outcrops and places where the dip of the strata was measured are shown approximately with relation to natural landmarks, such as promontories, bends of rivers, and mouths of streams, on Plate II (p. 78). A Gurley compass with clinometer attachment was used to measure the dip of the strata.


The writer desires to acknowledge the numerous courtesies extended by officers of the Jefferson Oil Co., Big Creek Timber Co., and the Washington Oil Co. The Jefferson Oil Co., which operates near the mouth of Hoh River, and the Washington Oil Co., which operates near Forks, generously furnished the writer with the logs of their wells and other information of value in this report. Residents of the field and many other persons extended courtesies and furnished information which the writer appreciates and for which he can express his thanks only in this general way.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006