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


Oil is reported to have been first discovered about 30 years ago on the beach in the vicinity of Copalis Rock, which is about 3 miles north of Copalis and 6 or 7 miles south of Moclips. Persons traversing the beach noticed at this place an offensive odor similar to that of coal oil, and on investigation found that the bluish sandy clay1 that outcrops here was impregnated with petroleum gas. At certain times of the year the small streams flowing from this locality are reported to have shown "colors" of the oil.

1Sandy clay with the odor of petroleum is called by the Indians throughout this region "smell mud."

Early in 1901, twenty years after the discovery, the Olympic Oil Co. was organized and began drilling near Copalis Rock. When the drill reached a depth of 160 feet it encountered a strong flow of gas, which burned with a yellowish-white flame 15 feet high. This occurred about the last of April, 1901, and it is reported that in June of the same year oil was struck in small quantities at a depth of 360 feet. This well was drilled to a depth of 850 feet at a cost of about $10,000, and had to be abandoned on account of a crooked hole. Another well was drilled at Copalis to a depth of 350 feet by the Eldorado Oil Co., in the same year. No oil was obtained, but a flow of excellent artesian water was procured and is still used for domestic supplies at Copalis. It is reported that this well penetrates bluish sandy clay for its entire depth, the proportion of sand increasing with the depth.

It is also reported that in 1901 a drilling outfit was taken to the mouth of Hoh River for the purpose of drilling a well in the vicinity but that after several months of useless effort the plan was abandoned.

In the meantime the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula north of Grays Harbor had been more thoroughly examined and many outcrops of sandy clay partly saturated with petroleum ("smell mud") had been found.

A well was drilled to a depth of about 550 feet at a point approximately in the NW. 1/4 sec. 1, T. 27 N., R. 15 W., 3 miles southeast of La Push, in 1902, by the La Push Oil Co. It is reported that the upper 150 feet of the rocks penetrated by the drill consists of shale and gray sandstone, whereas the lower 400 feet consists of bluish sandy clay. All rocks penetrated in this well are reported to have a strong odor of petroleum. "Rainbow" colors in small quantities were seen on the water taken from the well at various stages in the drilling, but no accumulation of oil was discovered, the colors being as noticeable on the water obtained near the top of the hole as from that taken from the bottom. Reagan,1 who described this well briefly in his report, states that "the side pressure was so great that it caved in the pipes, and the work had to be abandoned without any oil having been obtained."

1Reagan, A. B., Some notes on the Olympic Peninsula, Wash.: Kansas Acad. Sci. Trans., vol. 22, p. 234, 1909.

No drilling was done in the field from 1902 to 1912. Prospectors, however, during this interval were on the alert, and evidences of oil were discovered at various places along the coast between Cape Flattery and Point Grenville, a few miles north of Moclips. Arnold,2 who examined a part of this field in 1994, in this description of the "supposed Cretaceous" rocks states:

Indications of oil are also very noticeable in a soft gray sandstone, which may belong to this series, outcropping in a canyon about a mile north of Point of the Arches. This oil has a similar odor to that found in the serpentine and conglomerate a mile or so to the north and may be derived from the shales associated with the sandstone. Indications of oil are also said to have been discovered in the sandstones and shales south of the mouth of Quillayute River and at one or two other localities between the Quillayute and Cape Elizabeth.

2Arnold, Ralph, Geologic reconnaissance of the coast of the Olympic Peninsula, Wash.: Geol. Soc. America Bull., vol. 17, p. 460, 1906.

Reagan,3 who made certain studies in the Olympic Peninsula from 1904 to 1908, and who follows Arnold in his description of the formation in this region, says:

Indications of oil are very noticeable in the soft gray sandstone of this series ("supposed Cretaceous") about a mile south of the Point of the Arches, and also at several locations on the coast south of the Quillayute River. Oil springs also occur on Hoh Head, a mile north of the mouth of Hoh River. Oil is also said to have been found at several places down the coast south of the Hoh.

3Op. cit., p. 362.

Near the end of the report Reagan4 adds:

Wherever this Miocene formation is exposed there are oil indications, either in the occurrence of the odor of benzine or an allied product of crude oil, or in seepages. The latter are most prominently developed along the coast from the mouth of the Hoh River to the mouth of the Quillayute River. On Hoh Head, near the mouth of the former stream, oil forms in pools so that one may dip it up with a cup. This oil is said to be one of the best-grade oils ever found, having a 45 per cent paraffin base.

4Op. cit., p. 234.

The presence of oil at Hoh Head, as described above, is reported to have been discovered in the winter of 1906-7 by members of a surveying party. The oil was first seen under the root of a stump near a bear wallow. It was not, however, until December, 1911, that any excavation was made. At that time young men of the neighborhood, in an effort to collect some oil, set off a blast which loosened the adjacent rocks and permitted the oil to flow into a prospect shaft. Previous to this time probably not more than 2 gallons of oil had been collected from this seep, which is now generally known as the Jefferson Oil Co.'s seep, as it is situated near the place where that company is drilling. When the writer visited this locality in August, 1913, a well-cribbed shaft about 18 feet deep, 5 feet long, and 3-1/2 feet wide had been made. A section of rocks exposed in this shaft is given on page 47.

Soon after the discovery of the high-grade oil at Hoh Head several companies were organized for the purpose of drilling for oil and gas on the west slope of the Olympic Peninsula. The first to commence operations was the Washington Oil Co., which located a well on the Anderson farm in the SW. 1/4 SE. 1/4 sec. 9, T. 28 N., R. 13 W., about 1 mile south of Forks, and began drilling in October, 1912, with an 82-foot standard rig. In March, 1914, this well had been drilled to a depth of more than 1,600 feet.

The first showings of oil occurred at a depth of 950 feet, but gas in small quantities was present in practically all strata below a depth of 120 feet. At a depth of approximately 1,300 feet three hard oil-bearing strata, each about 3 feet thick, were encountered. The drillers reported the gas pressure at this horizon to be sufficiently strong to lift the 1,300-foot column of water and to force it about 15 feet above the top of the casing. When the writer visited this well in August, 1913, the drill had penetrated to a depth of about 1,200 feet. The odor of gas was distinctly noticeable 100 yards from the well, especially when the tools were being withdrawn. The gas, which burns with a bluish-white flame 3 to 5 feet in height, could be ignited directly after the hoisting of the bailer from the well, which at that time contained about 1,100 feet of water. Although some gas issued continuously from the well, yet larger quantities escaped when the water was agitated by the removal of the tools.

An oil seep, locally known as the Lacy seep, situated on the divide between Mosquito Creek and Hoh River at an elevation of about 425 feet above sea level, was discovered in the NW. 1/4 sec. 11, T. 26 N., R. 13 W., about 5 miles northeast of the mouth of Hoh River. The oil at this place was first seen in a bear wallow. The oil mixed with mud probably formed an excellent ointment for keeping disagreeable insects away. In June, 1913, a shaft 16 feet deep, 5 feet long, and 4 feet wide was opened.

Both the Jefferson Oil Co.'s seep and the Lacy seep were discovered by following bear trails to their wallows as above stated. It is quite probable that a number of other seeps may be found by the same means. Owing to the great difficulty in traversing the ridges and streams on account of the dense underbrush, fallen logs, and swamps, a thorough examination of this section has not been made and can not be made without a great deal of labor and expense. Although the Lacy seep is only 5 miles directly east of the Jefferson Oil Co.'s seep, and on the same divide, it is almost impossible to go from one to the other in a direct line. The route traveled is about 6 miles longer than the direct distance.

The Jefferson Oil Co. began drilling with a 72-foot standard rig in the SW. 1/4 SE. 1/4 sec. 12, T. 26 N., R. 14 W., September 10, 1913. They reached, according to report, a depth of about 870 feet by February 1, 1914. This well is situated about 1,800 feet south and slightly west from the seep first described and on the same anticline, which extends in a northeast-southwest direction. When the writer last visited this well, in the early part of October, 1913, the drill had penetrated to a depth of 445 feet. Gas was escaping from the well in small volume, as shown by the bubbling of the water in the casing. There was also a slight trace of oil in the material brought to the surface by the bailer from the bottom of the hole.

The difficulties of drilling in this region are very much greater than in a locality where roads are numerous and are kept in good repair. In order to bring the machinery and lumber to Hoh Head, it was necessary to transport them by boat to the fairly good harbor for small boats situated just south of Hoh Head. Here the scow on which the machinery and lumber were loaded was brought near shore and a donkey engine—a necessary piece of machinery in these timbered countries—was taken to the top of the terrace, about 300 feet high, over a skid road one-fourth mile in length. All machinery was brought over the skid road to the site of the well by means of the donkey engine and a large sled.

At the time the writer examined the field a well was being drilled by the Indian Oil Co. about a mile northwest of Taholah, approximately in the NW. 1/4 sec. 35, T. 22 N., R. 13 W., near the Garfield gas mound hereinafter described. A 64-foot rig and a rotary drill propelled by gasoline power was used. Such an outfit seems fairly well adapted for penetrating the soft sandstones and shales already encountered. Drilling was begun at this place in October, 1913, and, according to report, had reached a depth of a little more than 330 feet in January, 1914.

The well originally was 9-1/2 inches in diameter. In order to set a 10-inch casing and leave sufficient space outside the casing for the free circulation of mud and water, which is necessary when drilling with a rotary outfit, the hole is being enlarged to 14 inches in diameter. It is probable that drilling will be resumed before this report goes to press. This well, which is only 10 miles from the terminus of the railroad at Moclips, is most easily accessible to those interested in the field, and probably will be the first well to prove or disprove the presence of oil in connection with the gas escaping from the Garfield mound, the apex of which is only 125 feet S. 30° W. from the mouth of the well.

Gas is present in small quantities in practically all, the wells thus far drilled in the field. In addition it is known to be escaping from several natural vents examined by the writer, and is reported from a number of others not visited. The most prominent of the vents examined is the Garfield gas mound, so named because it is situated on the land of an Indian by that name. This mound is located on a terrace about 250 feet above sea level in the NW. 1/4 sec. 35, T. 22 N., R. 13 W., a short distance southwest of the Indian Oil Co.'s well near Taholah. This cone-shaped mound is about 50 feet in height and from 250 to 300 feet in diameter at the base. The gas escapes principally from a small mud-filled crater-like depression, 2 to 3 feet in diameter, situated at the apex. Small quantities of gas escape from other vents near the top of the mound. In September and October, 1913, a barrel had been securely anchored with a gas jet fixed in the top over the principal vent, and the gas which collected in the barrel could be burned. A sample of the gas was collected and has been analyzed by the Bureau of Mines. The analysis and a discussion of the characteristics of the gas are given on page 33. The mound has undoubtedly been built up by the mud, which at all times is carried up by the gas and deposited around the mouth of the crater. The age of the mound is doubtful, but it must be recorded in hundreds of years, because the forest is just as dense on the mound as on the adjacent flat land at its base. A spruce tree 3 feet 6 inches in diameter is growing within 25 feet of the vent and an alder 1 foot 3 inches in diameter within 10 feet of the apex.

Another prominent gas vent, the antithesis of the Garfield mound, locally known as the Devils Mush Pot, is situated in the NE. 1/4 sec. 35, T. 27 N., R. 11 W., on the south side of Hoh River, about one-half mile west of Spruce post office. The gas here escapes continuously, and in much larger volume than at the Garfield mound, through water which fills a funnel-shaped depression. The "mush pot" is a little less than 60 feet in diameter and is probably 30 feet deep from the level of the water to the apex of the funnel. Although logs and other debris partly fill the depression, yet a pole 22 feet long pushed vertically into the water did not touch bottom. The gas from this place is almost odorless, burns with a bluish-white flame, and is believed to be of the same quality as that escaping from the Garfield mound. The water through which the gas escapes has a milky color due to the flue sediment continuously brought up by the gas. This minute but continuous erosion, extending through a long period of time, without doubt has produced the funnel-shaped depression.

Gas escapes in a number of places in sec. 8, T. 23 N., R. 9 W., at the upper end of Queniult Lake, and also near by, just above the mouth of Canoe Creek. Although this gas resembles in odor and character of flame that collected from the Garfield mound at Taholah, yet the fact that it occurs near the mouths of streams which have deposited and buried enormous quantities of vegetation suggests that it may be marsh gas and of recent origin. No analysis of the gas from these localities was made.

A small but interesting occurrence of gas was examined by the writer in the NW. 1/4 sec. 27, T. 28 N., R. 14 W., on the south side of Bogachiel River, about 7 miles southwest of Forks. On the south side of the stream there is a small landslide of soft bluish-gray sandy clay impregnated with petroleum gas. The gas about 75 feet above river level is so abundant that if a small stick is pushed a foot or more into the soft "smell mud" and then removed it escapes in such volume that it can be ignited and will burn for a few seconds.

A small volume of gas escapes near the bridge over Big Creek just above the mouth of Camp No. 2 Creek, at the extreme south end of the area shown on Plate II (p. 78), in the SE. 1/4 sec. 32, T. 20 N., R. 10 W. Some of this gas was collected, but it could not be ignited; hence it is believed that it is different from the gas in other parts of the field.

Gas was noted escaping through the water on Queniult River, a mile or two above Taholah, and also on Hoh River, near Hough's place, in the southern part of sec. 22, T. 26 N., R. 13 W., about 1-1/2 miles southeast of Hoh post office. The character of the gas escaping at these places was not ascertained.

In addition to these gas vents, which the writer examined, some others briefly described below are reported. Gas, according to Billy Snell, of Taholah, escapes around the edge of a spring near the center of sec. 26, T. 27 N., R. 12 W., on the north side of Hoh River, about 8 miles west of Spruce. He states that the water in the spring is milky and that the gas burns very much like that at the Devils Mush Pot, a few miles farther up the river.

The Indians at Taholah report that there are other small gas mounds similar to the Garfield mound at different places in the reservation on both sides of Queniult River. They were not very sure of their locations, as they had seen them only on hunting trips.

It is significant that practically all the seeps and vents already discovered are near trails and small settlements. The writer firmly believes that many other oil seeps and gas vents exist in the area shown on Plate II, and that they will be discovered as more and more of the region becomes accessible by the construction of trails and roads.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006