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Oklahoma Memories

Wild Mary Sudik Revisited

2010-03-29

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"It was a terrible thing, sprayed oil all over town.""

That's the voice of Lee Bush, a petroleum engineer talking about the Mary Sudik Oil Well.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

At about 6:30 the morning of March 26, 1930, the crew of roughnecks working on a well on the property of Vince Sudik paused. The tired drillers had been waiting for daylight to continue their work. The location was at about I-240 and Bryant in present-day Oklahoma City. It was just a few miles south of the location of the Oklahoma City Discovery Well Number One, the well that in December 1928 opened the Oklahoma City Oilfield, the largest oilfield in the state. Within weeks hundreds of drill rigs began searching for more oil under the capitol city. Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, who had drilled the Discovery Well, signed a lease agreement with the Sudiks, a Czech family who had made the 1889 Land Run into the territory. The well was named for Vince Sudik's wife, Mary.

Thus it was that early morning March 26, 1930, with the crew waiting for daylight to bring up the tools and then send a new drill bit down the hole to continue drilling. They had drilled to 6,471 feet. The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud, something that might have prevented what happened next. They didn't know the Wilcox sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that gas under so much pressure found a release. The crew was caught off guard when a mixture of oil and gas came roaring out of the hole. Pipe stems were thrown hundreds of feet into the air like so many tooth picks. First there was gas, then the flow turned to a green-gold color and then black. Oil shot hundreds of feet into the air. For the next 11 days the Mary Sudik ran wild.

Lee Bush, in this interview recorded in 1973, said that in addition to the crew failing to fill the hole with mud, there was another problem. The crew didn't have the proper size safety head for that well.

"I was acquainted with the people of this firm of Black, Sivalls and Bryson. They were manufacturing safety heads to put on things (unintelligible), and they didn't have a safety head that size. Consequently, the Mary Sudik was run the wild well; they had nothing to put on it."

In those 11 days experts estimated she wasted more than 800,000 barrels of black gold When the Mary Sudik was finally brought under control crews recovered more than 200,000 barrels of oil from pits and ponds around the area. With a strong wind blowing to the north, the Wild Mary Sudik's oil spread as far as downtown Oklahoma City. Then the wind shifted to the south, and oil was blown to Moore and eventually to Norman.

Newsreel photographers, including Oklahoma City's own Arthur Ramsey, sent motion picture film to Hollywood, film that within a week appeared in newsreels in theaters around the world. When she was finally tamed, the Mary Sudik was the largest and most productive proved oil and gas well in the world through 1930. Drilling continued with roughnecks working north along east side of Oklahoma City, eventually drilling in the middle of city blocks. Something had to be done, and it was then that the Oklahoma City Council passed some of the first rules regulating how and where oil wells could be drilled. ""The oil ordinance for this town was the pioneer of the nation. Nobody had ever had this experience before, drilling in the big city, taking care of these things."

Today you can see the valve that spilt in half and view the newsreel film of the Wild Mary Sudik in the oil and gas and natural resources exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center. And you'll want to explore the outdoor oil and gas park on the grounds of the History Center. The Oklahoma History Center is located on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.