Texas Oil History Includes Delta Drilling


What started in a downtown apartment in Longview, Texas, became an international oil drilling company.

A state historic marker  -- planted at 107 East Whaley Street, Longview -- is the site of the apartment that was the first headquarters for the Delta Drilling Company. The company was founded on November 17, 1931, by four immigrants and a native Houstonian. 

Fifty years later the company, relocated in Tyler, was one of the largest land-based, private, contract drilling firms in the world.

The partners originally borrowed $22,000 in the depth of the Great Depression to buy two junk drilling rigs and began drilling in the East Texas oilfield. In the late 1930s and thereafter Delta branched out from East Texas, with operations in the Illinois basin, the Northeast, the Rocky Mountains, Louisiana, the Southeast, West Texas, and South Texas.

Delta received publicity throughout the industry in 1972 when it hired Claudine Shapley as "the first lady roughneck in the Western world." It was also one of the first companies in the nation to hire African-American drillers.

In 1981 the firm went public and began selling its stock over the counter.

At its peak Delta operated 59 domestic drilling rigs and six foreign onshore rigs. But an industry-wide economic slump sent Delta into a long trough. In 1985, Delta sold its domestic oil and gas production and interests in two gas plants to Kerr-McGee Corporation for $140 million to pay off its bank debt.

In 1989 the firm, then known as DeltaUS, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but emerged a year later under its original name. It owned 35 land rigs in East Texas, South Texas, the Louisiana Gulf Coast, and the Appalachian region. 

[Information from the Texas State Historical Association was included in this article.]

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