Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why so much Oil in Texas?

Texas, blessed with an enormous national resource in oil, straddles a buried mountain range whose existence explains in large part the occurence of oil. About 300 million years ago (Pennsylvanian period) the northwest half of Texas was part of a continent that slammed into another continental piece, via the process of plate tectonics, to form part of the supercontinent Pangea . In the process a mountain range was heaved upward along the collision line. This range we now call the Ouachita Mountains . Pieces of this range are still exposed at the surface in Oklahoma, in the Llano uplift northwest of Austin, and around Marathon in southwest Texas. In between, the range lies buried in Texas beneath piles of younger sedimentary rocks.

On the continent side of the uplifted Ouachita Range, in west and northwest Texas, the crust was downwarped in several places in compensation for the adjacent uplift. These downwarps, or basins, continued to settle over millions of years, receiving organic rich deposits of calcareous mud from marine organisms living in shallow seas. Reefs and banks of limestone formed around the edges of the basins from the growth of abundant reef building animals. The organic rich mudstones, and even the basin edge limestones, were the source for much of the oil in West Texas, while the cavernous limestone reefs and banks became the reservoirs to store the oil. A magnificent example of these rocks and their story is to be found at Guadalupe National Park in West Texas.

By 200 million years ago (Jurassic period) Pangea began to pull apart in the great continent-wrenching episode that generated the Earth's present configuration of continents and ocean basins. The Gulf of Mexico began to drop away from the old Ouachita Mountain line as North America and South America seperated. At this early stage, the Gulf was only narrowly connected to to the other oceans, and upon this pan of sometimes ocean sometimes dry flat, thick layers of salt were evaporated. Thus formed the Jurassic aged Louann salt.

The Gulf of Mexico continued to deepen and thousands upon thousands of feet of sediment poured into the basin from the emergent North American continent. These were mainly organic-rich muds, similar in kind to delta deposits at the front of today's Mississippi River. River and shoreline sands were also laid down in this process to form the source reservoir combination that contributed to east Texas' gigantic oilfields. But, the thick pile of Mesozoic and Cenozoic aged sedimentary deposits bore down heavily on the Louann salt over time forcing it upward in tall domes and spikes. Around these domes oil was trapped in profusion.

Hence, Texas has a great amount of oil and gas because there has not been one but two great periods of hydrocarbon generation. First, the oil in West Texas was generated and trapped in a number of basins which developed in Paleozoic time in response to Ouachita mountain building. The second great period of oil generation is the product of later, Mesozoic tectonic forces, which opened the Gulf of Mexico and allowed the deposition of thick organic rich sediments.

The first well to produce oil was drilled in 1866 by Lynn T Barret near Melrose in Nacogdoches County in east Texas. In 1867, Armory Starr and Peyton Edwards brought in a well at Oil Springs in the same area giving Nacogdoches County the first commercial oilfield, pipeline and refinery in the state. However, the first major oil discovery came in 1894 when the city of Corsicana tried to drill a water well and discovered the Corsicana oil field instead! In 1901, the first great gusher and giant field was brought in by Captain Anthony Lucas who drilled Spindletop near Beaumont.

Machu Picchu - Incan Empire

The ruins of Machu Picchu, rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham , are one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world. While the Inca people certainly used the Andean mountain top (9060 feet elevation), erecting many hundreds of stone structures from the early 1400's, legends and myths indicate that Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in the Quechua language) was revered as a sacred place from a far earlier time. Whatever its origins, the Inca turned the site into a small (5 square miles) but extraordinary city. Invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, and watered by natural springs, Machu Picchu seems to have been utilized by the Inca as a secret ceremonial city. Two thousand feet above the rumbling Urubamba river, the cloud shrouded ruins have palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation. These structures, carved from the gray granite of the mountain top are wonders of both architectural and aesthetic genius. Many of the building blocks weigh 50 tons or more yet are so precisely sculpted and fitted together with such exactitude that the mortarless joints will not permit the insertion of even a thin knife blade. Little is known of the social or religious use of the site during Inca times. The skeletal remains of ten females to one male had led to the casual assumption that the site may have been a sanctuary for the training of priestesses and /or brides for the Inca nobility. However, subsequent osteological examination of the bones revealed an equal number of male bones, thereby indicating that Machu Picchu was not exclusively a temple or dwelling place of women.

One of Machu Picchu's primary functions was that of astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana stone (meaning 'Hitching Post of the Sun') has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The Intihuatana (also called the Saywa or Sukhanka stone) is designed to hitch the sun at the two equinoxes, not at the solstice (as is stated in some tourist literature and new-age books). At midday on March 21st and September 21st, the sun stands almost directly above the pillar, creating no shadow at all. At this precise moment the sun "sits with all his might upon the pillar" and is for a moment "tied" to the rock. At these periods, the Incas held ceremonies at the stone in which they "tied the sun" to halt its northward movement in the sky. There is also an Intihuatana alignment with the December solstice (the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere), when at sunset the sun sinks behind Pumasillo (the Puma's claw), the most sacred mountain of the western Vilcabamba range, but the shrine itself is primarily equinoctial.

Shamanic legends say that when sensitive persons touch their foreheads to the stone, the Intihuatana opens one's vision to the spirit world (the author had such an experience, which is described in detail in Chapter one of Places of Peace and Power, on the web site, www.sacredsites.com). Intihuatana stones were the supremely sacred objects of the Inca people and were systematically searched for and destroyed by the Spaniards. When the Intihuatana stone was broken at an Inca shrine, the Inca believed that the deities of the place died or departed. The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, even though they suspected its existence, thus the Intihuatana stone and its resident spirits remain in their original position. The mountain top sanctuary fell into disuse and was abandoned some forty years after the Spanish took Cuzco in 1533. Supply lines linking the many Inca social centers were disrupted and the great empire came to an end. The photograph shows the ruins of Machu Picchu in the foreground with the sacred peak of Wayna Picchu towering behind. Partway down the northern side of Wayna Picchu is the so-called "Temple of the Moon" inside a cavern. As with the ruins of Machu Picchu , there is no archaeological or iconographical evidence to substantiate the 'new-age' assumption that this cave was a goddess site.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Battle of Shiloh - American Civil War

On the morning of April 6, 1862, the sun rose over the Union encampment at Pittsburg Landing. Neither Ulysses S. Grant , the Union commander, nor Albert S. Johnston, the Confederate commander, could possibly know what this day would hold. It would bring advances in military tactics. It would bring innovations in the medical field. It would change all preconceived notions that the Civil War would be short-lived. For Johnston and thousands of other brave soldiers on the Union and Confederate sides, it would bring death.

During the winter of 1861-62 Federal forces pushing southward from St. Louis captured Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. This action forced Gen. Johnston to abandon southern Kentucky and much of West and Middle Tennessee. After withdrawing further south, he established a new line covering the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, the only all-weather link between Richmond and Memphis. Realizing that he could not wait for another Federal advance, Johnston began concentrating forces at Corinth, Mississippi, where he hoped to take the offensive and destroy General Grant's Army of the Tennessee before it could be joined by General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio.

On April 2, 1862, Johnston began his march from Corinth. "The roads were meandering cow paths," one confederate soldier said. Because of the lack of marching experience, the march took much longer than expected. Meanwhile, at the Union camp at Shiloh, the Federals troops spent a day drilling and merry-making. Hundreds went for a swim in Owl Creek. Others rested. There was also a good deal of diarrhea, which the boys labelled the "Tennessee quick step".

Grant wired his superior General H.W. Halleck . "I have scarecely the faintest idea of attack." Halleck told Grant to "sit tight at Shiloh and wait for Buell to arrive." William Tecupseh Sherman, division commander, was quoted saying to reporters, "Take your regiment to Ohio. No enemy is nearer than Corinth." Little did he know that the night of April 5, the huge and powerful Army of the Mississippi was poised to strike just out of sight of the Union camp. P.G.T. Beaureguard, second in command of the Confederates, felt they had lost the element of suprise because of some shots fired by the men in front. Beaureguard pleaded with Johnston to postpone the attack. "I would fight them if they were a million," Johnston said.

On the morning of April 6, Johnston told his fellow officers "Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee." When Johnston's powerful Army of the Mississippi hit the federal camps, they had achived complete suprise. The attack pushed most Union divisions back to reform elsewhere. Others fought doggedly to hold their line. Once the attack started, there was mass confusion on both sides. Most of the boys had never been in battle before, and did not know there orders. "It was a murderous fist fight."

The Rebels rolled over one Union position after another. Then, amongst the confusion along a sunken road, the federals finally established and held a line that stopped the southern advance. The division consisted of Illinois and Iowa farm boys mostly, under the command of General Prentiss. Grant's orders were to "Hold the sunken road at all costs." Prentiss greatly understood the seriousness of Grant's orders. Bullets buzzed through the saplings around the area, and it appeared and sounded like a hornet's nest. The Confederate infantry launched eleven attacks on the Hornet's nest. The Union line wavered and bent, but would not break. The Confederate artillery lined up sixty-two cannons at point blank range and fired on the sunken road. It was the largest number of cannons ever used at that time in a war effort. Under protection of the cannons the Rebel troops were able to move in and take the sunken road. The Union troops were forced to surrender. They had fought well holding the Confederates for six hours. For years to come Union veterans were proud to say, " I fought with Prentiss at the Hornet's Nest."

There was also a great deal of fighting at a peach orchard, just yards away from the Hornet's Nest. The peach trees were in full bloom. Many soldiers lay dead. Peach blossoms covered the dead like a fresh-fallen snow. Gen. Johnston led the last raid on the peach orchard. He came out with his clothes tattered from bullets that had grazed him, and his boot sole was shot. A Confederate officer saw him wobbling in his saddle and ask if he were hurt. "Yes," he replied. "And I feel seriously." His aid took him to a nearby tree. He was shot in the back of the leg. He bled to death. He could have easily been saved with a touniquet, but he had sent his surgeon off to care for Union prisoners.

A farm pond near the peach orchard was covered with soldiers from both armies. Many men went to bathe their wounds and drink from the water. For many it was their last drink The water was stained red with blood. That night dead lay everywhere. Neither army had developed a system for gathering the dead General Grant said a peson can walk in any given direction without stepping on ground." In a Confederate camp that night one soldier said, "You can hear the screams of the injured. They screamed for water, God heard them for the heavens opened and the rain fell." Flashes of lightening showed vultures feeding on the ungathered dead.

On the night of April 6, the long-awaited arrival of Don Carlos Buell's reinforcements arrived. Through the cover of gunboat fire, his troops came in on steamboats. The gun boats fired on fifteen minute intervals, allowing Buell's forces to come aground, and robbing the Confederates of their greatly needed rest. That morning the Confederates were pushed back on the ground that they had fought so hard to win the day before. With the fresh troops, the weary Rebels had little chance to win a complete victory. The Southerners were forced to march back to Corinth.

The final number of dead or missing was 13,000 on the Union side and 10,500 on the Confederate side. There were as many people killed at Shiloh as there were at Wateloo. The difference between that Napoleanic war and the Civil War is that there weren't twenty more Waterloos to come.

Shiloh was a decisive battle in the war. The South needed a win to make up for land lost in Kentucky and Ohio. It also needed to save the Mississippi Valley. Memphis and Vicksburg were now vulnerable to Union attack, and after Corinth there is now doubt that those cities would be the next targets. However, Grant and his men had been rid of their over-confidence by the battle of Shiloh. They now knew that hopes for and easy victory over the south were ill-founded. Grant knew then that this war was going to be, in the words of a Union Soldier, "A very bloody affair."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Geology of Texas Part II - Ordovician to Mississippian periods

This will mark the second in a series of writings on the Geological History of Texas. Part 1 covers the Ordovician period of 438-505 millions years ago, the Silurian period of 408-438 million years ago, the Devonian period of 360-408 million years ago and the Mississippian period 320-360 million years ago.

Ordovician Period (438-505 million years ago)
Extensive dolomite and limestone deposits, with less extensive chert deposits, were laid down in the shallow seas that covered Texas in Ordovician time. Remnant Ordovician outcrops are best seen in the Llano uplift northwest of Austin, and in the Marathon upliftand Franklin Mountains of West Texas. The Ellenburger and Maravillas formations appear along roadsides. The Ellenburger is especially noted for its gas production from great depths in basins of West Texas. Other Ordovician limestones yield brachiopods and corals on the top of the El Paso scenic drive in the Franklin Mountains. Cephalopods and gastropods are found in Ellenburger outcrops north of Cherokee in the Llano uplift region. Maravillas limestone and chert beds are seen in the Marathon uplift in West Texas.

Silurian Period (408-438 million years ago)
Limestone, dolomite and chert rocks were laid down in shallow marine waters in West Texas during the period. Silurian limestones in the Franklin Mountains bear rare brachiopods and corals. The first primitive land plants appear in the Silurian, and the corals first seen in late Ordovician time exploded in numbers and varieties.

Devonian period (360-408 million years ago)
Shale, sandstone, limestone and chert of shallow marine origin characterize the rocks of Devonian age in Texas. Amphibians first appear in the Devonian, and this was the golden age for the development of fishes. On land ferns, seedferns, and huge trees related to present-day horsetail rushes developed in Devonian but exploded in numbers in Mississippian.

Mississippian period (320-360 million years ago)
Shallow marine seas still covered Texas in the Mississippian period wherein marine shales and limestones were deposited. On land were fern-filled forests, while in the seas brachiopods, bryozoans, trilobites and corals were common. Mississippian shales and limestones are found in the Llano uplift and folded, upended roacks occur in roadcuts east of Marathon in West Texas.

Part III of the Geology of Texas will focus on the Pennsylvanian and Permian periods ranging from 245-320 million years ago.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Omaha Beach D-Day - World War II

Omaha Beach was the responsibility of the US V Corps. Major General Clarence Huebner's 1st Division would land with two regiments abreast, the 116th infantry (from the 29th division) on the right and the 16th Infantry on the left. Once the beach was secured, these regiments would be supported by two other regiments and the attackers would then seize the Bayeux Road to the south and perhaps reach Isigny to the west.

The gently sloping sand of Omaha Beach led to coarse shingle and immediately behind rose high sandy bluffs. There were only 5 exits through the bluffs and these valleys were protected by concrete bunkers. Nowhere else were assaulting troops confronted with such serious obstacles. The area was defended by the overextended 716th Division (responsible for the coastline from the Orne to the west of Omaha), but at Omaha it had been reinforced by the higher-quality 352nd Division. This reinforcement was not detected by Allied intelligence. While the British had placed emphasis on getting specialist armored vehicles ashore at the very beginning to deal with obstacles, the American approach was less technological and beach clearing was to be done by unarmored engineer teams. Lastly, the long run-in through heavy seas caused losses before the attackers reached the shore, and the coastal current meant that most landing craft beached eastward of their intended landfall.

At 5:40am the first DD tanks were launched 6,000 yards out, but most foundered at once, and of the 32 launched only 5 reached the shore. The artillery expected to fire on the way in did a little better. All but one of the German 105mm guns were taken out as were 6 of the German 7th Field Battery Battalion's pieces. Although naval bombardment had temporarily neutralized the defenses, they came to life as the landing craft neared the shoreline. The nine companies of the first assaulting wave were disgorged, overloaded, soaking wet and often seasick onto the surf of a bullet-swept beach. Undamaged obstacles gave them a degree of cover but posed a terrible risk to incoming DUKWs and landing craft.

The failure of the first wave meant that the specialist engineer teams were unable to work as planned, despite suffering 40 percent casualties that day. After the first dreadful hour the 116th Infantry had a toehold just west of Les Moulins, and, as much by luck as by judgement, it was there that the regimental command group under Colonel Charles Canham and the assistand division commander Brigadier General Norman Cota , landed. The view form the sea was depressing. One officer reported that the beach was clogged with infantry while landing craft milled about like a stampeded herd of cattle. Lieutenant General Omar Bradley , the US First Army commander, aboard USS Augusta, even briefly considered redirecting the remaining units to Utah Beach.

By this time there was progress on the beach as destroyers came dangerously close inshore to engage defenses at point blank range, and determined groups of men fought their way off the beaches. Sometimes they were formal leaders, and sometimes they were not. By yhe days end the Americans held a narrow strip of land between St Laurent and Colleville, but they lacked most of the resources needed for the planned advance inland. Omaha Beach had cost V Corps around 3,000 casualties, more than were suffered on the other beaches in total.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Geology of Texas - Part 1 Precambrian and Cambrian Periods

This will mark the first in a series of writings on the Geological History of Texas. Part 1 covers the Precambrian period of 570-4500 millions years ago and the Cambrian period 505-570 million years ago.

Before we start picture Texas from Northwest flowing southeastward to the Gulf of Mexico . As you move from the panhandle to the coast rocks get progressively younger.

Precambrian Texas -
The geologic record begins in Texas over a billion years ago when thick sequences of course, fine sediments were dumped into an ancient sea as North and South America pulled apart forming the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually the continent collided with another continent or an ocean margin in a plate tectonic event that buried, squeezed, and heated the borderlands, including the sediment piles. The collision built mountains and created metamorphic schist and gneiss out of the deeply buried sedimentsand generated molten magmas which colled to form granite bodies. Erosion then flattened this range to a table top by Cambrian times. Precambrian rocks are seen in the Franklin Mountains near El Paso , in Llano County of central Texas, and in the west Texas ranges near Van Horn. Precambrian rocks have also been reached by oil drilling over much of central and west Texas, though little is known about Precambrian rocks beneath the Gulf Coast Plain because they are buried so deeply.

Cambrian Texas-
Shallow marine seas that transgressed across Texas in Cambrian time bordered the low, erosion worn central core of the North American continent. Sandy sediments were deposited at the margin of these seas from streams carrying their loads eroded from the low continental terrain to the north and west. Cambrian sandstones around the Llano uplift in central Texas and in the Marathon region of West Texas are examples of this sedimentation.

Farther from shore in the clear marine water, dolomite and limestone accumulated from the shells of Cambrian organisms. Outcrops of Cambrian limestones are also found in the Llano uplift area of central Texas. Cambrian time is noteworthy because it represents the appearance , rather suddenly in the geologic record, of abundant fossils. Trilobites, brachiopods, sponges, snails, clams, and bryozoans were all present by Cambrian time, whereas late Precambrian rocks display only rare fossils of algae and a few soft bodied marine animals.

Part II of the series will cover the Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian and Mississippian time periods in Texas ranging from 505 million years ago to 360 million years ago.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Battle of Bunker Hill - American Revoutionary War

The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775 on Breed's Hill, as part of the Siege of Boston during the American Revolutionary War.

General Israel Putnam was in charge of the revolutionary forces, while Major-General William Howe commanded the British forces. Because most of the fighting did not occur on Bunker Hill itself, the conflict is sometimes more accurately (though more rarely) called the Battle of Breed's Hill . The colonists had previously set up positions on Bunker Hill but decided to move to Breed's Hill soon after.

The result was the British taking Breed's Hill as the American forces retreated when they ran low on ammunition. It took the British 3 charges to finally take the hill. However, one should not call it a British victory as the casualties were quite lopsided. The British suffered 800 casualties with 228 killed in the fighting.

The major implication of the Battle of Bunker Hill was that it showed the American colonists were more than willing to stand up and fight with the well trained British soldiers and gave confidence that they could be successful in those fights.