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In 1915 Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Mines to establish seventeen minerals research facilities around the nation. In 1918 the bureau set up three laboratories: One at Minneapolis was directed to study iron and manganese problems for the metals industries; one at Columbus, Ohio, was directed to conduct research relating to the ceramic and clay-related industries. The third, at Bartlesville, Oklahoma, was directed to seek new, more efficient ways of petroleum production and processing. The lab's establishment came at the request of independent producers in the Mid-Continent Petroleum Region.

Bartlesville was ideally located in the midst of the very active Mid-Continent oil fields. A landowner donated five acres, and the community raised fifty thousand dollars in order to build the facility, which was officially established on March 28, 1918. Two brick buildings, begun that summer and completed in January 1919, housed the experiments. During the first year the lab's scientists, under the direction of Superintendent J. O. Lewis, studied methods to prevent water pollution of wells, absorption processes for producing natural gasoline, methods of producing carbon black, and the causes of loss of light hydrocarbons from crude oil during storage. An experimental oil refinery and other "mini" plants were built as well. The goal was to develop methods for squeezing the last ounce of marketable product out of raw petroleum, while it was in the ground and/or after it had been extracted.

The facility was the nation's only lab for petroleum research and is considered by many to have been the birthplace of petroleum technology. Oil recovery technology research has since then focused variously water, chemical, and steam flooding, gas injection, thermodynamics, and microbially enhanced recovery. In later years the labs also focused an improving performance of fuels and engine systems, including vehicle exhaust emissions testing. At one time the Environmental Protection Agency gave it the job of identifying the chemical elements and materials in "smog."

The station's mission remained the same throughout its existence, although its name changed several times: Bartlesville Petroleum Research Center (from 1959), Bartlesville Energy Research Center (from 1975), Bartlesville Energy Technology Center (from 1977), and National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research/NIPER (from 1983, operated by a private research institute). In 1997 it became the National Petroleum Technology Office, after a new private operator moved the project office to Tulsa. The Bartlesville property was closed in 1998. Some of the buildings have since served as headquarters for the Delaware Nation of American Indians.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: "Bartlesville Institute Rolls with Oil's Punches," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 13 April 1986. Rodney P. Carlisle and August W. Giebelhaus, Bartlesville Energy Center: The Federal Government in Petroleum Research, 1918-1983 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 1985). "National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research (NIPER)," Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science 67 (1987). Margaret Withers, History of Washington County and Surrounding Area, Vol. 2 (Bartlesville, Okla.: Bartlesville Historical Commission, 1968).

Dianna Everett

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