The “Built by Gas” exhibition will open on October 23 at the Farmington Museum

  • The exhibit will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the drilling of the first commercial gas well in the San Juan Basin.
  • It opens at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 23 at the Farmington Museum in Gateway Park.
  • The exhibition will open with a reception, and the public is welcome.

FARMINGTON – A new exhibit opening next week at the Farmington Museum in Gateway Park will mark the 100th anniversary of an event that changed the character of Farmington from a small farming community to a regional energy hub.

“Built by Gas: 100 Years of Commercial Gas in the San Juan Basin” opens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, October 23 at the museum, 3041 E. Main St. in Farmington. The exhibit covers the drilling of the first commercial natural gas well in the San Juan Basin on October 21, 1921, 1 mile south of Aztec off the current path of US Highway 550, and how the industry energy has shaped development in the Four Corners since then.

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Museum director Bart Wilsey said drilling this gas well sparked the first of San Juan County’s many energy booms, which also included oil production. He said oil wells were drilled near Shiprock and Hogback in the 1920s and produced oil of such high quality that it could be used as fuel for cars without being refined.

“You can just burn it right in the engines,” he said. “It was the first time this had happened.”

Bart Wilsey

The discovery of oil and gas in San Juan County a century ago gave the Four Corners the start of power generation. But Wilsey noted that it wasn’t until after a second boom after World War II that Farmington really began to experience serious economic changes.

“We’re talking about how the second boom is what started it all,” he said of the exhibit.

Wilsey explained that it was the construction of a gas pipeline by the El Paso Gas company in 1951 – which sold gas from the San Juan Basin to customers in California – that caused significant growth in County of San Juan, as Farmington’s population skyrocketed. from 3,500 people in 1950 to nearly 24,000 in 1960.

“That’s when things really took off,” he said.

The first commercial gas well in the San Juan Basin was drilled on October 21, 1921, one mile south of Aztec, just west of present-day US Highway 550.

Wilsey said seven new schools had been built in the city in those 10 years, but this building frenzy still did not provide enough classroom space to accommodate all of the children whose families had moved to the area.

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“They were to have team lessons,” he said. “Some children went to school in the morning, others in the afternoon. It was a crazy, crazy time in Farmington history. That’s when all of the major oil and gas companies started looking at the basin as a potential business (location), and just kept exploding. “

A replica of the 1940s gas station is part of the "Built by gas" the exhibit opens next week at the Farmington Museum in Gateway Park.

Wilsey declined to provide many details about the exhibit itself, noting that museum officials hope to keep its details under wraps until visitors have a chance to see it for themselves. But he said there will be a built-in timeline on the ground for visitors to follow, and there will be a recreated 1940s gas station. He also said it will feature spectacular interactive computer elements.

Wilsey said there was no end date for the exhibit at this point, with plans calling for the exhibit to remain on display for two or three years. He said this would lead to the development of a longer-term exhibit that focuses on the history of Farmington and the impact of energy development on the city.

An exhibit celebrating the birth of the energy industry in the San Juan Basin a century ago opens next week at the Farmington Museum in Gateway Park.

“The two have really grown hand in hand,” he said.

The exhibition will open with a reception, and the public is welcome. Entrance to the exhibition and reception are free. Call 505-599-1174 for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription.

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