It seems like every time I run an article about an odd appendage cobbled to the boundaries of a U.S. county, an interested reader brings an equally unusual shape to my attention. That’s great — keep them coming! The latest example arrived courtesy of Scott Surgent on a comment he made to the Merrick Strip article:
Tom Green County was once much larger, but one new county — Irion — was created in such a way that it would have cleaved Tom Green into two discrete halves. Thus, the north boundary of Irion was set so that a narrow strip of land would connect the main (east) part of the county (which includes the city of San Angelo) and the western half. For a time, it had a dumbbell shape. The west half later formed into Reagan County, but the vestigial strip remained in place.
Naturally I had to take a closer look. Tom Green County, named for a Confederate general rather the Canadian actor with the same name although there are other Canadians in Texas, includes a roughly rectangular appendage off its northwestern corner measuring about 2 by 24 miles (see on Mapquest with county lines). What I found equally interesting, however, was the strange network of structures imprinted on the landscape as I drilled into the image, looking a bit like a circuit board.
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At first I thought I might have found a housing development. That seemed a bit far-fetched because of its remoteness. No, as I got even closer I realized it was an oil field. Each one of those interconnected earthen patches marked a drill, a storage tank or some other piece of equipment related to the oil industry. Tom Green’s appendage is Swiss-cheese riddled by oil and gas wells. Street View coverage is rather scarce throughout this rural patch but I did find one decent image just over the county line.
The county managed to hold onto an extremely valuable parcel although they may not have fully realized its worth at the time. Reagan County was created from Tom Green in 1903 and the Texas oil boom was only just getting started. Most of that activity happening well to the east.
I enjoy the stories behind these oddly-shaped counties. When the History Channel television show, “How the States Got Their Shapes" runs out of states, may I recommend that they move their focus to counties? I like that show for reasons other than the obvious: I get a bunch of first-time visitors to the website every time a new episode airs. Often, topics glossed over on the program are covered in more detail here. Search engines point hordes of curious viewers directly onto the Twelve Mile Circle.
Oh yeh, I guess I should get off this long-winded tangent and back to the subject of the article. The Tom Green wells reminded me of something familiar. I’ve been aware of the self-proclaimed Pipeline Capital of the World; Cushing, Oklahoma for awhile but it hadn’t made it off the ever-growing “to do” list of possible topics until now.
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It looks a little like the oilfield Tom Green, doesn’t it? The main difference here is that each spot isn’t a well pumping a few barrels a day. These are huge oil and petroleum depots conglomerated into massive tank farms. The facilities at Cushing can hold 5-10% of the entire United States oil reserve at any given time, forty million or more barrels. Ponder that for a moment and let the enormity of the volume settle-in.
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Cushing never set out to be the pipeline crossroads of the world. It started as a typical Oklahoma land run town in 1891. Soon a railroad arrived, then another, then oil was found nearby. Cushing quickly became a hub and a refining center in the early 20th Century. More pipelines followed, with success building upon success. This cemented a purpose for Cushing even as the nearby oilfields played-out.
Cushing also serves as a price-point on the New York Mercantile Exchange for a key investment benchmark, West Texas Intermediate crude oil. It’s currently the most important proxy for oil prices worldwide, although that may be slipping. In recent years the pipelines bringing oil into Cushing have begun to outstrip the capacity of pipelines flowing out That impacts the liquidity of the commodity from a financial perspective, making it less appropriate as a proxy. Nonetheless, this small location of fewer than ten thousand residents wields oversized influence and power over a market that impacts us all.