Teapot Dome: The Greatest Political Scandal in the History of the US Oil Industry
Warren G. Harding’s presidential administration in the early 1920s is best remembered for the scandal surrounding Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming, the most infamous presidential malfeasance of the early twentieth century. A Presidential Order in 1915 named Teapot Dome a Naval Petroleum Reserve. The advantages of petroleum over coal for naval fuel had proved irresistible, and the crude reserves were meant to provide a secure wartime supply. Harding chose Senator Albert B. Fall as his Secretary of Interior. Fall wrangled Teapot Dome away from the Navy Department, and then leased the field in 1922 to independent oil titan Harry Sinclair in a non-competitive deal. Senate hearings followed, Fall resigned, and Harding died suddenly a few months afterward. Investigators determined that Fall had received about $400,000 in “loans” from Sinclair. He was convicted and imprisoned for bribery. Sinclair was jailed for contempt, the leases were invalidated by the Supreme Court, and Teapot was returned to the Navy. Teapot is an asymmetrical anticline on the southwestern flank of the Powder River Basin. Its key producing zones are Cretaceous sandstones and shales, and there is substantial undeveloped potential for primary and enhanced oil recovery, as well as infill and horizontal drilling targets. In 2015, the field was acquired by Stranded Oil Resources in a public process. Transfer to a new, private operator after 100 years as a Naval Petroleum Reserve represents another exciting chapter in the history of America’s most notorious oil field.
For their assistance, cooperation, generosity, and insights, I am indebted to Meagher Energy Advisors, David Bickerstaff, Jeff Spencer, Cat Campbell, Gustavson Associates, Stranded Oil Resources, Don Missey, and Laura Lindley.
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