As strange as it may seem today, the idea of cementing the casing-wellbore annulus of a well was neither intuitive nor easily accepted. In 1919, as Erle P. Halliburton struggled to set up cementing operations in north central Texas around the booming fields surrounding Wichita Falls, Texas, most operators were skeptical of cementing casing. Most wells were doing well, they reasoned, without the new-fangled technology and there was, in the back of their minds, the question of possible well damage resulting from cementing. For Halliburton, it was to be an uphill struggle to normalize the practice of cementing a well.

Along the way, he would patent a large portion of modern cementing technology, including the jet mixer, the remixer and the float collar, guide shoe and plug system, bulk cementing, multiple-stage cementing, advanced pump technology and offshore cementing technology. It is safe to say that in the first half of the 20th century, the formative years, Halliburton dominated the development of cementing technology.

The story begins in 1916 when Halliburton, after having served two enlistments in the US

One of the earliest self-propelled Halliburton cementing trucks. Note the jet mixer at the rear of the truck on the left. (Photo courtesy of Halliburton)
Navy and working at a number of West Coast engineering jobs, joined the Perkins Cementing Co. in California. Perkins employed primitive, but effective, cementing techniques. Cement (Portland cement), delivered in sacks, was hand mixed with water using shovels. The system was much the same as you might employ if you bought a bag of cement from the Do It Yourself store, mixed it in a tub in your back garden and used it to secure fence posts. But the practice did cement wells.

Halliburton stayed with Perkins a little over a year. A naturally inquisitive and inventive man, Halliburton was allegedly fired by Perkins for continually pestering him with new ideas. Regardless of the reason, Halliburton left Perkins with a thorough knowledge of well cementing technology and an appreciation of its potential value.

From California, Halliburton landed in the aforementioned Wichita Falls, intent on taking advantage of the oil boom there. His equipment consisted of a borrowed pump, a team, a wagon, an old tank, a clothesline for measuring depth and some homemade wooden plugs. Halliburton was his own salesman, manager, laborer and capitalist. Operating as the Better Method Oil Well Cementing Co., he had working capital of US $1,500. But business was slow and Halliburton worked odd jobs in the surrounding oil fields to make ends meet and to improve his equipment.

When oil was found in southern Oklahoma near Ardmore, Halliburton pulled up stakes and moved to nearby Wilson, Okla. His break came in 1920 when W.G. (Bill) Skelly, president of Skelly Oil Co., approached Halliburton to kill a wild well in the Hewitt-Wilson field. Halliburton guaranteed Skelly he could control the well and he performed to his guarantee. From that point, business got better for Halliburton.

Still, Halliburton was ever the tinkerer. He owned nearly 50 patents. Most are oilfield, and specifically cementing related, but the number includes patents for an airplane control, an opposed piston pump, a respirator, an airplane tire and a metallic suitcase. Halliburton’s only real competitor in the industry was R.C. (Carl) Baker of Baker Oil Tools who also owned around 50 patents.

Halliburton was not satisfied with the primitive cementing technology. The most distressing aspect of the technology was the practice of hand mixing cement. It was slow and the properties of the resultant cement unreliable. There had to be a better way, Halliburton figured, and he found it. Halliburton’s third, fourth and fifth patents introduced and improved the jet mixer, arguably the basis for modern cementing. The jet mixer is a model of simplicity. “Cement poured into the hopper is pulled into the mixing chamber below by suction and its own weight. The stream of cement mingles with the jetted water and continues through the pipe and into the tub, where it is picked up by the pumps and pumped into the well.”

Screens in the hopper and tub hold back lumped cement. Another simple Halliburton invention, the Sack Cutter, clamps to the rim of the hopper. Sacks of cement are forced over a fixed cutter in such a way that their contents fall into the hopper. Other technological advances followed. The clothesline for measuring depth became the Howco (Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Co., the official name of the company as incorporated in 1924) Measuring Device used to measure well depths and carry instruments downhole.

Halliburton prospered. By the end of 1920, he owned and operated three cement wagons. In early 1921, he bought his first truck and moved to Duncan, Okla., following the boom there. Despite his success, Halliburton continued to tinker with technology. In 1924 he introduced the Howco Tester that allowed the testing of a formation without setting casing. Major advances in cementing technology also ensued. In the early 1920s, Howco introduced cement pumps powered by truck motors rather than steam from rig boilers. This, in turn, allowed Halliburton to offer the first self-contained cementing units operating under their own power.

Still not satisfied with the methods for exact cement placement, in 1934 Howco introduced the cement float collar and guide shoe system. The float collar above the guide shoe prevented the heavier cement from u-tubing back into the drill pipe and two plugs both wiped the drillpipe prior to cementing and indicated complete cement displacement when the second plug “bumped” the float collar on top of the guide shoe on the bottom of the casing. In that same year, Howco advertised multiple stage cementers, full hole cementing, wash pipe, lining for screens for perforated liners and drill stem testing.

Again in 1940, Howco plowed new technological ground in the cementing industry with the introduction of bulk cementing. Bulk cementing, with cement stored in bulk and loaded and distributed in bulk by trucks, eliminated, for the most part, the old sack cutting system. Bulk cement storage and distribution offer the additional advantages of moisture proof storage bins for various types of cement and a weight batcher for measuring and proportioning the cement for individual jobs.

Concurrent with these technological advances was Howco’s work on increasingly effective pumping technology. The Howco S-12 steam pump went into service in 1936. The 100 hp-rated pump could deliver 9 bbl of cement slurry per minute and pressures up to 3,500 psi. Three years later, the AC pump was introduced. A power driven duplex pump, it could deliver 7 bbl per minute at 4,000 psi from 135 hp. Several of these pumps were still in use by Halliburton field crews as late as 1978.

In the same year, 1939, the VP pump was debuted. It was a vertical, double-acting duplex pump that could deliver 6,000 psi and 8 bbl per minute from 200 hp. Again in 1947, Halliburton upped the ante with the introduction of the T-10 pump. The long-lived T-10 delivered 330 hp, could pump at a rate of 10 bbl per minute and could deliver up to 10,000 psi.

World War II intervened from 1941 to 1945 and Howco, as most other oilfield service companies, turned its productive capacity and innovative capabilities to the war effort.
At the end of the war, rebuilding the civilian economy required new energy resources. Offshore oil beckoned and, indeed, in 1947 the first well was drilled offshore in the Gulf of Mexico out of sight of land. In that same year, Howco bought an old shipyard on the Intracoastal Canal in Harvey, La., and set out to become the world’s first floating oilfield service company. Five surplus military landing craft (LCT – landing craft, tank) were purchased and modified into fully equipped cementing and well service units. This fleet, the first of its kind, successfully serviced the tidelands and near-offshore industry.

It is hard to imagine that cementing technology moved from men mixing cement with shovels in tanks to blended cement delivered and pumped at offshore locations by dedicated vessels only 27 years later. But, it did happen. A number of people and companies had a hand in it. However, it is easy argue that the nexus for this development in the first half of the 20th century was Erle P. Halliburton, the company he created and the technology they developed.