Skip to main content

Full text of "Occasional papers of the California Academy of Sciences"

See other formats




No. 38, 18 pages, 1 figure, 1 plate. July 10, 1963- 



G Dallas Hanna 


Department of Geology 

California Academy of Sciences 


North of the Brooks Range in Arctic Alaska and beyond a belt of roll- 
ing foot hills, an area of very low relief covers more than 35,000 square 
miles. Much of this lies within U. S. Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 and has 
been adequately described in current and available literature together with 
details of test drilling by the Navy (Reed, 1958). 

On the Reserve and in the area adjacent to it to the east there is sur- 
face evidence of oil in numerous places. It is the purpose of this paper to 
bring together in one place all of the information I have been able to gather 
during several years work in that region. My information has come from many 
sources: (a) published records; (b) interviews with residents; (c) personal in- 
vestigation. The area is so large that a map suitable for octavo publication 
would be inadequate to show necessary details. Therefore reference is made 
to the Geological Map of Alaska compiled by Dutro & Payne (1957) which is 
currently available. The small outline map herewith will show the general lo- 

* The work upon which this report is based was done under subcontract No. 
ONR-205 with the Arctic Institute of North America and the Office of Naval 


In preparing this record I have received help from too many people to 
warrant individual acknowledgment, but to all of them I must express my 
deep appreciation. The result would have been extremely fragmentary, how- 
ever, had it not been for the assistance of Mr. James Dalton of Fairbanks, 
Alaska, Manager of Construction of DEW line during my stay at Point Barrow; 
Mr. Ted Matthews, also of Fairbanks and in charge of transportation during 
much of the drilling operations for the Navy, 1944-1953 and Director of the 
Arctic Research Laboratory, 1954; Dr. Ira L. Wiggins, Director of the same 
Laboratory during much of the drilling activity; Mr. Max Brewer, Director of 
the Laboratory during a part of my stay there; and Lieutenant Commander R, 
L. Reynolds, U. S. Navy Ice Patrol, 1957, who furnished some much needed 
transportation. And lastly it is with much pleasure that I can record the val- 
uable assistance of Messrs. George Gryc, George Gates, Don Miller, W. W. 
Patton, Jr., Robert Detterman, and Irving Tailleur of the Alaska Branch, U.S. 
Geological Survey for critically reviewing the manuscript. 


It is natural to assume that all of the presently known oil seepages 
were discovered by Eskimos long ago but since they left no written record, 
our information from them is limited to the recollections of living persons. 
Therefore the historical record will be presented first. 

The first Europeans to reach Point Barrow were two members of the 
crew of the British ship Blossom in 1826. These were Thomas Elson and En- 
sign Smyth who had proceeded northward along the coast in a small boat af- 
ter the ship had been blocked by ice near Franklin Point (Reed, p. 17). The 
stay at Barrow was short and no mention of the seepages or oil has been re- 

The first explorers who traversed the Arctic Coast past any of the seep- 
ages were Sir John Franklin and party in the same year. He was attempting 
to round the northern part of the continent and perhaps meet the Blossom, but 
his small boats were blocked by ice at Return Point near the mouth of Kupar- 
uk River. They passed and named Manning Point and Humphrey Point, near 
both of which surface evidence of oil has been reliably reported, but no men- 
tion of this appeared in the report of the expedition. 

In order to complete the traverse of the north coast, the Hudson's Bay 
Company outfitted a party in 1837 under Thomas Simpson and Peter Warren 
Dease. With 12 crew men and two specially built sail boats they descended 
the Mackenzie River, travelled westward through shoals and broken ice to a 
point four miles west of Cape Simpson, named for George Simpson, Governor 
of the Company. Because of ice conditions, the boats were left there in charge 
of Dease, and Simpson with five companions started on foot for Point Barrow 
on August 1. On the way they picked up an umiak and reached Point Barrow 


by this boat August 4, 1837. On August 6 they rejoined their companions and 
proceeded eastward over their previous route. Thus Dease with seven men 
camped for over a week within a few miles of the Cape Simpson seepages but 
no mention is made of them in the narrative (Dease and Simpson, 1838, pp. 
213-225; Simpson, 1843, pp. 109-168). 

Among the many early ships which visited the Arctic, especially those 
in search of the missing explorer Sir John Franklin, there was one which it 
seems, might have come across the Cape Simpson seepages. This was H.M.S. 
Plover. This vessel had winter quarters in Elson Lagoon near Point Barrow 
during 1852-1853 and 1853-1854. The surgeon, John Simpson, (1855) pub- 
lished an extensive account of the Eskimos and their country. From this it is 
obvious that he acquired a good working knowledge of their language, but if 
they ever mentioned "pitch" to him he made no record of it. 

During 1881-1883 an International Polar Expedition under Lieut. P. H. 
Ray was stationed at Point Barrow and resulted in the gathering of a wealth 
of information about that part of the Arctic (Ray, 1885). The general report 
contains no information regarding the presence of oil or tar. However, one 
member of the party was the indefatigable naturalist, John Murdoch. In his 
report on the Ethnological results of the Point Barrow Expedition he said: 
"We also heard a story of a lake of tar or bitumen 'a'dngm,' said to be situ- 
ated on an island a day's sail east of the point" (Murdock, 1892, p. 61). This 
unquestionably refers to the Cape Simpson seepage. 

On May 4, 1896, Ensign W. L. Howard of Lieut. Stoney's party was 
travelling down the upper part of the Etivluk River on a trip from the Noatak 
River to Point Barrow. When about 50 miles downstream from the point where 
the portage strikes the Etivluk, he "passed a hill about 500 feet eleva- 
tion with outcroppings of coal. On the sides of this hill beyond the coal were 
also found large pieces of a substance called wood by the natives; it was 
hard, brittle, light brown in color, very light in weight and burned readily, 
giving out quantities of gas. This material was scattered about in all shapes, 
sizes, and quantities. The snow and ice made it impossible to climb and dig; 
a specimen was preserved" (Stoney, 1899, p. 814). 

In referring to this occurrence. Brooks (1909, p. 62) quoted Dall who 
probably saw the sample collected because of additional information he gave. 

He stated that the material " recalled pitch in hardness and weight, but 

not brilliant nor disposed to melt with heat, but making a clean cut, like 'plug' 
tobacco, when whittled with a knife. This material was sufficiently inflam- 
mable to ignite and burn with a steady flame on applying a match to a corner 
of it, so that in their cold and weary journey it formed a most welcome sub- 
stitute for wood or other fuel for the camp fire" (Dall, 1896, p. 818). 

This locality is in the upper drainage of the Colville River and on the 
Aupuk anticline. It is in the same vicinity as a methane gas seepage discov- 


ered in 1944 by Field Party No. 4 of the U. S. Geological Survey. This seep- 
age was described as rapidly escaping gas in a small lake about one mile 
above the junction of Aupuk Creek and the Colville and near the river (Reed, 
1958, p. 56). A more detailed description of this seepage was given by Gryc 
(1959, p. 92), and is summarized later in this report. The age of the shale is 
given as Upper Jurassic, Fortress Mountain formation (Patton, W.W., Personal 
communication, 1961), it outcrops extensively and is found secondarily in 
later sediments. 

Leffingwell (1918, p. 178) apparently did not visit the Cape Simpson 
seepages but gave a brief report of their existence from information received 
from natives and others prior to 1908. He gave the first chemical analysis (by 
David T. Day) of the residue, a sample he obtained from Charles Brower at 

Point Barrow. He added " the natives say that a considerable amount 

could easily be dug out with spades." 

His observations and a sample of the oil were evidently made and col- 
lected prior to 1908 because practically the same information is given by 
Brooks in his report of Alaska operations for that year. 

He mentioned another reported "petroleum mound" between Humphrey 
Point and Aichillik River near the coast. This is east of Barter Island and 
almost on the 142° meridian. If true, it is the easternmost surface evidence 
of oil in the region, but may perhaps refer to the seepages called "Ungoon" 
Point by Ebbley and Joesting. 

Ejnar Mikkelsen, who accompanied Leffingwell during the early part of 
his work in the Arctic, made an overland trip from Flaxman Island to Valdez 
during the winter of 1907-1908. On the way to Point Barrow he passed close 
to the Cape Simpson seepages but did not mention them in the narrative of 
his experience (1909, pp. 334-362). It seems that had he known of them he 
would have given them some notice, especially if at the time the residue was 
being used for fuel. He does tell about the beginning of the use of coal by 
Eskimos at Wainwright through the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Kilbuck, school- 
teachers (Mikkelsen, 1909, p. 357). 

Unless the Cape Simpson seepages were visited by one of the early 
explorers or whalers whose observations were not recorded or have been over- 
looked, the first white man to see them was the well known Charles Brower 
and his partner, Patrick Grey, while on a hunting trip. In August 1886, they 
walked inland toward a "distant hill." Near-by they found two so-called 
"lakes" in the larger of which there were four trapped caribou and several 
spectacled eider ducks (Brower, 1943, p. 84). 

No doubt Brower staked claims on the seepages and maintained them 
as best he could for many years (Tommy Brower, verbal communication, 1957). 
In 1922 during a visit to San Francisco the elder Brower contacted the Stand- 
ard Oil Company and the then Chief Geologist, G. C. Gester (verbal communi- 


cation, 1958) was sufficiently impressed by the description that he despatched 
a geological party to Point Barrow to investigate the situation. 

During the progress of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913-1918, 
one of the party. Diamond Jenness, was camped at Cape Simpson and visited 
the seepages after being told of them by an Eskimo companion. He found an 
Arctic owl dead on the "shore" (Jenness, 1957, p. 21). 

Van Valin (1941, pp. 117-122; 1945, pp. 94-199) published an account 
of a trip he made with a party of 20 to the Cape Simpson seepages in May, 
1915. In the group were Charles Brower and T. L. Richardson, school teacher 
at Point Barrow. Some additional details of the trip have been supplied by 
Mrs. Ruth (Richardson) Belstorff, of Johnson, Nebraska, verbally and by let- 
ter. She was a young girl at Point Barrow at the time and has the diaries 
kept by her parents. Mr. Richardson had been to the seepages twice before 
this trip and was instrumental in organizing the large party. Two twenty- 
acre claims were staked under the name "Arctic Rim Mineral Oil Claims," 
and they were recorded at Kiana, on Squirrel Creek, a tributary of the Kobuk 
River according to Van Valin (p. 127). Mrs. Belstorff has copies of original 
papers pertaining to these claims (letter, May 8, 1960). Van Valin (p. 121) 
also described the low hills which mark the seepages and mentions numerous 
oil soaked and partly eaten birds around the margin in soft residue. He also 
speculated upon the possibility of these being traps of long duration similar 
to the La Brea Pits in Los Angeles, California. He evidently was in error 
in assuming that the Eskimos used this tar to "seal leaky seams in their skin 

Mr. George Gryc has examined the files of the U. S. Geological Survey 
in Washington and very kindly supplied the following information regarding 
the next oil excitement. 

"We have two maps, one of the Wainwright-Smith Bay region at a scale 
of 1 inch equals 10 miles and another of the Cape Simpson area, at a scale of 
1 inch equals 1 mile. The titles state 'examined by Adams Expedition for 
North Star Oil Syndicate. Mapping by Max Steineke, Harry Campbell and A.M. 
Smith.' The Wainwright-Smith Bay map has large areas outlined in the Cape 
Simpson, lower Meade River, and Skull Cliff areas, which were presumably 
staked according to the old placer claim laws. The maps are dated July 5 and 
August 30, 1921. This was after the placer laws were superceded by oil and 
gas-lease laws (February, 1920). I believe Sandy [A. M. Smith] told me that 
they were not aware of the new regulations at the time they were in the field. 
The mile to the inch map shows the area of the individual claims in the Cape 
Simpson area. The first map also has two seepages plotted in the Simpson 
area, two at Skull Cliff and a 'gas seepage' about 10 miles northeast along 
the coast from the Skull Cliff oil seepages. In the lower Meade River area 
several dips and strikes are plotted as well as six oil seepages." 


According to Smith's account of the expedition as published in Alaska 
Weekly, April 20, 1923, he and R. D. Adams went north in the spring of 1921. 
Adams, it states, won a fortune in the Nome gold fields and he was one of 
the group of backers. 

It seems apparent from available documents that much if not all of this 
early activity resulted from the promotional proclivities of prospector Alex- 
ander Malcom (Sandy) Smith. He was connected with the ill-fated attempt to 
take some tractors over the Brooks Range to Point Barrow in connection with 
exploratory flights by Sir Hubert VVilkins and Bernt Balchen (Wilkins, Jan. 
1955, verbal communication). The machines were soon abandoned, but Smith 
and a companion, recorded as W. H. Berry, finally reached Point Barrow in a 
rather pitiful condition (Tommy Brower, personal communication, 1957). On 
the way, it seems that Smith got into one of the seepages and thereafter 
claimed to be the discoverer of what Charles Brower had visited long before. 
It is difficult to sift fact from fiction in the newspaper account (cited above) 
but it does appear that Smith's group staked 37 claims (in a four-page manu- 
script I have seen the number is given as 42) in the general Point Barrow 
area but locations are not given. The paper does not mention Harry S. Camp- 
bell but it is known that he prepared a report. It is mentioned in several U.S. 
Geological Survey Reports but was not found by Mr. Gryc in the Washington 
office files and Don Miller (verbal communication) was unable to locate it in 
the files of the Alaska Branch office at Menlo Park, California. Very likely 
information contained in it was used to some extent in the setting up of Nav- 
al Petroleum Reserve No. 4. 

While on the Arctic Coast Mr. Campbell picked up a small series of re- 
cent marine shells which he presented to the California Academy of Sciences 
and they are now a part of the research collection of that institution. 

In the collection of papers owned by Malcom A. Smith (son of "Sandy" 
Smith) there is a photograph of Harry S. Campbell, Max Steineke, W. D. Adams, 
Mr. Smith, and a man named "Pond" standing beside a low sod house, prob- 
ably at Half Moon Ranch, the reindeer station of the Brower family. The pho- 
tograph is not dated. 

E. M. Butterworth and Charles Meek spent the season of 1923 working 
in the Point Barrow area for Standard Oil Company of California. They visited 
Cape Simpson and also Skull Cliff about 30 miles south of the point. A seep- 
age was reported to them there. During the course of their work they collected 
a good series of Pleistocene fossils at Skull Cliff from the formation which 
has come under the name Gubik of later years. Meek described and illustrated 
these (Meek, 1923). Whatever their recommendations may have been regarding 
commercial oil possibilities, they were nullified soon thereafter by the setting 
aside of the entire area as Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 (Harding, 1923). 


The documents and arguments which were presented and which resulted in 
the establishment of this Reserve, have not been published. 

Thus, it appears clear that the first geologists who studied any part of 
the Arctic slope from a petroleum standpoint were Harry S. Campbell and Max 
Steineke in 1921, even though the results of their observations are fragmen- 
tary. Unfortunately it is necessary to omit from discussion in this connection 
the marvelous work of the justly celebrated geologist Schrader (1904) because 
his report contains no information regarding the presence of oil and gas. 

Private investigations of the region ceased with 1923 and the setting 
aside of the Reserve. The first Government geological report appeared two 
years later by Paige, Foran, and Gilluly (1925) as a Bulletin of the U. S. Geo- 
logical Survey. That branch of the Government has been responsible for near- 
ly all subsequent work. 

Paige et rt/. described the two main Capt Simpson seepages and photo- 
graphed them. The "weathered" live oil was analyzed. They did not mention 
the presence of trapped animals or the mining of the heavier residues by the 
Eskimos. Mention was made of the presence of fragments of shale on the two 
mounds at the seepage localities. In sinking pits on the mounds which have 
the seepages, Patton (1948, p. 2) reported that no bed rock was found but in 
the silt and clay some rounded chert and quartzite pebbles were found. Also 
some pieces of limey shale, limestone, and ironstone float were found on the 
surface, and a few similar ones were found in the excavations. Two samples 
of silt and clay from pits Nos. 1 and 2 yielded four and seven species of For- 
aminifera respectively, generically determined only by Mrs. Helen Loeblich 
(Patton, 1948, p. 3). 

The work of Smith and Mertie in 1925, although not published until 1930, 
is still a basic reference to the general geology of that region. Their efforts 
were concentrated on geology and no new seepages of oil were discovered. 
They quoted the description of the Cape Simpson seepages from Paige et al. 
(Smith and Mertie, pp. 176-278) and added a map to show their location. They 
did find a piece of oil shale as float on the Etivluk River not far from the oc- 
currence described by Howard (in Stoney, 1899, p. 814). Two additional pieces 
of shale float were given to them, one from upper and one from lower Meade 
River (Smith and Mertie, 1930, p. 284). 

In 1943 Norman Ebbley (U. S. Bureau of Mines), Henry R. Joesting (Ter- 
ritorial Department of Mines), and Henry F. Thomas (U. S. Army Engineers) 
were sent to the Arctic slope specifically to investigate oil and gas seepages. 
Sigurd Wien was pilot and Simon Paneak, an Eskimo of Anaktuvuk and Chand- 
ler Lake, was guide. 

A comprehensive manuscript report on this work was submitted by Ebb- 
ley and Joesting (1943, 33 pp.). I had an opportunity to examine a copy of this 
through the courtesy of Mr. Max Brewer, Director, Arctic Research Laboratory. 



(Occ. Papers 

It contains much more information than the condensed published report (Anon. 
1944, pp. 1-9, and Ebbley,1944, pp. 415-419). Since both reports are relatively 
inaccessible, numerous significant passages have been quoted herein. 

Skull Cliff Seepage 
Skull Cliff is located on the coast about 30 miles south of Point Bar- 
row and was evidently known by 1921 because the party sent north that year 
by the North Star Oil Syndicate staked claims there. George Gryc mentioned 
the seepage (1958, p. 126; 1959, p. 92) and that oil may be seen oozing from 
the Cretaceous rocks there. He also mentioned the seepages at the base of 
Umiat Mountain and in the lakes just west of it. In a very brief landingat Skull 
Cliff in 1954, I did not search for the oil although I examined the Cretaceous 
and Gubik rocks at that point for fossils. 

Brooks (1916, p. 52) referred somewhat indefinitely to a seepage re- 
ported to him as near Wainwright Inlet and 100 miles southwest of Point Bar- 
row. No additional information has been found. Possibly Skull Cliff could 
have been in the mind of the informant although the location is far off. 





:ase inlet '^\9^ 
vpe simpson ^^^ j 


2. DE 

3. CA 






1 0. AUPUK 


Figxire 1. Outline map showing locations of oil and gas seepages in Arctic Alaska. 

Dease Inlet Seepage 
Ebbley and Joesting located this seepage and another about 200 yards 
east of it, as on the east side of Dease Inlet about 4.5 miles northeast of 


Thomas Brewer's warehouse. The latter is indicated on U. S. Geological Sur- 
vey Map E of Alaska, 1954, by the name Alaktak. This is near the mouth of 
Chipp River. Heavy residue had issued from a low mound. It formed a deposit 
sufficient for some mining operations by the Eskimos to secure fuel. 

Cape Simpson Area 

There are three well known seepages of oil in this area and they have 
been referred to repeatedly as Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Ebbley and Joesting located 
No. 1 as four miles northwest of Cape Simpson and 500 yards from the ocean 
shore. Seep No. 2, is on a prominent hill three miles south of No. 1. It is 
slightly south and about 500 yards east of the ocean shore. The oil flows 
down hill and eventually reaches a lake which covers several acres. At times 
it must cover the surface of the water and this led to early reports of "a lake 
of oil." There is much evidence of residue although parts of the area have 
been stripped by Eskimos for fuel. Seep No. 3 is about five miles south and 
a little east of No. 2. It is farther from the ocean than Nos. 1 and 2, and 
therefore was not mined as extensively. The residue covers an area about 
800 feet x 1000 feet according to Ebbley and Joesting. 

A fourth seep noted as 2A on a map prepared by Arctic Contractors, No. 
1275, dated December, 1950, is located almost midway between Nos. 2 and 3. 
Well No. 31 was drilled here. 

In addition to the above, Ebbley and Joesting stated that two addition- 
al seepages were known in this area about 10 miles west of Cape Simpson. 
No other reference to these has been found. 

Numerous test wells and a few for production were drilled in the Cape 
Simpson area with some encouraging results. (For details, see Reed, 1958.) 

In 1948 the U. S. Geological Survey (Patton, pp. 1-4) dug two pits on 
Seepage No. 1, four on Seepage No. 2, and one on Seepage No. 3. These 
varied in depth from 9 to 13 feet and were located so as to give as much in- 
formation as possible on the origin of the light oil. No extensive deposit of 
residue was found. The oil seemed to be escaping by way of steeply dipping 
fractures in the permafrost which had no regular orientation. "The fractures 
varied in width from a few inches to a foot and were filled with loosely com- 
pacted oil saturated silt and clay." 

From this investigation it seems unlikely that there is a reservoir of 
pitch of sufficient size to serve as an animal trap similar to those of McKit- 
trick and La Brea in California. 

The locations of the Cape Simpson seepages are more accurately shown 
on a map prepared by W.W. Patton, Jr. (1948). Using Cape Simpson as a refer- 
ence point these are: No. 1-3 mi. N., | mi. from ocean shore;No. 2 -3i mi. S. of 
No. 1, 11 mi. from ocean shore; No. 3- 3^ mi. S. of No. 2, 2 mi. from ocean shore. 

White Mountain Area 

Ebbley and Joesting had a report from Eskimo sources that there was a 


seepage of oil about 5 or 10 miles north of the "White Mountains" and be- 
tween the east and west forks of the Kupowruk River. They searched for, but 
did not find evidence of oil. 

Umiat Area 

Ebbley and Joesting described four seepages in this area. A steady flow 
of light oil and gas was found in a small lake "about a mile west of Umiat 
Mountain and 100 yards from the north bank of the Colville River. More oil was 
found in another lake about a mile west of this one. And sand containing high 
gravity oil was found on the river bank south of the first lake mentioned. They 
reported that seven years prior to their visit Simon Paneak collected a gallon 
of oil from the sand and this was burned in a lamp by a trader at Beechey Point. 

Wells drilled in this area during Naval exploration showed on produc- 
tion tests that estimates of reserves were warranted. 

Fish Creek Seepage 
This small patch of residue was described by Ebbley and Joesting as be- 
ing about 6 feet X 20 feet in extent. They noted that a "great many" birds and 
small rodents had been trapped in the tar. The location was said to be 25 
miles southwest of the mouth of the Colville River and more specifically, 4 
miles north 60° West from the junction of Ovolotuk and Fish creeks. Small pro- 
duction of heavy oil was obtained from a Navy test well drilled in this vicinity. 

Brownlow Point 

In 1954 the U. S. Geological Survey received a report of a rather exten- 
sive seepage near Brownlow Point. It has not been investigated since as far 
as has been learned. An Air Force employee driving a tracked vehicle was 
mired in the tar and extracted himself with considerable difficulty. The exact 
location he gave was at the head of the small unnamed bay bounded on the 
east by the peninsula of which Brownlow Point is the north extremity, and on 
the southwest by a long narrow spit with Ruth Island off the extreme tip. This 
area is well shown on U. S. Geological Survey, Flaxman Island Quadrangle, 
Ed. 1951. The above information was furnished by Mrs. Florence (Robinson) 
Weber and Mr. George Gryc, both of the U. S. Geological Survey. 

Manning Point Seepage 
Ebbley and Joesting describe this as an extensive beach with much 

Plate 1 

Upper figure. A portion of deposit of oil seepage residue (No. 2), Cape Simpson, 
Alaska, with Eskimo home-made spade used in gathering the material 
for fuel. 1918-1947. 

Lower figure. Pit at oil seepage No. 2, Cape Simpson, Alaska, with pool of live oil. 
The residue excavated contained many bones of animals. 






free oil in evidence. The Point is located about two miles southeast of Bar- 
ter Island. They add: "No actual pitch residue was noted; however, the north- 
west and northeast beaches which form the point are lined with oil froth for a 
mile and a half. A considerable portion of the beach particularly on the north- 
west side, consists of an oil bound silt and numerous boulders of soft oil 
bound reddish-brown sand were observed. Several trickles of water-carrying 
oil film cross the narrow beach. Oil soaked peat was noted at several places 
along the sloughed bank. Sample No. 11 was taken from the oil bound silt 
found in layers along the northwest beach. An unconsolidated oil soaked silt 
underlies the surface. Sample No. 12 was skimmed from the several small 
streams of water flowing from the bank to the ocean. Sample No. 13 was col- 
lected from exposures of an unconsolidated oil bound brownish red sand which 
appeared in places along the bank. Sample No. 14 consisted of oil soaked 
vegetable debris found along the bank throughout the entire mile and a half 
distance." The U.S. Bureau of Mines later extracted the oil from the above 
samples and the gravity varied as follows: 17.3°, 19.0°, 2.6° and 21.3° all API 
(Anon. p. 7). This field work was done in 1943 before any contamination from 
building or drilling activity was likely. I have seen no other reference to the 


Ungoon Point Seepage 

This name is not located on any map available to me but Ebbley and 
Joesting give the position as 7 miles east of Humphrey Point and about 40 
miles west of Demarcation Point. They added the following data: "Ungoon 
is the Eskimo term for pitch. Three evidences of petroleum seepages were 
found on Ungoon Point. The largest of these is a mile and a quarter south 
from the sod house on the Point. The pitch is black and hard and is extreme- 
ly difficult to dig. A small amount of mining has been carried out and the 
pitch has appeared in several small holes where the tundra has been removed. 
The general area is approximately 300 feet north and south and 100 feet east 
and west. 

"Six hundred yards east and about 250 yards from the east beach a 
small pool has been excavated in the center of a small hummock. Sample No. 
16 was taken from this material which has the same consistency as the larger 
exposure. On the east side of Ungoon Point and in line with the two seepages 
mentioned above, an exposure of oil bound sand four feet thick appears along 
the bank for a distance of about 30 feet. This deposit is located one and one 
half miles southeasterly from Ungoon Point proper." 

U. S. Geological Survey Exploration 

During the years 1944-1953, very extensive and detailed exploration of 
the Arctic Coastal Plain was made by geologists of the U. S. Geological Sur- 
vey. These parties were well equipped with modern transportation and bases 
of supply at Point Barrow and Umiat. The work was a continuing project dur- 


ing the test drilling of Navy Petroleum Reserve No. 4, so that plans could be 
made well in advance. 

Pahron Gas Seepage 

As might be expected these geological field parties visited all of the 
known oil and gas seepages in the area and searched for additional ones 
about which there were rumors. In addition to verifying an actual oil seepage 
at Skull Cliff, Webber (1947) reported briefly on a gas seepage named "Pah- 
ron" near the head waters of Meade River. Whittington and Keller (1950) re- 
visited the seepage and gave a more precise locality as; 157° 36' W. Long, 
and one fourth mile north of the river. Gas was escaping about 100 feet out 
in the lake and along a zone about 50 feet in length (Gryc, 1959, p. 92). 

Apuk Gas Seepage 

A rather extensive seepage of dry gas was discovered in 1945 at the 
eastern end of the Aupuk Anticline in a small lake 1| miles above the junc- 
tion of Aupuk Creek and the Colville River. 

In subsequent years this area was re-examined and Eberlein, Chapman, 
and Reynolds (1950) collected a sample. The gas bubbled to the surface of 
the lake over about 300 square feet. The analysis of the gas was published 
by Gryc (1959, p. 93), together with additional details pertaining to this and 
the Pahron seepage. Another seepage, which may possibly be an extension 
of Aupuk structure, was reported by R. F. Thurrell in May, 1947. In this case 
the bubbling of gas in the lake caused a small ice-free area (Gryc 1959, p. 
93). Gryc (1959, pp. 94-95) mentioned oil-bearing sandstones found by various 
members of the Geological Survey from several localities: on the Kokolik 
River north of the axis of syncline 10; also in the Carbon Creek and Kigalik- 
Awuna Rivers area. Most significant possibly was the noting of an almost 
continuous belt of Upper Jurassic shale along the north front of the Brooks 
Range. It burns readily and undoubtedly was the fuel found in 1886 by How- 
ard. And lastly, the Lisburne limestones of Mississippian age in the Brooks 
Range were found to have a strong odor and traces of petroleum (Gryc, 1959, 
p. 112). 

Use of Oil Seepage Residue by Eskimo People 

No definite evidence has been found to indicate that the native people 
used the pitch or tar from the oil seepages in prehistoric times (Ford, James 
A. Letter dated Jan. 20, 1950). This is surprising in view of their ingenuity 
in using many other available products. 

Recollections of the people differ as to the exact year when they began 
using the material for fuel and who induced them to do so. The earliest def- 
inite record I have found was the spring of 1918 when Van Valen (1941, p. 
149, 1945, p. 122) sent Eskimos to the [Cape Simpson] seepages for a supply 
of tar during a fuel shortage. 


Stefansson (1913, pp. 45-46) spent a part of the winter of 1908-1909 at 
Point Barrow and described the extreme shortage of fuel. The Eskimos had 
exhausted the supply of driftwood for many miles each side of the village. If 
they had then known of the heating properties of the material at Cape Simpson 
the author would almost certainly have mentioned it. Thus it appears that the 
use of the residue from the seepages for fuel was started between 1908 and 

Leffingwell's reference in his 1919 report is rather indefinite in this 
respect, but it indicates that some ten years prior to when his report was 
written, the natives knew how to go about mining the material. In the early 
spring of 1932 anthropologist James A. Ford, accompanied Alfred Hopson to 
seepages for two sled loads of fuel (Ford, 1959, p. 15). 

When Ebbley and Joesting visited the Arctic Slope in 1943, they noted 
several hundred sacks of residue at the now abandoned Brower reindeer sta- 
tion on Dease Inlet. This had been removed from the seepage bearing that 
name. They also noted evidence of mining at Ungoon Point and at all three 
Cape Simpson seepages. They estimated the amount of material taken from the 
latter as 3000 sacks of 100 pounds each as the annual amount removed. I was 
able to verify this estimate from Eskimo sources. 

In 1957 three reliable Eskimos, Peter Solvalik, Chester Lampe, and 
Kenneth Tuvak gave me a detailed account of the methods employed ingather- 
ing the residue. All three had worked at this and had first-hand knowledge. 

The best season for cutting the "pitch," as it is locally known, was 
the spring. Homemade spades (fig. 1) were used to cut out rectangular blocks 
convenient in size to put in sacks of about 100 pounds each for transport to 
the village of Barrow. Much of it was hauled the 80 miles directly by dog 
team; a load would consist of six or seven sacks. A larger quantity, however, 
was hauled to the beach by dog team and when water transport became pos- 
sible in the summer it was taken to the village by umiak. 

The method of cutting the pitch was to heat a spade very hot over an 
open fire. This made the blocks easy to remove from a working face. All 
agreed that the material made excellent fuel which lasted a long time, and 
gave a great deal of heat together with much smoke. It was liked better than 
the coal which replaced it. 

In mining the deposits, the Eskimos preferred to choose localities 
where the pitch had flowed out over the surface of the tundra and was about 
a foot thick. Only rarely did they go to a greater depth than two feet, and 
there seemed to be some fear of miring down if the center was worked. When 
the Navy established its camp for drilling Petroleum Reserve No. 4 and it be- 
came possible to haul coal from Meade River by tractor train in winter, enough 
of that fuel was brought in to supply the native village and some of the Gov- 
ernment establishments located there. Work in the mine and for the Navy con- 


tractors provided sufficient funds so that the natives could purchase the coal. 
This has continued until the present. Gas from the Barrow field was reported 
to have been made available to government buildings in the native village 
late in 1958 or early 1959. 

Trapped Animals 

In recounting their mining experiences at the Cape Simpson seepages, 
the natives told of the large number of animals and birds which became trap- 
ped. They enumerated small land and shore birds, caribou, foxes, and wolves, 
No mention was made of lemmings, the most numerous of Arctic mammals. 

I spent several days in the Cape Simpson area, in the summer of 1957 
especially to investigate the reported trapped animals by Eskimos and by 
Ebbley and Joesting (1943). The latter also reported "great numbers of birds 
and small rodents caught in the gummy residue at the Fish Creek seepage." 
The bones which I collected were embedded in the tar. With better facilities 
for excavating, no doubt additional material could have been obtained. 

At Seepage No. 1 many separate elements of caribou skeletons were 
found. In addition 10 parts of seal skeletons were picked up. At Seepage No. 
2, 25 bones of caribou and 9 of seals were collected. Also there was a flip- 
per bone of a small whale. The identifications were made by Dr. Robert T. 
Orr, California Academy of Sciences. 

While all of the specimens which I collected belong to species now liv- 
ing in the area of the seepages, it seems reasonable to suppose that the tar 
has been effective as long as it has been present. It is not known if oil has 
been escaping since the emergence of the coastal plain or even earlier. If so, 
then there is a possibility of Pleistocene animals being present. 

The actual cause of the mounds from which the oil emerges is not known 
for certain. The work of Patton (1948 and personal communication) does not 
indicate that they are the direct result of building of residue or residue-soaked 
silt. Anticlinal structure has not been definitely determined. There is a pos- 
sibility that the fractures discovered in the pits were caused by earth move- 
ments, thus allowing surface water to penetrate. Expansion upon freezing 
could cause some heaving as it does in the formation of polygonal surface 
structures. One small mound was found north and a little east, one half 
mile from Seepage No. 2, which contained no evidence of oil in the pit Patton 

Pit No. 2 was excavated to a depth of eight feet by bulldozer during 
drilling near by in order to secure fluid for oil base drilling mud (Ted Math- 
ews, personal communication). It is noteworthy that the deepest material 
brought out then contained many bones and the matrix was still soft "tar" 
(fig. 2). It was noted that the bones from the deepest material excavated were 
not as well preserved as those higher up. No evidence of mummification or 


flesh preservation was seen, although this might be expected in the climate 
of that area. 

Among the bones collected in 1957 there were numerous parts of skel- 
etons of seals. The natives who worked at mining the pitch undoubtedly car- 
ried some of them there with their food and may have brought them all. The 
only other explanation would seem to be to assume a late marine submergence 
so that the mounds became islands, which is a possibility but lacks definite 
proof. In the Antarctic mummified seals have been found many miles inland 
from salt water (Pewe, Rivard and Llano, 1959), but the Eskimos I consulted 
had no knowledge of such movements of seals in Arctic Alaska. 

With the limited time and equipment at my disposal it is not strange 
that no remains of polar bears were found in the seepages, and perhaps there 
are none. It is well known that the large brown bears of central and western 
Alaska habitually seek oil seepages and wallow in them (Hanna, 1948, pp. 
138-139). However, inquiry among reliable Eskimos of Point Barrow did not 
yield any information indicating such an activity for the polar bears of that 

References Cited 


1944. Oil seepages of the Alaska Arctic Slope. U. S. Bureau of Mines, 

War Minerals Report 258, October, 9 pp. [Condensed version of 
Ebbley and Joesting, 1943, with additions!] 

1831. Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Bering's Strait to cooper- 

ate with polar expeditions: performed in His Majesty's Ship Blos- 
som under the command of Capt. F. W. Beechey, etc., in the 
years 1825, 1826, 1827 and 1828. London. 

Brooks, A. H. 

1909. Mineral resources of Alaska, 1908, U.S. Geological Survey, Bulle- 

tin 379, 418 pp. [See p. 61 for data on Leffingwell's information 
regarding Cape Simpson seepages and David T.Day's analysis 
of the oil. Collected by Leffingwelli] 

1916. Mineral resources of Alaska, 1915, U.S. Geological Survey, Bulle- 

tin 642, 279 pp. [See p. 5 2 for reference to reported seepage 100 
miles southwest of Point Barrow in the vicinity of Wainwright 
Inlet. This may possibly refer to Skull Cliff.J 

Brower, C. 

1942. Fifty years below zero. A lifetime of adventure in the far north. In 

collaboration with Philip J. Farrelly and Lyman Anson. Illu- 
strated, 310 pp., Dodd, Mead & Co., New York. 

Call, W. H. 

1896. Report on coal and lignite of Alaska. U. S. Geological Survey, An- 

nual Report, pt. 1, pp. 673-908, pis. 48-58, 3 text figs. 


Dease, p. W., and T. Simpson 

1838. An account of the recent Arctic discoveries of Messrs. Dease and 

T. Simpson. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Lon- 
don, vol. 8, pp. 213-225. 1 map. 
DuTRO, J. T., Jr., and T. G. Payne 

1957. Geologic map of Alaska, 1957. Scale 1:2,500,000. U.S. Geological 

Survey, Base from Map E, 1946. 

Ebbley, N., Jr. 

1944. Oil seepages on the Alaskan Arctic slope. Mining and Metallurgy, 

vol. 25, no. 453, PP. 415-419. 

Ebbley, N., Jr., and H. R. Joesting 

1943. Manuscript. Report of investigations of petroleum seepages, Arctic 

slope area, Alaska, October, 33 typed pages, 12 maps, 12 aer- 
ial photographs. 

Eberlein, G. D., R. M. Chapman, and CD. Reynolds 

1950. The stratigraphy and structure of the Aupuk Anticline. U. S. Geo- 

logical Survey, open file report. 

Ford, J. A. 

1959. Eskimo prehistory in the vicinity of Point Barrow, Alaska. Ameri- 

can Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Papers, vol. 
47, pt. 1, 1959, 272 pp., 13 pis., 118 text figs. 

Franklin, Sir John 

1859- The narrative of Franklin's expedition westward from the mouth of 

the Mackenzie River to Return Point in Alaska has been pub- 
lished in several editions. A greatly abridged one appeared in 
1859. "Thirty years in the Arctic regions: A narrative of ex- 
plorations and adventures of Sir John Franklin." John N.Potter 
and Co., Philadelphia, 1859, see pp. 398-468. 

Gryc, G. 

1959. Northern Alaska. In Miller, D. J., Payne, T. G.,and Gryc, George, 

1959. Geology of possible petroleum provinces in Alaska. U.S. 
Geological Survey Bulletin 1094, pp. 88-112. 


1948. Animals and tar traps. Wasmann Journal of Biology, vol. 7, no. 4, 

December, pp. 133-139- 
Harding, W. 

1923. Executive order no. 3797-A, February 27, 1923, 1 p. [Establishing 

Naval Petroleum Reserve no. 4. Reprinted byPaige, Foran, and 
Gllluly, U. S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 772, pp. 1-2.] 


1957. Dawn in Arctic Alaska, p. 21, Univ. Press, Minneapolis, 1957. 

Leffingwell, E. de K. 

1919 The Canning River region, northern Alaska, U. S. Geological Survey, 

Professional Paper 109, 251 pp., 35 pis. 33 text figs. [The in- 
formation pertaining to the seepages at Cape Simpson was evi- 
dently obtained prior to 1908. See Brooks, A. H., 1909] 


Mf.ek, C. E. 

1923- Notes on stratigraphy and Pleistocene fauna from Peard Bay, Arc- 

tic Alaska. University of California Publications in Cieological 
Science, vol. 14, no. 13, November 23, pp. 409-422, pis. 75-79, 
1 text fig. 

1909- Conquering the Arctic Ice. London. Pp. XVIIl - 1-470, illustrated. 


1892. Ethnological results of the Point Barrow expedition. Ninth Annual 

Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smith- 
sonian Institution, 1887-1888, [1892], 441 pp. 428 figs.^2maps. 

1856. The discovery of the N. W. Passage by H. M. S. Investigator, Capt. 

R. M'Clure, 1850-1854. Appendix: Narrative of Commander Ma- 
guire, wintering at Point Barrow. London. 

Paige, S., W. T. Foran, and J. Gilluly 

1925. A reconnaissance of the Point Barrow Region, Alaska. U. S. Geo- 

logical Survey , Bulletin 772, 33 PP-, 9 pls., 4 text figs. 

Patton, W.W., Jr. 

1948. Geological results of text pit operations at Cape Simpson, Alaska. 

U. S. Geological Survey, Geological Investigations of Naval Re- 
serve no. 4, Report no. 22, 4 pp., 2 pis. [4 photos], open file 

Pewe T. L., N. R. Rivard, and G. A. Llano 

1959. Mummified seal carcasses in the McMurdo Sound Region, Antarcti- 

ca. Science, vol.130, no. 3377, September IB, p. 716. 

Reed, J. C. 

1958. Exploration of Naval Petroleum Reserve no. 4 and adjacent areas, 

Northern Alaska, 1944-1953- Pt. 1, History of the Exploration. 
U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 301, pp. xii, 1-192, 
3 pis., 101 text figs. 

Schrader, F. C. 

1904. A reconnaissance in northern Alaska in 1901. U. S. Geological Sur- 

vey, Professional Paper 20, 139 pp., 16 pis., 4text figs. [Gubik 
formation named, p. 93]. 
Simpson, J. 

1875. Observations on the western Eskimo, and the country they inhabit; 

from notes taken during two years at Pt. Barrow. From: "Fur- 
ther papers relative to the second expedition in search of Sir 
John Franklin." Reprinted in "Arctic Papers for the expedition 
of 1875", chap. 3, pp. 233-275. 

Simpson, T. 

1843. Narrative of the discoveries on the north coast of America, effected 

by the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company during the years 
1836-1839. London, pp. XIX, 1-140 pp. 
Smith, P. S.,and J. B. Mertie, Jr. 

1930. Geology and mineral resources of northwestern Alaska. U. S. Geo- 

logical Survey, Bulletin 815, 351 pp., 34 pis., 22 text figs. 


Stefannson, v. 

1913. My life with the Eskimo. Pp. I-IX, 1-538. Macmillan, New York. 

Stoney, G. M, Lieut. U.S. Navy 

1899- Explorations in Alaska. Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute, 

vol. 25, no. 3, September, whole no. 91, pp. 533-584, 1 map, 7 
pis., 2 text figs. Continued, vol. 25, no. 4, December, whole no. 
92, pp. 799-849, 2 maps, 3 text figs. Also issued separately 
and separately paged in 1900, 

Thomas, H. F. 

1946. Oil in Alaska, a report on an expedition to the far north to locate 

rumored seeps and secure samples. Oil Weekly, vol. 120, no. 
10, pp. 39-48. 

Van Valin, W. B. 

1941. Eskimoland speaks. The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho, 

242 pp., 47 pis., unnumbered. Another edition, Museum Press, 
Ltd., 11 Gower St., London, 1945, 202 pp., 27 pis. [The text of 
this edition is essentially the same as the preceding but the il- 
lustrations are mostly different.] 

Webber, E. J. 

1947. Stratigraphy and structure of the area of the Meade and Kuk Rivers 

and Point Barrow. U. S. Geological Survey, open file report. 


1927. A bibliography of Alaskan literature, 1724-1924. Miscellaneous 

Publications, Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, 
vol. 1, 635 pp. 
Whittington, C. L., and A. S. Keller 

1950. Stratigraphy and structure of the area of Upper Meade River, Alaska. 

U. S. Geological Survey, open file report.