Not an Accident
Around 1751, King George II of England granted 600 acres in western Maryland to a man named George Deakins, to satisfy a debt. Since Deakins was able to choose the land he wanted, he sent two parties (neither knew about the other) to find and survey the best location. Allegedly, one of the men sent was George Washington.
When the surveyors returned with their maps, they discovered they’d used the same tall oak as a starting point, and drew tracts that returned to close at the same tree. It was patented as “The Accident Tract,” and lots around it were conveyed to soldiers who’d served in the Revolutionary War.
The town of Accident, in Garrett County, was incorporated in 1916. It would take several decades before the county’s largest real estate transaction and Accident’s role in the gas industry were revealed.
On August 3, 1942, War Emergency Pipelines Inc. began construction of a $146 million petroleum pipeline project. The purpose of the pipeline was to meet World War II fuel demand and thwart German U-boat attacks on oil tankers on the east coast.
The Big Inch, 24 inches in diameter and 1,254 miles long, transported crude from Longview, Texas to Norris City, Illinois, then to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Smaller lines served New York and Philadelphia. The Little Big Inch, 20 inches in diameter and 1,475 miles long, was primarily parallel, and carried gasoline, heating oil, diesel and kerosene from Beaumont, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas. From there, it followed the same right-of-way as the Big Inch. Both were completed by October of 1943.
After the pipelines helped win the war, on November 14, 1947 they were auctioned by the War Assets Administration for $143,127,000. The highest bidder was the newly formed Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation.
Around the same time as the construction and subsequent sale of the pipelines, Fayette County, Pennsylvania independent operators William Snee and Orville Eberly were drilling dry holes at Accident.
Snee, from Belle Vernon, had a degree in chemistry from Cornell University. Eberly, from Uniontown, worked in coal mines and as an electrician while going to night school. In 1945, the partners were joined by Eberly’s son Robert, who earned his degree in chemistry from Penn State.
Because of the dry holes, other operators began surrendering leases around Accident. Eberly and Snee acquired those leases while continuing to take their own, accumulating a block of approximately 34,000 acres.
After completing a successful well in 1953, Eberly and Snee proceeded to drill as many as 25 wells before selling the Accident field and its 43,300,000,000 cubic feet in proven natural gas reserves to Texas Eastern in 1962 for $11 million. A 20-mile pipeline was built to tie Accident, now a storage field, to Texas Eastern’s Big Inch line. Both the Big Inch and Little Big Inch are still in operation, and are owned by Spectra Energy.
The $11 million Snee-Eberly and Texas Eastern transaction was considered to be one of the largest - if not the largest - conducted in Garrett County at that time.
Sources: The American Oil and Gas Historical Society and Texas State Historical Association, Cumberland Evening Times, Evening Standard in Uniontown and the Accident, Maryland Homepage.