I spent a few days very pleasantly last autumn driving with some friends to the two principal fields, the Murraysville and the Washington county. In the former district the gas rushes with such velocity through a 6-inch pipe, extending perhaps 20 feet above the surface, that it does not ignite within 6 feet of the mouth of the pipe. Looking up into the clear blue sky, you see before you a dancing golden fiend, without visible connection with the earth, swayed by the wind into fantastic shapes, and whirling in every direction. As the gas from the well strikes the center of the flame and passes partly through it, the lower part of the mass curls inward, giving rise to the most beautiful effects gathered into graceful folds at the bottom - a veritable pillar of fire. There is not a particle of smoke from it. The gas from the wells at Washington was allowed to escape through pipes which lay upon the ground. Looking down from the roadside upon the first well we saw in the valley, there appeared to be an immense circus-ring, the verdure having been burnt and the earth baked by the flame.
The ring was quite round, as the wind had driven the flame in one direction after another, and the effect of the great golden flame lying prone upon the earth, swaying and swirling with the wind in every direction, was most startling. The great beast Apollyon, minus the smoke, seemed to have come forth from his lair again. The cost of piping is now estimated, at the present extremely low prices, with right of way, at £1,600 sterling per mile, so that the cost of a line to Pittsburg may be said to be about £27,000 sterling. The cost of drilling is about £1,000, and the mode of procedure is as follows: A derrick being first erected, a 6 inch wrought-iron pipe is driven down through the soft earth till rock is reached from 75 to 100 feet. Large drills, weighing from 3,000 to 4,000 lb., are now brought into use; these rise and fall with a stroke of 4 to 5 feet. The fuel to run these drills is conveyed by small pipes from adjoining wells. An 8-inch hole having been bored to a depth of about 500 feet, a 5-5/8 inch wrought-iron pipe is put down to shut off the water. The hole is then continued 6 inches in diameter until gas is struck, when a 4-inch pipe is put down. From forty to sixty days are consumed in sinking the well and striking gas.
The largest well known is estimated to yield about 30,000,000 cubic feet of gas in twenty-four hours, but half of this may be considered as the product of a good well. The pressure of gas as it issues from the mouth of the well is nearly or quite 200 lb. per square inch. One of the gauges which I examined showed a pressure of 187 lb. Even at works where we use the gas nine miles from the well, the pressure is 75 lb. per square inch. At one of the wells, where it was desirable to have a supply of pure water, I found a small engine worked by the direct pressure of the gas as it came from the well; and an excellent supply of water was thus obtained from a spring in the valley. Eleven lines of pipe now convey gas from the various wells to the manufacturing establishments in and around Pittsburg. The largest of these for the latter part of the distance is 12 inches in diameter. Several are of 8 inches throughout. The lines originally laid are 6 inches in diameter. Many of the mills have as yet no appliances for using the gas, and much of it is still wasted.
It is estimated that the iron and steel mills of the city proper require fuel equal to 166,000 bushels of coal per day; and though it is only two years since gas was first used in Pittsburg, it has already displaced about 40,000 bushels of coal per day in these mills. Sixty odd glass works, which required about 20,000 bushels of coal per day, mostly now use the natural gas. In the work around Pittsburg beyond the city limits, the amount of coal superseded by gas is about equal to that displaced in the city. The estimated number of men whose labor will be dispensed with in Pittsburg when gas is generally used is 5,000. It is only a question of a few months when all the manufacturing carried on in the district will be operated with the new fuel. As will be seen from the analyses appended to this paper, it is a much purer fuel than coal; and this is a quality which has proved of great advantage in the manufacture of steel, glass, and several other products. With the exception of one, and perhaps two concerns, no effort has been made to economize in the use of the new fuel. In our Union Iron Mills we have attached to each puddling furnace a small regenerative appliance, by the aid of which we save a large percentage of fuel.
The gas companies will no doubt soon require manufacturers to adopt some such appliance. At present, owing to the fact that there is a large surplus constantly going to waste, they allow the gas to be used to any extent desired. Contracts are now made to supply houses with gas for all purposes at a cost equal to that of the coal bill for the preceding year. In the residences of several of our partners no fuel other than this gas is now used, and everybody who has applied it to domestic purposes is delighted with the change from the smoky and dirty bituminous coal. Some, indeed, go so far as to say that if the gas were three times as costly as the old fuel, they could not be induced to go back to the latter. It is therefore quite within the region of probability that the city, now so black that even Sheffield must be considered clean in comparison, may be so revolutionized as to be the cleanest manufacturing center in the world. A walk through our rolling mills would surprise the members of the Institute. In the steel rail mills for instance, where before would have been seen thirty stokers stripped to the waist, firing boilers which require a supply of about 400 tons of coal in twenty-four hours - ninety firemen in all being employed, each working eight hours - they would now find one man walking around the boiler house, simply watching the water gauges, etc.
Not a particle of smoke would be seen. In the iron mills the puddlers have whitewashed the coal bunkers belonging to their furnaces. I need not here say how much pleasure it will afford me to arrange that any fellow members of the Institute who may visit the republic are afforded an opportunity to see for themselves this latest and most interesting development of the fuel question. Good Mother Earth supplies us with all the fuel we can use and more, and only asks us to lead it under our boilers and into our heating and puddling furnaces, and apply the match. During the winter several explosions have occurred in Pittsburg, owing to the escape of gas from pipes improperly laid. The frost having penetrated the earth for several feet and prevented escape upward, the freed gas found its way into the cellars of houses, and, as it is odorless, its presence was not detected. This resulted in several alarming explosions; but the danger is to be remedied before next year. Lower pressure will be carried in the pipes through the city, and escape pipes leading to the surface will be placed along the surface at frequent intervals.
In the case of manufacturing establishments, the gas is led into the mills overhead, and, all the pipes being in the open air, no danger of explosion is incurred.