More than 100 years ago a search for water pushed the small Queensland town of Roma into an unexpected boom and saw the birth of Australia’s oil and gas industries.
In 1900 the town began drilling a well named QG No.2 (QG No.1 had been unsuccessful) as a solution to water shortages in the region.
To everyone’s surprise, during the drilling process they struck natural gas.
At the time the town had no use for the gas and as such it was allowed to flow free to air through a vertical separator for the next five years.
By 1906 the Roma town council came up with a plan for the gas. It was decided it would be used to power street lighting.
The council borrowed £8,000 to fund the project which included building a gasometer on hospital hill laying pipe around the town.
The gas was turned on and the streets were lit – but only for ten days before the gas ran out.
A number of factors contributed to the failure, said Roma-based historian and researcher Peter Keegan.
“It was probably because the gas had diminished greatly having flown free to air for the last five years,” he said.
“Also it may have been that cutting the flow back into the gasometer allowed sediment to settle in the pipe.
“Suffice to say it cut off and was never fully recovered. So they were 8,000 quid in debt with a heap of pipe in the ground and a bloody great gasometer and no use for it.”
But the initial find did indicate that there was gas under the ground and in 1905 a local syndicate formed Roma Mineral Oil Company to further explore.
This was just the beginning of a number of key events in the Roma region gas and oil history.
The big fire
It was 1908 when an attempt to strike oil on Hospital Hill in Roma led to a fire that burned for close to six weeks.
A few years earlier in 1905 a local group of businessmen in Roma, including several aldermen of the Roma Town Council, considered that there was the possibility that oil might be under Hospital Hill and so The Roma Mineral Oil Company was founded.
The Queensland Government agreed to put in £2,500 on a pound for pound basis with the company for drilling a well for oil.
But it seems it was another project that was not destined to go to plan.
On November 3rd the gas caught fire when the wind carried it to the boiler fire.
Within four minutes the iron derrick had softened and the whole structure collapsed over the bore hole.
“Someone must have been asleep at the steering wheel that day,” Roma based historian and researcher Peter Keegan said.
“What they had was a massive fire on Hospital Hill that burnt for six weeks before it could be put out.”
In an effort to make the best of a bad situation the people of Roma put on their opportunity hats and persuaded the railway department to run special trips into the region.
In a strange twist, visitors travelled to Roma to see the big fire and the disaster became a temporary tourist attraction.
Roma Mineral Oil Company subsequently gave up on the well and the government declared an exclusion zone around Roma meaning nobody could drill for oil or gas other than the Queensland government.