Thursday, January 24, 2013

Beginnings of The Oil Industry

What is oil, and who had the first oil well?  Pennsylvania, Azerbaijan, Ontario, West Virginia, or Poland? All claim to have been the first.

Crude oil is a natural mix of hundreds of different hydrocarbon compounds trapped under ground.  The hydrocarbons were formed millions of years ago when tiny aquatic plants and animals died and settled on the bottoms of ancient waterways, creating a thick layer of organic material.  Sediment later covered this material, putting heat and pressure on it and transforming it into the petroleum that comes out of the ground today.

Indians and early European explorers had known of the oil seeps in western Pennsylvania, and had made some use of it for many years before the mid 19th century.  Interest grew in the mid 1850s as scientists reported on the potential to manufacture kerosene from crude oil if enough could be found.

Enter Edwin Drake. He was convinced there was oil, and lots of it, in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Frustrated by the limitations of existing methods of extraction, as well as problems with water seepage, Drake decided on a departure from the usual trench-digging technology. He turned to the methods used by salt-well drillers, which involved sinking a shaft straight to the source while providing more structural integrity. He also devised the drive pipe, made of segmented cast iron, as a boring tool. Drake's crew struck bedrock at 32 feet, and the drilling stalled, earning sarcastic jeers from interested observers. Even after specialized drilling tools were employed, progress remained slow.  The locals started calling the well "Drake's Folly."  Drake, however, persevered and finally, at a depth of 69.5 feet, struck oil.

The Drake well in Titusville, Pennsylvania is referred to as the first commercial oil well.  Before the Drake well, other oil producing wells in the United States were wells that were not actually drilled for oil.  They were drilled for salt brine and produced oil and gas only as accidental byproducts.  An intended drinking water well in Oil Springs, Ontario found oil in 1858, a year before the Drake, but it had not been drilled for oil.  Historian have noted that the Drake's  importance was in the fact that it caused prompt additional drilling establishing a supply of petroleum in sufficient quantity to support business enterprises.  It was responsible for the first great wave of investments in oil drilling, refining, and marketing.

On January 10, 1901, a drilling derrick at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas hit and produced a huge gusher coating the landscape for hundreds of feet that took 9 days to cap.  It signaled the beginning of the oil industry in Texas.  The Spindletop Well was struck at 1,000 feet and produced 100,000 barrels a day. Within one year there were more than 285 active wells at Spindletop and an estimated 500 oil and land companies operating in the area including Humble (now Exxon), The Texas Company (Texaco) and Magnolia Petroleum (Mobil).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Funny Tidbit of History

In searching for a subject in history to write about I came across this information.  I think it should be shared.

On January 9, 1493, Christopher Columbus was on his voyage in the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria hoping to find the western trade route to Asia.  He was sailing near the Dominican Republic and wrote that he had seen "three mermaids, and in reality they were not half as beautiful as they are painted."  It was later learned that what he saw was most likely a manatee, as they were common it that area.

That "manatee" must have seemed to be a very ugly mermaid to Columbus.