The petroleum industry is not of
recent origin, but petroleum's current status as the key component of politics,
society, and technology has its roots in the early 20th century. The invention
of the internal combustion engine was the major influence in the rise in the
importance of petroleum.
According to Herodotus, more than
four thousand years ago natural asphalt was employed in the construction of the
walls and towers of Babylon, great quantities of it were found on the banks of
the river Issus, one of the tributaries of the Euphrates, and this fact
confirmed by Diodorus Siculus. Herodotus mentioned pitch spring on Zacynthus
(Ionian islands, Greece). Also, Herodotus described a well for bitumen and
oil near Ardericca in Cessia.
In China, petroleum was used more
than 2000 years ago. In I Ching, one of the earliest Chinese writings cites the
use of oil in its raw state without refining was first discovered, extracted,
and used in China in the first century BCE. In addition, the Chinese were the
first to use petroleum as fuel as early as the fourth century BCE.
The earliest known oil wells were
drilled in China in 347 AD or earlier. They had depths of up to about 800 feet
(240 m) and were drilled using bits attached to bamboo poles.The oil
was burned to evaporate brine and produce salt. By the 10th century, extensive
bamboo pipelines connected oil wells with salt springs. The ancient records of
China and Japan are said to contain many allusions to the use of natural gas
for lighting and heating. Petroleum was known as burning water in Japan in the
7th century. In his book Dream Pool Essays written in 1088, the polymathic
scientist and statesman Shen Kuo of the Song Dynasty coined the word 石油 (Shíyóu,
literally "rock oil") for petroleum, which remains the term used in
contemporary Chinese and Japanese (Sekiyū).
The first streets of Baghdad were
paved with tar, derived from petroleum that became accessible from natural
fields in the region. In the 9th century, oil fields were exploited in the area
around modern Baku, Azerbaijan. These fields were described by the Arab
geographer Abu al-Hasan 'Alī al-Mas'ūdī in the 10th century, and by Marco Polo
in the 13th century, who described the output of those wells as hundreds of
shiploads. The distillation of petroleum was described in detail by Arabic and
Persian chemists such as Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi (Rhazes) in the 9th
century. There was production of chemicals such as kerosene in the
alembic (al-ambiq), which was mainly used for kerosene lamps. Arab and
Persian chemists also distilled crude oil in order to produce flammable
products for military purposes. Through Islamic Spain, distillation became
available in Western Europe by the 12th century. It has also been present
in Romania since the 13th century, being recorded as păcură.
The earliest mention of petroleum in
the Americas occurs in Sir Walter Raleigh's account of the Trinidad Pitch Lake
in 1595; while thirty-seven years later, the account of a visit of a
Franciscan, Joseph de la Roche d'Allion, to the oil springs of New York was
published in Gabriel Sagard's Histoire du Canada. A Finnish born Swede,
scientist and student of Carl Linnaeus, Peter Kalm, in his work Travels into
North America published first in 1753 showed on a map the oil springs of
In 1710 or 1711 (sources vary) the
Russian-born Swiss physician and Greek teacher Eirini d'Eyrinys (also spelled
as Eirini d'Eirinis) discovered asphaltum at Val-de-Travers, (Neuchâtel). He
established a bitumen mine de la Presta there in 1719 that operated until
In 1745 under the Empress Elizabeth
of Russia the first oil well and refinery were built in Ukhta by Fiodor
Priadunov. Through the process of distillation of the "rock oil"
(petroleum) he received a kerosene-like substance, which was used in oil lamps
by Russian churches and monasteries (though households still relied on
Oil sands were mined from 1745 in
Merkwiller-Pechelbronn, Alsace under the direction of Louis Pierre Ancillon de
la Sablonnière, by special appointment of Louis XV. The Pechelbronn oil
field was active until 1970, and was the birthplace of companies like Antar and
Schlumberger. The first modern refinery was built there in 1857.
The modern history of petroleum
began in the 19th century with the refining of paraffin from crude oil. The
Scottish chemist James Young in 1847 noticed a natural petroleum seepage in the
Riddings colliery at Alfreton, Derbyshire from which he distilled a light thin
oil suitable for use as lamp oil, at the same time obtaining a thicker oil
suitable for lubricating machinery. In 1846, Baku (settlement Bibi-Heybat) the
first ever well drilled with percussion tools to a depth of 21 meters for oil
exploration, based on data of Nicolay Voskoboynikov; it was 13 years before the
Drake's well was drilled in Pennsylvania. The new oils were successful, but the
supply of oil from the coal mine soon began to fail (eventually being exhausted
in 1851). Young, noticing that the oil was dripping from the sandstone roof of
the coal mine, theorized that it somehow originated from the action of heat on
the coal seam and from this thought that it might be produced artificially.
Following up this idea, he tried
many experiments and eventually succeeded, by distilling cannel coal at a low
heat, a fluid resembling petroleum, which when treated in the same way as the
seep oil gave similar products. Young found that by slow distillation he could
obtain a number of useful liquids from it, one of which he named
"paraffine oil" because at low temperatures it congealed into a
substance resembling paraffin wax.
The production of these oils and
solid paraffin wax from coal formed the subject of his patent dated 17 October
1850. In 1850 Young & Meldrum and Edward William Binney entered into
partnership under the title of E.W. Binney & Co. at Bathgate in West
Lothian and E. Meldrum & Co. at Glasgow; their works at Bathgate were
completed in 1851 and became the first truly commercial oil-works and oil
refinery in the world, using oil extracted from locally mined torbanite, shale,
and bituminous coal to manufacture naphtha and lubricating oils; paraffin for
fuel use and solid paraffin were not sold till 1856.
Abraham Pineo Gesner, a Canadian
geologist developed a process to refine a liquid fuel from coal, bitumen and
oil shale. His new discovery, which he named kerosene, burned more cleanly and
was less expensive than competing products, such as whale oil. In 1850, Gesner
created the Kerosene Gaslight Company and began installing lighting in the
streets in Halifax and other cities. By 1854, he had expanded to the United
States where he created the North American Kerosene Gas Light Company at Long
Island, New York. Demand grew to where his company’s capacity to produce became
a problem, but the discovery of petroleum, from which kerosene could be more
easily produced, solved the supply problem.
In 1846, what some consider the
first modern oil well in the world was drilled in the South Caucasus region of
Russian Empire, on the Aspheron Peninsula north-east of Baku (in settlement
Bibi-Heybat), by Russian Major Alekseev based on data of Russian scientist N.
Ignacy Łukasiewicz improved Gesner's
method to develop a means of refining kerosene from the more readily available
"rock oil" ("petr-oleum") seeps, in 1852, and the first
rock oil mine was built in Bóbrka, near Krosno in central European Galicia
(Poland) in 1854. These discoveries rapidly spread around the world, and
Meerzoeff built the first modern Russian refinery in the mature oil fields at
Baku in 1861. At that time Baku produced about 90% of the world's oil.
The question of what constituted the
first commercial oil well is a difficult one to answer. The following summary
draws from that in Vassiliou (2018).  Edwin Drake's 1859 well near
Titusville, Pennsylvania, discussed more fully below, is popularly considered
the first modern well. Drake's well is probably singled out because it was
drilled, not dug; because it used a steam engine; because there was a company
associated with it; and because it touched off a major boom. However, the first
well ever drilled anywhere in the world, which produced oil, was drilled in
1857 to a depth of 280 feet by the American Merrimac Company in La Brea
(Spanish for “Pitch”) in southeast Trinidad in the Caribbean. Additionally,
there was considerable activity before Drake in various parts of the world in
the mid-19th century. A group directed by Major Alexeyev of the Bakinskii Corps
of Mining Engineers hand-drilled a well in the Baku region in 1846. There
were engine-drilled wells in West Virginia in the same year as Drake's
well. An early commercial well was hand dug in Poland in 1853, and another
in nearby Romania in 1857. At around the same time the world's first, but
small, oil refineries were opened at Jasło, in Poland, with a larger one being
opened at Ploiești, in Romania. PLOIESTI, Romania -- Built in 1856 and
inaugurated in 1857 by the brothers Teodor and Marin Mehedinţeanu, the Rafov
Refinery, a refinery built at Ploiesti, on 174 Buna Vestire Street, had a
surface of 4 hectares, and the daily production reached over 7 tons, obtained
in cylindrical iron and iron casts that were heated by fire from wood; it was
then called "the world's first systematic oil distillery," setting
the record for being the World's First Oil Refinery, according to the Academy
Of World Records. This refinery obtained, on the basis of a contract concluded
in October 1856 between Teodor Mehedinţeanu and the City Hall of Bucharest, the
exclusive right to supply the illumination of the Wallachian capital with oil
The contract began to be executed on
April 1, 1857, when, by replacing the kidnapped oil with the products supplied
by the Rafov refinery, "Bucharest became the first city in the world
illuminated entirely with distilled crude oil."
In 1857, the total production of
Romania was amounted to 275 tons of crude oil. With this figure, Romania was
registered as the first country in world oil production statistics, before
other large oil producing states such as the United States of America (1860),
Russia (1863), Mexico (1901) or Persia (1913 ). In 1875, crude oil was
discovered by David Beaty at his home in Warren, Pennsylvania. This led to the
opening of the Bradford oil field, which, by the 1880s, produced 77 percent of
the global oil supply. However, by the end of the 19th century, the Russian
Empire, particularly the Branobel company in Azerbaijan, had taken the lead in
Samuel Kier established America's
first oil refinery in Pittsburgh on Seventh avenue near Grant Street, in 1853.
In addition to the activity in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, an important
early oil well in North America was in Oil Springs, Ontario, Canada in 1858,
dug by James Miller Williams. The discovery at Oil Springs touched off an
oil boom which brought hundreds of speculators and workers to the area. New oil
fields were discovered nearby throughout the late 19th century and the area developed
into a large petrochemical refining centre and exchange. The modern US
petroleum industry is considered to have begun with Edwin Drake's drilling of a
69-foot (21 m) oil well in 1859, on Oil Creek near Titusville,
Pennsylvania, for the Seneca Oil Company (originally yielding 25 barrels per
day (4.0 m3/d), by the end of the year output was at the rate of 15 barrels per
day (2.4 m3/d)). The industry grew through the 1800s, driven by the demand for
kerosene and oil lamps. It became a major national concern in the early part of
the 20th century; the introduction of the internal combustion engine provided a
demand that has largely sustained the industry to this day. Early
"local" finds like those in Pennsylvania and Ontario were quickly
outpaced by demand, leading to "oil booms" in Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma,
By 1910, significant oil fields had
been discovered in the Dutch East Indies (1885, in Sumatra), Persia (1908, in
Masjed Soleiman), Peru (1863, in Zorritos District), Venezuela (1914, in
Maracaibo Basin), and Mexico, and were being developed at an industrial level.
Significant oil fields were exploited in Alberta (Canada) from 1947. First
offshore oil drilling at Oil Rocks (Neft Dashlari) in the Caspian Sea off
Azerbaijan eventually resulted in a city built on pylons in 1949. Availability
of oil and access to it, became of "cardinal importance" in military
power before and after World War I, particularly for navies as they changed
from coal, but also with the introduction of motor transport, tanks and
airplanes. Such thinking would continue in later conflicts of the twentieth
century, including World War II, during which oil facilities were a major
strategic asset and were extensively bombed. In 1938, vast reserves of oil
were discovered in the Al-Ahsa region along the coast of the Persian Gulf.
Until the mid-1950s coal was still
the world's foremost fuel, but after this time oil quickly took over. Later,
following the 1973 and 1979 energy crises, there was significant media coverage
on the subject of oil supply levels. This brought to light the concern that oil
is a limited resource that will eventually run out, at least as an economically
viable energy source. Although at the time the most common and popular
predictions were quite dire, a period of increased production and reduced
demand in the following years caused an oil glut in the 1980s. This was not to
last, however, and by the first decade of the 21st century discussions about
peak oil had returned to the news.
Today, about 90% of vehicular fuel
needs are met by oil. Petroleum also makes up 40% of total energy consumption
in the United States, but is responsible for only 2% of electricity generation.
Petroleum's worth as a portable, dense energy source powering the vast majority
of vehicles and as the base of many industrial chemicals makes it one of the
world's most important commodities.
The top three oil producing
countries are Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States. About 80% of the
world's readily accessible reserves are located in the Middle East, with 62.5%
coming from the Arab 5: Saudi Arabia (12.5%), UAE, Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait.
However, with high oil prices (above $100/barrel), Venezuela has larger
reserves than Saudi Arabia due to its crude reserves derived from bitumen.
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