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Sesquicentennial Of Oil & Gas Exploration

We’ve been blogging for 10 years, but drilling for oil and gas 15 times as long. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the first oil well, drilled not far away from where I sit, in a small northwestern Pennsylvania town called Titusville.

[Edwin Laurentine] Drake’s genius was to drive pipe into the ground so debris wouldn’t clog the drill hole. On Aug. 27, 1859, the method proved successful when his driller struck oil 69.5 feet below ground.

… Drake, who had no drilling or engineering background, had been hired by the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Co. to oversee drilling primarily because he was a retired railroad conductor and could ride trains free, thereby saving the company money. He’d been forced to retire in his mid-30s because of ill health and was working as a hotel clerk in New Haven, Conn., where he met James Townsend, an investor in the company.

Those of you who have read Daniel Yergin’s The Prize know why this find was critical (emphasis mine).

¦ For those who had money, oil from the sperm whale had for hundreds of years set the standard for high-quality illumination; but even as demand was growing, the whale schools of the Atlantic had been decimated ¦ For the whalers, it was the golden age, as prices were rising, but it was not the golden age for their consumers, who did not want to pay $2.50 a gallon a price that seemed sure to go even higher.  Cheaper lighting fluids had been developed.  Alas, all of them were inferior.

And goes to show that if consumers in 1859 could switch from whale oil to modern light crude, we can be better customers and demand responsible oil & gas use as well as a source of energy more sustainable.

Alexis Madrigal has a wonderful writeup and photo gallery of drilling, storage and transportation of oil in Oil Creek valley of 1859.  Look at those pictures and then ones taken during my visit to a Gulf of Mexico drill ship and platform.  How far miraculous feats of engineering (and human resources) have come in 150 years.

1859: Lady visits rig

1859: Lady visits rig

2006: Lady works on rig

2006: Lady works on rig

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