History of the Oil Industry

Baku was known forspectacular gushers, and spectacular well fires as well – an example of which is shown in the still on the right from a short film by the Lumire Brothers in 1896. The first of the big spouters blew out in 1873 on the Balakhani Plateau, which was the high ground of the Apsheron Peninisula, beneath which lies a giant anticline that is responsible for the prolific oil production. The Balakhani field during the 1870s was the largest oil field in the world. Another giant anticline at the Bibi-Eibat embayment, on the south side of the peninsula, extends from the land out to beneath the waters of the bay. A string of huge onshore producers, beginning with the Tagiev spouter in the mid-1880s, elevated Bibi-Eibat to the largest field. Russian engineers, realizing that production extended offshore, began filling and draining the bay in 1909 to allow continued drilling. Over 300 hectares (741 acres) had been reclaimed by 1927, a project said to be second in magnitude only to construction of the Panama Canal.

1860s to 1890s – Tar Pits and Tunnels

Although Drakes well was no gusher, it was the beginning of an idea. Titusville transformed almost overnight from a quiet farm town to an oil boom town of muddy roads, hastily constructed wooden derricks, and noisy steam engines. The Pennsylvania oil boom was on.

The Woodford (left) and Phillips (right) wells in the Oil Creek Valley of Pennsylvania about 1862 (Oil Creek flows just to the right of the Phillips well). The Phillips well was the most productive oil well of its time, initially at a rate of 4,000 barrels of oil per day in October, 1861. The Woodford came in at 1,500 barrels per day in July, 1862.

In the early 1850s, a Pittsburgh druggist named Samuel Kier began selling bottled oil from his fathers brine wells as Pennsylvania Rock Oil, but met with little success. One day, Colonel A. C. Ferris, awhale oildealer, processed a small amount of Kiers tonic to make a lighter oil that burned well in a lamp. When Kier heard about this, he began using a one-barrel whiskey still of his own to convert his rock oil into lamp oil. After Kier upgraded his still to five-barrel capacity, Pittsburgh forced him to move his operation to a suburb out of fear of an explosion.

(Excerpted from various issues of the AAPG Explorer)

Click the button below for a more detailed chronology.

1896 -Shamrock Gusherblows in at McKittrick and hastens end of tar mining operations.1899 – Hand-dug oil well discovers Kern River fieldand starts an oil boom in Kern County.1902 – Arrival of railroad makes development of Midway-Sunset field economically feasible.1902 – First rotary rig in Califoniareportedly drills a well at Coalinga field, but the hole is so crooked that a cable tool is used to redrill the well.1903 – Kern River and Midway-Sunset production makes California the top oil producing state.1904 – 17.2 million bbls of oil produced at Kern River exceeds annual production from Texas.1908 – Rotary drilling rigs and crews arrive in California from Louisiana and successfully drill wells at Midway-Sunset field and erase the embaressment of the Coalinga experiment six years earlier.1909 -Midway Gusherblows out near Fellows and focuses attention on Midway-Sunset field.1910 – Lakeview Gusherblows in near Taft and becomes Americasgreatest oil gusher.1919 -Hay No. 7catches fire at Elk Hills and becomes Americas greatest gas gusher.1929 – Blowout preventionequipment becomes mandatory on oil and gas wells drilled in California.

(with an emphasis on California and the San Joaquin Valley)

San Joaquin Geological Societywere holding monthly dinner meetings and sharing a beer with the likes ofSenteur de Boue. Clickhereto learn more about the history of this esteemed organization.

Early Days of Oilby Paul H. Giddens, 1948, 7 p.

Historic Photosof the Baku Oil Industry

Polish Oil Wells- Derricks for hand-dug wells at Bobrka field are on the left,

and the derrick for a steam-driven operation at Bitkow field is on the right.

347 A.D.Oil wells are drilled in Chinaup to 800 feet deep using bits attached to bamboo poles.1264Mining of seep oil in medieval Persia witnessed by Marco Polo on his travels throughBaku.1500sSeep oil collected in theCarpathian Mountainsof Poland is used to light street lamps.1594Oil wells are hand dug atBaku, Persia up to 35 meters (115 feet) deep.1735Oil sands are mined and the oil extracted at Pechelbronn field in Alsace, France.1802A 58-ft well is drilled using a spring pole in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia by the brothers David and Joseph Ruffner to produce brine. The well takes 18 months to drill.1815Oil is produced in United States as an undesirable by-product from brine wells in Pennsylvania.1848First modern oil wellis drilled in Asia, on the Aspheron Peninsula north-east of Baku, by Russian engineer F.N. Semyenov.1849Distillation of kerosenefrom oil by Canadian geologist Dr. Abraham Gesner. Kerosene eventually replaceswhale oilas the illuminant of choice and creates a new market for crude oil.1850Oil from hand-dug pits in California at Los Angeles is distilled to produce lamp oil by General Andreas Pico.1854First oil wells in Europeare drilled 30- to 50-meters deep at Bbrka, Poland byIgnacy Lukasiewicz.1854Natural Gas from a water well in Stockton, California is used to light the Stockton courthouse.1857Michael Dietz invents a kerosene lamp that forces whale oil lamps off the market.1858First oil well in North Americais drilled in Ontario, Canada.1859First oil well in United Statesis drilled 69 feet deep at Titusville, Pennsylvania by Colonel Edwin Drake.California Comes of Age

The Early Oil Industry of Pennsylvania

The chronology that follows is a summary.

click any of the pictures below for a better view

Steam engines were employed to mechanically drill wells in the Pennsylvania oil fields during the U.S. Civil War, and Thomas Bard imported a steam-powered drilling rig and crew from Pennsylvania to successfully drill a mediocre oil well in California in 1865. Steam was first used in Poland two years later in 1867 to drill a well at Kleczany, 60 kilometers west of the Bbrka field. Steam-powered drilling made its debut at Bbrka a few years later, sometime between 1870 and 1872, and enabled operators to drill much deeper than they had been able to previously. Within a few years virtually all oil wells, in both the United States and Europe, were being drilled mechanically.

1961 – First steam recoveryprojects in Kern County start up at Kern River and Coalinga fields after a successful pilot by Shell at Yorba Linda field in Los Angeles.1973 – Tule Elk and Yowlumne fields become the last 100-million barrel fields discovered in Kern County.1980 – First horizontal wellin Kern County is Texaco Gerard 6 in fractured schist at Edison field.1980s -Cogenerationhastens the spread of steam recovery projects, which dramatically ramp up oil production.1985 – Kern County reaches an all-time production high of 256 million barrels of oil/year. At the same time, California reaches an all-time production high of 424 million barrels of oil/year.1990s -3D-seismic dataand3D-computer modelingof reservoirs bring new life to old fields.1997 – Deepest horizontal well in Kern County is Yolwumne 91X-3 with measured depth of 14,300 feet. However, the well is surpassed only two years later by the relief well for the Bellevue blowout.1998 – A blowout and oil well fire at theBellevue 1wildcat in the East Lost Hills subthrust fuels hopes for the first major Kern County discovery in over a decade. However, subsequent drilling proves to be a disappointment.

and the Birth of the Texas Oil Industry

TheCarpathian Mountainsin Poland abound in oil seeps, and Carpathian oil, hand dipped from pits dug in front of the seeps, was burned in street lamps, as early as the 1500s, to provide light in the Polish town of Krosno. Unfortunately, the seep oil was a dark, viscous liquid that stuck to everything. It also burned with a foul smell and gave off more smoke and soot than other lamp oils, most of which were rendered from animal fat.

Modern offshore wells on the Aspheron Peninsula

Oil Creek in western Pennsylvania abounds in oil seeps that ooze thick black crude into the stream. These seeps were well known to the Seneca Indians, one of the Iroquois Nation tribes, who used the oil as a salve, mosquito repellent, purge and tonic. Many settlers also believed that these oils were medicinal, and hawkers sold bottles of it, as early as 1792, as a cure-all called Seneca Oil. The nearby Allegheny and Kiskiminetas river valleys had oil also, but beneath the ground, where as early as 1815 it was contaminating several of the brine wells that supplied a booming salt industry in the Pittsburgh area.

to learn more about the early oil history of the United States

1890s to 1920s – Gushers and Cable Tools

Many of these early wells were laboriously dug by hand. Others were drilled with spring poles, in which a springy wooden pole was stuck in the ground at an angle and a heavy metal drill bit attached by a cable to the head of the pole. Operators would bounce up and down on stirrups attached to the pole, causing the bit to literally chop a hole into the hard ground. The hole was cleaned by lowering into the hole a specially designed bucket, called a bailer, which was similarly bounced up and down until it filled dirt and cuttings to be hauled to the surface.

Index to Early Petroleum History sites

1930s to 1950s – Well Logs, Seismic, and Rotary Drilling

An unemployed railroad conductor and express agent named Edwin Drake, who by chance was staying at the same hotel in New Haven, Connecticut as Bissel and his partners, was hired in 1857 to visit Titusville, a town on Oil Creek. Drakes only qualification for this assignment was a free railroad pass remaining from his previous job. Although Drake had never been in the military, when he returned to Titusville the following year to commence operations as a Seneca Oil Company agent, his employers passed him off as a colonel to give their venture an air of respectability.

When George Bissell, a New York lawyer, learned of Kiers operation, he hired Benjamin Silliman Jr of Yale University, probably around 1854, to see if Seneca Oil would yield lamp oil. Silliman successfully distilled the oil into several fractions, including an illuminating oil already known as kerosene. Armed with Sillimans results, Bissell received financial backing to form the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, which later became the Seneca Oil Company.

Shallow pits were dug at the Baku seeps in ancient times to facilitate collecting oil, and hand-dug holes up to 35 meters (115 feet) deep were in use by 1594. These holes were essentially oil wells, which makes Baku the first true field. Apparently 116 of these wells in 1830 produced 3,840 metric tons (about 710 to 720 barrels) of oil. Later, Russian engineer F.N. Semyenov used a cable tool in 1844 to drill an oil well near the Bibi-Eibat (Bibi-Heybat) embayment on the Apsheron Peninsula, ten years before Colonel Drakes famous well in Pennsylvania. Also, offshore drilling started up at Baku at Bibi-Eibat near the end of the 19th century, about the same time that the first offshore oil well was drilled in 1896 at Summerland field on the California Coast. The thumbnail on the left shows workers digging an oil well by hand at Bibi-Eibat.

The Oil Industry of Medieval Persia (Azerbaijan and Baku)

Petroleum Education – History of Oil

to learn more about the oil history of Azerbaijan

Ignacy Lukasiewicz, a Polish druggist in the modern Ukranian town of Lvov, saw the potential of using seep oil in lamps as a cheap alternative to expensivewhale oil. To make a clean-burning fuel, he began experimenting with distillation techniques, perfected earlier by Dr. Abraham Gesner in Canada, to produce clear kerosene from smelly seep oil. His experiments gained notoriety, and the European oil industry was born on a dark night on July 31, 1853 when Lukasiewicz was called to a local hospital to provide light from one of his lamps for an emergency surgery. Impressed with his invention, the hospital ordered several lamps and 500 kg of kerosene. Lukasiewicz enlisted the aid of a business partner and traveled to the Vienna, capitol city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to register his distillation process with the government on December 31, 1853.

When Marco Polo in 1264 visited the Persian city of, on the shores of the Caspian Sea in modern Azerbaijan, he saw oil being collected from seeps. He wrote that on the confines toward Geirgine there is a fountain from which oil springs in great abundance, inasmuch as a hundred shiploads might be taken from it at one time. In addition to oil seeps, Marco Polo also saw spectacular mud volcanos, sourced by natural gas seeping through ponds, and a flaming hillside, the Eternal Fires of the Apsheron Peninsula, a spit of land that juts eastward from Azerbaijan into the Caspian Sea and where condensate and natural gas seeping through fractured shales has burned, and been worshipped, for centuries. The thumbnail on the right shows the Temple of the Fire Worshipers at Ateshkah where a gas seep has burned since ancient times.

1929 – First well logsin California run by Shell in a well near Bakersfield (Kern County).1930 – Deepest well in the world is Standard Mascot 1, rotary drilled to 9,629 feet at Midway-Sunset.1936 – First seismic explorationin California discovers Ten Section field near Bakersfield. Seismic discovery of the productive Paloma and Coles Levee anticlines soon follows1943 – Deepest well in the world is Standard 20-13, drilled to 16,246 feet at South Coles Levee.1953 – Deepest well in the world is Richfield 67-29 drilled to 17,895 feet at North Coles Levee.

1864 – Tar mined from open pitsat Asphalto (McKittrick) on west side of San Joaquin Valley.1866 – First refinery in Kern County built near McKittrick tar pits to process kerosene and asphalt.1878 – First wooden derrick in Kern Countyconstructed at Reward to drill for flux oil to mix with asphalt.1887 – Wild Goose well at Oil City, Coalinga comes in at 10 bbls/day, demonstrating potential of north part of basin.1889 – Oil wells drilled at Old Sunset (Maricopa) with a steam-powered rig mark discovery of Midway-Sunset field.1893 – Railroad reaches McKittrick, wheretunnels and shaftsare dug to mine asphalt.1894 – Old Sunset (Maricopa) part of Midway-Sunset has 16 wells producing 30 barrels of oil per day.

1861First oil well in Californiais drilled manually in Humboldt County.1866Oil is collected from tunnels dug at Sulphur Mountain in Ventura County by the brothers of railroad baron Leland Stanford, the same year that these techniques are applied to the Pechelbronn oil mine in France.1866First steam-powered rig in Californiadrills an oil well at Ojai, not far from the Sulphur Mountain seeps.1875First commercial oil field in Californiais discovered at Pico Canyon in Los Angeles County.1878Electric light bulbinvented by Thomas Edison eliminates demand for kerosene, and the oil industry enters a recession.1885Gas wells are drilled in Stockton, California for fuel and lighting.1885Oil burners on steam enginesin the California oil fields, and later on steam locomotives, create new crude oil markets.1886Gasoline-powered automobilesintroduced in Europe by Karl Benz and Wilhelm Daimler create additional markets for California oil. Prior to the automobile, gasoline was a cheap solvent produced as a byproduct of kerosene distillation.1888A steel-hulled tanker sails from Ventura to San Francisco, eleven years after the 1877 sailing of a Russian tanker across the Caspian sea at Baku.1899Discovery of Kern River oil fieldpropelsKern Countyto top oil-producing region in state.

The Early Oil Industry of Poland and Romania

Historically, oil was collected at Oil Creek by damming the creek near a seep, then skimming oil off the top of the resulting pond. Drake tried this at a seep once used by a sawmill to produce oil for lubricating the mill machinery, but even with improvements and opening up other seeps in the area, he only increased production from three or four gallons to a still non-economic six to ten gallons a day. Next workers tried digging a shaft to mine the oil, but groundwater flooded in too quickly for the workers to continue. Finally, Drake decided to drill a well and locate the source of the seep oil, using the same steam-powered equipment used to drill brine wells.

To provide oil for his kerosene business, Lukasiewicz initially collected a thick, sticky crude from shallow, hand-dug wells in the Gorlice region, an area in the Carpathians about 50 miles west of the Polish town of Bbrka. The following year, he teamed up with Titus Trzecieski and Mikolaj Klobassa to establish an oil mine in Bbrka which pumped crude oil from hand-drilled, 30- to 50-meter deep wells. Later, wells as deep as 150 meters were drilled that produced a lighter, better-quality crude from which to distill kerosene. Other entrepreneurs dug their own wells,and a thriving Polish oil industry developed, which was followed in 1857 by the drilling of wells at Bend, northeast of Bucharest, on the Romanian side of the Carpathians. Two years later,, who perhaps had knowledge of the Polish developments, drilled his famous well in Pennsylvania, an event wrongly labeled by many in the industry as the drilling of the first oil well.

He hired a blacksmith named Billy Smith, who had drilled brine wells for Kier and others in the Pittsburgh area. Smith, with his son Samuel, began drilling in the summer of 1859. Although progress was slow, usually three feet a day in shale bedrock, they reached a depth of 69½ feet by August 27, just as Drake was reaching the last of his funds. When Billy and Samuel pulled their drilling tools from the well the next morning, they noticed oil rising in the hole. After installing a hand-operated lever pump borrowed from a local kitchen, the first days production was about twenty-five barrels. Production soon dropped off to a steady ten barrels or so a day, and the well is said to have continued at that rate for a year or more.

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