History of the petroleum industry

Oil field in California, 1938.

The petroleum industry, surprisingly, is not of modern origin, but petroleum’s current status as a critical component of society, politics, and tech has its roots in the early 20th century CE. The invention of the legendary internal combustion engine significantly influenced the rise in petroleum’s importance.

Early history

In Ancient China, petroleum was utilized more than 2500 years ago. In I Ching, one of the oldest Chinese writings mentions that oil in its raw state without refining was first identified, extracted, and used in Ancient China in the first century BC. Also, the Ancient Chinese were the first to employ petroleum as fuel as early as the fourth century BCE.

The oldest known oil wells were drilled in China in 347 CE or earlier. They had discovered depths of up to about 240 m (800 feet) and were drilled using pieces attached to flexible bamboo poles. The oil was burned to dry brine and create salt. By the 10th century CE, extensive bamboo pipelines joined oil wells with salt springs. The old records of China and Japan are said to carry many allusions to the use of natural gas for heating and lighting. Petroleum was recognized as burning water in Ancient Imperial Japan in the 7th century CE.

Baghdad’s first streets were paved with tar, procured from petroleum that became available from natural fields in the area. In the 9th century CE, traders exploited oil fields in the region around modern Baku, Azerbaijan. These fields were reported by the Arab geographer Abu al-Hasan ‘Alī al-Mas’ūdī in the 10th century CE and by Marco Polo in the 13th century CE, who explained the output of those wells as tonnes of shiploads. The petroleum distillation as described in detail by early Persian chemists such as Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rhazes (Rāzi) in the 9th century CE. There was a production of chemicals such as kerosene in the al-ambiq (alembic), mainly used for kerosene lamps. Persian and Arab chemists also distilled crude oil to produce flammable products for military purposes. Through Spain, distillation became available in Western Europe by the 12th century CE. It has also been present in Early Medieval Romania since the 12th-13th century CE, being recorded as păcură.

The oldest mention of petroleum in the Americas happens in Sir Walter Raleigh’s report of the Trinidad Pitch Lake in 159 CE5; while thirty-seven years later, the version of a visit of a Franciscan, Joseph de la Roche d’Allion, to the oil springs of New York was issued in Gabriel Sagard’s Histoire du Canada. A Finnish-born Swede, expert, and student of Carl Linnaeus, Peter Kalm, in his work Travels into North America printed first in 1753 CE, showed on a map the oil springs of Early Modern Pennsylvania.

Modern history

Petroleum’s modern history started in the 19th century CE with the paraffin refining from crude oil. The Scottish scientist James Young in 1847 CE noticed a natural petroleum leakage in the Riddings colliery at Alfreton, Derbyshire, from which he extracted a thin, light oil fit for use as lamp oil, at the same time achieving a thicker oil suitable for relatively complicated lubricating machinery. The new oils were successful, but the coal mine supply soon began to fail (eventually being exhausted in 1851 CE).

The production of oils and solid paraffin wax from coal set his (James Young) patent’s subject dated 17 October 1850 CE. In 1850 CE Young & Meldrum and Edward William Binney entered into an exclusive partnership under the exclusive title of E.W. Binney & Co. at Bathgate in West Lothian and E. Meldrum & Co. at Modern-Day Glasgow; their works at Bathgate were created in 1851 CE and became the first genuinely commercial oil-works and oil refinery in the world, using oil extracted from sectionally mined shale, torbanite, and bituminous coal to manufacture lubricating oils and naphtha; paraffin for fuel use and solid paraffin were not sold till 1856 CE.

Today, nearly 85% of vehicular fuel needs are solely met by oil. Petroleum also makes up 45% of total energy consumption in the United States but is responsible for only 2.5% of electricity generation. Petroleum’s worth as a dense, dense, portable source powering the enormous majority of vehicles and as the base of many manufacturing chemicals makes it one of the world’s most essential commodities.

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