See also Petroleum Products.
Petroleum, often ambiguously called oil (oils have many sources, such as grains and vegetables), is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons and other atoms, such as sulphur, formed by ancient dead microorganisms under great pressure and high temperatures by the overlying rock and soil. Some petroleum is found at the surface where the lighter hydrocarbons evaporate, leaving a thick, tarry substance called pitch, bitumen, and asphalt. Petroleum was occasionally struck accidently while digging brine (salt water) wells since ancient times. The petroleum was used for waterproofing textiles and wood. Naphtha and paraffin were extracted from asphalt to light lamps. In America, bottled petroleum had been used as a medicine. However, the amount of surface petroleum is limited, so petroleum products from refining were not used extensively until 1859 when oil well drilling was used for the first time to discover oil in Pennsylvania. Since the invention of the internal combustion (IC) engine, petroleum's primarily use is as a fuel in cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, and locomotives. Asimov 377
Whaling was an important industry long before the first drilling for oil at Titusville, PA, in 1859, after which petroleum products, like kerosene, began to replace whale oil for lamps and candles. Whaling began in earnest in Nantucket, MA, in 1690. Carruth 37 By 1700, whale oil supplied much lamp light and whale bone provied many corset stays in America. As the whales in the Atlantic became depleted, the ships roamed far into the Pacific, Indian and Antarctic waters for whale. These long trips might last 3 or 4 years. New Bedford and Nantucket Is., MA, were major whaling centers. By 1715, Nantucket had 6 ships devoted to hunting the sperm whale. A large candle-making industry was established in Rhode Island, using the spermaceti from the whales supplied by the many whaling ships. Schles 75,91 Many of the whaling ships were destroyed by confederate ships during the Civil War (1861-1865). Schles 273, and whaling oil never recovered because of its replacement by refined petroleum following the famous strike at Titusville, PA, in 1859.
In 1841 Samuel M. Kier of Tarentum, PA, used oil seepage from his father's salt wells as a "cure-all" medicine. Later, he refined the oil so that it could be used as an illuminant. This was the first primitive oil refinery. Carruth 213
In 1853, the British physician, Abraham Gesner, invented a process that yielded an inflammable liquid from asphalt, which he called kerosene. It was an effective fuel for lamps, so its demand soon far outstripped its supply. Asimov 368
In 1854 oil was first obtained by digging shallow wells in Cherry-tree Township, Venango County, PA, after Prof. Benjamin Silliman of Yale U. found 8 feasible uses for it. Carruth 249
An American railway conductor, Edwin Drake, had invested in a company that gathered oil for medicinal purposes from seepages near Titusville, PA. Drake, who knew about brine (salt water) drilling, studied drilling methods and, on August 27, 1859, drilled 69 feet to strike oil. This was the first drilled oil well at 8 gallons per day and, eventually, at 400 gallons per day. Kerosene was the first commercial product refined from oil in large quantities. It fueled kerosene lamps throughout the world and hastened the decline of lamp whale oil, candles and coal gas. Asimov 377
In 1943 the world's longest petroleum pipeline of its time, the Big Inch, went into operation. It main line extended 1254 miles from Longview, TX, to Phoenixville, PA. It crossed 30 rivers and about 200 streams. Carruth 521 The purpose of this pipeline was to get petroleum to the East Coast for delivery to the European theater of World War II (1941-1945).
The Transalaska Pipeline began construction in 1974 and was completed in 1977. Its purpose is to transport petroleum from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, AK, the nearest ice-free port. Its high-tensile carbon steel pipe is 48 inches in diameter and has a maximum flow rate of 88,000 barrels/hr. It provides oil to about 50 tankers per month that deliver it to the U.S. and other countries. Park 27