Happy 150th Birthday, Oil Drilling!

oil derrick gushing

Today is the 150th anniversary of the first oil well. It was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania on Aug. 27, 1859 by Edwin Drake, who was seeking a replacement for whale oil, which was in short supply.

There’s all sorts of retrospectives on the web today. Green Inc. has one, The Oil Drum has one, Green History has a great gallery of Titusville, and while it’s not about Titusville, if you’re looking for a good read on oil, check out Daniel Yergin’s story in Foreign Policy.

Bristol Voss at Platt’s oil blog, does a fine job of summing up oil, 150 years after the first well:

Oil is not yet in short supply, and the industry as a whole has consistently found more resources than it has tapped, and governments around the world have long set as a goal attempting to reduce their use of petroleum-based products, for a variety of reasons: security, costs, politics. More recently, one of the most commonly held long-term goals is to reduce the emissions resulting from the use of oil, both by improving the processing and use of oil and gas, and by finding substitutes.

Some of the substitutes are subject to various tax incentives in many countries. And oil and its derivatives are in the cross-hairs of the kind of new excise schemes that would make the taxes on Civil War-era alcohol look inconsequential, ranging from international bunker fuel emissions to cap-and-trade regulations in the US.

With many searching for tomorrow’s whale oil, likely contenders could be found in laboratories, air or coincidentally, even the salt water that early drillers for oil were so disappointed to strike. Given history, it may be something not even conceived at present.

Pennsylvania is now a bit player in the oil game, producing approximately 7/100ths of one per cent of Saudi’s annual crude production. However, it’s a reminder that tomorrow’s Titusville has yet to be identified. Read it at Platts→

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