A bit of history
A bit of history
Centuries ago, civilizations around the globe were aware of petroleum (derived from the Medieval Latin words petr, or rock, and oleum, or oil) but did not immediately identify it as a source of energy. In the Western world, wood was the fuel of choice for heating and cooking for centuries. As forest reserves were depleted, coal was the next energy source to be tapped, along with whale oil, which was used primarily as a lubricant and fuel for lamps. The invention of the coal-fired steam engine in 1765 sparked the desire to build different, bigger and more powerful machines. This progress, along with plentiful coal resources, ultimately drove the industrial revolution and a move to urbanization.
Electricity entered the picture with Benjamin Franklin’s 1752 invention of the lightening rod, followed by the electric battery in 1800 and the first use of electricity in industrial motors in 1837. Progress in electricity was moving rapidly, but it was the invention in 1860 of the first internal combustion engine using coal gas, a mixture of gasses produced by distilling bituminous coal, that foreshadowed the beginning of great change. Just a few years later, in 1864, the invention of an engine that used gasoline as a fuel launched what quickly became an era of innovation and invention with an attendant demand for oil.
Petroleum became a major industry in the U.S. after oil was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 1859. Another important milestone in U.S. oil production was reached in 1901, when a well at Spindletop Hill, a salt dome oil field in Beaumont, Texas, struck oil, and the Texas Oil Boom was underway.
The circle of life
Crude oil (petroleum), as well as natural gas and coal, are called fossil fuels because they are the byproducts of fossilized plant, animal and diatomic (made of two atoms) sea life that lived 300 to 400 millions of years. Most fossil fuels are thought to have originated in ancient oceans and other bodies of water. Scientists have theorized that when this plant and diatomic sea life died, it became part of the sediment at the bottom of the lakes and oceans. Over a period of 50 to 100 million years, these fossilized remains were buried by sediment and rock layers. The pressure and heat from this increasingly heavy burden formed the fossilized remains into a dark organic layer called kerogen. Much later, that kerogen ultimately turned into natural gas and crude oil underneath layers of salt, silt, rock and earth.
Petroleum & natural gas products
A similar process occurred on land where fossilized plant and animal life formed peat (partially decayed vegetation) and eventually natural gas, crude oil, and coal within a type of rock called shale.