Why the History of Petroleum Matters
The oil and gas industry is one of the greatest enterprises in human history and plays a key role in world's economy. Despite a large number of works published on the history of petroleum, many aspects of the field still remain little researched, and in the absence of a robust academic system and scarcity of funded research in this field, most of the research work on petroleum history is conducted by volunteer effort with its pros and cons. The significance of the history of petroleum science and technology does not simply lie in the intellectual curiosity and fascination of individual researchers (although that too is important), but is founded on the necessity of preserving, celebrating, and learning from our "heritage," which may be articulated in 3 Rs: (1) "recording" the events, careers, developments and challenges in the field of petroleum exploration and production; (2) "recognizing" the major players in the progress of the field as a way to encourage the future generations; (3) "researching" the past to learn from its successes and failures in order to better plan for the future, and also to improve the historical record in the face of new evidence. To these, one more important factor should also be added because of the nature of petroleum: The history of petroleum is an "integrative" field on various levels: (1) It combines several key sciences including geology, chemistry and geophysics; (2) it depicts the vital pathways from academic disciplines to technology and vice versa; and (3) it is a narrative of both natural and human histories, showing interactions between earth resources and the economy and politics of social systems that have shaped history. From the latter perspective, the history of petroleum may be categorized into the ancient, modern and contemporary periods, each with its own resources, shifting geographies and intellectual challenges for the researcher. This paper highlights the multi-dimensional implications and methodologies of research in the history of petroleum. It also calls for incorporation of courses on the history of petroleum in university education.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90163©2013AAPG 2013 Annual Convention and Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 19-22, 2013