Abstract: Petroleum Exploration: Pre-Drake Well
BRICE, WILLIAM R.
University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Johnstown, PA 15904 ([email protected])
As a modern industry, the world of petroleum started with Colonel Drake's efforts in Pennsylvania in 1859, but that is far from the first exploitation of petroleum. Almost from the dawn of human civilization, we have used this natural organic substance in one form or another. When archeologists excavated the ruins at Ur, dating back some 5000 yrs, they discovered asphalt had been used as a building material. Then the substance was called "naptha" according to inscriptions on 4000 yr old Cuneiform tablets. These same tablets describe the ancient industry situation which sounds as though it was written only yesterday; namely complaints about short supply, pricing difficulties, and trade contracts. Other famous cities had petroleum among their building materials, e.g., Jericho and Babylon. Even Moses' basket was said to have been sealed with "pitch"; without petroleum he might not have been able to stay afloat long enough to be found by the pharaoh's wife. Earlier, Noah probably used this same "pitch" to stop leaks in the Ark.
In Greek and roman literature there are numerous references to petroleum, but most are not concerned with the commercial; e.g., noisey natural gas seeps were, "...the father of sound, where the voice of the gods issueth from the rocks." At Baku are some of the most spectacular natural oil and gas flows in the world, and they have been exploited in one form or another for at least 2500 yrs; "the everlasting fires of Persia." By the middle of the first millennium, petroleum had even become a weapon of war, the famous "Greek Fire" used to defend the Byzantine Empire around 700 AD was probably burning oil.In the United States, gas wells were drilled in California in 1858, and also in 1858, J. H. Williams of Hamilton, Ontario started a still to treat petroleum obtained from natural seeps, and he dug (not drilled) a well 100 ft to increase the supply of seep-oil; again, one yr before Col. Drake drilled his well and his company went into production.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90930©1998 AAPG Eastern Section, Columbus, Ohio