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A Late XIX Century Petroleum Exploitation and Refining Enterprise in the Escuque Area, Northern Mérida Andes, Venezuela

Urbani, Franco
[email protected]

The Petrolia del Táchira was the first successful commercial company to exploit the petroleum resources of Venezuela. They operated in the state of Táchira during four decades starting in 1878. Six years latter in the Caraño valley, state of Trujillo at the northwestern part of the Mérida Andes, the Serbian Engineer Christopher Dacovich (1845-1928) started a little known and small enterprise to produce kerosene for domestic use.

In the Caraño area we studied 12 known water springs forming metric to decametric diameter pools in which drops of a very light greenish oil seep and accumulate as films on the water. The seeps are controlled by a fault affecting the Eocene Misoa Formation. Such oil has been used since pre-Hispanic times medically and for illumination. In 1824 British interests sent samples to England and tried to commercialize it with the name of "Aceite de Colombia". This denomination has derived to "Colombio" as it is known today.

After preliminary exploration by Mr. Dacovich, in 1883 he and other partners started a company and hired the oil expert William L. Lay from Oil City, Pennsylvania, in order to assess and analyze the oil. His positive opinion was published in a brochure (1885) trying to attract more capital but with no little success.

They bought hand powered water pumps from The Gould Manufacturing Company which were used to transfer the water-oil mixture to separating barrels. A small refinery was also installed nearby to produce kerosene. The raw and refined products were transported through the winding mountain trails on mule trains to Escuque, the nearest town, were it was sold. The enterprise ended in 1887. Local inhabitants tell that their elders were against foreigners exploiting their "Colombio" and besides, the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey was already commercializing cheaper kerosene cans in Western Venezuela.

The use of "Colombio" which has the appearance of car engine oil is well embedded in the local population and even today it is sold in local hardware stores and used for wood treatment to prevent insect infestation and as a varnish. It is recommended as an ointment to be applied as frictions in case of local aches in arms and legs. It is also used in cattle to heal skin sores due to worms and ticks and to strengthen debilitated horse hooves. In the scattered houses of the remote Caraño valley in which electricity has not arrived yet the "Colombio" it is still used in oil lanterns.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90166©2013 AAPG International Conference & Exhibition, Cartagena, Colombia, 8-11 September 2013