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History of Petroleum Geology Investigated Through Its Textbooks


Ever since the beginning of the modern petroleum industry in North America in 1859, books on petroleum geology have been an important educational tool. Indeed the evolution of petroleum geology as an applied science can be investigated through its textbooks. This paper identifies six phases in the development of petroleum geology books. Phase I (1860s-70s) includes the earliest books published in and about Pennsylvania such as Thomas Gales' Rock Oil. Phase II (1880s-1910s) includes the books published by British authors, most notably Sir Boverton Redwood, in line with colonial interests of the British Empire but also having a theoretically richer content. Phase III (1910s-1940s) witnessed the first modern textbooks by American geologists as a response to the growth of oil industry and petroleum education and after World War I. These books focused on “oil habitats” both as geographic locations and subsurface traps. Phase IV (1950s-60s) serves as a transition from the “oil habitat” paradigm to a more process-based petroleum geoscience. Arville I. Levorsen's Geology of Petroleum is the best example of this period which trained many generations of petroleum geologists. Phase V (1970s-2000s) includes the contemporary textbooks highlighting the “petroleum-system” paradigm. The ongoing Phase VI is expected to deal more with unconventional hydrocarbon sources and written by authors not only from English-speaking countries but also from other countries as petroleum geology continues to be at the heart of global exploration for both conventional and unconventional oil and natural gas by international as well as national oil companies.