Our History of Petroleum Use
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The Phillips well (on the right) and Woodford Well (on the left) in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Drilled in 1861 and 1862, respectively, these wells are in the same Oil Creek Valley as the nation's first oil well, drilled by Edwin Drake. Photo: Pennsylv... In Japan, petroleum was used for lighting at least as far back as the 7th century. Baghdad's first streets were paved with asphalt. Marco Polo described oil fields in what is now Azerbaijan, where naphtha was produced. And in the 9th century, petroleum was distilled by the Persian alchemist Muhammad ibn Zakariya Razi into kerosene that was used in lamps. The first North American reference to petroleum was in 1595 when Sir Walter Raleigh wrote about Pitch Lake on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. With a surface area of about 100 acres and a depth as great as 250 feet, this is the world's largest natural deposit of asphalt; it is a significant tourist attraction, and asphalt from this deposit has long been exported--some was used in early paving of some New York City streets. The modern oil industry began in the 1850s. In 1853, the world's first commercial oil well was drilled in Poland and the second was drilled in Romania in 1857. An oil well in Oil Springs, Ontario in 1858 was the first in North America, and that was followed in 1859 with the famous oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, when Edwin Drake drilled a 69-foot well that yielded 25 barrels per day. Petroleum production in the U.S. increased steadily during the first 50 years of production: 2,000 barrels in 1859, 4.2 million barrels in 1868, 20 million barrels in 1879, 35 million barrels in 1889, 57 million barrels in 1899, and 126 million barrels in 1906. Through the 1800s, most oil was used for oil lamps and kerosene lamps--replacing whale oil, which was becoming scarce by then. By the early years of the 20th century, though, development of the internal combustion engine shifted demand of petroleum products to automobiles--the market that has driven demand ever since. With the rise of the automobile in the early 1900s and its use of gasoline--a mix of hydrocarbon refined from crude oil--production of petroleum increased dramatically. World oil production today totals 31 billion barrels per year--almost exactly 1,000 barrels per second! In the U.S., approximately 72% of our petroleum is used for transportation (gasoline, diesel fuel, and aviation fuel), with the rest used for heating oil, industrial processes, petrochemical feedstocks, lubricants, asphalt, electricity generation, and other uses. Next week I'll take a look at current reserves of petroleum as well as the outlook for this fossil fuel in the years and decades ahead. In addition to this Energy Solutions blog, Alex contributes to the weekly blog BuildingGreen's Product of the Week , which profiles an interesting new green building product each week. You can sign up to receive notices of these blogs by e-mail--enter your e-mail address in the upper right corner of any blog page. Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News . To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed .