The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

More from the Rock Oil 2009 Tour

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted August 21, 2009

As I wrote yesterday, this is a monumental week for the energy industry. It marks the 150th anniversary of the first successful oil drill and the significant changes we've been able to make since. Now, more energy production is required for the maintenance of our emerging economy.

Below are some updates from API's Sara Banaszak, who's on the road with the "Rock Oil 2009" tour, headed up to Pennsylvania to visit the site of America's first oil well:

UPDATE: Friday, 10:00 a.m. "It will take us around 6 hours to drive from Washington, DC, to Titusville, PA. About an hour outside of Washington, we cross through the area that was used by Civil War General Robert E. Lee to march his Confederate troops north toward Gettysburg. They would march not more than 30 miles in a day. Today, most people drive that far to work. We use more energy in the U.S. than other high-income countries, but it's not right to say it's all because energy was cheap or we've been wasteful. The fact of the matter is that building and maintaining a thriving economy on such a large landmass is going to take a lot of energy no matter how we do it."

UPDATE: Friday, 11:15 a.m. "We're gonna have a rainy day and we're watching videos from the American Oil and Gas Historical Society. They have a great archive. More

thoughts later."

UPDATE: Friday, 2:30 p.m. "Back on the bus after lunch we are now headed northwest of State College (Penn State) into parts of Pennsylvania that I don't know as well. In the video this morning I learned that by the Civil War, oil from Titusville was traveling south and west to Pittsburgh and Cleveland where a young Rockefeller boy worked on selling oil to the military. But the oil that was found in Ohio was not the same as the 'light, sweet' crude oil found in Pennsylvania. Nineteenth Century Ohio oil was heavy, black, and had a lot of 'sour' sulfur, so that its kerosene burned with a lot of smoke and stink. Ever since then and to this day, a lot of science has been developed to address the different characteristics of the oil and gas that come out of the ground and how to use all the different hydrocarbons that are in oil, not just the ones that make kerosene for lamps."

UPDATE: Saturday, 8:00 a.m. "We spent the night in Oil City not far from Titusville. They call this the oil region. Oil City has a small museum and lots of oil theme -- murals on the sides of building, a mini derrick in the public park, and historical markers referring to events of the oil boom era. I think we might start off with a quick stop at the cemetery where 'Colonel' Drake is buried. The title was an assumed one to give him authority. He demonstrated commercially successful oil drilling in 1859 (150 years ago)."

UPDATE: Saturday, 11:50 a.m. "Stop the press! Turns out Edwin Drake really was a colonel, from an earlier stint in the Michigan militia. Our first stop was actually McClintock well, longest continually producing oil well. 'Continually producing' requires just a few days of production per year and this well now produces more brine than oil. That's called depletion, and that's what's happening to a lot of older US wells. That's why maintaining oil production (and affordable supplies) requires development of new resources. Now we're headed to Drake well and museum. Titusville has plenty of gorgeous victorian architecture. The Drake well museum has a completely rebuilt and working replica of the operation. As we stood looking at 1860s technology, my colleague marvelled at how we've gotten to 80-plus million barrel per day production globally. Scalability has so much to do with what technologies become big players, especially in the energy sector. Lunchtime now."

UPDATE: 2:30 p.m. "We stopped for lunch in Pithole, PA, where there's another little museum telling the story of true prototypical oil boomtown. When oil was found on the land, then a working farm (I think it was 1865), a town sprung up and swelled to a population of 15,000. The real boom lasted about 500 days. When you put a whole bunch of oil rigs next to each other, all pulling oil from the same resource rock, the oil gets depleted really quick. (This approach was also likely to waste a lot of oil and could have contributed to a greater proportion of the oil getting stuck in the ground.). The town's Methodist minister, a Civil War vet, carried his six shooters in order to enforce some minimal standards of basic human decency. Within 10 years only a small handful of people were still around, and 20 years later, nobody left, barely any evidence of the boomtown! Between destructive fires, the relocation of buildings or their materials to the next boomtown, and the degradation of shoddy construction over time, there is not a single surviving structure, even in part, from the boomtown. Time for more videos on the bus."

UPDATE: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. "We're halfway back to Washington. We just passed some windmills but they're not moving right now. So we've made this trip, but need to be clear about what we saw. Col. Edwin Drake may not have invented very much: drilling technology already existed. Even the Chinese had already drilled for natural gas thousands of years earlier (and used bamboo for pipe). Drake did use the idea of drilling inside a pipe casing to prevent the drill hole from filling up with water or mud. Mainly, though, Drake's success was in producing commercial volumes and becoming a catalyst for the industry to take off. And the end of the Civil War helped by providing an onslaught of manpower with freed up soldiers looking for work.

We really need some catalysts to help energy efficiency and renewables take off as industries. When the price of oil spikes, it helps, but is that enough? Some people think the government can play the role of catalyst. Other people are not as convinced because if the scalability and economics don't work or the policies are designed wrong, then the catalytic efforts of government could be wasted. So we have ongoing policy debate about this right now. Sometimes we seem so hopelessly divided over these issues, but our Civil War reminds me that it could be worse -- we are not slaughtering each other. We enjoy a blessedly peaceful democracy and an economy that has delivered for centuries using innovative commerce."