Petroleum Careers Background
In the United States about 65 percent of the petroleum consumed is used for transportation, including truck, bus, automobile, airplane, and ship fuel. Industrial uses account for about 25 percent. Household and commercial use accounts for about 7 percent, largely for heating. About 3 percent is used in the production of electrical power.
No one knows for sure who first had the idea of drilling a well for oil. However, George H. Bissell, a New York lawyer, was largely responsible for the drilling of the well that started the petroleum industry in the United States. Bissell acquired some land, which had oil seepages, on Oil Creek near Titusville in western Pennsylvania. He was one of the organizers of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, which was later reorganized as the Seneca Oil Company. The well on Bissell’s land was drilled by the Seneca Oil Company.
The man who planned and supervised the drilling was Edwin L. Drake. He erected a wooden tower, or derrick, which was used to lower and raise the drilling tools. After cave-ins of the well occurred, he lined the well with sections of the pipe. As the well was drilled deeper, the pipe was driven downward and kept the sides of the hole from caving in. This was a major contribution to the technique of drilling, and it is still a standard practice. In August 1859, Drake’s well struck oil at a depth of 69.5 feet. The well flowed at a rate of eight to 10 barrels per day, and crude oil was then selling at $20 per barrel.
With the development of the automobile, the demand for gasoline grew dramatically. World War II further increased the dependence on gasoline and other petroleum products by creating a demand for fuel for tanks, ships, and other wartime vehicles. This stimulated the need for exploration of a large number of oil wells across the country. After the war, surplus oil was used in the development of gas-powered farm vehicles and machinery. Refineries also produced petroleum derivatives to be used for synthetic rubber, medicinal oils, and explosives. In the early 1950s, petroleum overtook coal as the largest energy source in the United States. It would take until the mid-1960s for this trend to begin to reverse. During its period of growth, the oil industry’s primary goals were pursuing the development of new drilling areas and increasing the speed at which oil could be shipped from existing fields. In the 1950s, plans called for extension of the U.S. pipeline system to link the state of Alaska with the lower 48 states through a new 5,000-mile pipeline. The Alaska pipeline was the largest single construction project ever undertaken by private industry and provided a large source of oil and natural gas to the United States.
By the 1970s, the demand for oil had increased to the extent that Western nations could no longer supply enough oil to meet their own needs and were forced to import it from Middle Eastern countries. When these Middle Eastern countries gained control over the quantity and the price of oil being sold, they formed a cartel, known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which became one of the major influences on the world economy during this period. To combat the influence of OPEC, Great Britain, the United States, and other oil-producing countries increased domestic production in order to reduce the world’s dependence on oil from the OPEC nations. OPEC was forced to reduce prices and lost its control of the oil market.
In the early 21st century, strong demand from a growing U.S. population, reductions in domestic oil exploration and production, and regional conflicts in oil-producing countries such as Iraq caused a significant increase in the price of petroleum. To address this crisis, the U.S. government set a goal of increased domestic production, as well as encouraged energy conservation and the development of renewable energy resources. Today, the U.S. petroleum industry continues to explore economical oil exploration and production methods to meet the energy needs of the U.S. population.