The History Of The Oil Field Industry

March 1, 2023

Petroleum history provides a context for understanding today’s lucrative energy industry. Whether it’s a Pennsylvania well that fueled kerosene lamps in 1859 or a Texas gusher that fueled automobiles in 1901, oil undoubtedly changed the way we live.  

The modern petroleum industry in the United States began with Colonel Edwin Drake’s 69-foot (21 m) well drilled in August 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania. This discovery set the stage for the development of many major oil companies across America and Canada. By the early 1900s, oil would soon become a key part of the global energy system and become a prized geopolitical resource. During World War I, it powered the ships, trucks and tanks that made up the armies of nations and became the dominant fuel in the commercial market. The 1920s and 1930s would then see the formation of a group of oil companies that controlled the world’s petroleum markets for much of the twentieth century. This group included Exxon, Royal Dutch/Shell, BP, Gulf, Mobil, and Texaco. 

The boom of the oil field industry began in the early 20th century as drilling spread into a wide range of states. During the boom, towns and cities sprouted quickly around new oil discoveries. In many cases, those boom towns stayed alive for only a short period of time. Despite initial success, producers found that they were not producing enough oil to meet demand. As a result, companies started to see a downward cycle in production. They began to cut back on their spending. This, in turn, made it harder for them to find new sources of revenue. 

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