Petroleum: The Natural Resource that Changed the World

PetroleumMost people are aware that the invention of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century created the need to drill for petroleum on a large scale; however, its unique qualities had been known since ancient times. According to Herodotus the Greek Historian, petroleum was used to make asphalt for construction in the walls and towers of Babylon and the Greeks and the Romans used it for making roads.

The first oil wells date back to China as early as 347 AD and in the 7th century it was known as ‘Burning Water’ in Japan. By the 1700’s, the refining of petroleum had been discovered to distill kerosene for burning in lamps. In 1847, a chemist named James Young discovered the refining of paraffin from crude oil and a light thin oil suitable for burning and a thick oil suitable for lubrication in machinery.

The internal combustion engine and the need for gasoline and oil lubricants were the beginning of a quest for more and more oil that continues today. Refining crude oil became a sophisticated science and countless new materials and products were discovered like plastics. Even new methods for finding and drilling oil were being developed and of course, this also continues today. An example of this oil boom was in 1869. 4,215,000 barrels were produced and by 1906 this had grown to 126,493,000 barrels.

Today, an incredible 35 billion barrels of oil are consumed by the world each year. The production, refining, distribution and retailing of petroleum now represents the world’s largest industry in Dollar value. The United States is by far the top oil consumer in the world representing around ΒΌ of the total at 19,840,000 barrels as of 2013. Petroleum, of course, is also one of the issues with air pollution, so we need to work on ways to learn how to use this natural resource in a better manner.