An Oil History Story - Edwin Drake and Pennsylvania

An Oil History Story – Edwin Drake and Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Oil and Natural Gas Production

Natural gas production in Pennsylvania reached 6.2 trillion cubic feet last year. This makes it the second-largest natural gas producer in America, only Texas with the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin are before it. In crude oil production, they are a bit further behind running at around two million barrels a year. 

If their crude oil production can’t keep up with the Permian Basin, that is just fine. Because without Pennsylvania, there would be no Permian Basin production. There would be no production at all. We have the oil and natural gas industry because of a small town called Titusville, Pennsylvania. An area there that became known as Oil Creek, is where the oil revolution was really born.

Col. Drake, American determination personified

Edwin Drake was not a colonel. He was a retired railroad conductor. He had retired early from the rails due to chronic poor health. In 1858, he was offered $1,000 dollars a year to explore the possibilities of finding a cost-effective method of collecting petroleum. Before, there had been no real market for oil, and it was only beginning to be used as an alternative for replacing whale oil in lamps. The only real obstacle to the furtherance of oil use was its time consuming and costly collection. It was gathered when and wherever it was found coming from the earth via small oil springs.

Mr. Drake was sent to Titusville to investigate one of these springs. He figured digging down to the oil would simplify the collection, making it more cost-effective. This had, of course, been thought of before. Diggings had been made, but they always had to be shallow because the walls would collapse refilling the hole. Upon arriving at Titusville, Mr. Drake became Col. Drake, an honorary title devised to gain him respect from the residents there. He might afterall, he thought, need their help in his endeavor. 

The day possibilities started becoming realities

He tried digging, as others had, and came away with the same results. He tried drilling, but the same collapse took place as it had with the others. Finally, it occurred to him to sink a pipe into the ground and dig through it. The method worked, and eventually, he hit bedrock. That is when the real drilling began. He drilled at a whopping rate of around three feet a day. Down and down the drilling went. The townspeople gathered out of curiosity and to poke fun, soon nicknaming the well “Drake’s Folly.

But that indomitable American spirit drove onward. In 1859 at a depth of 69 feet, the drill struck a crevice. They decided to call it a day. It was a Saturday, and everyone packed up and headed home until Monday. But the next day, Col. Drake’s driller decided to stop in to check on things. He found oil coming up the pipe. Col. Drake was summoned, and the world was never the same. Because of “Drake’s Folly,” we have a quality of life that had never been dreamed of before. We have reliable fuel for cars, planes, heating, air conditioning, hospitals and technology. 

Pennsylvania may be second in natural gas, but it wins first prize for being the place that changed the world for the better.

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