History

280 to 345 million years ago Carboniferous period; fossil fuel formation begins.

Around 3 million years ago Stone Age; Vast underground oil reserves seep to the surface in sticky black pools and lumps, called bitumen. Hunters use bitumen (also called pitch or tar) to attach flint arrowheads to their arrows.

70,000 years ago Prehistoric people discover that oil burns with a bright, steady flame. The first oil lamps are made by hollowing out a stone, filling it with moss or plant fibers and setting the moss on fire. Oil lamps remained the main source of lighting until the gas lamp invention in Victorian times. The Greeks improved lamps by putting a lid on the bowl.

6,500 years ago People living in marshes added bitumen to bricks and cement to waterproof their houses from floods. They soon learned that it could be used to seal water tanks, waterproof boats (now known as caulking) and glue broken pots.

7th century BCE A magnifying glass is used to concentrate the sun’s rays on a fuel and light a fire for light, warmth and cooking.

Persians discover that a thinner form of bitumen, called naft, could be lethal in battle. Persian archers put it on their arrows to fire flaming missiles at their enemies.

The Chinese begin to drill wells in Sichuan. They used bamboo tipped by iron to get brine (salty water) for medicine and preserving food. They found oil and natural gas as they drilled deeper. The natural gas was burned under big pans to boil off the water and obtain the salt. The Chinese refined crude oil for use in lamps and in heating homes.

Ptolemaic period; Ancient Egyptians preserve their dead as mummies by soaking them in a brew of chemicals such as salt, beeswax, cedar tree resin, and bitumen.

When the Romans set the ancient city of Carthage on fire, the bitumen on the roofs ensures the flames spread rapidly and completely destroy the city.

Middle Ages; When enemies try to scale the walls of a castle of fortified town, defenders pour boiling oil down on them. The first use of boiling oil was by Jews defending the city of Jotapata against the Romans in 67 CE. The idea was later adopted to defend castles during the Middle Ages. Oil was extremely expensive, so the technique was probably not used often.

A French military officer notes that Indians living near Fort Duquesne (now the site of Pittsburgh) set fire to an oil-slicked creek as part of a religious ceremony. As settlement by Europeans proceeded, oil was discovered in many places in the US, northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York, to the frequent dismay of the well owners, who were drilling for salt brine.

1780s Swiss physicist Aime Argand (1750-1803) realizes that by placing a circular wick in the middle of an oil lamp and covering it with a chimney to improve airflow, the lamp would burn 10 times brighter than a candle, and also cleanly. This was the greatest breakthrough in lighting since the time of the Greeks. It revolutionized home life, making rooms bright at night for the first time in history.

The world’s first oil well is drilled in Baku on the Caspian Sea, what is now Azerbaijan. Known as the Black City, Baku produced 90 percent of the world’s oil by the 1860s.

1853 Polish chemist Ignancy Lukasiewicz discovers how to distil oil on an industrial scale. He set up the world’s first crude oil refinery in Poland.

1858 James Williams (1818-90) digs a hole in Lambton County, Ontario, Canada and found oil bubbled so rapidly he could fill bucket after bucket. This was the first oil well in the Americas. Within a few years, simple “derricks”—frames for supporting the drilling equipment—dotted the landscape.

1859 Edwin L. Drake drills down 70 feet (21meters) in Titus, Pennsylvania, and struck oil to create the US’ first oil well. Oil was first discovered when a homemade rig drilled down 70 feet and came up coated with oil. This rig was near Titusville (in northwestern Pennsylvania) and was owned by “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake.

1896 Henry Ford built his first automobile, the quadricycle, to run on pure ethanol.

1930s By the 1930s, petroleum is the primary source for fuel because of more supply, better price and efficiency.

1950 Oil becomes our most used energy source because of automobiles.

1970 Production of petroleum (crude oil and natural gas plant liquids) in the US lower 48 states reaches its highest level at 9.4 million barrels per day. Production in the lower 48 states has been declining ever since.

Deep-well drilling technology improvements lead to deeper reservoir drilling and to access to more resources.

1973 Several Arab OPEC nations embargo, or stop selling, oil to the United States and Holland to protest their support of Israel in the Arab-Israeli “Yom Kippur” War. Later, the Arab OPEC nations added South Africa, Rhodesia and Portugal to the list of countries that were embargoed.

Arab OPEC production was cut by 25 percent, which caused some temporary shortages and helped oil prices to triple. Some filling stations ran out of gasoline and cars had to wait in long lines for gasoline.

Countries such as France and Japan, which had relied heavily on oil for electric generation (39% and 73%, respectively) invested in nuclear power due to the oil crisis. Today, nuclear power supplies about 80% and 30% of the electricity in those countries, respectively.

The OPEC oil embargo and the resulting supply shock suggested that the era of cheap petroleum had ended and that the world needed alternative fuels. The development of hydrogen fuel cells for conventional commercial applications began.

1988 Ethanol begins to be added to gasoline for the purpose of reducing carbon monoxide emissions.

Ethanol begins to grow rapidly as the oxygenating factor for gasoline in the US.

Flex-fuel vehicles are introduced. These vehicles can run on straight ethanol, straight gasoline or a blend of the two. Today, the majority of new cars sold in Brazil are flex-fuel.

In the future, water will replace fossil fuels as the primary resource for hydrogen. Hydrogen will be distributed via national networks of hydrogen transport pipelines and fueling stations. Hydrogen energy and fuel cell power will be clean, abundant, reliable, affordable and an integral part of all sectors of the economy in all regions of the US.