The history of Bitumen (Fall 2012)

We are not utilizing the Iraqi oil for U.S. purposes. We are not asking that the Iraqi oil be used to pay our military expenses. We are asking only that the Iraqi oil be used to rebuild Iraq - that is, to rebuild Iraq for the Iraqi people (Arlen Specter). This is a very powerful quote but ask yourself, how oil could build a country. More importantly what is oil, how was it discovered, who discovered it, and what does the future hold for oil? Through these answers we can see what the future holds for fossil fuel.

Oil is natural gas mixed together which makes up petroleum. Many of the chemicals that appear in petroleum are hydrogen, carbon and oxygen (Joaquin, 01). Oil could come in two forms solid and liquid. When it is solid it is called asphalt and when it is liquid it is called crude oil. This oil was formed through millions of years of decomposition of plants and animals, in other words fossilized organic compounds.

In ancient times they called crude oil bitumen and later it was given the name petroleum, which in Latin means rock oil. Petroleum has been used in ancient times, however people do not know the exact time or the specific person who found it. Many people used it for lamps; researchers believe the people of those days used it for making fires because it burned quickly and the heat was strong; in addition it was used for medicine and other basic necessities. It was during the industrial revolutions that its true potential came to be.

One of the history forces that could be addressed is individual roles of people how had influence over people in the mid 1800 a scientist named Benjamin Silliman Jr. wrote a research report on the usefulness of petroleum in Yale University 8. He described how this natural resources cloud “distilled petroleum burned far brighter than any fuel on the market, except those that were far more expensive and less efficient” (Wikipedia B.S Jr). When this report was published many businessmen became very interested. In 1859 George Bissell who with his entrepreneurial skills thought of making this a company, which became the first oil company in the USA (pbs). This occurred in Pennsylvania, he was the first one to contract minors to drill a whole into the ground to reach the oil in the bottom (pbs). In the past petroleum used to be on the surface now because of the constant use it needs to be found deep in the ocean. One of the most intriguing discoveries was when in “1901 January 10, Spindletop, an oil field located just south of Beaumont, Texas, produces a "gusher" that spills out 100,000 barrels of oil per day. Spindletop would soon turn Beaumont into one of the U.S.'s first oil-fueled boomtowns, heralding the era of big-time oil speculation in Texas” 2 (pbs). If in present time such things happened in a city in USA that city would be very wealthy.

The oil business had its up and downs however, it did take out it competitor the whale business because petroleum was easier to find a whales slow started to decrease. Whales where important to people in those days because of the rich oil found in them to use for lamps. However, because of the crude oil it started to rise in price and later stop selling at all. The bad side of the business came when Thomas Edison created the light bulb then the oil business hit a rescission 2 (pbs). One of the history force that could be looked at is technology. Petroleum was ahead of its time when the first model T ford car was made that is when it started to rise again. Petroleum and technology go hand in hand form there on out. The business started to rise again and slow businessmen started to invest. Petroleum was used then because transportation became easier, no more horse or wagons, trains became easier to control and work on. It made the jobs of many Americans easier.

“That great, growling engine of change – technology” (ALVIN TOFFLER). And change did it bring. Technology grows when one thing is made it makes it possible for man and technology to make something better. When the oil industry grow people started to make factories and machines to make thing once done by hand be done by machines that could take ten peoples jobs. When WWI and WWII happened it was the countries that had the most supplies that would win. The country with the most resources, all the powerful countries new that to win the war oil was needed and that where the idea of oil being a key strategies to win the war came in; because with petroleum you could operate planes, tanks, submarines, factories, and many other war products3 (Hanson Baldwin). Technology will evolve and always be a history force the impact it had on oil could be compared to the modern day cell phone which in the beginning was two feet long and now it could be the size of a watch, or the computer and the internet and how it improved for a extremely slow device to one of the most used object in the world. Technology will change humans as long as humans change technology.

What could the future hold for oil then? What are the environment factors that will make it hard for it to be produce? Will it finish after millions of years and because we are so dependent upon it what will happen to the human race? Oil brings countries others as much as it separates it but if it’s gone what will happen next? After watching a ted talk on the end of oil these questions will be irreverent. Richard Sears is a scientist who believes that we will not run out of oil. His inspirational video talks about how human will find new energies before oil runs out he explains the chemistry of how humans for the past one hundred years are trying to be more, less carbon efficient. One of his examples are was limestone made millions of years ago and how it is calcium based then he showed an example of chalk which is also calcium based but has a different molecule structure then he finally showed the audiences a very beautiful crystalized sell made ever year on the pacific ocean by many organism. This is also calcium’s based but is three thousand times stronger because is has a different molecular structure. The point he was trying to get across was that we would not run out of oil because we humans will solve this problem with technology and innovations. In the beginning of this topic I talk about the chemistry of oil in the end it will come down to that, chemistry and technology to show a different path with the help of humans. One of the most intriguing thing Mr. Sears says is that the stone age did not end because humans ran out of stones it was the entrepreneurial people and innovation of like minded people who either individually or as a team brought new ideas and form those ideas evolved new ways to live life.

In conclusion crude oil has had a significant role in the history of mankind especially since the last hundred and fifty years. The change it brought to the world is breathtaking. Imagine if oil was never discovered, would we be able to fly planes, would be able to go to the depth of the sea and discover amazing transparent creators? Humans have the intuition to do great and with technology are able to take anything to the next leave. In the end nothing is impossible.


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  2. Pbs. "Extreme Oil." PBS. PBS, 2004. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
  3. Hanson Baldwin, 1959, “Oil Strategy in World War II", American Petroleum Institute Quarterly – Centennial Issue, pages 10-11. American Petroleum Institute.
  4. A&E Television Networks. "Oil Industry." A&E Television Networks, 1996. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
  5. petroleum. (2010). In The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather guide. Retrieved from
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  7. European. "Future of Fossil Fuels." Future of Fossil Fuels. European Energy Review, 09 Feb. 1996. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.
  8. Wikipedia. "Benjamin Silliman, Jr." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
  9. Sears, Richard. "Richard Sears: Planning for the End of Oil." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. Planning for the End of Oil, 12 Mar. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.