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Petroleum Technologies Timeline




 

When retired railroad conductor Edwin Drake struck oil in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, he touched off the modern oil industry. For the next 40 years the primary interest in oil was as a source of kerosene, used for lighting lamps. Then came the automobile and the realization that the internal combustion engine ran best on gasoline, a byproduct of the process of extracting kerosene from crude oil. As the demand grew for gasoline to power not only cars but also internal combustion engines of all kinds, chemical engineers honing their refining techniques discovered a host of useful byproducts of crude—and the petrochemical industry was born. Oil had truly become black gold.



  1901   North America’s first oil gusher

North America’s first oil gusher blows at the Spindletop field near Beaumont in southeastern Texas, spraying more than 800,000 barrels of crude into the air before it can be brought under control. The strike boosts the yearly oil output in the United States from 2,000 barrels in 1859 to more than 65 million barrels by 1901.

  1913   High-pressure hydrogenation process developed

German organic chemist Friedrich Bergius develops a high-pressure hydrogenation process that transforms heavy oil and oil residues into lighter oils, boosting gasoline production. In 1926 IG Farben Industries, where Carl Bosch had been developing similar high-pressure processes, acquires the patent rights to the Bergius process. Bergius and Bosch share a Nobel Prize in 1931.

  1913   New method of oil refining

Chemical engineers William Burton and Robert Humphreys of Standard Oil patent a method of oil refining that significantly increases gasoline yields. Known as thermal cracking, the chemists discover that by applying both heat and pressure during distillation, heavier petroleum molecules can be broken down, or cracked, into gasoline’s lighter molecules. The discovery is a boon to the new auto industry, whose fuel of choice is gasoline.

  1920s   Fischer-Tropsch method

By using fractional distillation, two German coal researchers create synthetic gasoline. Known as the Fischer-Tropsch method, the gasoline is produced by combining either coke and steam or crushed coal and heavy oil, then exposing the mixture to a catalyst to form synthetic gasoline. The process plays a critical role in helping to meet the increasing demand for gasoline as automobiles come into widespread use and later for easing gasoline shortages during World War II.

  1920s-1940s   Nylon, acrylics, and polyester are developed

An assortment of new compounds derived from byproducts of the oil-refining process enter the market. Three of the most promising new materials—synthesized from the hydrocarbon ethylene—are polystyrene, a brittle plastic known also as styrofoam; polyvinyl chloride, used in plumbing fixtures and weather-resistant home siding; and polyethylene, which is flexible inexpensive, and widely used in packaging. New synthetic fibers and resins are also introduced, including nylon, acrylics, and polyester, and are used to make everything from clothing and sports gear to industrial equipment, parachutes, and plexiglass.

  1920s-1940s   New compounds derived oil-refining byproducts enter market

An assortment of new compounds derived from byproducts of the oil-refining process enter the market. Three of the most promising new materials—synthesized from the hydrocarbon ethylene—are polystyrene, a brittle plastic known also as styrofoam; polyvinyl chloride, used in plumbing fixtures and weather-resistant home siding; and polyethylene, which is flexible, inexpensive, and widely used in packaging. New synthetic fibers and resins are also introduced, including nylon, acrylics, and polyester, and are used to make everything from clothing and sports gear to industrial equipment, parachutes, and plexiglass.

  1921   Lead added to gasoline

Charles Kettering of General Motors and his assistants, organic chemists Thomas Midgley, Jr., and T. A. Boyd, discover that adding lead to gasoline eliminates engine knock. Until the 1970s, when environmental concerns forced its removal, tetraethyl lead was a standard ingredient in gasoline.

  1928   Portable offshore drilling

By mounting a derrick and drilling outfit onto a submersible barge, Texas oilman Louis Giliasso creates an efficient portable method of offshore drilling. The transportable barge allows a rig to be erected in as little as a day, which makes for easier exploration of the Texas and Louisiana coastal wetlands. More permanent offshore piers and platforms had been successfully operating since the late 1800s off the coast of California near Santa Barbara, where oil seepage in the Pacific had been reported by Spanish explorers as early as 1542.

  1930s   New process increases octane rating gasoline

U.S. refineries take advantage of a new process of alkalinization and fine-powder fluid-bed production that increases the octane rating of aviation gasoline to 100. This becomes important in the success of the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II.

  1936   Catalytic cracking introduced

French scientist Eugene Houdry introduces catalytic cracking. By using silica and alumina-based catalysts, he demonstrates not only that more gasoline can be produced from oil without the use of high pressure but also that it has a higher octane rating and burns more efficiently.

  1942   First catalytic cracking unit is put on-stream

The first catalytic cracking unit is put on-stream in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by Standard Oil, New Jersey.

  1947   Platforming invented

German-born American chemical engineer Vladimir Haensel invents platforming, a process for producing cleaner-burning high-octane fuels using a platinum catalyst to speed up certain chemical reactions. Platforming eliminates the need to add lead to gasoline.

  1947   First commercial oil well out of sight of land

A consortium of oil companies led by Kerr-McGee drills the world’s first commercial oil well out of sight of land in the Gulf of Mexico, 10.5 miles offshore and 45 miles south of Morgan City, Louisiana. Eleven oil fields are mapped in the gulf by 1949, with 44 exploratory wells in operation.

  1955   First jack-up oil-drilling rig

The first jack-up oil-drilling rig is designed for offshore exploration. The rig features long legs that can be lowered into the seabed to a depth of 500 feet, allowing the platform to be raised to various heights above the level of the water.

  1960s   Synthetic oils

Synthetic oils are in development to meet the special lubricating requirements of military jets. Mobil Oil and AMSOIL are leaders in this field; their synthetics contain such additives as polyalphaolefins, derived from olefin, one of the three primary petrochemical groups. Saturated with hydrogen, olefin-carbon molecules provide excellent thermal stability. Following on the success of synthetic oils in military applications, they are introduced into the commercial market in the 1970s for use in automobiles.

  1970s   Digital seismology

The introduction of digital seismology in oil exploration increases accuracy in locating underground pools of oil. The technique of using seismic waves to look for oil is based on determining the time interval between the sending of a sound wave (generated by an explosion, an electric vibrator, or a falling weight) and the arrival of reflected or refracted waves at one or more seismic detectors. Analysis of differences in arrival times and amplitudes of the waves tells seismologists what kinds of rock the waves have traveled through.

  1970s   Mud pulse telemetry

Teleco, Inc., of Greenville, South Carolina, and the U.S. Department of Energy introduce mud pulse telemetry, a system of relaying pressure pulses through drilling mud to convey the location of the drill bit. Mud pulse telemetry is now an oil industry standard, saving millions of dollars in time and labor.

  1980s   ROVs developed for subsea oil work

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are developed for subsea oil work. Controlled from the surface, ROVs vary from beachball-size cameras to truck-size maintenance robots.

  1990s   New tools and techniques to reduce the costs and risks of drilling

The combined efforts of private industry, the Department of Energy, and national laboratories such as Argonne and Lawrence Livermore result in the introduction of several new tools and techniques designed to reduce the costs and risks of drilling, including reducing potential damage to the geological formation and improving environmental protection. Among such tools are the near-bit sensor, which gathers data from just behind the drill bit and transmits it to the surface, and carbon dioxide/sand fracturing stimulation, a technique that allows for non-damaging stimulation of a natural gas formation.

  2000   Hoover-Diana goes into operation

The Hoover-Diana, a 63,000-ton deep-draft caisson vessel, goes into operation in the Gulf of Mexico. A joint venture by Exxon Mobil and BP, it is a production platform mounted atop a floating cylindrical concrete tube anchored in 4,800 feet of water. The entire structure is 83 stories high, with 90 percent of it below the surface. Within half a year it is producing 20,000 barrels of oil and 220 million cubic feet of gas a day. Two pipelines carry the oil and gas to shore.

 


     Petroleum and Petrochemical Technologies
     Timeline
     Background
     Refining Byproducts
     Looking for Oil
     Environment
     Essay - Lee R. Raymond





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