Politics and World Oil Economics: An Account of the International Oil Industry in Its Political Environment

By J. E. Hartshorn | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
Geography: Sources and Markets

'O il is where you find it' is perhaps the most frequently quoted truism in this industry: but rather often during oil's commercial history, that has not been where you want it. Sheer geography would have been an inhibiting factor in the oil industry, sharply limiting the areas over which its markets could economically spread and imposing checks on its rate of development, if oil had not, providentially, turned out to be inherently easy to transport. As it is, the pattern of its geography has gradually made this industry, during this century at any rate, more genuinely international than perhaps any other has ever been. There are still, certainly, two great areas of relative self-sufficiency for oil, in North America and the Soviet Union. But no other fuel -- including so far, natural gas -- has ever been consumed in such vast quantities so far away from where it is produced.

The physical geography of petroleum, as its name indicates, derives from geology, which might be called the petrified history of the earth. The fuel's own historical origins remain a matter of some argument among geologists (and are the first of the many fascinating technical aspects of oil into which this book is not competent to follow the expert). Most of them appear now to agree that it was formed, over many millions of years, from organic materials of one kind or another accumulated at the bottom of oceans or inland seas, or washed inland during periods of inundation, and gradually covered by mud or lime deposited on top; there is less agreement about just how. Through the action of temperature or pressure, of particular processes of decomposition, or perhaps simply of time, these organic sources became converted into the characteristic mixture of hydrocarbon compounds that constitute petroleum -- varying from nearly solid asphalt, through the liquid form, to gaseous forms such as methane. Being formed as a fluid, petroleum could move through any underground strata that were porous and permeable. Being lighter than the salt water also found in

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