Finding Oil: The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920

Finding Oil: The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920

Finding Oil: The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920

Finding Oil: The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920

Synopsis

Oil has made fortunes, caused wars, and shaped nations. Accordingly, no one questions the idea that the quest for oil is a quest for power. The question we should ask, Finding Oil suggests, is what kind of power prospectors have wanted. This book revises oil's early history by exploring the incredibly varied stories of the men who pitted themselves against nature to unleash the power of oil. Brian Frehner shows how, despite the towering presence of a figure like John D. Rockefeller as a quintessential "oil man", prospectors were a diverse lot who saw themselves, their interests, and their relationships with nature in profoundly different ways. He traces their various pursuits of power from 1859 to 1920 as a struggle for cultural, intellectual, and professional authority, over both nature and their peers. Here we see how some saw power as the work they did exploring and drilling into landscapes, while others saw it in the intellectual work of explaining how and where oil accumulated. Charting the intersection of human and natural history, their story traces the ever-evolving relationship between science and industry and reveals the unsuspected role geology played in shaping our understanding of the history of oil.

Excerpt

Shortly after walking over the dry west Texas plains, Jett Rink knelt on the ground while squeezing handfuls of oil-soaked dirt through his fingers and gazed in amazement at the black crude slowly bubbling to the surface. Later, Rink stood atop a cable tool drilling rig when a loud noise caught his attention. The black crude that had merely bubbled to the surface began to emit an awesome roar as it erupted from the hole Rink punctured in the earth. He stepped back to behold the spectacle he had created, as oil spewed from the earth and rained down on him. He held both hands in the air as if to thank Mother Earth for her beneficence, and jumped up and down to celebrate his good fortune.

The image of a gusher is a powerful symbol in the history of the American Southwest. Dramatized by James Dean in the movie version of Edna Ferber’s novel Giant, this scene played out repeatedly throughout the early twentieth century in the history of oil-rich states such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and California. Captivating and dramatic, a gusher represented a visual image of nature’s bounty spewing forth uncontrolled and seemingly uncontrollable. The image was powerful but far from simplistic: it held different meanings for the prospectors who found gushers as the oil industry grew and matured. For example, an oil prospector like Jett Rink might see a gusher as a symbol of great wealth, a fortune in the making, while to another . . .

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